Chapter 3... where some door close and others open for various Recoveries characters
| Connie MacKenzie felt like she was racing - and losing. Almost any other time, she would have enjoyed the race. Her opponent today, however, was well-rooted in a grim mood. "Dammit, David, slow down before you wear me out, crash into something, or both." David never backed off, rolling his wheelchair as fast as he could. Barely slowing down for a corner, his momentum nearly threw him out of the chair when Connie caught up and grabbed the handles on the backrest.
"What the hell -"
"I stopped you before you ran into him." David looked up to see a patient using a walker stopped a few feet in front of him.
"Young man", the other patient glowered, his voice a dulcet baritone, "the Indy 500 was several weeks ago. You have plenty of time to get your wheelchair souped up and ready for next year's race. So slow it down."
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry."
"Tell me, young man... do you drive your car like you were A. J. Foyt? Or your ambulance?"
"No, sir. Driving either one of them that way would be stupid." David's head drooped, making him look at his knees. "And may very well have put me where I am now. I'm sorry, sir."
"You should be. So be more careful. And realize that racing down these halls won't take you away from your problems." With that, the older man resumed his trek down the hall, angling toward a young care assistant standing beside a medicine cart.
"Don't even think about it, Mr. Faraday. I see you trying to be sneaky." She gave the older man a light slap on the hand to emphasize her edict. "And it doesn't matter who you are... keep your hands to yourself."
"God, what a dirty old man."
"Connie, it just so happens that 'dirty old man' is city councilman Tom Faraday. The lady he's talking to is his granddaughter. They carry on like this almost every day she works. When she's not looking he gives her a little pat or pinch on the butt. Or at least he tries to; she's getting better about keeping an eye out for him."
"Well, I don't care who he is or who he's talking too. He's still a dirty old man. But he is right about you, David. Slow down before you do plow into somebody." David wheeled himself around the corner with a big push, coasting to a stop as his right wheel brushed against the hallway wall. When Connie knelt down beside him, she saw a tear cracking through his grim mask of determination.
"David, I know you're upset. But no matter how hard you work at it, you're not going to be able walk at the funeral tomorrow. That doesn't mean you can't go say good-bye... just that you'll have to use this contraption to do it."
"I KNOW THAT! And I HATE it! It's not the way to say good-bye to a friend -"
"Stick it where the moon don't shine, David! You're still here to grieve and say good-bye to her. Maybe you're not the same person, and maybe you never will be. But you're still here, which means you're here for a reason. So find out what that reason is, and get back to living." She reached into David's lap, taking his hand in hers. "David, I don't know the details, and I don't want to. But I can tell you're really hurting over this. Tell me... would she want you acting this way?"
"Christi would tell me what you're telling me... grieve for her, then move on. She was really big about that, about not getting trapped in your past. And if she were here now... she'd find a way to stand me up and quite literally kick me in the ass."
"Really? Just what kind of friend was she?"
"Ever hear of 'Tough love'? It fits. But she had a very... tender... side to her as well. Especially one particular night seven years ago."
"She... she cracked through my shell of grief... found a way to drag me back to the land of the living."
"Are you living, now, David? Or just taking up space?"
"Honestly... I'm somewhere in-between."
"Then get back to living. Even if it's not the same life you had before, keep living, keep growing, and keep loving."
"Even if it's not loving you, Connie?"
"Yes." Despite her chin dropping to her chest, her whisper seemed to race down the hospital hallway. "Even if it's not loving me," she said, her eyes fixed on the floor tiles, "make sure you do have love in your life. Which probably won't be that hard for you; you've always been compassionate."
David used Connie's hand to wipe a tear from her cheek. "I know that's hard for you to accept, Connie. That you can say it shows just how strong you are. Connie... look at me." David cupped her chin in his hand, bringing her eyes to look at his. "We've always been friends, and everything you've done for me in the last few months has cemented that. I do love you, Connie, as a very special friend. But I don't feel any attraction beyond that. And for that, I am deeply sorry."
"I'm sorry too. Part of me wants to stomp you into the floor for hurting me. The rest wants to thank you for letting me down easy. I'm not sure which side is winning right now."
"Does that mean you're going to thank me first? Or do I have to be ready to defend myself?"
"Dammit," Connie chuckled, "only you could make me laugh about personal despair. Stop it now!"
"And not see that lopsided grin on your face? Get real!"
"What lopsided grin?"
"This lopsided grin, Connie." David reached over to her left cheek with his free hand. "The one that always comes to your face when you think something is ridiculous. It always... yeah, that's it." David pushed up on her left cheek with his thumb, pulling the left side of her mouth up slightly. In the process, Connie's head tilted a little more to her right. "There it is, that 'gee, this is ridiculous' grin you get at times."
"And how do you know this grin so well, buster?"
"Plenty of staff meetings, unit social gatherings, and chitchat in the various EMS lounges. Not to mention all the times you've 'harassed' me in the therapy gym. And now, back to the original question - are you gonna kiss me or kill me?" David brushed his hand against Connie's left cheek as she debated her answer. "Gee... are you? My heavens, yes, you are!"
"I am what?"
"You're blushing to beat the band!"
"You most certainly are, Mac." David pinched her cheek, making her face flush even more. "Mac, your face is SO bright..."
"How Bright Is It?" David and Connie started at the chorus from physical therapist "Barry the Bastard" Polczinski and hydro-therapist Barbara Crenshaw, standing just a few feet away from them in the corridor. David and Connie had been so absorbed in their conversation, they'd forgotten they were in a hospital hallway. "Come on, David, just how bright is it? Mind you, your face is close to matching hers."
"In that case, Barry, they could put our faces on an ambulance."
"Mac, your face is damn near as red as the emergency beacons on the trucks. And I gather that mine is pretty close to that."
"Okay, if you and I are the lights, that makes Barry over there the siren. His mouth is certainly big enough and loud enough to clear traffic!"
"Whoa, that's your comment, Connie. I'm not saying a word."
"Turning chicken, David?"
"Chicken? Never. Keeping my mouth shut while you call my 'pain and torturist' a loud mouth? Always!"
"Okay, mister," Barbara Crenshaw said as she walked over to push David down the hall to his room. "Let's get your swim trunks; you can change into them at hydrotherapy. If you don't get a move on, you'll be late for your swim lesson. And you KNOW how I hate it when people are late to work with me."
"David, I'm on short-truck duty tomorrow. I'll stop by on Friday if I can."
"See you then, Mac," David yelled over his shoulder. "That is, if I survive my drowning lesson... OWW!! You didn't have to hit me in the head, Barb!"
"I heard most of what you two said to each other, Connie. You did the right thing."
"It doesn't FEEL like the right thing!"
"Letting go rarely does. Hey, let's grab a cup of coffee and talk a few things over." Barry took her by the arm and guided her down the hall to a staff lounge. "You look like you could use a friend right now," he said as they entered, the door automatically closing behind them.
"With all due respect, you're a physical therapist, not a psychologist."
"Actually, I am a psychologist. Armchair psychologist, you might say. You have to be, working in a place like this. Look at it this way." Barry started pouring two mugs of coffee while Connie sat down at a small circular table. "You and David, you see patients on a very short basis. You only deal with the immediate injuries and fears. Cream or sugar?"
"Uh, yeah, Sweet and Low if you have some."
"How many packets?"
"One to start, thanks."
"Gotcha. As I was saying, you guys deal with the immediate injuries and fear. Around here, we get the long-term recovery patients."
"Is David long-term?"
"Part of that depends on him and how hard he works at it." Barry threw the empty sweetener packet into the trash can next to the refrigerator, then walked the three steps to the table. He handed Connie her mug of coffee, then sat down across from her. "Granted, he's made great progress since he's been here - he's ahead of schedule, in fact - and I've never heard him spouting pipe dreams. But that's beside -"
"Ahead of schedule? How so?"
"He started hydrotherapy last week, right? Originally, we weren't going to start that until a week from now. But he's been doing real well, so I decided it was time to push ahead. But that's beside the point. Important, but beside the point for the moment. Now, why are you scowling? Is our coffee not to your liking?"
"You call this coffee?"
"What would you call it, then?"
"I sure wouldn't call it coffee. This is worse than what's in the EMS lounge downstairs. And THAT'S day-old stuff from the main cafeteria!"
"Okay, okay, our coffee up here sometimes leaves a little to be desired -"
"Yeah, like coffee!"
"Damn, you're hard to please, Connie!"
"That happens when I'm upset."
"So what's upsetting you? Your little chat with David?"
"Damn it! I want him to get better. I want him to keep trying. I want him to love..."
"You want him to love you, Connie. But your little chat in the hallway made you realize that, as much as you care for and about him, he won't return those affections. And you're not ready to swallow that particular bitter pill yet."
"Could you at least have phrased those comments as questions, instead of statements? Maybe try to soften the blow a little bit? Gee, some psychologist you are!"
"Like I said earlier, I'm an armchair psychologist. I've learned to read people as I work with them in their rehab. I've had to give them bad news at times. Trust me," he said, shaking his head. "That never gets any easier, no matter how often you do it."
"Any bombs heading David's way?"
"Not anytime soon. And if he's willing to keep working at his rehab like he has, there may not be any. BUT," he said, waving his index finger for emphasis, "he does have to work at it, and he's going to need support. What I need to know is this: given what happened between you two a little while ago, can you give him the support he needs?"
"Well... it won't be easy... but for his sake, I'll try. You want some more of this poison?" Connie stood up and walked to the coffee maker for a refill.
"Survey says... BZZZZT! Wrong Answer! Thank you for playing, we have some lovely parting gifts for you!" Connie put the coffee pot back on the warmer and turned to look at Barry, her eyes scrunched in confusion.
"What in the world was that comment about?"
"If you're going to do this now, Connie, you have to do it for yourself." Barry leaned across the table, looking her straight in the eye. "Doing it for David will only hurt you more, because you'll keep holding on to something that won't happen. Do you really want to do that to yourself?"
Connie stood silently for several seconds. "Where do you keep the sweetener around here?"
"Cabinet right behind your head, bottom shelf." Connie turned and opened the cabinet. After looking directly at the sweetener for a silent moment, she slammed the door shut.
"Now, wait a minute, Connie. Being upset doesn't give you the right to abuse the furniture in here."
"And who the HELL are you," she hissed as she turned to face him directly, "to tell me what my rights are? Hell, I'm trying to talk about David, and you keep making ME the topic of discussion! You act as if I'm the patient. Shouldn't your concern be on David instead?"
"My biggest concern, Connie, is taking care of David and making sure he recovers as best he can. And you, along with Melinda Bradley and the Hollis', are a part of his recovery, with all the help you're collectively giving him in his various therapy sessions. But you have a romantic attachment to David as well, Connie." Barry sipped his coffee before continuing. "Especially considering what happened a little while ago, you need to make sure you know your personal limits and don't get hurt in the process. Because if you do, you won't be of any use to David, or possibly anyone else. Especially yourself."
"And have you had this chat with anyone else?"
"Not yet, but I will if necessary."
"Even with Jim and Annabelle Hollis?
"Except for the romance parts, yes. They're more his surrogate parents than anything else. But if I have to get on their case about something, I will."
"And just what do you gain out of all of this?"
"A healthy patient, both physically and mentally. Not to mention a patient with the right motivations. Connie, please, sit back down." Connie turned her back to Barry... then opened the cabinet and pulled out several packets of Sweet and Low. She dumped three packets into her mug, then filled it with hot coffee.
Connie stirred her coffee as she walked back to her chair, then took a tentative sip. "Barry, there may not be enough sweetener in the world to help this gunk. Now, what's this about David's motivations?"
"Connie, I know that you, Melinda and the Hollis' all mean well. But if any of you are helping for his sake instead of your own, then he'll start basing his efforts on meeting your goals, not on his own health."
"Are you're saying that David would limit himself if we had lower goals than his?"
"That has happened in some cases, yes, but I'm much more afraid of the opposite. He'd push himself thinking that was what one or more of you wanted, and end up pushing himself too far too fast, possibly hurting himself again. Everything in life has its own pace, Connie, and its own purpose."
"Why does that last sentence sound like some sort of Zen Buddhist philosophy?"
"Because many things in life are like that, young Grasshopper."
"Okay, okay, so I've watched too much old television. I take it you've never seen the 'Kung Fu' reruns on late night TV."
"Seen it? I've never even heard of it."
"It came out in the mid 1970's, starring David Carradine as a half-Chinese Shaolin monk who came to America in the early 20th century. In the monastery, he was called 'Grasshopper' by one of the old monks. But that's not important. What IS important is that you help David for the right reasons."
"In other words, do it for myself, not for him or anyone else."
"Exactly. Understand now?"
"Not completely, Barry. It's going to take some time."
"Fair enough, Connie. Anyway, I've got to get back to the gym." He finished his coffee in one big gulp. "Otherwise, someone there is probably going to come after me with an electro-stim machine. But if you like, we can talk some more about this sometime. Say, over coffee and pie at Branstead's?"
"You are slick, Barry, I'll give you that. You said your only interest was David's well-being. Yet you managed to turn a discussion about him into a chance to ask me out on a date. I ought to -"
"Slap me? I wouldn't blame you if you did. And I said David's recovery was my biggest concern, not my only one." Barry lowered his head, contemplating an empty coffee mug. "But I never intended to ask you out just now, Connie. I guess I was presented with an opportunity and took advantage of it."
"Okay," she sighed. "You're forgiven this time. And I'm going to have to take a rain check at the moment. I've had too much happen today."
"Gotcha. I'll hopefully talk to you later. Meantime, you take care of yourself."
After Barry left, Connie sat staring at her half-full coffee cup. "These people have got to get better coffee for this place." Taking another sip, she grimaced as she leaned back in her chair, mulling over the events of the day.
She now knew that David would not return her affections beyond friendship, no matter how strongly she felt about him. While disappointed, Connie also felt an odd sense of relief wash over her. It answered one of her questions, even though it wasn't the answer she wanted to hear.
It won't be easy to move on, she said to herself. But what other choice do I really have? If I keep holding out for David, or trying to push or trick him into being mine, then he'll get angry and push me away. And even if he is a bastard, Barry's right. If David doesn't do this for himself, then it won't have any meaning. Damn it, I think I love him. But do I love him enough to let him go?