After Marie dumped him, Sam’s first stop on his way home was at a local liquor store. He had given up drinking after his accident for a number of reasons. First, he was on a number of medications that didn’t react well with alcohol. Second, alcohol was a diuretic and he didn’t need his bladder to start leaking. Third, he was told by his rehab doctors that alcohol would lower his seizure threshold, and he already had one seizure in the weeks following his accident. Fourth, he already felt stupid enough without killing a bunch more brain cells.
But he used to drink prior to the accident and he remembered how it used to be a good way to forget his problems. And boy, did he have problems he wanted to forget.
He had never been to this particular liquor store before, and he noticed that the clerk was eying him, so he didn’t linger. He picked a bottle of vodka off a shelf and brought it to the counter.
“You got ID?” the clerk asked him.
Sam stared at him. “Are you kidding? I’m almost thirty.”
He knew he didn’t look like he was under 21, but he suspected that the wheelchair made the clerk suspicious of him somehow. Like he was someone who shouldn’t be allowed to buy alcohol. So the guy was looking for an excuse to say no.
“I need to see ID for everyone,” the clerk insisted, still giving him a funny look.
Sam fished into his pocket and pulled out his expired driver’s license. He couldn’t get a new one, but he carried the old one around as a form of ID. Of course, this was the first time he’d needed it in a very long time. But he got his bottle of vodka.
When he got home, the phone was ringing. He knew it was Marie, but he didn’t want to talk to her. She was worried or regretful or something, but if she didn’t want him back, he didn’t want to know she existed. He unplugged the phone and started swigging the vodka directly from the bottle.
The rest of the evening was fuzzy. He plugged the phone back in at some point and it immediately began to ring. Marie. She had already broken his heart, what more did she want from him? He told her what she wanted to hear, then got her off the phone as soon as he could. He was sure she could tell he had been drinking, but he didn’t care anymore.
He woke up the next morning clutching his head. Sunlight filtered in through the window next to his bed, and he groaned and looked away. He had forgotten what it felt like to have a hangover. He looked at his wheelchair, askew next to his bed, and didn’t think he had the energy to get into it, much less attempt to get to work.
He reached for the phone by his bed and pressed the speed dial number for Dean’s apartment. Dean took several rings to answer and he was beginning to worry that he might have to drag himself out of bed. Finally, he heard his friend’s voice: “Yo, what’s up?”
“Dean, can you cover for me today at work?” Just the effort of talking brought on an intense throbbing above his right brow.
Dean immediately sounded concerned. Sam had never made a request like that before in two years. “Sure, man. What’s wrong?”
“Marie broke up with me,” he said. “And… I had a little too much to drink last night.”
“Don’t even worry about it, Sam,” Dean said. “Just take care of yourself.”
A few weeks ago, Sam and Dean had a talk about Marie. Sam had said something along the lines of he was really falling for Marie. Dean had told him not to get too attached. Sam was glad that Dean didn’t say “I told you so” now.
He shut his head and drifted back to sleep, pulling the covers over his head to block out the light from the window. He slept fitfully but without dreams. It wasn’t until several hours later that he woke up from the sound of his front door slamming shut. He struggled to prop himself up on his elbows, still rubbing his bleary eyes.
The door to the bedroom flung open and a look of surprise came over his mother’s face as she realized he was home. “I thought you’d be at work,” she said. “I was going to clean up.”
“I’m not working today,” Sam said, not offering any further explanation.
Annette gave him a funny look, but then shrugged. “All right, well, it’s almost noon, so maybe you’d like to get out of bed so I can change your sheets.”
It was always kind of embarrassing for Sam that he was almost thirty and his mother was still making his bed. But as he pulled the covers off his legs, he found something new to be embarrassed about: between having slept for nearly twelve hours and all the alcohol he had to drink, he had wet the bed. Big time. There was a large circle of wetness on the sheets and his boxers were soaked. He couldn’t remember the last time this had happened to him.
“Sam!” his mother cried. “What happened?”
I think it’s pretty damn obvious. “I guess I had an accident…”
“Having you been cathing yourself before bed?” she demanded to know.
“I guess I forgot last night…”
Annette yanked the sheets off his bed as he transferred into his chair. “Sam, didn’t we talk about this over and over?” she huffed. “If you don’t take care of your bladder, your kidneys are going to get damaged. You understand that, right?”
It wasn’t bad enough that he had wet the bed, but now he was getting yelled at for it. He felt like he was five years old. “Yeah, I know, Mom.”
“I mean, we just got things under control, right?” she went on. “Remember you used to have to wear the legbag? Is that what you want to go back to?”
“No,” Sam mumbled. He fumbled with his legs in the footplate.
He had a feeling she would have gone on and on about the bladder except she then laid eyes on the half empty bottle of vodka on his bedside table. He wished to god he’d put it away the night before, but he hadn’t guessed his mother would be bursting in on him.
“You haven’t been drinking, have you?” she gasped.
“A little,” he admitted.
“Oh, Sam…” she sighed. “I can’t believe you, I really can’t. You know how bad alcohol is for you with your injury, right?
Sam nodded. His head still ached and he didn’t want to have this conversation.
“You could have another seizure,” she reminded him. “We’d have to put you back on your seizure medication. Remember how groggy it made you? You don’t want that, do you?”
“No.” He shifted in his chair. He just wanted her to leave him alone so he could go to the bathroom and cath himself and change his boxers.
“This is very serious. Are you listening to me?”
“I’m really disappointed in you, Sam,” she said. “When you moved out, we had a discussion about all these things, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, we did.” Annette had, in fact, been the one who set Sam’s watch to alarm when it was time for him to empty his bladder.
“So what happened?”
He hesitated, debating if he should tell her. He figured she was going to find out sooner or later, and sympathy was better than a lecture. His mother was always trying to come up with an argument for him moving back home, which would have been a huge step backwards for him. He wanted to avoid that at any cost. “Marie dumped me,” he finally said.
He had expected sympathy, but he didn’t expect his mother’s eyes fill with tears. She reached out and hugged him so suddenly that he had to grab onto his wheel for balance. “Oh, Sam honey,” she murmured.
“It’s okay,” he said, wishing she would just leave him alone. He didn’t want to start crying again himself.
“What happened?” she asked, pulling away but still keeping her hand on his arm. “She seemed so nice. And I could tell she really liked you.”
He shrugged, trying to play it cool. “Her parents didn’t like me.”
“Is that all?” Annette said. She managed a smile. “Oh Sam, the parents never like the boyfriend. She’ll get over it.”
“I don’t think so…” He didn’t want to go into the details of the horrible evening with the Rosens. It was hard enough to have experienced it, without having to relive the experience.
“My parents hated your dad when they first met him,” she recalled. “They just couldn’t deal with him not being white. My father said that he’d rather me be an old maid than marry a man who was half-Japanese.”
“I can imagine Grandpa saying that.”
“I thought about breaking up with him for a while,” Annette said, “but… I finally realized that my parents weren’t the ones who were going to marry him. I was the only one who had to like him.” She gave his arm a squeeze. “I think Marie will realize that as well. Give her time.”
For the first time since he purchased that bottle of vodka, Sam felt a tiny ray of hope. Maybe his mother was right. Although maybe it was better not to try to get his hopes up.
“I want you to come home for dinner Friday night,” his mother said. “You haven’t been home in a while and we miss having you. Dad or I will pick you up.”
“And Ben is bringing Elise.”
Sam winced. “Mom…”
“Sam, he’s your brother,” Annette said, her voice gentle but firm. “How long are you going to avoid him?”
Sam sighed. He hated to admit it, but his mother was right. He couldn’t avoid Ben or his new wife-to-be. Of course, he had been hoping the next time he saw Ben, he’d have Marie at his side. So much for that. “Okay, fine.”
His mother smiled at him and stood up, grabbing the remainder of his bottle of vodka. “I’m pouring this out,” she said.
Marie collected all her library books and brought them with her to return. The maximum number of books anyone was allowed to take from the library was eight, but somehow she had ten. Sam had let the extra two books slide, because he was in love with her.
Marie arrived at the library, armed with her thinly veiled excuse for seeing Sam. She was disappointed to see that Dean was behind the counter, even though she knew Sam was supposed to work today. She brought her books to the counter and didn’t waste any time in grilling Dean: “Where’s Sam?”
Dean picked the first of her books off the stack. “He’s home. Hungover.”
“You talked to him?”
“Yes.” Her eyes met Dean’s for an instant and she knew that he knew everything. “How… how is he?”
“What can I say? He’s a mess.”
Marie felt her eyes filling up with tears. “Because of me?”
“Come on, stop it,” Dean sighed. “Look, you dumped him so don’t act so concerned and innocent. I mean, I’m sure you had your reasons, but… you have to expect the guy’s going to be hurting.”
“I didn’t want to hurt him…”
“Well, you did.” Dean shrugged. “It was inevitable. I told him not to get too attached to you, but this was his first relationship in five years, so… you know… it meant a lot to him.”
Each of Dean’s words was like a dagger in her chest. He really knew how to make her feel guilty. She wanted to try to explain that she hadn’t thought the end of their relationship was an inevitability, but she knew he wouldn’t believe her or care. Dean didn’t give a shit about her. He just cared about his friend.
“Maybe it’s a good idea if you found another place to get books,” Dean told her. “I think it’s better if he doesn’t have to see you. I mean, if you care.”
Marie nodded. She needed Caldwell Library to get her degree, but none of that seemed to matter anymore.
Sam probably would have spent the rest of the day in his undershirt and boxers, moping around the apartment, drinking, and feeling sorry for himself. His mother knew it too, which was probably why she hung around all day. To keep an eye on him and be his personal cheerleader. She stood over him while he dutifully swallowed his pills, washed his face, and brushed his teeth.
“Do you need help in the shower?” she asked him.
“God no,” he replied, slightly horrified. He didn’t like to remember how when he had first come home from rehab, he had required more than a little help from his mother with the bathing process. But that was a long time ago.
When six o’clock rolled around, she reminded him that his class was that day. He had forgotten about it, and he felt sick at the thought of going. “I don’t really feel like it,” he mumbled.
“Well, too bad,” she said. “You’re going. I’ll give you a ride.”
Sam stared at his mother, “You know, I am an adult, Mom. Whether you believe it or not. I can make my own decisions.”
Her voice softened, “Sam, I’m just doing this for your own good. Think about how far you’ve come in the last five years.”
Sam had heard this story repeated many times. The blast had thrown him against a wall, breaking his spine and smashing his skull. The head CT in the hospital had shown so much blood, they weren’t sure if he’d ever wake up. After the surgery to evacuate the blood, his mother was told that his chances of any sort of meaningful recovery were slim. He’d always be completely dependent for his care and likely end up institutionalized. He couldn’t even imagine how his family must have reacted to that prognosis.
After a few weeks, he had started opening his eyes and making some purposeful movements. He didn’t remember this time at all, but he knew they put a tube in his stomach to feed him because he remembered his later struggles to swallow normally again. He remembered how frustrating it was to hear the nurses’ promises of getting the tube out if he could just manage to eat his dinner, but it was so hard. He remembered how proud of himself he had been when they took out the feeding tube. He still had the scar on his abdomen to remember it by.
After learning to swallow again, he had to learn how to speak normally again. He couldn’t even count how many hours he spent in speech therapy and he was still convinced that his speech was slower than it used to be. Then there was learning to dress, learning to bathe, learning to take care of his bowel and bladder. In retrospect, it seemed amazing that he had managed to move out of his parents’ house at all. It had been a long five years.
“All right, I’ll go,” Sam finally said.
He was early for the class, having overestimated how much time it would take to get there based on taking the shuttle each week. Annette walked him into the building and he was pleased to run into his friend Richard, who was also with his mother. Annette and Richard’s mother had become friends themselves back in the days when Annette used to drive him to the class every week, but Sam had forgotten how good friends they were until he saw his mother give the other older woman a hug.
“How are you holding up, Sandy?” Annette asked.
“Oh, I’ve been better,” Richard’s mother sighed.
Richard flashed Sam a look. “Do you want to get to class?”
Sam nodded, “Mom, I’ll see you later.”
Annette looked concerned. “Do you want a ride home?”
“No, I can get the shuttle,” Sam said. His mother looked like she might argue with him, but she let it go. He was relieved—he’d had enough of her for the day.
Once inside the classroom, Richard let out a loud sigh. “Sorry, I just didn’t want to have to listen to my mother whine about what a pain it is to take care of me,” he explained. He added, “Again.”
Sam offered Richard a sympathetic look. He knew Richard didn’t get along that well with his mother. He wasn’t sure if it was a consequence of the amount of time they spent together these days or if there had been preexisting problems, but it certainly didn’t make life easy for either of them. Richard needed a lot of help with everything, considering he couldn’t move his right side at all and he had very poor coordination on his good side. He had enough control over his left arm to operate a power wheelchair, but his handwriting was barely legible and it took him over an hour to feed himself a simple meal, even after it was set up for him. And unlike Sam, Richard still had his feeding tube in due to residual difficulty swallowing pills.
“Why is your mother here?” Richard asked. “You usually take the shuttle over from the library, right?”
Sam rubbed his knees. “I’m kind of having a bad day. Marie dumped me last night.”
“Wow… I’m sorry, man.”
“I don’t even know why I was surprised,” he muttered. “Everyone told me it was inevitable.”
Richard didn’t say anything.
“It’s just… really depressing,” Sam went on. “I thought I had no shot at getting a girl and then I get one and fall for her… then right away, she dumps me. I hate my job and I’m all alone, probably forever.” He shook his head, feeling tears rising in his eyes again. He had thought he was past the point of tears, but apparently not.
“Hey, calm down,” Richard said.
Sam wiped his eyes self-consciously. He didn’t want to start crying in the middle of class. He had to get control of himself. “I just feel like… like my life couldn’t get any worse.”
Richard stared at him, “Really, Sam? Is that what you’re saying to me? Really?”
Sam blinked, “Huh?”
“Look at me, dickwad,” Richard said. Sam had never heard Richard swear before. “I would kill to be able to hold down any kind of job. Or have my own apartment. And you really think you’ll never find a girlfriend again?”
“Wheelchair or not, you’re actually a good looking guy,” Richard pointed out. “If you stopped being such a whiny bitch, you probably wouldn’t have any trouble meeting girls.”
“I could say the same for you,” Sam said.
Richard snorted. “Please, don’t insult me.”
Sam had known Richard a long time, so it was hard to look at him the way others might see him. To him, Richard was just his friend. But the truth was, Richard looked like a brain injury patient. He sat in a giant power wheelchair, his right arm curled up against his chest, locked into flexion contractures. His left arm shook when he tried to use it for anything beyond controlling the joystick on his powerchair. His face was asymmetric too and he spoke out of the left corner of his mouth. So no, Richard wasn’t the most attractive guy in the world. Maybe even someone bad enough off that he could be envious of a guy like Sam. But Sam figured women grouped them both into the same category: crippled guys in wheelchairs. He didn’t think there was much that distinguished him from Richard to the able-bodied world.
“If I could get a girl, I think you could too,” Sam said.
Richard shook his head, “You really need to do something about your self-esteem.”
“Yeah, well, you too.”
After a long pause, finally Richard laughed, “Okay, maybe you’re right, Sam. We’re both ladies’ men.”
Sam laughed too, for the first time since his talk with Marie. Maybe Richard had a point. Marie had fallen for him, so there surely would be other girls who would too. He was hurting, but it wasn’t the end of the world.
To be continued...