Dear Diary, J.P. has been coming around a lot with his son Jem, and for that, I’m grateful. Within minutes of his first visit, I felt like he was someone who could be a good friend.
He was a talker, that much was certain. I rarely got a word in edge-wise, but that was all right with me. Hearing him talk was entertaining and I didn’t get the feeling he didn’t care what I had to say. There were moments, after all, when he had to come up for air, so that’s when I would jump in.
We talked about everything. The kids, our wives, what it was like to be home twenty-four-seven, sports, current events… well, you get the picture.
J.P. was a breath of fresh air around here and I know Chicken agreed with that assessment.
Today, the main focus of J.P.’s attention was how his wife Calpurnia was never home. When she was, she didn’t clean up after herself or help with Jem.
This was one topic that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know Calpurnia very well because, as J.P. said, she was always working. She and Ellie seemed to get along okay when Calpurnia did make an appearance. Still, I didn’t figure they’d ever be as good of friends to each other as J.P. and I were.
“She might be tired when she gets home. Why don’t you cut her some slack?” I asked when J.P.’s ship finally came back to port.
“So, you don’t agree with me? We’re her family and it feels like she doesn’t care half the time.”
I shrugged. “It doesn’t seem fair to her for you to be telling me this stuff.”
“What do you suggest I do, then? I have to talk to someone.”
I thought it was obvious, but I decided to be frank with him. “Do you ever hear me say anything bad about Ellie?”
His nose scrunched up as if he was mentally going through each conversation we’d ever had. “No, but Ellie is an angel.”
“I won’t argue with you there. My point is, though, that when I have something to say about Ellie, I say it to Ellie.”
“Huh,” he said as kind of a sigh. “If you’re bored with our conversation – “
” – Don’t be a blockhead,” I laughed. “I’m not bored. I’m giving you a suggestion. Don’t tell me what’s wrong with your marriage, tell your wife. How can you guys work anything out if you don’t talk to each other?”
“You’re a regular marriage counselor, you know?”
“And you’re a regular jerk,” I responded with a grin.
“All right, all right. You make a good point there, I’ll admit. Now, tell me something about Ellie you haven’t said before.”
I didn’t have to think for long. There was so much about Ellie I could say. Finally, I settled on, “Through the worst time of our lives, she never left my side or didn’t think I wasn’t worth the effort. I’ll never be able to repay her for everything she’s done but I’m thankful I have a whole lifetime ahead of us to try.”
At that moment, Jem let out a squeal and then a laugh which immediately brought my attention to my daughter. As I suspected, she had the dollhouse person in her mouth again by its head.
“That bothers me like you can’t believe.”
J.P. laughed. “I’ve noticed!”
“I’ve never seen Jem do that.”
“Yeah, me neither. He does other stuff, though.”
For once, J.P. was short on words. “Oh, I mean, I don’t know. I was trying to make you feel better.”
Chicken had me worried, it was true. What if she was Rosetta the Second? I didn’t know if I could handle that. She didn’t display any other tendencies to concern me, but this doll thing… it had me on pins and needles.
Bea tried to talk around the huge doll head in her mouth which caused Jem to break out in uproarious laughter.
J.P. laughed at them, too, holding his stomach at the same time. “That laughter is contagious!”
Yeah, I thought, I hope sociopathic inclinations aren’t.
For months, I had been standing on my own at home. At first, I didn’t want anyone to know because they would try to help me. And, there would be a hope there that I couldn’t deliver on yet. I still couldn’t take steps without losing my balance.
Shutting myself away in the bathroom, I would grip the edge of the sink and pull myself upright. If I leaned a certain way, I could stand for several minutes. Each time, I watched the minute hand on the clock, willing myself to remain that way even if only a minute longer.
I remembered when the thought of never dancing again was soul crushing. It paralyzed me worse than any other fears I had. Once I realized dance would always be a thing of the past, my new, more real dread was that I wouldn’t walk again.
My prayers were no longer me begging to dance again. All I wanted, what consumed me, was the deep longing to take those first steps.
Laz worked hard with me during each physical therapy session. Although, he found my efforts promising, the trophy still seemed so far away.
I made Laz keep my progress a secret. If I could walk again, I wanted to surprise Ellie. She would be so shocked and happy, I could picture it as if it had already happened.
Then, one day, Laz told me he thought I was ready.
Ellie was off work that day and home with the baby. It didn’t take her long, though, to come to the physical therapy clinic when Laz called her.
With the silliest grin I’ve ever seen, Laz instructed Ellie to hold onto my left arm. He held onto my right side and nodded to me.
All I could do was nod back at him and draw strength from his determination. I would do this – I could do this. It was going to happen.
“Okay, up,” Laz murmured as he helped me stand.
Ellie’s eyes widened as her grip on me tightened. She was afraid I would fall. So was I.
With their support, I took three hesitant steps forward. Then, I paused, my knees wavering.
Ellie gasped and looked from me to Laz, her mouth forming a small “oh.”
Laz’ smile was wide. “We’ve been practicing hard, Ellie.”
Tears escaped the corners of her eyes but she couldn’t let go of me to wipe them away. Instead, she grinned at me.
“I’m not done yet,” I promised her.
“I’ve got ya’,” Laz said as I took a few more steps.
I’m not sure how much Bea understood what was happening, but she danced around on her little feet.
“Like dis, Daddy!” she squealed. “Do like dis!”
It was a day of firsts. But also the first time I was able to hold my wife while standing since before the shooting.
And hold her, I did. She shuddered against me, her tears dampening my shirt. I’m sure I was crying, too.
I was all smiles that night as we watched TV together, cuddled on the couch. On Fridays, we tended to stay up a little later and do this kind of thing. It felt good to hold my family in my arms.
I would still need the wheelchair as I built up my strength. But my goal was to be walking under my own power before Chicken’s birthday next year.
When the day finally arrived, things in my life had turned around in such a way, my confidence was soaring.
I’d met my goal of walking yet hadn’t gotten rid of the wheelchair. When Ellie asked me why I told her it was a reminder of how far we’d come. I never wanted to forget the struggle, the love, and the healing that’d brought me to this point.
The birthday party with Bea and Jem went off without a hitch. Calpurnia was even there and if I’m judging right by the way J.P. ogled her, their marriage was going to be fine. He looked as love-struck as a schoolboy.
Every time I looked at Ellie, I saw my love for her reflected in her eyes.
“What’s on the agenda now?” she asked me, slinging her arm around my neck.
I snaked my arm around her waist, pulling her close so I could kiss her.
“Oh, there’s a lot on the schedule. J.P. and I have planned an ugly sweater party for this Christmas – “
” – I meant with the phone call,” she said with a laugh.
Of course, I knew that’s what she meant but I liked hearing her laughter.
“Ah, yes, the phone call.” I enjoyed drawing this out even though my antics made her hit me in the shoulder. “Okay, okay. The call was from Aiden Minton – “
” – The artistic director at The Royal Ballet?”
Pausing for effect, I thought she might lose her mind. With as much dramatic flair as I could muster, I said, “Myung is pregnant and has left the company. They are in need of a new dance master and have asked me to fill the position!”
All at once, she sucked in her breath, then, she flung her arms around my neck. Even though my ear was right there, screeched, “That’s wonderful!”
She hopped around for a moment and clapped her hands, then it was our obligation to fill J.P. and Calpurnia in.
The night couldn’t have been any better.