It happened: I'm living Stephen King's Misery (only my parents are Kathy Bates)
I have good, sweet, loving parents, I really do, but I spent Christmas with them in the suburbs and I haven’t been able to leave since. On the morning before flying back home to the city where I live many, many miles away from them, back to my friends and job and own apartment with books and beads and bright green lightbulbs, I go for a run. I slip on ice. I hear my right ankle crack – a tight fluid sound – and right away I know I’m really fucked. Now I'm stuck here, just waiting. Here is my long story about the painful ordeal.
Eventually, a dad and his daughter pull over their SUV. He looks like a gopher, like William H. Macy in soft focus and she, a ballerina, is totally freaked out that Dad picked up some pale sweaty girl with tattoos and a zombie T-shirt. “Honey,” Dad says to Daughter, "whenever you see someone who is dirty and limping like this, you pick them up and drive them home. It’s just what you do.” He drives me to my parents’ place while I, embarrassed about what a smeary wreck I must be, make small talk about The Nutcracker. Ankle is muddy, throbbing and dripping, and frighteningly squishy when I grip it.
Dad swears it’s just a sprain and asks me to shower. I do, sort of, and then we drive to the ER, where I ride in a wheelchair and read a comic book about influenza and chew on my lip. Ankle looks like yellow glue under the X-ray crosshatch. Finally the RN says it’s the fibula. Broken. He asks if I’m in an abusive relationship. When I say no, he makes a check on a pad, then gives me a script and a splint and sends me home. I hop through the door on crutches and ask if I can finally please take some painkillers now please please c’mon this really hurts.
The only flat shoes I packed were running sneakers, so I look in the closet for something easier, like those pink Velcro cats with whiskers from my riot-grrl-Dan-Clowes phase. I find old black tube socks from my Siouxsie-Select-Basketball one, and cut them to fit over the splint. I leave all the Natalie Merchant cassettes where they are.
Next night, Dad and I watch Desperate Housewives before Mom and I watch Jane Eyre, which says a lot about my parents. Afterwards I’m terrified I’ll have nightmares about a Botoxed banshee-shit wife trying to candlestick me while I sleep. Instead I dream about cats with hard red eyes. And lightning.
Once the swelling’s down, I go to an orthopod for diagnosis. He says my bone’s twisted, actually, rotated until one o’clock is at nine, and recommends surgery so it won’t heal warped. Six screws, a steel plate, and a scar as long as my hand. He promises it won’t be ugly, which makes me laugh. Ugly? I just wanna wear my combat boots again.
The night before surgery, a friend takes me out for vampire movies and pinball. While he’s in the bathroom, this guy comes over and says he remembers the day he got off crutches. I ask if this was recent. Well I’ve got no leg, he says. I look down. He’s right. Sorry sir, I say. He says I should be grateful I still have two. You’re right, I say, sir, and drink a long drink of tea.
In Pre-Op, my mother knows all the things to do with the robe and the bars and the water and the blood flow to my leg. Suddenly I’m full of love, and gratitude, and guilt for moving so far away. I apologise for being an angry neon teenager. It’s not her fault that I’m weird. She laughs. Says now my meds must be working.
Post-Op feels surprisingly chipper, even if my toes do look like Cheetos from the Betadine. The nurse wheels me into In Patient. I want to be Out not In, so do everything I can think of to prove I don’t need to stay overnight. I eat two chocolate puddings in ninety seconds without barfing. I let them tie that awful taupe belt-leash around my waist, like I’m some woozy dog, and they use it to walk me down the hallway. To see how my balance is. When they close the bathroom door, I cry like a wuss and piss in a cup.
The nurse there, who looks like a crabby geometry sub, leans over and asks whether I’ve ever pretended I was a balloon. “You close your eyes,” she says, “and bring it all in, then pop and float.” This is the very last thing I expected her to say to me. “Mine’s red,” she adds. “Mine’s green,” I say, but secretly it’s yellow.
Finally I’m sent home with three space-agey bags, printed with “icepack” in fifteen different languages. Finnish is “jääpussi,” which is when I realise I’m too sore to think about sex.
At first I’m a klutz. The crutch tops tear sores into my ribcage. I slip in the shower and get the cast wet. Soggy, it smells like burst Grow-a-Tree capsules. I pull the airboot straps too tightly and bruise my foot brown and purple. General anaesthesia keeps me from shitting for four days.
On Friday, we get takeout from one of those mudslide-mudpie pizza places. My shrimp salad and my lime tart are the same colour of pink and this fascinates me. In fact, it is the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in four days. Maybe even five.
At night I read Kathy Acker on ships and myth. I read my old storybooks in Mom’s voice, inside my head. The best is Ul de Rico’s The Rainbow Goblins, where these bright little things in black try to gobble the rainbow. “The colours taste fresh,” says Green. “Fresh and creamy.”
My parents keep asking things like why do I get haircuts that make me look sad? Do I ever sleep? Wouldn’t I like a pantsuit? They don’t drink or drug, and the house squeaks clean. Diamond cotton ball clean. Bath towels are used once, and under the sinks bars of soap are lined up like soldiers. Cookies are Ziplocked. Cereal bags rolled just so. It’s hard to have secrets. Most charmingly, the neighbours ask if there are “ethnic people” who take the classes I teach in the city where I live.
For three days, Dad’s at work and Mom’s at a funeral, so I’m home alone. I can’t carry a plate to the table on crutches, so I spread avocado on toast and just drop to the floor to eat it. I listen to our four clocks, which chime every 15 minutes. I read an article about a lady who lost over a hundred pounds on diet oatmeal-raisin cookies and sugar-free gelatin cups. I count bichons in sportscars. I realise we have a Tupperware for everything. I feel trapped, squirmy, like my brain’s going to oatmeal. I wonder if my adult self is doomed because she eats butter and uses cling film. I vow never, ever to live in the suburbs unless I’m really, really in love with someone.
I fight to go out on New Year’s like I’m 16 years old all over again. Mortifying! I want to go to an old friend’s new apartment, down by the airport, and my parents have a million reasons why I shouldn’t. Will there be drinking? Will people be up late? Wouldn’t I rather watch fireworks on TV? Christ! I fight back, wishing I’d broken my left ankle so I could still work a gas pedal.
I win, in the end, and the space is full of projectors and tile, charcoal sketches of eyeballs. One guy has Christmas lights around his neck, keeps sneaking off to fuck a sad-eyed kid who looks like Nosferatu. A lady talks about puppets. There’s weed. Midnight, a rainy roof with mugs of champagne and somebody says remember that one time I thought I was IM-ing my boyfriend but it was really my dad? Everybody laughs. I feel old. On the way back inside, I fall-sprawl-nosedive in the elevator, and a boy in a hat helps me up.
Then I kiss the kid I liked when I actually was 16. He worked the smoothie stand at the mall, wore one black glove and did lines of Adderall when the manager wasn’t looking. I’d be too nervous to say anything, walking home from the bookstore where I worked. Now he just points his glass at me and slithers over to the couch. I watch the goldfish in a bowl behind his head before we kiss. And after we kiss he slithers back off and I blush like six buckets of cranberries. I am one huge cosmically vindicated dork.
One morning I’m home alone and the toilet clogs. I knock off the back lid to grab the handle so it’ll stop flooding, then realise I’m standing over a full bowl with one leg and, because the other is holding the handle, only one arm. Jee-zus Christ on a cracker. If I fall, my mother will kill me. But if I muck up the bathroom, my dad will. I start unpinning an outer ace wrap, to tie to the toothbrush holder and then the handle, so it’ll stay taut while I hop around for a plunger. Suddenly the doorbell rings.
I haven’t walked more than half a block in a week and am getting whiny. My friend is across town, getting drunk. He calls, leaves a song in the machine, and the second time I pick up. He asks how I am and I say awfully antsy. He says that’s nothing, he was in the mental hospital for over a week on sludgify-your-brain-meds, so I should stop mewling. Go listen to the Smiths or something. I tell him to fuck off, but maybe he’s right.
I read all of Sheldon Brown’s bike website. Then I read it again.
It’s the Fed-Ex guy at the door! The package he hands me is crumbling-soaked! It doesn’t matter! Inside is a red heart-shaped button and a pen with pink plastic monkeys on top! The girl monkey is wearing lipstick! When I write, they clink together and kiss! This is the most exciting thing that’s happened all day!
For weeks I shower with my leg in a garbage bag, cinched at the top with packing tape so no water touches the gash. Eventually Mom finds a plastic sleeve at a surgical goods store, and that works better. When the bandages finally come off, so does all the skin on my foot-top. It comes off in long spongy shreds, like nursery kids peeling PVA glue from their hands. I gag.
We go to Talbots and I look at lacquer jewelry for the elderly while Mom tries on khakis. Emerald and gold, teal and silver. Ruby glass like raspberries. I contemplate a leopard hat. Wobble back and forth. It’s embarrassingly exhausting.
On Sunday my parents take me to church. The priest looks like my ex. This is how I realise I’m well enough to think about sex again, and I think about it all during mass.
My friend is house-sitting for her half-brother’s girlfriend and invites me over to raid the fridge and talk and meet her new boy. New Boy has a shoelace tattoo and Donnie Darko bootlegs and makes baby death jokes. We all sit on the couch with Vicodin and wine and I cuss when the cat preens herself on my splint. It hurts like lead and scissors, but New Boy says she’s getting rid of the negative energy. This makes about as much sense as anything else does, these days, so I let her do it. Later, she falls asleep on my chest and stays all night. It’s nice, and when I wake up I feel better.