Bring it, jarhead (Dylan)
8 am Monday morning. It was time for my torture session at the VA.
When I was first injured, they evac’d me to the hospital in Bagram, a sprawling affair hidden behind blast walls and littered with shipping containers and temporary facilities. I saw it briefly from the doors of the hospital, still somewhat conscious. I remember watching the hospital flying by below me, and realizing that I was probably going home.
I remember being wheeled into the ER, but nothing after that until I woke up in Germany. There, the doctors told me that there was still a significant risk of losing my leg: the muscle and deep tissue damage was pretty bad. I spent almost thirty days in Germany, then they shipped me to Washington, DC, where I stayed until my discharge from the Army in the middle of May. They’d saved my leg, but at that point I was still in a wheelchair.
It was at Walter Reed that I met the outreach coordinator from Columbia University, who urged me to apply. I was doubtful. Beyond doubtful. I didn’t think I’d be able to succeed in college, must let at a top rate college Columbia.
My mother though pushed me to do it. She pushed me to get out of the wheelchair, to follow through with my physical therapy, to do everything the doctors said and more. She worked with the guy from Columbia, who smoothed the path ahead of me, including the fact that I’d long since missed the application deadline. And so here I was.
Look, I get it. I’m a pretty lucky guy. Roberts is pushing up flowers in a cemetary in Birmingham, Alabama. I met his family back in August. I’d finally gotten free of the wheelchair, and I went out there to have a beer with his dad, hug his mom, and cry. Sometimes I wish he’d been the one who lived. I mean, it was just chance. Why did it kill him and leave me alive? I don’t know.
The flip side of being a lucky guy is, sometimes I’m not the same guy I was. I want to draw a picture in your mind. Just imagine a brain … a big gray blog, connected to your body through the brain stem and spinal cord, floating and cushioned by fluid and protected by my big thick skull. Now take a sledgehammer and hit it, hard.
That’s pretty much what happened. It’s been tough to accept, to be honest with you. I may not have been the best student in the world, but I was pretty damned smart. Used to be anyway. Now… I have some problems. Can’t remember things sometimes. Like where I’m supposed to be, or what day it is, or how to add and subtract. It’s much worse when I’m tired, but you can see some evidence pretty frequently, when I forget words. I’ll just be talking up a storm, then all of the sudden I’ll forget simple words: like blue, or sky, or my own name. It’ll be right there on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t get it out.
In any event, when I got accepted to Columbia, the Atlanta VA made arrangements for me to continue my physical therapy here in New York. Three times a week I’m down at the VA on East 23rd to get poked and prodded, stretched and pulled.
“Morning,” I said when I was called and walked slowly, without the cane, to Jerry Weinstein’s office.
Jerry’s a big guy. A monster. A fortyish Marine who lost a leg in Iraq back in 2004, he’s got zero sympathy for any bullshit from me. Strangely, I like him. But God if he doesn’t love to cause me pain.
“What’s up, Paris. Why are you so cheerful? It’s Monday morning.”
I looked at him, tried to keep a straight face, and said, “I can’t think of any place I’d rather spend my Monday mornings than with a washed up Marine with a cruelty fetish.”
He guffawed. “You’re gonna get extra work for that, dogface.”
“Bring it, jarhead.”
He stood with a grin, asked, “All right, how’s the leg?”
“Better. I’ve been off the cane for a few days. I carry it around just in case. Still moving slow as hell, though.”
“What about the noggin?” he asked, tapping the side of his head.
I shrugged. “Struggling some, especially with math. I used to be really good at math.”
“Hmm,” he said, nodding. “Any light sensitivity.”
“Might be better, I’m not sure.”
“All right. When was your last CAT scan?”
I thought about it. Then shook my head. “I don’t know. It was in Atlanta… three weeks ago? A month ago?”
He nodded, slowly, then said, “All right, time to get another. I’m going to set you up for an appointment with the brain docs for next week. Let’s see that leg.”
He did an examination of my right leg. It hurt. The muscles in my thigh and calf were still extremely weak: you could visibly see that my right leg was way smaller than the left.
“Coming along,” he said. “I think it’s time you got back to running.”
“Running? I can barely walk!”
“Yeah. Time to quit stalling, Paris. Just make sure you have a friend with you, in case you fall over or something. But I want you up and running, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Start out short distance, but get out there and do it. You hear me?”
I nodded, grimly, then said, “I don’t have any friends.”
“Yeah, well, hire someone, then. But get out there and do it.”
“You only say that because you love me.”
“All right, asshole. Time for your workout.”
Grimly, I nodded and stood. I kept thinking. Who could I ask to spot me when I was running? There was no one. Or, there was one person, but … could I ask her? Was it crazy to even think so? I didn’t want her taking pity on me. I didn’t want her doing it because she knew I was friendless and alone. I didn’t want her doing it because of our past, which was against the rules to talk about anyway. And the hell of it was, no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t stop imagining her scent, I couldn’t stop thinking of how wonderful it once felt to hold her in my arms.
This is first draft material from a story I’m working on during a two week hiatus before I start editing Insurgent. It’s a departure for me, because it falls under the “new adult” genre.You can find the beginning of the story, discussion of what NA books are, and contents of the story, here.
And now today’s giveaway for the Summer Splash Blog Hop. The blog hop is an opportunity for you to meet a bunch of awesome indie authors, and win some awesome grand prizes, including 2 Kindle Fires, Amazon gift cards and more. Go check them out http://kindlesplash.blogspot.com.
Here at Side Views today I’m offering a personally autographed copy of my first novel, Prayer at Rumayla. Prayer at Rumayla is the story of Chet Brown, a nineteen year old Army Private returning home from the 1991 Gulf War.
How do you win? Go up to the left side of this page where the floaty share thing, and share this page on Facebook. Make sure you tag me in the post, otherwise I won’t see it! Then post a comment here to make sure I know about it. I’ll pick the winner at 4ish on Monday morning,