Sam nearly had a heart attack when he laid eyes on Marie’s parents. And based on the looks on their faces when he wheeled out from behind his desk, he knew that she hadn’t told them about his disability. Clearly, they were none too happy about it, but there wasn’t much he could do about that.
He wished Marie had listened to him when he told her he couldn’t go to dinner. He had a sinking feeling that this dinner was going to go very badly. Marie didn’t realize how badly he decompensated in stressful situations. He wanted to make a good impression on her parents, but he recognized that likely wasn’t going to happen.
The restaurant that Marie’s parents had chosen was a short walk from the library. Sam could feel the Rosens staring at him as he pushed his palms against the wheels of his chair. They already didn’t like him. At this point, he was going to have to be Prince Charming in order to win them over and he was pretty sure he didn’t have that in him.
Thankfully, there were no steps to get into the restaurant. He didn’t think he could deal with a flight of stairs. He doubted his ability to even hop one step right now, considering how anxious he was feeling. He imagined what kind of impression he’d make if he fell out of his wheelchair.
They were placed at a large table relatively close to the entrance. Within a minute of being seated, Sam knocked over the water glass in front of him. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. The waiter rushed over to help him clean up. He could feel Marie’s father glaring at him. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
The waiter brought him a fresh glass of water and he stared at it, wishing that the evening were already over and done with.
“So Sam,” Steve Rosen began, “how long have you been working at the library?”
“Two years,” he replied. He glanced over at Marie, who flashed him a reassuring smile.
“And you’re… what, thirty?”
Steve grunted. “Any ambitions beyond the library?”
“Daddy!” Marie cried.
Sam nervously toyed with the fork in front of him. Before he knew what was happening, it flew off the table and clattered onto the floor. They were in the restaurant for less than five minutes and he had already dropped two things. He hated to think what would happen when the food arrived.
He reached down to pick up the fork, but that set off a spasm in his leg. He watched helplessly as his right foot bounced up and down in the footrest. He grabbed his knee, trying to relax the muscles. Stupid baclofen. He wondered if he needed to go up on the dosage, although he didn’t think he could bear the fatigue of a higher dose.
As he held onto his knee, he was remotely aware that Marie’s parents were talking, but with the noise in the restaurant and the spasm situation, he couldn’t focus on anything they were saying. He tried his best, but he felt a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead as he realized that he just couldn’t concentrate right now. What a mess.
“What do you think, Sam?” Beth Rosen was saying.
“Um…” He didn’t even know what the question was. He clenched his fists together as all three Rosens stared at him, waiting for a response. “I, uh…”
Sam caught the look that Beth flashed her daughter and his stomach sunk. This was bad. Really bad. He wondered if he should just leave now, if things could possibly get any worse.
“Excuse me, sir.” Sam felt a tap on his shoulder. It was one of the waiters. “Did you drop one of your utensils?”
“Yeah,” Sam confirmed. “I need a new…” He stopped, drawing a blank. No no no no no, not now, please not now… “I need a new… um, for eating…” Crap crap crap…
The waiter stared at him. “A spoon?”
“He needs a fork,” Steve grunted.
Fork! That was it! “Yeah, a fork.”
This time even Marie was staring at him in disbelief. He rubbed his eyes with his hands, wishing this would all go away. Maybe he’d wake up and this would all be a dream. He’d wake up in his bed, Marie lying asleep beside him.
But no, this was really happening. He was really making a complete fool out of himself in front of his girlfriend’s parents.
He leaned over and whispered in Marie’s ear, “Maybe I should go.”
“Don’t you dare,” Marie said through gritted teeth.
He lost himself in the menu, trying to block out everything else and concentrate on at least ordering properly. He was dimly aware of Marie’s mother asking him another question, but he didn’t even attempt to answer her. He could only imagine what they thought of him.
When the waiter arrived, he went around the table taking everyone’s orders. Sam had picked out a dish, but when it was his turn, he drew yet another blank. “Sir, what would you like to order?”
“Um…” He stared down at the menu. The menu was just too long, too many items. This was too hard. He couldn’t remember the dish he had wanted.
“Having a little trouble there, Sam?” Steve spoke up. “The waiter asked you for your order. Are you deaf, too?”
“No, I…” He forced himself to focus. Just pick something, dumbass! “I’ll have the swordfish.”
He didn’t even like swordfish, but it was the first item he laid eyes on. He quickly handed the menu back to the waiter, who was ready with a follow-up question: “Would you like French fries, mashed potatoes, rice, or vegetables with your fish?”
Sam stared at him. He couldn’t remember even one of the options he had just been presented with. “Um, could you repeat those?”
Thankfully, Marie sensed this was a dangerous situation and broke in with: “He’ll have rice.”
“Very good, sir,” the waiter said in an overly patronizing voice. Christ, this is going badly.
“Fish is good for you, Sam,” Steve said. “It’s brain food, you know. Looks like you could use it.”
“Daddy!” Marie snapped.
Steve just shrugged and Sam knew the comment was deserved. This was a rare low for him. It was more than a little bit upsetting that five years ago he had been on the verge of earning a PhD in physics and now he couldn’t even come up with the word for “fork”. He just hoped the food would arrive soon so that everyone could concentrate on that instead. God knew what he’d manage to drop or spill before it arrived.
As long as it didn’t get any worse, he would have happy at this point. But that wasn’t destined to be the case.
“Ugh, what’s that smell?” Steve commented.
Sam hadn’t been aware of any smell, but when he looked up, he could see Marie and her mother were both crinkling their noses as well. Then he smelled it too. And he felt the worst that he had all evening. This was bad. This was beyond bad. Crapping your pants when you’re having dinner with your new girlfriend’s parents is about as bad as it gets. There was no way to recover from this.
At this point, he could tell everyone at the table at figured it out. He took a deep breath and unlocked the brakes on his chair. “You know what,” he said, “I’m just going to go.”
Marie didn’t protest this time. She knew irreparable damage had been done. He bet she wished she had listened to him when he said he didn’t want to go to dinner.
He backed away from the table and wheeled in the direction of the bathroom. He wasn’t sure how he was going to deal with this situation, but he figured he’d try to clean things up as much as he could before he leaked onto his wheelchair cushion. This hadn’t happened to him in so long that he had believed he was “safe” and didn’t bring a change of pants with him.
Just as he was pushing the door to the men’s room open, he heard a voice calling his name. It was Marie.
“Sam, wait,” she said.
He couldn’t even look at her, “I’m just going to get cleaned up and go.”
She shook her head at him, “What happened out there?”
“I warned you, Marie.” He felt himself getting angry. “You like to pretend I’m normal, but I’m not. I have a serious brain injury and I told you I was going to be in over my head.”
“But that was… I’ve never seen you like that…”
“I guess I’ve gotten good at hiding it,” he said simply.
Marie shifted from foot to foot, glancing back at the dining area. “I don’t want to go back out there.”
“They’re going to tell you dump me.”
Marie didn’t say anything.
Sam felt the next question rising to his lips: Are you? But he couldn’t bring himself to ask. He was terrified to hear the answer. “I’m going to go, okay?”
Marie watched Sam wheel into the bathroom and she felt frozen. She knew exactly what her parents were going to say to her and she couldn’t bear to hear it. And worse, she felt like this dinner revealed a side of Sam that she had never seen before, a side that he had been desperately trying to conceal from her. She hadn’t realized quite how impaired he was until tonight.
That shouldn’t matter if you love him.
Marie took a deep breath and forced herself to walk back to the table where her parents were still sitting. She slid into her chair and stared down at the empty plate in front of her. She braced herself.
“Marie,” her mother began.
She lifted her eyes and saw that both her parents wore stern expressions on their faces. How different from the giddiness of Annette Ziegler when Marie had first introduced herself.
“Marie,” her father said, “was that some kind of joke?”
She didn’t answer.
“Well, was it?”
“No, of course not,” Marie’s voice quavered.
“You’re actually dating that boy?” Steve Rosen said.
“Yes. I am.”
Her parents exchanged looks. “Marie,” Beth said again, “are… are you sure he’s the right person for you?”
“I like him,” Marie said, betraying the lack of confidence in her words.
“Marie, I don’t know what’s wrong with that boy,” her father said, “but he clearly has serious cognitive issues. He couldn’t even get out a sentence!”
“He was nervous…”
“I’m not even sure it’s legal for you to have a relationship with him,” Steve said. “I mean, can he even give consent?”
“Of course he can!”
Steve shook his head. “I can’t believe this. I really can’t. Marie, I thought you had more sense than this.”
“I guess I don’t,” she said with a shrug.
There was a long tense silence at the table. Marie didn’t think she’d ever seen her father as furious as he looked at this moment. She was glad that Sam wasn’t still here, because he’d have been in danger of being punched in the nose. She had brought home a couple of real doozies in the past, but Sam had just outdone any of them.
And the truth was, she was still kind of in shock herself. She knew Sam’s wheelchair wasn’t going to go over well with them, but she thought they’d realize what a wonderful guy he was and be able to look past it. She hadn’t expected him to act the way he did. She didn’t blame her parents for being angry.
“Marie honey,” Beth said, “we just want the best for you. I’m not sure why you’re dating this boy or how serious you are about him, but this is something you really need to think about. Do you really want to attach yourself to someone with the kind of problems that he has?”
An hour earlier, Marie had thought that Sam Ziegler was the man she was going to marry. Now she suddenly found herself questioning whether she wanted to be with him at all. She loved him, yes. But it was beginning to be clear that there were major obstacles in the way of them spending their lives together. And if it was a doomed relationship, maybe it was better to just end it now.
She couldn’t help but remember Dean’s words: Try not to hurt him too badly.
To be continued...