Content Warning: Coarse language
Dear Diary, if I press my eyes closed as tight as I can, I see the old me on stage, only a silhouette but I recognize myself. I examine the lines of my lean, muscular frame and the way it holds itself straight in the spotlight. I remain there, poised, then leap with the strength yet the grace of a gazelle. My arabesque is delicate with my leg raised behind my body, extended in a perfect, straight line. I am confident and ferocious, a force to be reckoned with. I am in my element –
” – Concentrate, Holden,” Laz Darrow, my physical therapist said.
It took me a moment to realize I’d been daydreaming again. Sometimes I hated him for the interruptions. Can you hate someone and be grateful for them at the same time? In daydreams, everything was right, the way it all used to be. My body performed as I commanded, my physique was still powerful and I was on top of the world in my profession. Yes, I could live there for hours, my eyes staring at nothing, my body limp in the wheelchair.
But then, people started to notice my mind wasn’t present and it worried them. I could hear Ellie and Rosetta speaking in hushed tones in the baby’s room. They acted as if they thought I wouldn’t know they were talking about me. When they spoke to my face, they tiptoed on eggshells because they didn’t want to release my fury. In the back of my mind, were persistent thoughts about Ellie taking the baby and leaving me. I was certain she couldn’t bear to look at me anymore.
It would have been better if she had. What good am I, anyway? She works long hours for Rosetta. Is that because she is that busy, or is it because she’s beginning to hate me and what I’ve become? She’s always making attempts to talk to me about our situation but I can’t bear it, so, I shut her down, refusing to go there.
” – You’re not paying attention to what we’re doing.”
I tried to hold back a groan as he helped me turn on the table for the next position.
“I don’t need to concentrate when we do the same things twice a week.”
Laz was silent for a few minutes as he helped his clumsy patient hold out a leg and an arm. This one was newer than the others and it only reminded me of how weak and inept I was.
“You’re better at this one since last time.”
“Oh, fucking joy.”
By the time Laz assisted me back down and into a resting position, all my limbs were shaking from the effort.
“Rest for a few.”
What else was I going to do?
As I glanced around the room, my gaze fell on the treadmill. My eyes burned and I blinked several times, fighting back tears. Would the aching and longing that plagued my heart ever give me peace?
“Do you know that each and every day, I ran six miles and did pilates? I stayed away from refined sugars, greasy foods, and did everything right.”
Laz nodded and pulled up a stool to listen even though he’d heard this a million and one times.
“You would think I’d have a faster recovery and already be doing those things again.”
Laz paused, measuring his words. “It actually has helped your progress that you were in such good condition. The problem is the brain injury, though. Believe it or not, I do see improvement with you. It most likely doesn’t feel that way because it seems slow, but don’t give up.”
I peered into his eyes, searching for any sign he might be placating me instead of telling me the truth. As long as I’d known him and looked at him this way, I’d never found any hints of deception. That means there is still hope, I reminded myself.
As we continued our session, I asked, “Would you still be working with me if I was a lost cause?”
He laughed a little under his breath. “See, that’s the problem, Holden. No one is a lost cause. The sooner you accept and deal with what’s happening to you, the better you’ll be. Are you still seeing that therapist of yours? I can’t remember his name.”
“Cason. And, yeah, I see him twice a week, too.”
In fact, I’d been seeing Cason off and on for years, ever since the rape. During our last meeting, he reminded me of the letter I wrote to myself way back then. He kept a copy of it at the time and three days ago, I had reread it at his request. In it, I’d mentioned that I wasn’t the suffering kind and that I didn’t like to be down. It was so long ago. Could I ever be that person again?
“Good. I hope it’s helping.”
I would have shrugged, but I was resting on my elbows.
“You know, I’ve never seen you wear anything else,” I mentioned as he helped me sit up on the edge of the table.
He laughed. “Yeah, all the therapists wear this. It’s my color, though, so it’s all good.”
I grimaced a little as he pulled my arm up so it was parallel with my torso. I’d not only noticed muscle loss but a tightness in them, too.
“Yeah, a little stiff,” he agreed as he rested his other hand on my opposite shoulder, “though looser than the other day.”
And what good was that? I wanted to scream at him. Instead, I gritted my teeth and closed my eyes, wondering how long I would be doing this and seeing him?
Two years later, I was still doing the same tired exercises and Laz was still wearing the same tired outfit.
I would like to think my attitude has improved which must be a fact since Ellie hasn’t hit the nearest off-ramp. Over time, we learned to talk to each other again. It was my fear of losing her that finally forced me to open up to her. At times, I can’t contain my frustration and it still explodes out of me in things I wished I hadn’t said. How she can ignore those times and tolerate them the way she does? I don’t ask because if I draw her attention to it, she might realize she shouldn’t tolerate it at all. That could be the moment she takes our daughter and leaves me for good.
I’ve failed her and our marriage in so many ways, I would deserve it if she did.
The only thing that redeems me in any way is Beatrice, or “Bea,” as we call her. She is the sweetest little girl, so full of life as she explores her world and everything in it. The way she climbs onto my lap for a “ride” in the wheelchair or to cuddle is the most precious thing to me. I do not deserve her yet sometimes, she is the only reason I have to keep going at all.
“I’ll put her to bed,” Rosetta said.
“Let her play, she’s being good.”
Rosetta sighed. “Fine but if she is a tired mess when Ellie gets home, I will not take the blame.”
I heard her sit with a “hmph” on the loveseat. Then, she cleared her throat and I knew it was beginning yet again.
“I want to converse with you.”
Instead of responding, I made a point of watching Bea play with her block table. She stacked three or four, one at a time, then poked them over with an innocent giggle. I felt the corners of my mouth turning and realized it was hard not to smile when I observed her.
It was my turn to sigh. “About what?”
Although I couldn’t see her expression, the satisfaction was clear as a bell in her voice. “About us, our family – ”
” – Do you remember that game we used to play when we were kids?”
“Which one?” she asked.
“When we would try to read each other’s minds.”
“You always scared me to death,” I told her.
“It was not my intention. You have the same ability.”
Leaning forward, we engaged in a staredown. “What am I thinking now, Rosie?”
Even though my tone was not particularly kind, it didn’t deter her. I knew it wouldn’t because even though she might know what I was thinking, she was clueless about social cues.
“You want me to leave you alone. You want everyone to leave you alone. A rather childish notion, if you must know the truth.”
A harsh snort escaped my mouth. “What do you know about it?”
“I know that I have left you quite alone and have even indulged you. I have allowed you to wallow in your grief and self-pity without a word against you. And now, I have had enough. It is time that you joined us in the real world, Holden.”
“Leave. Me. The. Hell. Alone. You don’t know anything and you don’t have the right to talk to me like this.”
Unlike what other people might do, Rosetta continued as if I hadn’t said something nasty to her. She didn’t take my bait and get angry enough to storm out. She was smarter than that.
“You have a life that needs to be lived again.”
“Everything’s okay, Chicken,” I cooed at her. I started calling her that when she was learning the different animals and their sounds. No matter what animal was brought up, she would make a chicken’s clucking noise.
“Okay, Bea,” I would say to her, pointing at the cow picture.
“What does the cow say?”
“It says moo.”
“Nooo, Daddy! Cluck, cluck!”
She knew all the sounds the animals made now yet she would sometimes still cluck because it made me laugh.
“I’m doing the best I can.”
“You are not.” When I glared at her, she added, “You are so much better than this.”
Ever since we were kids, she never responded to my glares. I even practiced “the look” in the mirror until I was sure it would scare her right back the way she’d scared me so many times. It was all done in vain.
“This is what I am now.”
“What is your payoff? Attention? Pity?”
“What?” I gasped, unable to comprehend what I’d done to deserve such ire and judgment from her.
“There must be something you are getting from this to make you act this way.”
“I can’t believe you, Rosetta!”
Her eyes narrowed and her voice became so low, I sensed the anger rising in her as if I was feeling it myself. “No. I cannot believe you! Do you understand what you have here? A very nice family! You have a wife who would do anything for you and a sweet child. How could you act in such a fashion? It is time for you to live! Do it for them!”
“You have no idea what it’s like to be unable to walk, let alone dance again. You don’t know what I’m going through. I can’t even watch my own daughter by myself without having a babysitter! I appreciate you, Jules, mom and dad, and Shelly, but I can’t stand that I need someone with us twenty-four seven! Would you want someone else babysitting your child when you’re sitting right there? I doubt it!”
“I would loathe that,” she conceded, her voice a bit quieter than before. “It will get easier as she gets older and can manage some things on her own.”
Rosetta had the common sense to let the situation die down before she continued yet again. “You will walk again.”
I couldn’t look at her as I whispered, “Did you see that?”
“Are you lying to me?”
“No, Holden, of course not.”
Squeezing my eyes closed, I realized the daydream of my silhouette on stage had faded over time. Like an old photograph. I would never dance again, that was clear to me and had been for some time even though I wouldn’t admit it out loud. But if I could walk again… well, that was something, wasn’t it?
“What would you have me do?”
“You could start with brushing your hair,” she suggested.
It was obvious she wasn’t joking but for the first time that day, I let out a laugh.
“I meant that.”
“Yeah, I know. I know. Speaking of hair, though, since you became Vice-Leader, I thought you would grow your hair out again?”
She shrugged. “My hair is now a reminder to me that Vice-Leader is not good enough. I have already begun my campaign for the next election.”
As I looked away from Rosetta, I saw Chicken shoving her fingers in her mouth.
“Are those yummy, Chicken?”
“Children are walking Petrie dishes. I love her but it is so repugnant at times.”
“She’s building up her immunity.”
“If you say so,” Rosetta said, shaking her head.
“Hey, why isn’t Bea in bed yet?” Ellie asked as soon as she came in.
Her left brow rose as I smiled at her. “We were enjoying spending time with her. She’s been so good.”
Ellie came forward and kissed the top of my head. She was about to pull away when I reached up to draw her face near mine. “I love you,” I told her.
She seemed surprised but pleased as the corners of her eyes crinkled with her smile. “I love you, too. Always.”
Author’s Note: I want to thank Bee (Poses by Bee, Stories by Bee) for making the physical therapy poses for me. Guess what? She has them on her site for download! Isn’t that awesome? You can find them HERE.
I wanted to mention that while this chapter skips two years ahead in Holden’s life, there is a “missing chapter” that will be posted as a Bonus Post in order to wrap up the loose ends of the shooting. 🙂 This will be another Rosetta point of view.
As always, thank you for reading, liking, lurking, and commenting,