Chapter 13


He awoke to pain, but it remained in the background, tolerable. He endured it in silence. A long sequence of awakenings followed. He remembered a visit from John during one of those times. His friend had tried to maintain a one-way conversation that quickly degenerated into an awkward silence. He left soon after. But Earl knew that he cared. Eventually he realized that his jaw and shoulder ached less. His right arm began to tingle, an irritating sensation. After another interminable duration a nurse came into his line of vision. She was the same brunette that he had seen at first, and this time she wore a smile. “We’re going to take off your body cast today,” she said triumphantly. “You’ll be able to move around some.”


True to her word, two more staff came in with the doctor and delicately cut and peeled the plaster tomb from his body. Relieved, he attempted to move his head and was gratified to know that he could do so. He moved his legs and was even happier to know that they, too were intact. Doing the same with his arms, however, he could move them both but only the left arm came into view. He struggled again to move his right arm, but the nurse quickly intervened. “I’m afraid that’s not going to happen, Earl. The arm was beyond saving. We had to amputate.” She added defensively “The alternative was gangrene, which would have killed you.” Earl nodded, attempting to assimilate this unexpected fact. He pointed to his jaw with a question in his eyes. “Next week.” The response came from the doctor this time. Earl made a writing motion with his left hand. “He wants to write something,” the nurse said and presently a pencil and a board with a sheet of paper were given to him. Being naturally right-handed, Earl found it extremely frustrating to form words with his left. Eventually, however, he managed to scribble the word “Joyce”. The nurse looked toward the doctor and he nodded his head.


He found himself being transferred to a gurney and moved down a hallway to another part of the hospital. Eventually they turned into a room, where he saw a pitiful little creature whose sad eyes peeked out from behind a beehive of bandages. He knew that he was looking at Joyce, but she looked so tiny. With a shock, he understood why she was so dwarfed by the bed. The blanket was empty where her legs were supposed to be. She saw his startled recognition of her loss as turned her head away. He saw her shoulders heave. Despite his inability to speak coherently through his wired jaw he called her name. He tried to rise up from the gurney and fell in the attempt, damaging a rib. The commotion caused Joyce to turn her head. As they lifted him back onto the gurney, he wailed his love for her, but his sounds were undecipherable. He was wheeled away.


Back in his room he asked again for the pencil and paper. After laboring, he wrote “Joyce. I love you. Earl.” He urged the paper onto a nurse and motioned for her to take it away. Then he wept. “Dear God,” he silently prayed. “I don’t know why You allowed this to happen and I won’t question Your Wisdom. But don’t let me lose Joyce too. Please keep Joyce and me together. Please let us stay together all our lives.”


God remained quiet. He was wheeled into Joyce’s room two days later. Again, when he arrived, she turned her head away from him. But this time he tugged the gurney alongside her bed and reached out with his left arm. He caught her arm and squeezed, silently pleading with her to acknowledge his presence. Her head turned toward his face and they both wept. She rested a hand on his. He silently thanked God.


He came into her room every day after that. A few days later his jaw was unhindered and he spoke to her for the first time. “Joyce, I’m so sorry,” he began. “I just didn’t see him coming.”


Hello, Earl,” a voice said from behind him. His nurse turned the gurney to allow him to see who spoke. It was Joyce’s mother. “Another drunk,” she said. “It was in the papers and on TV.


I’m sorry, Janet. So very, very sorry.”


Don’t blame yourself,” Janet said, baring her teeth in anger. He’s completely at fault, and I intend to make certain that he receives the justice that’s due him. Other than not being within ten miles of him, there’s no way that you could have avoided the crash.”


Joyce motioned him forward. When his gurney was alongside she reached over and held his hand. She gave it a squeeze. She didn’t blame him. But he knew that when he overdid it himself with alcohol, it could have been him who had changed some other persons’ lives forever. Or maybe Joyce’s. Full of contrition, he begged the Lord for forgiveness.


When the doctor motioned with his watch that they’d been with her long enough, they left Joyce’s room together. The aide in charge of Earl began to wheel him back to his own room, and Janet asked “Mind if I tag along?” The aide shrugged and said, “Sure.” When they were in Earl’s room the aide left and Janet spoke up. “I don’t want to pester you, but you’re my only connection to her. I’m still trying to sort this thing out in my head. My poor daughter,” she said, and began to moan. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said, attempting to soothe her. Please. A chair’s over there. Have a seat.”


She thanked him and complied. “I have a feeling that you’re not particularly happy with me right now,” Earl offered. “I don’t blame you. Flaky to begin with, and now look what I’ve done to your daughter.”


Oh, no.” She gathered herself together and strengthened her will. “I told you before, it wasn’t your fault. I’m not blaming you, and you shouldn’t blame yourself.”


I can’t help it,” he replied. “I keep feeling that there must have been something I could have done to avoid the accident. I . . .”


Stop it,” she commanded, interrupting his thoughts. “I came in here to be with you, not to accuse.”


Thanks, Janet. I never want to leave Joyce, you know. I don’t care what parts are missing, I still love her. I always will.”


I know you do. Leave it be, Earl. Time to get on with the job of living. I’m concerned about the driving, though. For starters, you need a better car. I take that back. You need a car. Yours was totaled. Mine is still in good working order, but I’ve had my eye on a cute little convertible. I was thinking of buying it and trading in the old one, but they don’t give much on trade-ins. You’re welcome to it.”


Thanks very much. I’ll sign over to whatever the insurance company’s decided to pay me for my old one, but it won’t be much, I’m sure. It belonged in the junkyard way before the accident.”


Not necessary. I’d like to make it a gift.”


You know,” he replied with feeling, “you might just make a pretty decent mother-in-law.”


In another week the staff removed the bandages from Joyce’s head. When he arrived at her room that day, a nurse was combing her hair. She was the most lovely sight that he could imagine. It was her turn to look at him in shock. “Your arm,” she said, putting a delicate hand up to her mouth.


Yeah. The Limb fairy took it away. Didn’t leave anything under my pillow, either. But we still have each other. Let’s see – that’s two legs and three arms between us. We should get by.”


She gave a sad little laugh, but a smile remained on her face. “I’m game if you are.”


Her bravado lasted as long as she remained under the covers. Eventually they got her out of bed, dressed her and took her down to Rehabilitation Therapy. Her relative exposure made the journey an ordeal. I must look like a beachball sitting without legs in this wheelchair, she thought unhappily. A freak. She was relieved when they wheeled her through a doorway and she was out of the well-traveled hallway.


In the therapy room they spoke to her with kindness, but treated her as if she was in boot camp. A specialist came into the room and examined the stumps, the left of which extended halfway from her hip to where her knee used to be, and the right of which was shorter by several inches. “You had the engine block in your lap, honey,” the doctor said. “Your legs didn’t like it too much. Be thankful that you have as much left as you do. Be even more thankful that you still have your life. Many people with injuries like yours don’t survive the trauma. Your relative youth helped you there.”


I know what, or rather Who, helped me, she thought. But then the doctor had a therapist wrap the stumps in cloth and applied cuplike devices to the ends with firm and constant pressure. The sudden pain frightened her and she cried out in alarm. The therapist brushed her hair back from her forehead and said soothingly, “It’ll hurt just a bit, but it won’t be long. You need to go through the pain.” Joyce noted that despite the kindness in her voice, the therapist had not let up on the pressure. “We’re trying to get you ready for prosthetic limbs,” she continued conversationally. “It won’t be easy, but the more you grit your teeth and learn to handle it, the faster you’ll be up and about on your own. My name’s Maggie, by the way. They call me Magpie. I guess I know why. You will too, I’m afraid.”


For the first time, Joyce focused on something outside of her own pain. She studied the other woman, noting her red hair and freckles. She’s Irish, she thought. Cute, too. I’ll bet she has a fierce temper. And a good sense of humor.


So you got caught in an accident,” Maggie said conversationally. “I hear he was drunk. Isn’t that the way it goes.”


The ironic thing about it is that we just got finished doing something that people usually think of as more dangerous than riding in a car.”


Oh? What was that?”


My boyfriend Earl had just taken me along with him in his hang glider. We were up almost an hour. It was a great ride. Then this.”


Joyce’s face registered the rapid onset of pain. Her sudden change in countenance triggered Maggie’s vocal reflex. “Good for you, honey,” she said, patting Joyce on the shoulder. I like adventure too. Under the right conditions, that is. Sometimes Bob doesn’t get it. Bob’s my husband. He’s had a bunch of bikes. Motorcycles. Most of them weren’t designed with the input of women’s focus groups, if you get my drift. The passenger seats, if you want to call them that, were on the primitive side. Hard as concrete, truth be told. I told him just that. I said, ‘Bob, you want me to ride on this thing, you stop every hour or two so I can get a butt rest, you hear me?’ Yeah, yeah, he says, but you think he listened? In one ear and out the other. He decides to take me to New Mexico one year. There we were, in the middle of Idaho, just outside of Pocatello, and me, I’m marching down the side of the highway. Bob’s behind me on the bike, putt-putting and whining for me to get back on. Oh, boy, was I mad! I was so mad that I was crying, he didn’t give me a butt rest for almost three hours. I’ll tell you, it turned me right then and there into a mean biker bitch and he could beg all he wanted, I wasn’t going to get back on that thing. Then I started to see that we weren’t exactly alone. It was a busy highway. People in their cars could see me crying and Bob back behind me whining for me to climb back on. I could see them laughing. We must have entertained a hundred cars until I relented and got back on. But I gave his back a good pounding with my fists. He didn’t try that again. Oh, he did, but not on that trip.”


Joyce found herself laughing at the tale despite her discomfort. Another girl overheard the conversation. Her name was Cindy; she was black and strikingly pretty. Her clothes and demeanor asserted her wealth. She was undergoing therapy for a badly damaged wrist, but she, too, was laughing with Maggie’s story. “Men are such fools,” she said. “That’s a good one but I can top it.”





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