It hit him suddenly and with such unnerving force that its veracity shined as undeniably as the August sun, intensely, irrevocably. It was in no way malicious, but its effects were shattering. He sat there quietly, but a violent squall was unleashed deep within his emotional theater, and although he continued to speak without showing any signs of his revelation, it was irrefutable: his complete solitude. Other than family, he had absolutely no one in his life who really cared for him. He would never have a partner with whom to share his life intimately.
When he was twenty-two years old, he was involved in a single-car accident that left him a quadriplegic, a complete spinal cord injury at the fourth and fifth vertebrae. He was paralyzed from the chest down; he couldn’t even feel his hands. Everything just below his nipples became a vacuum of sensation and utility, offering no other value than as objects of visual curiosity, and his youthful body quickly metamorphosed from a comparably Olympian paradigm to a collection of body parts that were useless, empty, soulless, repugnant. But he still had his youth and its undying accompanying optimism.
In retrospect, he believed that he would’ve been much better off had he never met her, but Kharmela became his primary nurse-angel when, two weeks after he had broken his neck, he was transferred to Shepherd Spinal Center, where he would rehab for four months. She had just finalized her divorce from a man she described as violent, and when she talked to her paralyzed patient, she looked so sincere and vulnerable that he fell for her almost immediately and with such passion that the aftermath was a combined emotionally nefarious Hiroshima and Vesuvius. For four months a friendship had kindled, and this conflagrant relationship was fanned by his innocence; he was very sure at that time that he could never again be attractive to the more gentle gender, but this was because all of his previous relationships had quickened primarily because of his aesthetics, and this kind of reward conditioning led him to falsely believe that he had nothing left of quality for any woman.
When he left Shepherd Spinal Center, Kharmela told him that she’d like to come visit him. He agreed and was happy that she was so kind to him, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe it. She lived in Atlanta, and he lived one hundred miles south in Macon; she was beautiful, and he was hardly worthy. He sincerely believed that his only contact with Kharmela would be an annual Christmas card, and he would cherish each “Love, Kharmela” that would end each card; however, she called the very next week, and he went to visit her the following month.
He never thought it would happen, but he made love to her, and even though he had no sensation and was as immobile as Stone Mountain, it was such an overwhelming expression of love that he cried. For a year they carried on their love, despite the miles that separated them. He would’ve gladly spent the rest of his life with her, but she became restless. She was so beautiful and spirited, a Leo, and he realized that she had merely misinterpreted her respect for him as love; besides, she was just coming off of a second failed marriage, so she was riding a volatile emotional roller coaster herself.
They remained friends, a friendship that ultimately evanesced in time… and distance. For the next five years, he worked hard and finally graduated from Mercer University with a BA in English and a minor in Computer Science. The following January he landed a job as a computer programmer in Columbus, Georgia, the town where he grew up. The most exciting aspect of the employment opportunity was that he’d be on his own as much as possible, but he had plenty of family to help him, and he moved into a house that was right next door to a high school buddy.
Of course, he needed help with even the most rudimentary acts of daily living, so he placed an ad in the paper for a live-in attendant. Maria answered. A Pisces, intense, passionate. Ultimately, he and she formed relationship number two, but she was the innocent lover in this affair. Again, the relationship lasted about a year, then she went back home to the small town of Talbotton to live with her mother.
He was still only in his late twenties, and he felt really good about life in general; after all, he was a professional, making more money than he’d ever dreamed of, and he was as independent as he could be under the circumstances; he felt like he was just like every other guy in the world, except for the fact that he couldn’t walk. He couldn’t use his hands either, but he never considered that; he used a mouthstick to type, and he used a wrist-splint to ineffectively feed himself and brush his teeth. That was pretty much the extent of his physical prowess. He needed help getting in and out of bed, dressing, washing and combing his hair, bathing, urinating, shitting; hell, he needed help with everything, but he had overcome so many things in his life that he felt he could do anything, even fall in love.
He had a spinster aunt who was ten years his senior, and he felt sorry for her because he knew that she was never going to find her life-mate; she stayed at home with her aging mother and had nearly no opportunity to get out and meet anyone; she even worked from her home. But he worked for a company with thousands of employees, and there were many women with whom he worked, women who were intelligent and very attractive; one was bound to discover that he had many positive qualities and characteristics that would overcome his physical inadequacies.
For ten years he worked as a computer programmer, a decade of learning about himself, work, the world, and he was well liked; he had an almost magical ability to make people very comfortable with his paralysis. He smiled most of the time, sang aloud, was pleasant to almost everyone, and he was intelligent, or, at very least, he could communicate very effectively so that many of his cohorts thought he was intelligent. When the subject of relationships came up in conversation, he would casually state that he was an eternal bachelor, too wild to tame, too free to be controlled by one woman, the usual banter from one who had no relationship and no future prospects, but just under the surface he inaudibly screamed his desire to find whomever it was with whom he was to share eternity.
He asked a few women out, and they graciously rejected his advancements, but he justified each rejection. He had lived long enough to realize that many people ended up in broken relationships because they were afraid of being left all alone at the end of their lives, but he was now in his late thirties, and he enjoyed his solitude. He knew all too well that a relationship undeniably involved compromise, and he had no desire to give up the freedoms he enjoyed just because he didn’t want to be alone. He would only make that sacrifice for an intelligent, internally beautiful woman, and she’d grow old with him, maturing in wisdom until the winter of their content where, as octogenarians, they’d sit together on the front porch of their house, holding each other’s withered hand and dreaming of the future. He still felt that his destined woman existed somewhere in the vast world and would be drawn to him through some celestial power, so he was patient, realizing that each rejection only advanced his spirit closer to ultimate happiness.
He rarely got sick, maybe a bad cold would keep him homebound for a few days once a winter, but for the most part, he was healthy. His wheelchair, however, would occasionally break down, and he’d have to miss work on these occasions. It was during his tenth year of employment when the major power source of his electric wheelchair went out. The wheelchair vendor was in Atlanta and his wheelchair maintenance worker was in Columbus, so what he initially thought would be a three-day work absence wound up being two full workweeks. It was during this time that he realized why he went to work. He was, in effect, under house arrest, and he sat all day in one spot watching television; there was nothing else to do and nothing on television during the day worth watching—six million channels of infomercials or banal daytime programming. Occasionally there’d be a good movie on the classic movie network, but when there wasn’t, he had to choose the least offensive of programming. He could really take only so much of the home and garden network; although, he did get excellent advise on how to fertilize his azalea bushes.
On the Monday of his return to work, he saw a friend of his, a young, attractive woman, and he asked rather spiritedly “Anita, did you miss me while I was gone?”
She smiled brightly, beaming like aurora borealis as she coyly replied, “I most certainly did; I cried every day! I missed you terribly!”
“You missed me so much that you cried, huh? And yet you didn’t even come to see me while I was home… alone! I was crying, too, as I was staring out my window, unable to move, watching every car that slowly passed in front of my house, wondering where they were going, envying their freedom.”
He meant it as a joke, and it was funny, but she quickly turned and faced him with an astonished look and said as she put her hands over her gaping mouth, “You are so right! Oh my God! I am so busted! I didn’t even think about coming to see you…”
It was at that moment when he realized that his joke turned out to be a dramatic overstating of the obvious. She hadn’t come to see him.
No one did.
By Rusty Taylor