At first I wasn’t sure if this was intended to bridge some gap between us, or if I was just a convenient target for some anger. I was only a couple years older than Jeremy and still trying to understand what it meant to be an occupational therapist. I barely had the corners of my own life tucked in properly, and here I was needing to find some headspace to help Jeremy.
Every day he made it a point to tell me that his life sucked, and that I knew it more than anyone else.
Jeremy had been riding dirt bikes since he was 5 years old. His Dad was a sprint car driver and speed was a part of his everyday existence. He outgrew his little z50 Honda minibike and for several years tooled around the back woods near his house on a bunch of other nondescript bikes that were constantly breaking down. But then he got his hands on a Bultaco 175 Lobito and it was a love affair that he kept going all through his middle and high school years.
The Bultaco was fast and it was like strapping a rocket to an already adrenaline charged teenage existence. The bike was never street legal so the only action it ever saw was the bumpy dirt trails leading deep back into the town park that very few people ever explored.
Jeremy had no recollection of what happened – he just had the story that people were looking for him for nearly two days and he vaguely recalls the barking of a search dog, a sea of orange vested rescue workers, and the vertigo-spin and rush of air while being airlifted out of the deep woods to the regional trauma center.
Everything after that was pain and blur. Jeremy had a burst fracture at T7 and the Bultaco was a hopeless wreck of twisted metal. Neither would ever see those trails again.
And then there was the anger, and I was on the receiving end of it for almost three months. I wrote most of it down, chronicling and channeling the vitriol onto a page, where I hoped it might lose some of its power and where maybe I could find a way to control it. Or just to cope with it.
There was no easy cutting and pasting or rearranging and editing of words at that time. I had my word processor – a primitive version that required its own programming language to even function. The words could not be tamed. They could not be changed. They were just raw and they were recorded and they were there.
This hospital room is not like my room at home. This room is stark and bare. You could turn up the heat, but there is nowhere for the heat to go. It can't nestle into carpeting. It can't settle into the furniture. There just is not enough here to keep the warmth in.
Now I lie here every day. I hear voices. Everyone does. Most people don't pay attention to them because they are drowned out by the company around them.
But I sit in cold empty rooms for hours and listen to the internal monologue in my head. When I go to sleep at night I hold onto nothing. I let myself fall into an abyss of unknown proportion. When I see you walk into the room I get glimpse of what life might have been like if this didn’t happen. I look at you and I see a perspective other than the minimalism that I exist in.
And you know what?
None of it matters anyway.
Because even if I am fetally contorted and huddling against the cold – nothing is going to change. You know this sucks. You know it, and I know that you know it.
They just don’t teach you what to say to that in school.
Jeremy’s rehab was rather un-notable. There was not much question about what the outcome would be. Fragments of bone transected his spinal cord almost completely. We introduced Jeremy to his wheelchair, helped him strengthen his upper body, and taught him how to care for himself given his new motor limitations.
This wheelchair is not my Bultaco.
He actually said something worse. It sucked, and I knew it. He continued:
I have been sitting in this chair, and I can’t move my feet, even though I can see them touching the footplates. My legs are just dead. Dead like leprosy. I use my eyes to try and guide my action because I can’t feel anything.
When you tell me to take a break in therapy I pretend that I can see a creeping numbness in my legs work back into my heart.
If I could walk away from this problem, I would.
I can’t walk away though.
You taught me that I don’t have a kinesthetic sense. If you didn’t teach me the word kinesthesia I would just say that I have a hanging numbness. After the end of the day, when all the rehab people go home, I look outside the window and I can see that it is gently snowing. The whole hospital gets quiet. Or numb like my legs. It should be peaceful to me.
But all I want is for it to be Autumn again.
Jeremy liked to talk to me. Talk at me. Mostly I listened. But then one day he called me out.
I know you write down the things we talk about. I know because I saw you writing. Just so you know, I don’t really mind.
You probably think I’m mad all the time but really I’m not. Sometimes I just feel like I need a little space to sort things out.
I'm having a hard time finding that space now.
I figured that is what you do when I saw you writing.
If you figure it out for me, will you let me know?
When I was eight or so, I used to climb up a mulberry tree in my backyard and sit on top of the roof of the shed. The tree was so leafy that no one could ever find me up there. I kept a diary in an old bird feeder on top of that roof. I would go there when I needed some space. Write a couple sentences. Eat mulberries.
That’s not happening again.
Maybe that’s ok.
You know this sucks. You know it, and I know that you know it.
I don’t know what I am going to do but I know you are just starting with all this therapy stuff. You wrote it down, and you are going to do something with it. That’s what I just want to make sure you remember.
If I had the opportunity to tell Jeremy directly, I really would love to let him know that I remembered, and that I have used every little bit of it.