Click this for part two
Click this for part three
This sample is from copyrighted work. Please respect the copyright. Thanks! There is a link to purchase the book on this blog. There is also a link to the smaller book, "Green Goblin", which is contained in the longer book. "Green Goblin" is a good cautionary tale to those in need of caution.
We continue with the sample...
The courtyard was plain. The building bordered it on three sides. One side was the wing I came from. My room was on the end. The opposite side held the door we used to go in and out and a common room with couches, tables, chairs, and vending machines. The other side was a glass enclosed walkway. The open end was a nice grassy rectangle with houses on the other side of privacy fences and hedges.
It was a nice place to sit and smoke. There was a cooler by the door, a plastic thermal cooler with a white spout at the bottom. The water was always cold, even in the afternoon. There were people in the courtyard. Some were in wheelchairs, others used walkers, and still others seemed to need no assistance.
A grizzled old guy in a wheelchair pulled himself toward me, making eye contact every inch of the way. Something about him seemed a bit off…I couldn’t tell what it was, but I paid attention. He wore a dark blue ball cap on his head with a U.S. Navy ship’s name on it, but I don’t remember which ship. His language skills were minimal, but I had no doubt what he wanted. He wanted a cigarette. I know the look.
I was about to give him one with a smile on my face, but a voice stopped me. “Don’t give him one, man! He always wants one but never has one for anyone else.” Before I turned my head to see who spoke, the old man growled something at the guy and gave him the finger.
I never broke eye contact with Captain Ahab. “I’m out,” I said.
The guy in the wheelchair—I call him Captain Ahab and don’t care if anyone else does—pointed at the pack of cigarettes next to my right hip. Pointed at the cigarettes, pointed at his mouth, then back at the cigarettes.
I got the point, smiled, and shook my head.
He half grunted, half growled at me. As if to make his point, he swung his fists in the air. Then he held one up like Jackie Gleason in the Honeymooners. Bang-zoom, Alice! To the moon!
I didn’t laugh at him. For all I knew he was tough as nails and would kill me for a cigarette, but I knew he would never get out of the wheelchair. Could never get out of the wheelchair. I stood up. I could get out of my wheelchair. I wasn’t sure I could walk…but I could get out of the chair.
Now that I was standing, the guy in the wheelchair decided he didn’t want a cigarette after all. At least not from me. He skulked back to his corner. I turned to look at the guy who told me not to give the old man a cigarette and found myself looking at a tall black man, about sixty years old. He had a warm smile and was wearing a Panama-style hat and Hawaiian shirt, and was sitting on a white plastic chair with a walker and a standing ashtray at his side.
I said, “I’m going to get a drink of water. Want one?”
He did. That’s how I met my friend, Bill. People can say what they want about Bill, but he became my friend that day. I needed one in that place, and he was it.
I thought too much that day. By the time I went to bed, I was determined to get out of there. I was pretty sure the place was a nursing home and as far as I could see I was the youngest patient. Thirty-nine years old was too young to be stuck in a nursing home. An orderly came and gave me pills. I tried to hide them in my mouth, but he got me to swallow them. Not through coercion or violence—he just stood there and waited.
It was deep in the night when I forced myself awake. I sat up in bed and tried to blink the cobwebs out of my eyes and skull. The man in the bed on the other side of the room was out cold. I heard him breathing deeply. Dim light filtered in from the hallway and I could see his shape in the bed on the other side of the room. The only other light in the room came from the stars outside the window and the night light in the bathroom.
I walked by the wheelchair waiting for me at the foot of the bed. My gait was unsteady, but I could walk. I was me again—Dave Steele, not Viper—and I was getting the hell out of there. In the hallway, I turned right instead of left. There was an exit at that end of the hall. I was pretty sure there were no security monitors in the hall—I checked when I came in from my last cigarette.
I had to lean against the wall as I studied the exit—an alarmed emergency exit. I was till groggy from the pills.
The plan in my head was vague: walk home and talk Sarah into relocating to South America…hide from whatever force was keeping me prisoner. Invoke Plan Z. Plan Z is for use only when Plans A through Y fall through. I won’t give you the details—there aren’t any—but it doesn’t involve destroying anything. Just a very long walk to a remote town in Peru. You’ll know I’ve invoked it if you ever find a note on my desk after all is lost. The note will say, “Gone to Hot Water.” If anyone figures out what that means, I’ll buy them a Cuba Libra at the Inca baths, but won’t have one myself. Look for an Irishman named Mooch O’Grassyass. That’ll be me.
I stared at the door for what felt like a long time. There was an alarm hard wired to the building. I couldn’t think of a way to disable it without setting it off.
This time the voice in my head wasn’t a fake. It was my voice and represented the clearest thought I had in a long while: What makes you think you can convince Sarah to go with you to Peru? Don’t you think she would move Heaven and earth to get you out of here if she didn’t think you should be here? She loves you! Trust her if you trust no one else. Go back to bed.
I listened to myself. I’d keep track of the days, and if I was still there thirty days from that day, I would break free and walk south.
Bill and I didn’t do much together. There wasn’t much to do but sit in the sun and smoke. Sometimes we talked, and sometimes we didn’t. We went to our rooms for meals and came back to the courtyard when we were ready. I don’t remember how it came up, but he said something about his evening beer. How nice it was to end the day with a couple of beers.
Honest to God, I had no idea why I was there. When Bill said his granddaughter brought him beer and told me I should ask if I could have some brought to me, I planned to do it. I would have asked, but something stopped me. It didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
A tingling feeling that something was wrong didn’t stop me when Bill came to see me one afternoon and told me to follow him. He had a white plastic grocery bag under one arm and led me to the courtyard. There was a pavilion on a concrete slab. It was a hot afternoon and Bill and I were the only people outside. He snuck two cans of Miller Genuine Draft from the bag and slid one over the picnic table to me. “Drink up, quick!”
I wondered why two grown men had to hide beer in the middle of a hot summer day. We were both well over twenty-one years old. If he was allowed to drink in his room, why couldn’t we drink outside? I leaned back in my wheelchair and took a long, slow drink. It tasted fine. Better than fine.
He started his second beer by the time I put the can down from my first few swallows. Something about his demeanor made me feel like I was an eighteen-year-old freshman on my alma mater’s dry campus. I saw the curtain in the break room twitch. Someone saw us drinking the beer, but didn’t want us to know they were watching. It piqued my curiosity—the spying—but we weren’t doing anything wrong.
Bill slugged back his second beer and said, “Drink up, man! Come on!”
I like beer… No question there, but I never liked to hurry through it. I was lightheaded and slightly ill. It had been a long time since one beer did that to me. I took a couple of sips from the second can, but then I had to stop. My head was spinning.
I wheeled myself back into the building, through the door and down the hall, weaving as well as I could through a forest of people. When I got back to my bed, I hauled myself out of the wheelchair and slept until dinner. It was a black, dreamless slumber…
There was a storm. It was mid-afternoon and I was sitting on the bed, just finished with lunch. Clouds rolled in thick and dark over the courtyard. I watched the leaves blow crazily on the trees. The sky had the pale amber look of a severe storm, the kind that precedes a tornado. Wind whipped the air as if cued by my thoughts. Silver drops the size of quarters beat against the windows. Lightning flashed. The lights dimmed. Then the storm was gone as quickly as it rolled in.
I got in the wheelchair and was about to go out for a cigarette when I saw Bill. He stood in the doorway to my room, panting as if he’d just finished a marathon. He was wearing a nylon practice jersey. God help me, please don’t ever make me look at another middle aged man’s nipples!
He stuttered sometimes, but that time it was bad. “There’s…the…there’s…”
“Slow down, Bill. What is it? Take a breath.”
“…Big dog! Wa…woulda…”
“Where?” I looked out the window. The sun was shining through the remaining clouds. There was no dog in the courtyard. Not that I could see.
“Out there. It came from behind a fence. Big dog!”
I told Bill I was going out for a cigarette and wasn’t going to let a dog stop me. Not a big dog, not a little dog. I’d take care of it if it was still out there. I’m glad he didn’t ask me how I was going to take care of it. By the look in his eyes—a little fear, a little respect, and more than a little trust—I could see he didn’t want to know.
I wasn’t going to hurt it, but I’m pretty sure the animal rights activists wouldn’t approve of my method if I needed to drive it off. The plan running through my head was to hop out of my wheelchair and chase it off with Bill’s walker. Eyewitnesses wouldn’t have sufficient credibility. Who would believe their story that the little guy jumped out of his wheelchair and ran off the dog, swinging the walker owned by the big guy on the ground?
I think the physical therapy sessions started the day I was allowed to eat breakfast in the dining room. I say I think because time did strange things to me—okay, my perception of time did strange things to me in that place. Someone told me I had an appointment for physical therapy at 1:00 PM that day, where in the building to go, and told me to be on time.
I was getting annoyed at people asking me to be on time. I’m punctual to an extreme: never more than three minutes early, and if your watch says I’m a minute late, it’s probably fast. It could have stopped eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes ago. I’m open to possibilities.
Breakfast was good. I rolled to the dining room and took a seat with three other wheelchair bound men. There was a menu—half a sheet of paper with choices for eggs, cereal, fruit, toast, and juice. We were encouraged to order something from each group. Someone brought coffee. I circled my choices and the food came quickly.
At precisely 1:00 (I waited for five minutes around the corner in the hall,) I rolled into the physical therapy room. It was about the size of two patient rooms combined. As I came in the door, I saw a computer attached to some kind of gizmo that helped patients with their grip. An older woman sat in front of it, squeezing a handle at random intervals. To my right was a set of parallel bars. In front of the door, about seven feet away were wrestling mats. A man in sweats was lying on one. The therapist was on the floor next to him, encouraging him to squeeze an inflatable ball between his thighs as hard as he could. I tried not to think about why a man needed to be able to squeeze hard with his thighs… It’s probably best if you don’t either.
The therapist smiled up at me. I don’t remember all the exercises he had me do, but he wanted me to concentrate on a set of four wood stairs in the corner. He said my ability to use stairs was important because I lived in a split-level house. The term brought back a memory—just those two little words. We didn’t live in the house at 1326 Townsend anymore. We lived in a split-level house at…somewhere in…Cleveland? Yeah—Cleveland.
I climbed the stairs easily in spite of having been in a wheelchair for a while. In fact, I got a little bored going up and down them with and without using the banister. Then I got tired. Fatigue hit me like a wave. I thought age was catching up with me. Not long ago I could have taken stairs two at a time without much thought. There was no way I could have done it that day.
At the end of the session, the therapist gave me permission to walk. There was caveat—I was to keep the wheelchair with me at all times. He said to push it in front of me and sit if I got tired.
First breakfast in the dining room, then walking behind the wheelchair. Considering I still didn’t know I was sick, (I know, how could he not know?) it felt like things were looking up.
Dad and Sarah were my first visitors. That morning, one of the staff told me I would have visitors. I didn’t have to be in my room; someone would tell them where to find me.
I was sitting in the morning sun, smoking. I’m not sure who saw who first, but I was very glad to see them. We had a nice chat. I don’t remember the topics—it was just a pleasant afternoon. Loving hugs were exchanged, then they left.
I was in a great mood for the rest of the day. I couldn’t remember why…
The occupational therapist was a small woman. Dark hair and a bright smile. She was all business.
The session didn’t last long. She walked behind me to the bathroom—her idea, not mine—and held me with a strap around my chest in case I fell. I could have saved her the time and worry. I knew damn well I could walk to the bathroom and take care of things without a babysitter. Thank God she didn’t need proof of that. She wanted to see if I could walk, unbutton my shirt, put on my watch, etc. I could and did.
Questions formed in my mind. The nightmares that disturbed my sleep invoked hospital images too many times. Had I been in one? Was I in a coma? Why the hell couldn’t I remember things I knew happened? Pieces and feelings, clips and snippets, were all I had.
She and I sat near the counter in the hall. I asked her if I was in a coma and her answer surprised me. “We don’t call it that anymore,” she said. “It freaks out the family.”
Highly technical medical term, freaks out. I’m not qualified to use it. “So I wasn’t in a coma?”
“We prefer to call it a non-responsive state.”
“Sounds like a coma to me.”
She shook her head and smiled. “Non-responsive.”
You can call a rose a cheeseburger if you want, but it still won’t taste good with a pickle. Non-responsive. She was pissing on my boots and trying to tell me it was raining.
She asked me how much I drank and I told her the truth. Yes, the actual truth. It didn’t surprise her. She said I might have to go to another facility when I was done in the current one—a rehabilitation facility. Given my progress, she didn’t think I would have to do that and would recommend against it. I would, however, need physical therapy. My insurance would pay for in-home visits.
Then she asked if I wanted to go on long-term disability. At first I didn’t understand the question. Why would I want to do that? I was physically able to work…still had all my fingers and toes. Heck, I could walk, and pee, and everything. I asked her why I would go on disability.
“Most people who suffer what you suffer aren’t able to go back to work.” She leaned closer and said, “When you go back to work if you find it too difficult or can’t function like you used to, don’t quit. I can’t do anything to help you if you quit.”
That conversation went to the dead memory bank until roughly thirty days after my resignation took effect. Sometimes I regret not taking disability, but not for long. Disability would have killed me. It would have meant I gave up. Sure, there would be more money than I make now, but I don’t know that I would have worked to bring my mind back if I collected a disability check twice a month. It was no easy task to bring my mind back.
Sometimes it’s hard not to regret forsaking disability. Those moments tend to come when I’m scraping stuff—let’s call it stuff—from a toilet seat at four o’clock in the morning. The moment doesn’t last long. I flush the regret and the stuff down the toilet and move on. In fact, I often smile when I do it; life is better now, post Wernickes.
The best part of the day was the last part of the day.