I didn’t have to question Ronnie to know what he had decided.
I couldn’t bear to see him for the entire day that Julian came to see me. I encountered Fran in the hallway and she explained to me that Ronnie was in his room with his “uncle.” It was unnecessary for me to hear another word. It was over between Ronnie and me.
It wasn’t until the next day that I gathered up my nerve and went to visit Ronnie in his room. I found him sitting in his wheelchair, feeding himself lunch. To my surprise, he was dressed in a clean white button-up dress shirt with a tie and khaki slacks. I had never seen him in dress clothes before—it made him appear older than his twenty years.
For a moment, I observed him eating. He was using his hand splint and it was obviously quite a task. He had to fumble to get the food onto the fork attached to his splint, then he had to bring the food to his mouth, which was a very slow and deliberate process. His arm shook and wavered during the entire trip and it always seemed like a small miracle when the food reached its destination.
“You’re doing very well,” I finally said, from outside the door.
Ronnie started and nearly dropped the food he was transporting to his mouth. He looked up at me, wheeling into his room, and he smiled nervously. “Hi, Ned.”
“You look well today,” I said, stopping my chair next to his. “New clothes?”
Ronnie nodded. “It’s nice not to have to wear a T-shirt and sweatpants for once.”
“Where did they come from?
“Uh... someone brought them for me.”
Ronnie hung his head. “I’m sorry, Ned.”
“Don’t apologize,” I said briskly.
“But I am sorry.” Ronnie looked up at me and his blue eyes were filled with tears. I felt my anger dissolving. “I love you, Ned, but I’ve got to do this. You know that.”
I love you, Ned. The words echoed in my ears. “I love you too, Ron,” I said. “And... I want you to do what’s best for you.”
Ronnie was crying harder now. I pulled my wheelchair up closer to him and reached out my hand to wipe some of his tears away. I leaned forward far enough that my stumps began to tremble and I kissed Ronnie gently on the lips. He touched my cheek with his hand not in the brace and I felt his soft, limp fingers grazing my skin.
“Just tell me one thing,” I said. “Do you love Julian?”
Ronnie nodded slowly. “I... I think I do. He’s really good to me. And I know he’ll take care of me, no matter what.”
Ronnie seemed to believe in what he was saying. He was doing the right thing. Moving in with Julian was the best thing that could have happened to him. I tried to keep telling myself that.
“This is my chance to do something really great with my life,” Ronnie said. “Julian is going to help me. I’m gonna get my GED and then I’m gonna go to college. And after that, I’m going to grad school.” Ronnie smiled through his tears. “Twenty years from now, I’m going to be a shrink, just like you.”
“You want to be a psychologist?” I stared at him in surprise.
Ronnie nodded. “Do you think think it’s possible?”
“If you did that, I would be so proud of you, Ronnie,” I picked up his hand and held it in mine. “And whether you’re living with Julian or not, I’m going to help you every step of the way. Whatever I can do for you, just let me know. I want to be your friend.”
“You really think I can do it?” Ronnie’s eyes were wide and excited.
“I really do,” I said honestly. “Of course, if you do become a psychologist, you should know that what I did with you was... very unethical.”
“I’m not becoming a shrink just to sleep with my patients,” Ronnie grinned. “Jeez, I’m not like you.”
“Watch it,” I teased him.
“Besides, Julian wants to have a real relationship,” Ronnie said. “No messing around anymore. Real adult stuff.”
“Are you ready for that?” I couldn’t help but fall into my role as the psychologist.
Ronnie rubbed his nose with his limp wrist. “I think so. Hey, it’s not like I’m going to be out partying much anymore. But it’ll be tough. You’re lucky you still get to play the field.”
“Yes, lucky me,” I muttered.
“Come on, Ned,” Ronnie said. “What? You think I’m like your soulmate or something? You can do so much better than me. I mean, what am I? I’m just a crippled kid. You’re like this... really hot really smart doctor.”
“With one working limb,” I added.
“So what? Look at me... I’ve got two guys into me and I’ve got zero working limbs.”
I shook my head. “I just don’t see it happening for me again, Ronnie.”
“Ned, I wish I could move so I could kick your ass,” Ronnie said. “You’ve got to go out there and find a guy you really connect with. Somebody who’s smart and can understand your shrink talk. That’s not me, that’s for sure. Not yet, anyway.”
“Suppose I were interested,” I said hesitantly. “Where would I even meet someone?”
Ronnie grinned. “I don’t know. I never really cruised before... mostly I just got picked up. But I’ll ask Julian for you. He’s an expert.”
“God, I have to get advice from Julian now?”
“Just cuz you’re a shrink, doesn’t mean you know everything,” Ronnie pointed out.
“Touche,” I said. I was surprised by the maturity Ronnie was exhibiting. He was making a lot of sense. I didn’t want my romantic life to end with Ronnie Herran. I wanted to meet other men and forge new relationships. I knew that there were plenty of both women and men out there who seemed to find me attractive, even when I was looking for it. Once I started actively searching for a mate, I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be successful. The thought of it excited me. It was astounding to realize that if not for Ronnie, I might never have begun this search. I wondered if perhaps he wouldn’t be a better therapist than I was someday.
“So what now?” I asked Ronnie. “How long will you be staying in rehab?”
“Julian says I can stay as long as I need to and as long as they’ll let me,” Ronnie explained. “Fran and Jason are going to start teaching him how to take care of me. Tomorrow is the lesson on placing the catheter... should be interesting.”
Ronnie was eternally optimistic about everything. Many men would have been dismayed by the idea of their lover learning how to drain urine from their bladder, but Ronnie was smiling at the thought. In some ways, he acted as if he had been a quad for ages and this was all routine for him. His upbeat attitude was inspiring. “You had better keep coming to quad circle every week,” I told him. “I want everyone there to share your attitude.”
“I’ll be there every week,” Ronnie promised. He grinned at me, “Ned, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even be here.”
I had done my best to help Ronnie. I couldn’t predict with complete accuracy what he’d be doing twenty years down the line, but in my head, I could picture Ronnie showing up to quad circle in a suit and tie, fresh from a full day of working with his patients. Perhaps Ronnie would even work with spinal cord injured patients as I have, attempting to motivate them with his own inspiring story. And if Ronnie did achieve his goals, perhaps I deserved a small credit in this accomplishment. At least, I’d like to think so. The most important thing in life is knowing at the end of the day that you have made some sort of difference in the world.
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