I always dream about being on Broadway, going to the moon, exploring the Alaskan wilderness, hiking the Appalachian trail, climbing to the top of Mount Everest and hundreds of other adventures.
Of course, I don't venture too far from home, since getting around in my wheelchair limits my excursions. I was told I had an accident when I was seven, which paralyzed me from the waist down, but I don’t remember it. I also have no memory of life before I became tethered to this chair. Apparently, I loved running, playing tag with my sister Grace, growing carrots and riding horses, but hard as I try, all I see is a blank screen.
After our parents died, Grace moved away and I continued to live alone in our farmhouse, looked after by one aid or another. I count on them for virtually everything and couldn’t be more grateful. Reading, writing, daydreaming, watching television and spending time outside keep me pretty busy, and since I’ve never known any other life, I’ve been fairly content.
However, nights are really tough, lying in bed for far too many hours feeling completely constrained. On a positive note, that’s when I do the most thinking, focusing on what it might be like to be fully independent.
Every morning, Matt comes into my room, pulls back the curtains and says, “Good morning Nick! Let’s get the show on the road!”
I respond with, “Can’t you come up with something new to say?”
Then Matt smiles and says, “And ruin my record? I think I’m up to 842, give or take a few hundred.”
Matt has always been my favorite assistant. He’s only a few years older than me, and has taught me a lot about life, but from the perspective of an able-bodied person. I can tell him anything, but I don’t, and you don’t need to be a therapist to figure out why.
I love the feeling of having control over what I say, since being a paraplegic means having to count on others for so many things. Now, we’re not talking about life and death events, but simple activities I prefer to keep to myself. For example, on my daily “rides” outside, I often veer off into the brush and purposely fall out of my chair. It’s always exciting and scary to figure out how to get myself back into my carriage without being covered in dirt and leaves, and avoiding scrapes and bruises. Matt has questioned me a few times, but I’ve always convinced him to believe I'd never had an accidental spill when out on my own, even when a wad of grass found its way into my underwear. He also doesn’t know he’s the protagonist in the book I’m writing, but I figure I’ll let him know once it’s published and share the royalties with him.
Yesterday was particularly important, and I’m definitely going to tell everyone about it. It began like any other day…
“Good morning Nick! Let’s get the show on the road!” Matt announced.
I said, “Can’t you come up with something new to say?”
“And ruin my record? I think I’m up to 843, give or take a few hundred,” Matt replied with the updated tally.
Then he asked, “What’s your plan for today Nick?”
“Well, I’m going to drive the tractor out into the far pasture to collect field stones so I can finish rebuilding the wall across from the horse barn,” I answered.
After chuckling, Matt said, “Sounds like a lot of physical work! Would you like any help?”
“Of course not! I’ve done this myself for years, and certainly don’t need anyone to get in my way now,” I responded, wishing it were true.
“OK, I’m going to run some errands and find something good for dinner tonight,” Matt said on his way out.
I watched him drive away and wondered how I would spend the next two hours. Coming up with creative ideas after 30 years isn’t easy but I’ve always managed to find a way to keep occupied. As I headed down the hall, I stopped in front of the door that led to the attic.
“How is it possible I’d never been up there?” I asked myself aloud.
The answer didn’t matter, since I hit the “idea jackpot.”
I released the rusty latch and looked up at a steep set of about 20 wooden stairs. Even though I have an extremely strong upper body, I didn’t know if I was capable of pulling myself to the top. There was only one way to find out, so I set the brakes on my chair, lowered myself to the ground and leaned against the stair treads to see if they were solid enough to withstand my weight. They creaked and I groaned as I began the ascent.
I was sweating profusely when I safely landed on the attic floor and it took a while before I could breathe without gasping for air. My forearms and elbows were covered in blood and I knew that dark purple bruises weren’t far behind.
Fortunately, two small windows allowed in enough light for me to see without need for a flashlight. Good thing, since I didn’t have one. A moldy smell permeated the air and everything, including me, was covered in grime. Mouse droppings were strewn about and the floorboards were rough and uneven. I knew I was going to be pulling splinters out of my body for a very long time.
There were a few tattered boxes filled with girl’s clothes, an old sewing machine cabinet, a child sized saddle and one of my dad’s hunting rifles tucked into a corner. Nothing earth shattering or especially valuable, but then I noticed a shiny brass handle on the back wall. I moved closer to have a better look, and saw that it was attached to an elaborately carved small door.
I stared at the amazing piece of artwork, which depicted an open gate with trees and flowers in the background. I tried to guess who designed it, what might be inside and why it was here in the first place. I wondered if squirrels or bats were on the other side, but still planned to open it and chance being bitten by a possible resident.
I pulled on the handle and as the door squeaked open, I was immediately blinded by a pulsating light. My entire body was sucked into its core before the door slammed behind me, and I was carried away. Although the sensation was exhilarating, it became terrifying when I heard a whispered voice. At first it was hard to decipher, but soon it became clear, “CHOOSE!”
The voice repeatedly ordered “CHOOSE, CHOOSE A DESTINATION,” which increased in volume until the sound became deafening. I wasn't sure where I wanted to go, or how I was supposed to choose the location. Eventually, I just screamed, “STOP HERE!” At that very moment, I was gently dropped to the ground and found myself lying in the grass, looking up at the sun.
Seconds later, I had an out of body experience. I watched and listened from above, as a clip from my past played out on a real-life movie screen.
“Come on Nick! Tag, you’re it!” yelled Grace.
I jumped up and looked around for my sister before calling out, “Where are you?”
“It’s your turn to catch me,” hollered Grace, from behind the horse barn.
I took off running as fast as I could, tripping and falling once, but never stopping. When I got to the back of the barn Grace wasn’t there, but I caught a glimpse of her in the cornfield.
Before I could chase her, Mom called out from her vegetable garden, “Nick! Would you please come help me pull some weeds?”
Looked like Grace would have to wait, which always made her so mad. Mom and I laughed every time we heard her screaming my name.
When we finished, Mom said, “Go get her Nick!”
I took off running again, only to find Grace scowling as she walked toward me. She gritted her teeth and said, “Leave me alone Nick. I don’t want to play anymore.”
“Oh well. Your loss,” I replied, and headed to the barn.
“Hey Dad! Want to take the horses out?” I asked.
“Sure! Great idea. Saddle up!” Dad said.
So, I watched myself and Dad ride through the fields and over a hill or two, before having to get home for dinner. Life seemed pretty good back then. In fact, I heard myself say it was the best day ever, just before the horse bucked. I fell backwards into our stone wall, leaving me unconscious and severely injured.
I started to come around when I heard my name being called and felt someone touching my shoulder.
Matt was staring at me when I opened my eyes and said, “What the heck are you doing lying here in the grass Nick? You're filthy! And how did your arms get so beat up? I always knew you were up to something when I found prickers on your socks and mud splattered on the back of your chair.”
It took time before I realized I was home, and then clearly remembered that I accidently chose something miraculous. Having the opportunity to witness life as a physically active and happy little boy, was a gift. Seeing the accident play out was quite the opposite, but I finally felt whole, in spite of it.
It was time for me to fess up, so I asked Matt to help me get back into my chair and said, “You’re right Matt. Of course, I haven’t always been honest with you, but I can’t wait to tell you what happened today. It started when I opened the attic door…”