Only twenty minutes managed to pass before I noticed we were on an all-too-familiar street. I could easily see the little, red mailbox with the numbers 420 painted on the side with white daisies surrounding them. Mom had always been real creative and was forever finding new projects to work on around the house. I saw a dark blue 3000gt parked in the driveway. “Who’s here?” I asked.
Sid perked up for the first time during the drive. “What a beauty, huh? Mom and Dad got her for me after graduation. She’s got custom wheels and everything.”
I thought back to the little shit cars I’d had over the past few years and scoffed. But it didn’t matter what kind of car I had now, it’s not like I could drive it. “Yeah, it looks really good.” I tried to say it as casually as possible, but it somehow came out with a cynical air. Everyone pretended not to notice.
After stopping the car, dad came around to help me out while Sid got my wheelchair. For the second time that day I was cradled like an infant in my father’s arms. Relief came washing over me as my dignity was somewhat restored after I was back in my power chair.
This time my mother strapped me back in. As she was placing my hands, I looked up at the house I had been born and raised in, yet hadn’t seen for over five years. The shutters and door had been painted a deep burgundy, and there were more flowers lining the walkway. Other than that, everything was exactly the same as it had been the day I’d stormed out of the once white door.
“Sid, get the rest of Skelly’s things, will you?” My mom looked back at me before stepping onto the walkway leading to the front door. “You ready?” She winked.
I was suddenly filled with gratitude towards my mother for trying so hard to make the transition back home easier for me. After letting Sid pass by with one of my bags, I tried to set my wheelchair in motion with the push of my fist. My mother hadn’t been paying very close attention to what she’d been doing before and set my joystick hand too far over the edge of the armrest. After weakly struggling for a few moments to get my fist onto the joystick handle I gave up, knowing I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to get the handle under my gnarled hand.
Silently watching the battle between me and my own arm, my father reached down to guide my tight fist onto my lap. He then stepped behind my wheelchair and started pushing me up the walkway to the house where my mother and Sid had disappeared into only minutes before. The red brick steps in front of the door had been recently replaced with a freshly made, wooden ramp. Easily pushing me up it, once inside my father chauffeured me from room to room.
My jaw dropped as I realized what once had been the living room was now a gigantic bedroom. My mother stepped into view from the kitchen entrance. “Since your old room upstairs is out of the question,” she looked down at my legs, “and because you need a lot of room to maneuver your chair around, the living room will be your new bedroom.” She smiled broadly, apparently pleased at the living room’s transformation.
My parents had really splurged on medical supplies and devices. A hospital bed was centered in the middle of the room with a large sling off to the side. The couch was still there but it was now on the right side of the bed. It would have been great if the hospital had that. Then Ollie, Zane, and Emmett could have all sat down and talked to me at once. Now that I looked closer, the couch was really a good idea. I didn’t think I’d want the guys to see me laying up in bed too much, though. I always felt really helpless when I was on my back and everybody else was standing up, looking down on me.
I was so surprised at the living room’s make-over that I hadn’t even noticed the 30 inch Gateway TV positioned at the foot of the bed. It was definitely not going to be torture staying in my new room. And for the most part, it was really spacious.
My father knelt down and pointed to both entrances to the room. “See this? I had the doors widened so your wheelchair can get through. Every door’s been done, even your mother’s bathroom since you’re going to be bathing in there. We installed a new, handheld showerhead with a special cuff so you can bathe yourself. There’s a shower seat for you to transfer onto also.”
My mother came over and ran her hand over the back of my head like she had when I was little. “Your father and I have really tried our best to make the house as accessible as possible. Except for the upstairs rooms, that is. There’s really no point in that.” I couldn’t tell if she was trying to be funny or merely stating a fact. I glanced down at my legs. They had become so thin, they were almost brittle-looking.
“I really can’t tell you guys how much I appreciate it….thank you.”
My mom bent down and kissed my forehead. “Baby, we’d do anything for you. You just try to adjust and make yourself at home. It’s been a while since you’ve been here.”
Sid came into the room at that moment and announced he was hungry. “What are you making for dinner tonight?”
Pausing to think about it for a second, my mother looked down at me. “What would you like, Skelly? I haven’t cooked for you in such a long time. What foods do you like now?”
I had grown so accustomed to burritos and pizza almost every night of every week before my accident that the food in the hospital had often seemed bizarre; even if it was just corn. “Uh, I really don’t have a preference.”
Walking into the kitchen my mother shouted back over her shoulder, “Well I guess it’s going to be a surprise then. You boys stay out of the kitchen!”
So for the next half hour, while mom was preparing dinner, me and Sid watched Jeopardy on the new TV. I stayed strapped in my wheelchair while Sid sat on the edge of my bed. He actually knew almost all the answers. I hated to admit it, but he was pretty smart for being such an idiot.
Five minutes before the show ended mom ducked her head into the room. “Dinner’s ready boys, come to the table.” Sid hopped down off the bed and pushed me into the kitchen. There was a large, round table off to the side. The last time I’d been there it was in the middle of the room.
My mother and father were already sitting down. Sid took the empty seat next to my mother, leaving me by the vacant spot to my father’s right. I looked down at the special yellow plate with the high end so I didn’t push all the food off of it with my clumsy eating method. On it there were peas, mashed potatoes, and pork chops. A small spill-proof tumbler cup with two large handles on the side for me to put my fists through was filled with tea and had been set off to the side of the plate. I loathed that thing. I always felt like a toddler drinking from a sippy-cup. But I knew my mother had spent a pretty good amount of money on all the special products for me and didn’t want to upset her.
Looking back at the plate, I knew I could easily manage the mashed potatoes and have a little difficulty with the peas, but the pork chop was another matter. I’d have to have someone cut it up for me if I wanted to eat any of it. I was just about to ask Sid for help when I noticed my cuffs with the specially bent fork and spoon were missing. I politely asked my mother where they were.
She looked confused for a moment before turning to Sid. “Didn’t you bring those in, Sid?”
He shook his head. “I only brought in his clothes.”
My mother got up and searched through the duffel bag she’d carried inside. “I don’t see them in here either. That’s strange. I could have sworn Tuck said he put them in this bag.”
I was growing more and more anxious. I needed those cuffs to eat. Without them I’d have to suffer the indignity of having someone feed me; something I thought I’d never have to endure once I’d mastered the art of feeding myself. Trying to avoid an awkward situation, I feigned a yawn and casually said, “I’m not really that hungry anyway, I think I’ll just skip dinner and go to bed.”
My mother, persistent as ever, wouldn’t let me leave the table. “Oh no you don’t. Not having your cuffs won’t keep you away from our first family dinner. We’ll get them tomorrow. For now your father can help you.”
Sitting back down, she motioned for my dad to scoot closer to my wheelchair and help me. He looked like he’d rather skip dinner altogether rather than feed me, but he moved closer anyway. Picking up a fork and twirling it between his fingers, he hesitantly scooped up a bite of mashed potatoes and brought it to my mouth. I closed my eyes before leaning forward as far as my chest strap would allow and taking the fork in my mouth. My dad withdrew a little too quickly, causing the ends of the fork to scrap against the roof of my mouth. I winced slightly. Noticing, my dad said, “Shit, I’m sorry, Skelly.”
I nodded my head, letting him know I was fine. “I’ll do better this time, son.”
After gathering a spoonful of peas, my father’s shaky hand came closer to my face. I already knew what was going to happen. I had expected it. Only inches from my mouth, the peas fell from the spoon held by my father’s anxious hand and tumbled down my shirt and pants, then to the floor. My mother abruptly stood up and quickly walked over to rub a damp napkin over the spots on my chest. She then began plucking peas from various folds of my jeans and the seat of my wheelchair. “Dan, you have to be more careful with Skelly,” she chastised. My father was already on the floor looking for any other peas that might have escaped. I hated how helpless she implied I was.
After everyone was settled back in their seats the atmosphere was a little more tense. Wanting to avoid another mishap by my father’s hand, I opted to try my tea. At least I could do that by myself. I reached out and stuck my fists on both sides of the horrible thing. I wanted to hurl it across the room. First chance I got, I was going to throw it away. I’d rather just sip from my long straw which had been left at the hospital.
I pushed the cup closer to my face, bending down to the level where my arms could lift no higher. All I managed to do was get my lips on the mouthpiece. I was going to have to tilt the cup to get the tea in my mouth. I rolled my fists, trying to angle the cup. No success. I tried an even sharper angle…but to no avail. Frustrated, I sharply thrust the cup upwards, causing it to fall from my weak grasp and clatter to the floor. “Damn it!” I shouted. I could feel my face burning red from both anger and embarrassment. My mother looked alarmed. “There’s no need to shout, Skelly. One of us can get it for you.” My father had already picked the cup back up and placed it in front of me.
After three unsuccessful attempts at eating dinner with my family that night, I called it quits. My mother tried to persuade me to try again, but I had made up my mind. I asked Sid to put my fist onto my joystick so I could at least get myself into the other room without assistance. He did as I told him but because of the somewhat cramped kitchen, I couldn’t get out and ended up trapped in place; my footrests banging against the leg of the table with each failed effort at freeing myself.
I was growing more and more frustrated but was determined to get out of there myself. The last time my feet hit the table leg a glass of tea was knocked over; spilling onto the floor and staining my mother’s white shirt. Hot, angry tears started flowing over my cheeks. I began to sob as I realized what a mess I had made of everything.
I wasn’t even aware of how upset I’d made myself until I noticed my sobs still hadn’t stopped minutes later. Not saying anything, my father unstrapped me from my wheelchair and held me in his arms as he carried me into what used to be the living room. Placing me on the bed, he slid a contour pillow between my knees and one under my head. He rubbed my shoulder for a moment before turning off the light and leaving me alone to cry myself to sleep once again.
To be continued...