“Now, I know it’s not what you’re used to, but I did my best,” Jolene smiled and shrugged.
“I’m good,” I said. “I don’t need much, just time to heal,” I used the pull-up bar dangling over the bed while Jolene grabbed my heavy, casted legs, swinging them over the edge so I could then plop into a black, steel Medline wheelchair.
I said goodbye to the nurses, thanked them for everything, and Jolene pushed me to the elevator as I balanced a bag stuffed with my belongings–sweatshirts, socks, a blanket, a few crossword puzzle books, coffee candies, gum, mints–and two crutches resting horizontally across my lap. Stella was in the car, waving as she got out to help.
“Looking good,” she greeted. “I bet you can’t wait to get out of here.” she popped the trunk.
“I’m so glad,” I released my grip on the crutches and then the bag as she tossed them into the back of her Civic.
“I’ll put the chair in the trunk,” she explained.
“Oh, it’s not mine…we’re not taking it with us.”
Stella nodded and moved the crutches into the trunk, slamming it before walking around to hold the chair while I inched towards the front passenger seat, Jolene’s arm wrapped around mine.
We stopped off for burgers and then headed to Jolene’s apartment, a small two-bedroom unit in Lawrence. The brick building was surrounded by small manicured lawns, a fountain, covered and uncovered parking spots. Long stairwells were decorated with leafy plants in ceramic pots, wind chimes, and decorative rocks. It wasn’t a view of the ocean, but it was fine for six weeks. I’d get my casts taken off, spend a few weeks in physical therapy, and be back on the water, surfing, skiing, living.
The room I stayed in belonged to Ethel, Jolene’s grey, shorthaired cat who had a slight weight problem. She slept on a big, fluffy bed, played with yarn, climbed her tower, and sunbathed on the window sill. I slept because I was tired, and then because I was bored. Jolene opened the blinds every morning, but the view was always the same, it seemed, and I started to miss home. There weren’t enough crossword puzzles, talk shows, old movies, or conversations about how I was feeling to ease the restlessness.
Then came the fight, an argument between roommates that took place right outside my window. I awoke to the bickering, the accusations, an emotional eruption that brought them both to tears, to blows before the manager intervened. A few hours later I watched a man leave his apartment in a suit and return exactly two hours later in workout clothes, his face and neck still damp from exertion. The library lady wasn’t far behind, carrying a stack of books wrapped in plastic covers, each at least four-hundred pages long, stories to keep her mind busy. Around midday, delivery drivers descended the stairs carrying sealed bags and beverages, their eyes wide as they looked for the right apartment number. College students who worked nightshifts at local grocery stores and 24-hour coffee shops, arrived with backpacks hung over one shoulder, with tired faces and disheveled hair. They slept or studied for a few hours before leaving out again, this time with fresh faces painted on, combed hair, and ironed uniforms to distinguish themselves from customers. A biker couple, I assumed, dressed in black, leather jackets and mohawk helmets passed, on their way to roads they’d navigate at speeds that made the heart leap. Noisy kids in khakis and white shirts, now with food stains, raced down the stairs, their squeals loud though their parents, in various states of frustration, reminded them that everyone could hear them in the walkway. I watched them pass, felt the sharpness of their absence as the silence returned.
I kept watching, waiting for someone else to pass, wishing I was climbing the stairs, on my way to the ocean, balancing my board atop wild, rolling waves, balancing doubt with possibility as it raged in the corners of my mind.