Don

Written by Daniel Hanson

Don wakes up around 5:30 A.M. every morning. Sometimes he tries to sleep longer so he can keep dreaming of his bicycle and his ex-wife and his 1987 Schwinn Super Sport. He used to fly down the 1 on that thing in the mid 90’s. He even won a couple races in his respected division. Then in 2008 Don hit a pot hole and careened into a clearing of the Big Sur forest where the top of his foam helmet hit a boulder at more than 80 mph. When he woke up he could only feel his eyes pivot in his head. When he looked down he saw a tube sticking out from his mouth, completely free of any sensation in his chest or throat, it was forcing his breath. 

His then wife, Carrie, was crying outside the Operating Room. Don, although he could not feel anything, suddenly thought he needed to vomit. He knew. The blur of his vision right after he had hit the open gravel on Highway 1 was all he needed to remember. When he saw a Doctor walk into his room he immediately closed his eyes before they gave him the cliché speech that he had heard in so many movies. 

'Don, Don, I need you to listen to me. You have been in a very serious accident and there has been severe damage to your spine. Your entire upper and lower body are completely paralysed. Now that your awake we think that you might like to talk to your wife. We will give you some time before we go into more details about your care.'

Carrie walked into the emergency room where Don’s eyes immediately started to welt at the sight of her. She hugged him as they both start to cry. 

“I’m not going to leave you, I promise. I love you.” 

Don’s eyes became shot with red veins as she pressed herself against his motionless body. They pivoted and spun. 

***

It’s January 2016. The fog suspends itself from the ground outside Don’s backyard. He stares into gray concrete that filled his once blue pool. His mouth quivers with some effort. He has been able to regain some speech. He recites vowels to his nurse with difficulty. 

'A, E, uuuuhhhh... UuuuuuI, O, oooooooo.' 

'Good Mr. Arnold, good. Now when you get to those I’s and U’s make sure to really get that whole breathe out. What you want is a nice full sound.' 

Leave me alone.” He thought. 

'Uuuuuuuhhhh... Uhhhhh... UhhhhhIIIIIIIIII!' Don hurled the air out of his chest. 

'IIIIIIII! IIIII! IIIII!' 

'Very good Mr. Arnold!' 

The front door opened. It was Carrie and her husband, James. She walked in nervous to encounter the sight of her ex-husband who she knew was all but a vegetable sitting in his mechanical wheelchair. Seeing him never got easier. 

'Hey Don, how is everything? Lauren says you’ve been making progress with your speech. She says that you can almost pronounce all of your vowels now.' 

Don stared back at the cemented pool. His eyes pivoted to James who was standing under the door frame, looking proud. 

'How does that chair work for you, bud? My friend in the industry says it’s the best one on the market right now.' James said. Don looked at him for a split second and then moved his right index finger slightly to rotate his chair in the opposite direction. He closed his eyes in humiliation. He hated being forced to stare at the healthy man whose legs and arms and dick were all functional and working their magic on his Carrie. He didn’t give a shit that the guy spent thousands of dollars for the best care he could provide. Every night he dreamt of making love to his Carrie only to wake up to this rich and healthy asshole chauffeuring her into his home and force feeding him liquified food - which was tasteless besides it’s granular texture - as it slowly drained from his helpless mouth down through his oesophagus and into his stomach. 

He feels powerful, Don thought. The empathy was fraudulent and the sheer amount of leverage this man had to dictate Don’s life was demoralising to say the least. He was treated like a vegetable because he could only express himself in so many ways. He was a prisoner of his own mind, a mind that in all respects was sharp and wise but not made for eloquence or major linguistic abstractions. Don was an athlete, a competitor, to him there was no frothy poetic bullshit to life. It was either you win or you lose, and as he sat in his chair stuck, day after day he couldn’t help but wish that he could somehow end it all. He was stuck a perpetual loser, forever the humiliated being forced to hold the hand of a man who had everything, and the only thing, that Don wanted. 

Five years prior, after Carrie had met James, Don rolled his mechanical wheelchair into his eight-foot-deep pool in his backyard, but guess who was there to save the day? That’s right, James Hardy. The true hero in Don’s life. James didn’t hesitate to buy him a new chair and pay for the pool to be filled with cement. Everyone assumed it was an accident. Don had a theory that these heroic and expensive decisions might have led to sealing the deal with Carrie because not much long after, Carrie Arnold became Carrie Hardy. Don’s life had become a vicious cycle that made him feel like he was drowning but never dead, stuck inside the shell of his lifeless body. 

'I’m gonna go now, Don. Lauren is going to make you a blended meal, and James and I are going to see the new Star Wars movie. We heard it was really good, maybe one of your nephews can take you later this week?' 

'Well that sounds fun!' Said Lauren, forcing her excitement. 

'Sounds like a treat you deserve! Get you out of this place into some fresh air.' Said James. 

Don closed his eyes and then opened them to Carrie’s face kissing his cheek and then whispering, 'I love you.' They left. 

***

'What’s up Uncle D? How’s it hanging?' Don stared at his nephew, Tim, with annoyance and slight amusement. 

'You want go see that new space movie?' 

'Yeeee…. Ahhhh…!' Forcing his clumsy voice. 

'Let’s go then!' 

The two entered the mall foyer, 'Why does every mall smell like rotten mustard and sweat?' remarked Tim. 

Whenever Don was with Tim he turned his wheelchair on manual mode. 

'Fffffff… aaaaa...' 

'What’s that big D? You want to go fast? I don’t know uncle D, I don’t think the doctor recommended you put your body through g-force speeds!' and without hesitation Tim started sprinting through the mall with Don’s wheels gliding seamlessly over the laminated quartz floor. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine that he was on his Schwinn again, effortlessly manoeuvring the steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada’s, or perhaps pressing his quads with incredible force as a means of beating the competition on a long flat somewhere in the Central Valley. 

An overweight security guard chased down the two and immediately warned them that they would be kicked out of the mall if Tim kept on running. 

'Okay sorry, it won’t happen again sir.' Said Tim, and then added, 'Tool,' under his breathe. 

After the movie, Tim snuck in a sprint as he dashed to the parking lot with the same overweight security guard chasing them from behind. 

'Both of you are going to be banned from this mall! You’re not welcome back here anytime soon!' 

Tim helped his uncle into the refurbished mini-van while the panting security guard helplessly demanded their names while shooting a video with his iPhone. 

Tim drove off laughing with his uncle in the passenger seat chuckling the best he could by letting small puffs of air rifle out of his paralyzed mouth. 

'I have to say that film was a major disappointment. I mean I’m sure kids love it but those writers really can’t think of anything else? How many flawed Death Stars can you write in a series with the same stupid plot?'

Don groaned in agreement. 

Tim wheeled Don into his living room. 

'Hey, Uncle D, I need to talk to you about something.' 

Don looked at Tim with amusement. 

'I know you have never liked drugs or alcohol for that matter. But I want to talk to you about something in particular that I think might help with your condition.' 

Don started to roll his eyes. As much as he loved his nephew, he now was forced to listen to this pot head’s schpeal about the benefits of medical marijauana. 

'Now I know what you are thinking, but I can show you examples of people who are paralysed and take it. There’s a component in the drug called CBD and it doesn’t get you high. It just relaxes your body. I’ve been reading things online about how the effects help paralysed people cope. Again, I know you have always been against drugs but I think this might help you.” 

Don looked at the cemented pool and thought about all the crap that Doctors and James had shoved into his body since his accident. None of it worked, Lithium made him feel like more of a zombie than how he already was and all the physical therapy he had gone through only helped with slight motions of his right hand. 

'OOOOO... K' 

***

The next day, Tim went to his uncle’s house with a fresh batch of newly bought THC and CBD infused edibles and drinks. 

'I got these with my medical marijuana card. They’re really easy to get, it’s kind of a joke. I can blend these up if you want me to. I’ll start you off on a low dose and we can go up from there if you need it.'

Tim poured an entire bottle of CBD and THC infused juice into a fruit smoothie. He helped his uncle finish his portion and then he sat back and drank his half. 

'I think your gonna like this Uncle D. It’s not like alcohol.'

An hour later Don looked out his living room window. He had become used to the perpetual quiver in his bottom left lip. It was his bodies habit ever since the accident to try to move his jaw in a motion to gain full speech. Then suddenly for the first time in many years, he felt his jaw relax and the quiver settled, his lips fell involuntarily and then by his own free will he closed his mouth and opened it up again with almost no effort. 

'Uncle D you opened your mouth, and it didn’t even shake! Uncle D try to say something. Recite your vowels.' 

This all happened as Don was enduring a full-fledged psychoactive THC trip that his nephew was all too used to. 

'A! E! I! O! U!' Don pronounced every syllable in copacetic fashion with nearly perfect dictation. His weak jaw forced him to open wider than the average person but there was no more stuttering or struggle to make these simple first sounds. His tongue was still mostly limp but he could start to feel the slight sensation of it regaining its nerve endings. 

'You just said your vowels, Uncle D! Try to say something.' 

'I... Can... speak.' 

'Yes you can, Uncle D!” 

Tim hugged his uncle as he started to welt up. They were both becoming extremely high and emotional. After Tim had gotten off his Uncle, Don suddenly realized how stoned he was. 

'You... You... Gave… Me... Pot!' 

'I know, I’m sorry. But look Uncle Don. You’re speaking and your mouth isn’t even quivering.' 

Stoned and full of emotion, Don looked at his nephew and started to cry more. 

'I... Love... You...' 

'I love you too, Uncle D.' 

Both, now incredibly stoned, went for a walk to the local park. Tim laid on the grass staring at the sky as his uncle proudly recited his vowels while parkgoers stared at him under the assumption that he was psychotic. 

'A! E! I! O! U!' 

***

The next day Carrie and James came to Don’s house where he and Tim were sitting side by side watching Black Mirror and waiting for the edibles to kick in. 

Tim had explained to Lauren earlier what he had given his uncle and after some brief protest she decided to let Don keep experimenting as long as he were to obtain a recommendation from a Doctor. 

'We have news for you.' 

Don without turning his head focused his eyes on his Carrie and yelled, 'I… Can... Speak!' Carrie was absolutely stunned by this revelation and started to break down into tears. 

James, critical and presumptuous from looking at both Tim and Don's sand bag eyes and Tim’s drooping posture, asked with a wide grin, 'Did you get your uncle high?' 

'Yeah Jimmy I got him high, but he’s speaking. Look he can recite all his vowels now.' 

'A! E! I! O! U!' 

'That’s very nice Don but you don’t know how cannabis is going to affect your condition. There could be negative side effects that might not show up right now but will develop over time. You should have really consulted me or your doctor before you did this. Your nephew really doesn’t have any-' 

'Fuck… Off. Just... Fuck... Off! 

They looked at each other with disdain. 

Tim started laughing uncontrollably, his uncle followed with a soft chuckle. Carrie turned her tears into laughter and then went to smother the vegetable of a man she had been in love with for so long with a sloppy and passionate kiss. He kissed back.