I cried…first on the side of the road, the sky clear, the air late-summer crisp, my bicycle propped against the stop sign.
A few moments earlier, I’d seen construction ahead, two cars traveling in the same direction as me, the flag-person waving them through. What I had not seen was the uneven pavement, the opposite side of the road four or five inches higher. Not until it was too late. That's when I'd lost control of my bike, crashed hard, fell on my left arm, my handlebar cutting a deep groove in the new pavement (it’s still there).
Dazed, pain searing my arm, I had stood, maneuvered my bike upright with my right arm and hand, wheeled it out of traffic, asked the flag-person to call an ambulance.
“You need an ambulance?”
Yes, fuck yes, I said to myself. Did you not see me slam into the road? Look at my left arm. What’s wrong with you?
I was shaking, in shock. After I’d fallen, I’d looked down at my arm, to the wrist, saw something poking up under the skin. Blood dripped down my hand and onto the road from a wound I couldn’t see. Fuck! I guess I wouldn’t be able to just shake it off, get on my bike, ride away into the beautiful morning.
I thought I’d keep standing, use my right arm to prop up my left, while I waited for the ambulance to arrive–that is, if the flag-person had called one. But I couldn’t. I sunk to my knees in the gravel on the shoulder, shaking, scared I might lose consciousness, collapse. Better to fall from a kneeling position than from a standing one.
Then she was there. I don’t where she came from, but she joined me on the ground, began to wrap medical bandage around my arm. Pain shot through me, I tried to pull away. When I looked at my arm again, I saw a hump where there shouldn’t be one. I freaked out. She said her name was Tara, told me not to look, take deep breaths. I leaned my head into her neck for support. She told me she understood, said she was a mother. I needed to hear that. I needed a mother.
“It’ll be all right,” she said. “The ambulance is on its way.”
“Thank you, thank you for being here,” I said, between sobs. “I really appreciate your help.” Breath grabbed in my throat. “Oh, fuck, it hurts.”
“I know it does,” she said. “I know.” I shook harder. “Hang on. You’ll be okay.” I pushed my head into her neck and bawled, the pain more intense than any I’d ever felt.
I cried…when the ambulance arrived. Finally. FINALLY! What had taken so fucking long? I heard someone say fifteen minutes since the call to 9-1-1. Too long. Far too long. Weren’t they supposed to get there faster? Much faster?
The paramedics came over to me, asked how I was doing, where the pain was, could I stand up on my own, walk over to the stretcher with their help, get on it? I said I thought I could. Anything to get to the hospital faster. The pain in my arm was so severe, I could scarcely open my eyes, see where I was going, what was happening around me.
All I wanted was something for the pain. Give me something for the fucking pain, will you? Put me out. Let me come to only after I’ve arrived at the hospital, after surgery’s over. Please. PLEASE! I don’t want to know, feel, anything that goes on.
In the ambulance, the paramedics asked me questions. I answered them, bawled, wiped my face with the back of my right arm. They told me to take deep breaths, keep sucking on a mouthpiece delivering some sort of gas (or was it just oxygen?). It didn’t put me out or even deaden the pain much. It just seemed to calm me down. A little, anyway.
Still conscious, I was aware of being in the back of an ambulance racing down the road, the siren, the pain burning up and down my arm, the IV going into my right hand. I cried, knowing I was finally being looked after, knowing I was in a worse mess than I’d ever been, knowing how upset Chris would be when he spoke with Tara (who’d called him and left a message while we’d waited; who’d said she’d make sure my bike got home safely).
*I cried…in the emergency ward at the hospital. “Help me!” I yelled out. “PLEASE, HELP ME!” Someone there said I was being helped, his tone impatient. A flurry of activity took place around me. Lots of people. More questions.
“He’s in a same-sex relationship,” I heard a female voice say. How did she know? Must have spoken with Tara. Somehow, everyone knowing comforted me. Thankfully, no references to a wife. No clarifications necessary. No potential embarrassment. I didn’t need that. Not then.
“We have to get you out of these clothes. Does what you’re wearing on top have any meaning to you?” I told him it didn’t. I heard the scissors cut, felt the fabric release around my arms, my neck, my chest. My shoes were removed, my shorts and tights pulled down, my underwear taken off. I was naked, shivering. Someone covered me with a blanket. It was warm, felt good.
Thankfully, the fingers on my left hand hadn’t swollen yet. The emergency staff removed the ring Chris had given me to mark our twentieth anniversary, a couple years earlier, without cutting it off. Or whatever they do in those circumstances.
I was sat up, checked over, laid back down. I was told to keep breathing the gas, to prop up the mouthpiece with my good hand so I could keep sucking on it. I sucked, deeper and deeper, hoping the more I took in, the more likely I’d be knocked out. I wasn’t. I felt numbed, dizzy, but the pain was still there, rolling up and down my arm, throbbing, only a little more dully.
I heard someone say I needed surgery, but I couldn't be operated on for a while. The OR was booked for the day. Great. But the bone in my arm had to be reset.
Please, God. Please make them put me out for that. Please don’t let them tug on my arm while I know what’s going on. While I can feel it. PLEASE!
I woke up. I don’t know how much time had passed. I was still in the emergency room, only a few people around me. My arm had been reset. I’d been given something for the pain, but I still felt it, knew it was there.
When would Chris arrive? I wanted him there so badly.
I cried…that evening, after I’d been wheeled into a hospital room with three other patients, following surgery, Chris appearing at my bedside.
The rest of that morning and all afternoon, I’d waited in the emergency ward for him. Someone had told me Chris knew what had happened. I thought he’d be there any minute; I wouldn’t have to go through this by myself.
But hour after hour went by. I kept looking up from my bed whenever I heard a noise, expecting to see his face. Instead, I saw the loved ones of other patients.
Where was Chris? Why was he taking so long? He should have been there already. Surely, he’d take the bus from downtown Vancouver, not wait for the first train to leave around three-thirty. I needed him. Didn’t he know that?
I asked one of the nurses, wearing street clothing, a great-smelling perfume, what time it was. She told me. I said I didn’t understand why he hadn’t arrived yet. She asked if she could call someone for me. I told her Chris had already been contacted, but gave her his name and phone number anyway. She called, left a message.
A while later, the phone rang. She looked at me from the desk, mouthed, “It’s him,” shook her head.
“Would you like to talk to him?” I heard her say into the phone. She transferred the call to a cell, brought it over to me.
“Where are you?” I asked.
Pause. “I’m still at work.”
“I can’t get away. I didn’t tell you, but I’m Mark today. Then someone called in sick. Other people have the day off. There’s no one here. I can’t close the office.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I can’t leave until the usual time.”
“So you won’t get here until some time after six?”
“I can’t. I’m so sorry. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Hopefully, I’ll be in surgery by then.”
“I’ll see you after surgery, okay?”
I cried…Chris now standing beside my bed.
“What’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“I’m just glad you’re here, finally.”
But it was more than that, so much more.
The hospital staff had been great, all of them; I couldn’t have asked for more compassionate and dedicated caregivers. But Chris’s face was the one I’d most wanted to see.
For the first time since the accident, I felt safe again. Chris was with me. I’d be all right, after all.
The weight of the day overcame me, and I couldn’t help it–tears came involuntarily.
How had I gone from riding my bike on a glorious morning one minute, to kneeling on the side of the road in the gravel the next; holding my arm, seeing shapes under its skin I never thought I would, my fingers bent at a contorted angle? I cried because I needed to, because I was overwhelmed by everything, because I had to let go.
I cried…when Chris returned to the hospital the following day.
This time, he brought a small bag of assorted Lindt chocolates he’d bought on the way over. I took one into my mouth immediately, trying to mask the taste of breakfast from earlier that morning.
A lunch tray was placed on a table beside my bed. Chris helped me with it, opening containers, feeding me as necessary. I felt so cared for, so cherished. Not that I usually didn’t.
But this time was different. I wasn’t me. I was dependent, vulnerable, a child. Chris’s generosity and selflessness moved me. All the things he did made me feel connected to him like never before.
“Why are you crying?” The same words from the night before.
I shrugged. “Because you’re being so kind to me.”
He seemed put off by that. “Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be? You’d do the same for me.”
Yes. Yes, I would. In a heartbeat. Count on it.
I cried…the following night in Chris’s bed.
I hadn’t thought I’d be home yet. The surgeon had said I could probably leave the next day. I thought that unlikely, but what did I know? When he came to see me in the morning, he said there was no reason why I couldn’t be released.
At home, still feeling sore, and vulnerable, and fragile, I got into bed with Chris, unable to find a comfortable place to put my arm in its heavy plaster cast. Chris held it up for me, took on the weight. Later, as we chatted quietly, he twisted his arm so he could cup my sausage-like fingers, protruding from the cast, inside his. The sweetness of the gesture made me cry, I couldn’t help it. And it opened something inside me.
I cried because I was sad–sad that this had happened. In fifty-five years, I’d never broken anything, been seriously ill. I took care of myself, was in good health. I didn’t do anything foolhardy, tempt fate. Bad things happened to other people, not to me, right?
Wrong. None of what I'd done, all the precautions I'd taken, mattered. None of it had prevented my bike from crashing, me from landing on my arm, fracturing it in two places. None of it made me immune from the reality of what lurked out there, ready to strike at any second. The thought of that scared the hell out of me. It also upset, disappointed, and saddened me.
I cried because of how good Chris had been to me, how, without complaining or thinking of himself, he’d attended to my every need. How he’d done things for me I’d never imagined he would, shown, in every single task, how much I meant to him, how much he cared for me, how much he’d been affected by what had happened too. Of course, we know our loved ones are there for us. But, sometimes, they’re given the chance to prove it even more. And Chris had proven it. Over and over again.
But, most of all, I cried for the fraud I thought I was.
Over the years, I’d preached to countless readers that they must love themselves, believe they deserve their own love and that of others. Believe they deserve good things happening to them, because they are worthy.
But, there I was, snuggling with Chris before bed, believing I’d gone from being an asset in our relationship to a liability, an inconvenience, a nuisance. Same old story: As long as I produced something, earned my keep, I was worthy of his love. Otherwise, I wasn't. That I still felt that way hurt. It hurt a lot.
Had I really learned nothing over the years about my intrinsic self-worth? Did I still believe, somewhere deep within me, that I was less than everyone else, that I didn’t deserve Chris, his kindness, or his love? Why hadn’t I been able to accept his selflessness at face value, and not think he was doing it because he had to, or because it was the decent thing to do, or because he would do it for anyone?
How could I continue to write my blog, counsel people about loving themselves, when, obviously, I still had work–lots of work–to do on that myself?
I cried. The tears that fell were the bitterest of all.