Lisa sat on the side of the bed, holding Jim’s right hand in her lap, with both of her hands. She fidgeted and played with his hand, pulling his fingers randomly and watching the results. Jim studied her as if she had dropped out of space. Even when things had been at there best, Lisa had never been like this. It was as if someone had pulled that string that kept her bound up and it had just slipped off her like silk and she relaxed and she was… Beautiful inside and it radiated out of her and warmed his own heart. Looking at her now made him feel like a kid having his first crush. Lisa looked up from her toy just long enough to meet Jim’s gaze and look back to her handy work.
“Jim…” She held Jim’s hand still with both her hands and without looking up finished her sentence. “The last two weeks have been the best that I can ever remember.” She gripped Jim’s hand with both of hers. “I mean ever…” Her head shook in denial and confusion. “I look back at myself and all I see… All I can see… is anger as far back as I can see.”
Lisa took a deep breath. “It’s very confusing and I don’t feel like I know who I am. I feel like I just woke up out of a dream.” She wrung his fingers gently with her hands. “A terrible… terrible… dream.” She braved a quick glance at his soft steady gaze. “A … Nightmare. I just woke up inside this body that looked like me. Was me. But…”
Lisa couldn’t finish her thought and her lips tucked down into a hard frown. Jim pulled her to him and hugged her to his chest. She didn’t resist, putting her back to his side and clutching his right arm like a teddy bear.
“SSSSSShhhhh…” Jim gave her a soft squeeze. “It’s in the past… We’re starting over.”
“No… I was a monster! How could you ever love me?”
Jim held her tightly and kissed her head gently. “I always loved you. It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Listening to Jim’s warm voice had helped her and the tender way he held her, allowed her to melt into him and feel safe and she was able to calm down.
“It’s just for a while… I loved you, but I hated you too.” She tensed. Jim hugged her and kissed her on the top of the head. “But that’s over now. I don’t feel that way any more. I love you.”
Lisa gave him a friendly elbow shot. “Thank you, for forgiving me.”
“You’re making it easy.” He said snuggling and kissing her. “If you need some time to figure out who you are, take it. But just don’t leave me out. Don’t shut me out and I’ll be fine. I think that’s where it all went wrong for us. After the accident we just shut ourselves off from each other and stopped communicating. The longer it went on the worse it got. We had an explosion and it blew us back to our senses.”
Lisa began to play with Jim’s hand again. “What do you want for breakfast?” She asked without looking up from his hand.
“Over easy and Jucy… Like you…” Jim chuckled and Lisa threw his hand out of hers and sat up.
“You’re incorrigible.” She turned and patted him on the leg. She had no trouble holding his gaze now. “Today is leg day.”
“No. I don’t like those exercises.” Jim whined. “They hurt and I’ve never gotten anywhere with them.”
“Maybe that’s because…” Lisa stood up straight and put her hands on her hips. “Your so focused on those biceps of yours.”
Jim gave his biceps a comical flex. “Nice aren’t they.” He winked at her and she laughed and turned away.
“I’ll be back in twenty, with your breakfast, and I want you ready to go.” This was part of Lisa’s new plan. Jim was going to start dressing himself without any help.
Jim smiled, looking at her until she disappeared from view and then his face fell and he took a deep breath as he moved his gaze to the sweats, she had stacked on the end of the bed. He took a second deep breath and pushed himself up and swinging out his legs to sit on the edge of the bed with his feet resting on the floor.
He agreed with Lisa. He had allowed himself to become dependent on Lisa and Rose to help him with the clothes, because it was just easier and he got tired of fighting through every day. But easier is seldom better. It hurt more now, than it had before he started allowing the help. So he’d lost some ground by taking the easy route. He’d done it himself when he was still fighting, still believed he could make himself walk again. Taking the easy way had put him in that chair. If he had just faced his parents and said he was marrying Lisa, instead of just running off to avoid facing them, he’d probably wouldn’t have had the accident. But you can’t second guess your life forever either. Make a mistake learn from it, make it right. So even though it hurt more than life had a right to, he was going to dress himself from now on.
Walking on the palms of his hands, Jim scooted over to the sweats, dragging his legs along. He bathed after the workout, so he didn’t have to change his underwear. It was just a matter of pulling those sweat pants up his legs and pulling the sweatshirt over his head. He opened up the waist of the pants and held onto the string. He dropped them down to his feet and he hooked both feet inside the waist band. He bit the inside of his lip and closed his eyes against the wave of pain. He wasn’t taking any pills before his workout either, this was the other new rule. No more injuries from not being able to feel what you were doing wrong.
He twisted his neck to release the tension and pulled up on the cord. The pants rose up and cinched around his ankles. He puffed a few times then pulled his legs apart to open the pants again. He pulled the cord carefully lifting his feet as he did until finally he had the waistband close enough to his knees that he could reach it and pull it up the rest of the way up.
Once they were up around his waist the day was won. He put his own damn pants on, by himself. The sweatshirt was not a problem to put on compared to the pants, so it was all downhill from there. He had a wire frame that held his socks open so he could just push his feet into them and an extra long shoe horn for getting his shoes on.
Lisa scheduled a physical therapist to come out and evaluate Jim and suggest some stretches and exercises. Getting pulled and stretched and twisted every which way was like an Inquisition. He had only managed to avoid screaming by letting big gusts of breath that made him momentarily dizzy.
Lisa had taken copious notes and practiced holding his leg and pushing it through its paces with the therapist looking on to coach her. He was coming back in two weeks and check on their progress. Jim had never seen Lisa so studious before. And there was something else, she hadn’t flirted in anyway with the Therapist. He was attractive and age appropriate, but she gave him none of her normal evaluation. She had stopped wearing the tops that showed off her cleavage as well. She no longer played her little teasing games to show the power she had over men.
Jim had grown so complacent to her little games, he hadn’t realized what was different at first. It was when the therapist was holding his leg up, bent at the knee, and showing her how to move it towards his chest to stretch the thigh muscles. She was fixated on the therapist’s hands and Jim’s leg. She only glanced at him and then only to focus on what he was saying and acknowledge that she understood what he was explaining. Even when they were young and dating he would always catch her checking out all the boys and cataloging them.
His mind began to free spin momentarily and went blank. That feeling that he was free falling in an alternate universe came over him again. The sound of Lisa coming down the hall with the breakfast tray snapped him out of his reverie. He realized he was just holding the sweatshirt in his hands. He quickly pulled it over his head, before Lisa could see him and leaned back on his arms to take the pressure off his lower back.
Lisa came in and set the tray on the beside hospital table that was designed to with the support on one side so it could slide over the bed. She slid it over the bed beside Jim. He was leaning back and watching her. “What?” Lisa looked herself over as if she was looking for a thread hanging off her clothes, or a button out of place.
“Nothing.” Jim smiled.
“What have you been up to?” Lisa smiled and squinted at Jim, looking for some giveaway.
“Nothing.” Jim smiled. “Just contemplating the universe… wondering if I’ve fallen into a different one.”
“You’re silly.” Lisa sat on the edge of the bed on the opposite side of the table. She blushed when she realized Jim was still holding her in a steady gaze. “Eat your breakfast before it gets cold, silly boy.” She picked up her orange juice and took a swallow. Jim picked up a piece of toast sliced corner to corner and dipped the point into the center of an egg to break in to its yoke.
“Just the way I like it.” Jim took a big bite and smiled at Lisa while he chewed which made her blush deepen even more.
“One more.” Lisa pushed Jim’s leg back further than she ever had before. He grunted and grabbed the massage table, but let her do it. They’d been at it for almost a month and Jim was now able to sit on a bench and lift his legs up without using his hands to lift them and he could now use his cuff crutches and walk all the way into the kitchen for breakfast. The first time he did it, they drank champagne for breakfast and then went back to his bed to make love. Thankfully it had been a Sunday, so the didn’t have to worry about Rose interrupting them.
“Okay… That’s good. You’re doing great, Jim.” Lisa smiled at him as she set his leg back down on the table. Her cheeks were flushed from the exertion. “I think I’m more tired than you.” She smiled again.
“You look as fresh as a cherub.” Jim said pushing himself up to sit on the edge of the table. He reached over and gave her cheek a loving pinch. “Your cheeks even chubby.”
She slapped his hand away. “Are you saying I’m getting fat?”
“I’m saying your more beautiful than I’ve ever seen you.”
Lisa looked down at her hands. “You make a girl blush, Jim Kastor.”
Jim patted her on her backside. Before he could say anything, Rose came to the door.
“Mrs. Kastor, I’m getting ready to do the shopping. Anything you want to add to the list?” Rose looked over the scene as if she were viewing aliens. She’d never in her life seen such a change in two people.
“I not sure. I need to check the kitchen.” She turned and gave Jim a peck on the lips. “I’ll be right back. Why don’t you play with your biceps while I’m gone.” Jim did his comical two arm flex, then gave her a good swat when she turned around. She spun back and held up her finger at him. “You just watch it mister, or we’re doubling your leg stretches!” Jim held up his hands in mock defense.
“Peace and love baby.”
Rose couldn’t help but openly stare at Lisa as she walked by her through the door. Lisa stopped and looked back. “Are you coming, Rose?”
“Yes, mam.” Rose hadn’t realized she was staring at Lisa and snapped her head a little to wake herself up. She followed Lisa to the kitchen. Not commenting, but wanting to ask what had made the change. Maybe it had been that terrible fight. Maybe that had knocked some sense into both of them, because he was different too. She hardly ever had to make a run to the liquor store. She looked at the back of Lisa’s head as they walked down the hall. She was fascinated with the woman who she thought she had known completely, but apparently had no idea about.
Lisa reached up and opened the dry goods cabinet when she got to the kitchen. As quickly as she reached up, she retracted and held her hand to her abdomen. “Ugh.” She bent over at the point she was covering and held herself up with the counter-top.
“You all right, Mrs. Kastor?” Rose examined Lisa’s face, she saw a few beads of sweat at her hairline.
“Yes… I’m fine.” She straightened up still holding her side. “I’ve been spotting for a few days and I’m a little late. I think I’m just getting ready to… you know… start.”
Rose put the back of her hand on Lisa’s forehead. Something she wouldn’t have done on a dare, or for a hundred dollars, a month before. Now she did it without so much as a question. Then she gave Lisa’s cheek a little pinch, but not the way that Jim had. She watched the way the pink flesh bounced back to it’s full shape.
“You’re warm, Mrs. Kastor.” She said this as if it were a revelation. “And your cheeks are full and springy.”
Lisa furrowed her brow, doing her own examination of Rose feeling like she was saying something that Lisa wasn’t getting. “Well, Jim’s not the only one who gets a workout with his therapy. And honestly were eating way more than we used to. I think it’s beginning to catch up with me.”
“You’re not that kind of warm.” Rose looked at her forehead. “You’ve got a little fever.”
Lisa opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out and she closed her mouth.
“And those aren’t pancakes in your cheeks.” Rose looked her dead in the eyes and nodded her head.
“What are you saying?” Lisa didn’t realize that tears had begun to form at the corners of her eyes. Somewhere in her mind she understood what Rose was saying.
“I’m no doctor, but I come from a big family and I’ve taken care of a lot of cousins.” Rose nodded again.
“You think I’m pregnant?” Lisa’s jaw hung open, her eyes were like headlights. She stumbled over to the kitchen table and pulled out a chair to sit down. She rested her hands on the table and stared down at its Formica top. “I’m pregnant…” She whispered.
“Are you going to be all right, Mrs. Kastor?” Rose put her hand on Lisa’s shoulder. A tender and natural thing that amazed her even as she did it.
Lisa put her hand over Rose’s. “You call Mr. Kastor, Jim don’t you?” Lisa felt Rose’s hand stiffen.
“Yes, mam. When it’s just me and him.” Rose’s eyebrows twisted a bit as she looked down at Lisa.
“Why, don’t you call me Lisa.” Lisa squeezed Rose’s hand. “I think we’re going to be depending on you more than ever, Rose.” Lisa looked up at Rose, her eyes brimming. Her smile nervous. “I’m going to go change. Could you tell Jim I’m going to the store with you? I need to go find out for sure, before I tell him.” She smiled again her lips twitching.
Rose leaned over, putting both hands on Lisa’s shoulders. “Don’t you worry about him, he’ll be over the moon when you tell him.” Rose put her arms around Lisa and gave her a motherly hug and Lisa leaned into her. Then Rose went to go tell Jim they were leaving.
Lisa took a deep breath. She wasn’t going to the doctor yet, she wanted to be sure herself before she involved anyone else, she was going to the drug store. She’d seen an ad for something called E.P.T., home pregnancy test. It looked complicated with a kit that looked like it came straight out of a lab. It had a test tube, dropper, and other things she couldn’t readily identify. She’d never been been a star student in biology, or chemistry, but she could follow instructions and she would figure it out. She looked in the direction of Jim’s workout room and bit her lip. She knew what she was really worried about and it wasn’t Jim’s reaction to having a child; he would be over the moon. But it was the possible truth of the child that was her cross to bear and hers alone. She’d die before she’d let him find out the child might not be his.
By the time their son, Michael was born, Jim and Lisa were a solid team. You couldn’t slide a razor between them. Lisa had long ago suppressed any thought of Apollyon. It had been easier than she would have thought, once the baby had been confirmed.
Michael had pounds of straight black hair and a good nose for a newborn. He was strong, when he gripped a finger, it felt as if he planned to take it with him. He gained weight at a rate that had the doctor always double checking his last weigh in. Lisa and Jim were devoted to their child. It moved Jim to work harder at being a part of life. He got fitted with a new back brace that helped him walk and now he used his cuff crutches most of the time and the wheel chair only when he was tired. Michael resembled Jim in his youth so much so that and everyone couldn’t help but mention it.
Michael learned to walk almost as fast as he ate. He could read and write before he entered the first grade and was skipped from 3rd grade to 5th. Micheal’s greatest problem was maintaining an interest in anything. Bored with everything else, Michael tried out for sports in junior high. He did well which came as no surprise to anyone. He was lean and graceful with none of the physical awkwardness that usually accompanied puberty.
Jim was happy, if not a little jealous when his son’s awards began to shadow over his in the trophy case. Lisa enjoyed and loved Jim and her boy, but wanted for a second child. A girl she could be the kind of mother to that she wished she’d had growing up. Their sex life was not rambunctious, but regular. Lisa and Jim stayed intimate and loving with each other, but never conceived a second child. So while life wasn’t perfect everything was still, well, pretty much, peachy.
In 1985, at the age of 16, Michael went off to study business law and become a lawyer. Lisa and Jim settled into their empty-nest life. A routine of exercise and going into the store, but the store had started to wear on them and they began to discuss selling it. They were a frugal pair, the house had been paid off for years, and if they got a good price on the store they’d be able to easily live out their lives and finally do the traveling that Lisa had always wanted to do. Jim’s disabilities would keep them from any high adventure travels, but they could at least see Europe.
Lisa had a second motivation that she kept to herself, so as not to upset Jim. She had been secretly studying medical journals that she had the library get for her. They were big donors to the library, as part of their public relations for the Hardware Store and the Librarian was always very accommodating of Lisa. She also knew that it was secret mission to find help for Jim. Lisa always put on a brave face for him, but often cried when she was alone. She felt such anguish over the pain he endured every day. The fact he never complained aside from uncontrollable grunts and grimaces made her mission all the more important to her.
She learned that in Europe Doctors had successfully used Vertebroplasty, some sort of bone cement to treat vertebral vascular lesions. Now they had started trying Cement Augmentation in the treatment of compression fractures and she was going to have Jim see a specialist when they went over. She didn’t want to tell him until they were there, because if they talked about it ahead of time he would shoot it down. He was of the mind that he could accept what his life was. He was happy and didn’t want to be teased into believing it could be better. Worse still he didn’t want to try anything that might risk what he had.
A year later the store sold. A year after that they were in Switzerland. Lisa paced around their room while Jim napped. She still hadn’t said anything and the appointment was in two days. She dug through her suitcase and pulled out the file with all her copied pages from medical papers, she had extracted from the journals she’d been searching through for years. She sat on the edge of the bed with the folder in her lap. Jim feeling her presence on the bed, blinked awake and looked at her.
“Oh my goodness. This must be big.” Jim smiled.
“What do you mean?” Lisa said with all the innocence she could muster.
“You’ve got a folder.” He chuckled. “I know I’m in for it when you’ve got a folder.” He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “Lisa, you don’t have to convince me to do tourist stuff. You’ve wanted this your whole life. We do what you want to do. Were not on a time table. So if I have to rest up for a few days between things, it’s no big deal and you don’t have to sit around with me all the time. You can explore on your own. I think it’s pretty safe in Switzerland for you to be out and about.”
Lisa cleared her throat and smiled nervously. “Jim. If I asked you to do something for me that you didn’t want to do, would you do it?”
Jim crunched his brows. “I think I just said that, baby.”
Lisa rubbed the folder on her lap. “It’s not about seeing a castle… I want you to see a doctor.”
Jim closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath letting it go in a long sigh. He left his eyes closed.
“I’m guessing that folder is full of reasons why I should see this doctor.” He opened his eyes and rolled his head to look at her. She nodded looking down at the folder and gripping its edges.
“Well, this is obviously something you knew about for a while. I was really wondering why we went to Switzerland first. It seemed like an odd choice.
Lisa gripped the folder tighter. “You wouldn’t have agreed. You would have talked the idea away…” Jim saw a tear escape the corner of Lisa eye and he watched fall and splash on the folder. It broke his heart. He put his hand over Lisa’s and gave it a squeeze.
“Lisa.” She shook her head and a second tear fell.
“I see how much pain you’re in Jim. I know how brave you are to face it, but if there’s a chance that you can be even a little bit better…”
“Okay, Baby.” Jim squeezed her hand again. “I said I’d do anything for you and I meant it. If you want me to see this doctor, I’ll see him. I’m not saying I’ll agree to anything, but I’ll see him.”
“Thank you, Jim.” Lisa wiped her eyes. “Let me tell you about it.” Lisa opened her folder and began shuffling the papers to find the point she wanted to highlight.
“It’s okay, Lisa. You say it’s worth checking out, whatever it is, that’s all I need.” Jim could see how crestfallen Lisa was at not being able to give the presentation that he was sure she had practiced at home, before they left. He chuckled. “Okay… tell me about it.”
Lisa smiled again. “It’s Cement Augmentation of the vertebra.”
“Are you taking me to a doctor, or a hardware store.” Jim smiled.
Lisa gave him a swat. “Shut up and listen.” Jim listened. He went to the doctor and a year later they came back and Jim had the surgery. He had a good result. He still wore his back brace, but he walked much better and dropped his pain medication by half, then another half. And he loved Lisa even more, even though he wouldn’t have believed it was possible, but he did. Because while people who didn’t know any better might look at him a think he was crippled, he was a whole, happy, man, who considered himself very lucky. And life in the Kastor home was very peachy indeed.