I watched as my mother whipped around the kitchen. Bustling back and forth, she hurriedly yet expertly threw together the ingredients for a small, raspberry pie. I sat, deep in thought. I was startled when she suddenly bent down in front of me and put her hands on my shoulders. “Do you want to get ready now?”
I was confused. I looked down at my jeans and t-shirt and didn’t know how to get ‘readier.’ She told me to sit tight for a second before she darted upstairs to Sid’s room. Out she came with a pair of swim trunks. I eyed her suspiciously, “What are those for?” My mother wrung the trunks between her hands for a moment before continuing. “Well… there’s going to be something of a small pool party at the Volkovas.”
I was becoming a little irritated. “So what’s the point of me even going, mom? I can’t get in the pool! I’m just going to look weird sitting there in my chair wearing swim shorts.”
She pursed her lips, but I could tell she was already set on the idea. “Skelly, it’s been months since you just sat outside in the fresh air. A little sun wouldn’t do you any harm. The Volkova’s have a nice pool deck and cabana, you can sit in the shade if you want.”
I hated arguing with my mother; mainly because I knew I’d always give in to her. She was also the most determined person I’d ever known. So I allowed her to undress me and slip Sid’s much-too-large swim trunks over my thin frame. Where me and Sid used to be exactly the same weight, I was now at least 30 pounds lighter. She left my support stockings on but strapped a pair of brown sandals over my curling feet. This was the first time I’d worn shoes since my accident. I didn’t really know what the purpose of the sandals was, but I assumed they made my appearance look more ‘complete.’ A plain white t-shirt was the last bit of clothing my mother put on me besides a black ball cap.
“Am I ready now?” I asked. “Almost, there’s just a few things I need to pack up before we leave.” I watched as she gathered my hands cuffs, which my father had gotten from the hospital for me, the curved fork, long straw, a new diaper, and wet wipes. I blushed slightly. “Mom, you’re not going to change me over at the Volkovas’ house are you?”
She didn’t even look up but continued packing. “If nature calls, it calls. I’m sure there’s a bed I could clean you up on.” Just the thought of someone I barely knew walking in on such a degrading activity was enough to make my heart race. I was already becoming nervous about what lay ahead. “Okay, just let me get your father to help us load you into the car, and we’ll be ready to go,” she said cheerily.
Before leaving the room she set the bag filled with my things on my lap and guided my braced wrist to the joystick. I followed closely behind her out onto the driveway next to the 4runner. My mother’s hand was shading her squinting eyes as she called out to my father. He’d been at the mailbox sending off some bills. “Dan! Come help me get Skelly in the car.”
I checked around to see if anyone who happened to be outside was going to be in viewing range of my transfer. Only old Ms. Kollins was weeding out her garden across the street. She looked up and held my gaze before glancing at my legs and tsk-tsking. My dad lightly jogged over and took the bag from my lap, placing it on the backseat. After swiftly unstrapping me and hoisting me into the car, he fastened the seatbelt before I slid forward. My mother smiled sweetly at him. “Are you going to come with me and Skelly to the Volkovas’?” He thought for a minute before telling her he would, then went inside to change into shorts and a t-shirt.
Soon after, all three of us were in the car and ready to go. Only five minutes passed before we were at the Volkovas’. Serg’s mom was already waiting outside, anxious for our arrival. I’d always thought she was very ‘mom-looking.’ She wasn’t too much older than my own mother, in fact, she could have been younger. But no one in town compared to my mom. She was always stunning. “Julia, Dan, velcome!” She greeted my parents warmly with her thick Russian accent, hugging them both. Directly after, she looked into the backseat and spotted me. “Skelly, geeve me a hug!” She leaned into the backseat and wrapped her arms around me. I tried my best to lift my arms high enough to give her a proper hug, but I just couldn’t. My arms faltered halfway up and soon swayed limply in front of me. She didn’t seem to notice, though and hugged all of me, my arms pressed into her large bosom.
She stepped back only when my father motioned that he had to help me out of the car. She watched intently as he held and lowered me into my wheelchair, which my mother had brought around from the back of the car. “I see it ehs so hard for you, Skelly. My Sergei has gone through same thing. You talk to him, yes?” I nodded as my father started pushing me around the back of the house, Ms. Volkova leading the way. Though there was a small step preventing my passage, my dad deftly pulled me up over it and onto the pool deck.
I could that Serg was already swimming laps in the pool; his hand darting out before him every time he’d come to the edge. I sighed and prepared myself for an awkward afternoon. I had no idea what to say to Serg. Sure we both had handicaps now, but the two were totally different. Ms. Volkova walked over to the edge of the pool and called out to Serg. “Sergei! Come out of da pool and greet our guests.” Extending his hand up out of the water, Ms. Volkova grabbed it and pulled him onto the deck. She handed him a towel as she guided him by his elbow over to my parents and me. “Sergei, you know Shepherds.” He held out his hand in our general direction. My father shook it first, then my mother. “You also know deir son, Skelly. You two high-schooled together.”
She smiled broadly as she steered his open hand down to my level. I panicked a little. Ms. Volkova obviously didn’t notice one of my more obvious deficits. I held out my arm as far up as it would go. My hand hung there limply, only supported by the brace. My fingers were completely bent around it. Serg’s hand found my own and he shook it hesitantly at first, then pumped it like he had my father’s. I guess he had been startled by the soft feel of my curled fingers.
Serg’s large smile appeared on his handsome face. “How are you, Skelly? I heard about your accident. It’s a damn shame, but hey, what are you gonna do? Shit happens.” He seemed like a very accepting person, and that made me like him all the more. I hated when patients would bitch and moan in the rehab center. I just wanted to scream at them that nothing could be done about it, accept it; life’s going to be harder from now on.
My mother walked over and set the raspberry pie she’d made on the table beside an assortment of casseroles and various other side dishes. Ms. Volkova had really gone all out for lunch. Already sitting off to the side in a pool chair, buried behind a newspaper, was Serg’s dad. Mr. Volkova didn’t even get up to say hello. I remembered that he didn’t speak much English, but still, he could have at least acknowledged our presence. Serg’s mom motioned for my parents to sit down. She quickly set down paper plates and plastic forks in front of them. As my mom pushed me closer to the table she shook her head as Ms. Volkova set a plate and fork down in front of me. “Oh that’s okay, Ivana. Skelly has to use adaptive utensils. His are in the bag.”
My father loaded my yellow plate with the more easily manageable foods that had been prepared while my mother slid my cuffs over my hands. I heard Mr. Volkova explaining to Serg in Russian where what food on his plate was. Though I didn’t know Russian, I could still tell what was going on because Serg’s dad was absent-mindedly pointing to the food he was talking about.
For the next twenty minutes or so my parents made small talk with Ms. Volkova and Serg. Every once and a while my dad would try to engage Mr. Volkova in the conversation but would only receive a grunt in reply. I didn’t really say much. Serg’s mom would occasionally ask me a question, but mostly I ate in silence, periodically stealing glances at Serg. His movements were very graceful and fluid. If I hadn’t known the truth, I never would have thought he was blind. After lunch was finished and the pie had been eaten, Serg jumped back into the pool while my mom and Ms. Volkova started cleaning up and washing dishes inside. My dad rolled me over to a somewhat shady spot and laid down on a pool chair a few feet away. He was soon napping quietly in the sun. Mr. Volkova continued on with his newspaper.
At first the warm afternoon felt really nice. I allowed myself to close my eyes and just relax; listening to Serg’s splashes ahead of me. I must have dozed off because the next time I opened my eyes the sun was glaring down on me, the shade having moved just feet away. I looked around to see who was nearby but saw no one. I realized I was sweating and could feel that my upper body was flushed with heat. I had to get to the shade before I overheated. But to my dismay I saw that my hand had fallen from the joystick and was now hanging on the other side of the armrest. I struggled only for a minute, knowing I couldn’t do it by myself. I felt myself growing angry at my parents for not having come to check on me or notice my predicament. Even Mr. Volkova was nowhere to be found.
I knew I had to get out of the sun. I cleared my throat and called out. “Hello? Mom….dad!” I yelled louder when I saw that I was truly alone outside. I began to feel desperate. I hated not even being able to move my own wheelchair. I screamed out in frustration as I unsuccessfully tried lifting my hand to the joystick once more. It was hopeless. I just couldn’t do it by myself. After a last exasperated grunt, Serg suddenly appeared; lightly dragging his hand along the gate surrounding the pool. He turned his head to the left, then the right, trying to determine where I was. “Where are you?” he asked.
I called out again, this time making my response longer so he had time to find my exact location. Though he was talking directly to me, his vibrant green eyes blankly stared off to his left. “What’s wrong? Why are you yelling?”
I explained that I couldn’t get my hand on the joystick of my wheelchair, therefore leaving me unable to move myself. “Serg, where are my parents?”
“Oh, they went two houses down to look at Ms. Ewing’s garden with my mom. They’ll be back before too much longer.” I was still angry at them for not having noticed the potential threat of the sun before leaving me stranded.
I felt a drop of sweat spill from my hairline and trickle down to the end of my nose. I had to get out of the heat. “Serg, reach down grab my right hand. I need you to guide it to my joystick so I can get myself out of the sun.” He looked puzzled for a moment after hearing my request. I guess since he couldn’t see me, he didn’t know just how handicapped I was. But I was sure he had at least heard the electric whir of my power chair.
Serg bent down and lightly touched the top of my knee, feeling his way across my lap in an attempt to find my hand. After identifying my right arm, he felt his way down my thin forearm while locating the joystick with his free hand. As he wrapped my tense fingers around the control, he asked, “Is there anything else you need me to do?” I asked if he would lead me to the back door so that I could cool off in their house while waiting for my parent’s return.
Once at the door I was elated to find that there were no steps leading inside, but dismayed when I realized my wheelchair wasn’t going to fit through the door. Sweating profusely, I knew I couldn’t stay outside or I’d run the risk of passing out. There was only one other option. I sighed resignedly before addressing Serg. “My wheelchair can’t fit through the door. There…there’s only one other way…” I trailed off, hoping he’d get the idea without actually having to ask him to carry me.
But Serg was a perceptive guy and picked up on the unavoidable. “Just tell me what to do, Skelly.”
To be continued...