She had been talking on her cell phone while driving when her car hit a thin sheet of water and hydroplaned. She put both her hands on the wheel but the car spun out of control and slammed full speed into a telephone pole. The car accident had broken her back and she could no longer walk. The doctors had told her that she was lucky that she could still control her bladder.
All the men who had once desired her now only pitied her, and made uncomfortable by her present condition, drifted away. She was no longer `perfect' and someone that people dated to prove how `lucky' he was. Only one man stood by her during this dark and terrible time. She told him that she wasn't sure that she could be of any worth to him in her condition but he insisted on taking care of her anyway.
After he moved her to his small ground-level apartment, he helped her get in and out of her wheelchair, drove her to her appointments and did all the chores. He worked long hours to support the both of them, paid for an attendant during the times he was away, and continually looked for any treatment that could undo the damage that she had suffered.
She hated thinking about how she was now the tragic victim and that everybody could tell just by looking at her. It's worse than being a fairy princess, she thought, her mood growing darker and darker with every day. There's no city I can go to escape this. She wanted to hide from the world and didn't want to think what people were saying about her. She wore black constantly and only Clark's daily ministrations kept her looking presentable.
But it was boring, staying at home all the time so she signed up for physical therapy at the local hospital so that her condition wouldn't get worse. To be honest, she wanted to see someone else's face. Clark was always swinging between acting cheerfully reassuring in a way that seemed as fake as Nell's plastic Christmas trees and looking really uncomfortable when she started talking about how depressed and angry she was, how sometimes she wished that it was her skull that had been broken so she wouldn't have to be this way, that sometimes all she could do is feel envious of people who could walk.
There were also things that she could never tell him. He had told her all about his secret abilities. He could fly, was incredibly strong, could never get sick and was bulletproof. Knowing these things had once made her feel satisfied that she finally knew the truth. Now it made her furious that he could never have an inkling of what it was like to be her, that he would always be able to look down at her to talk to her, to forever be the damsel-in-distress to his white knight coming to the rescue. They were stuck playing their respective roles, which felt like another kind of prison.
It was at physical therapy that she met Ted Wallace, a handsome blond man. He was also in a wheelchair. He had been a captain in the Army until a bullet had entered his back. It was nice to meet someone who understood the helplessness, the rage, the longing, the extent of the damage. He didn't indulge her self-pity but told her that she had to put up with the exercises that the therapist had prescribed. He showed her the muscles he had built up in order to be able to wheel around by himself and to keep from getting a beer gut. He was just as damaged as she was.
She felt that she found someone who truly understood her, someone she could confide in. She found out when his sessions were and decided to go there when he would be there. She would talk to him during lunch at the hospital's cafeteria about how things had gotten bad between her and Clark. "He doesn't touch me very much, says he's afraid of hurting the rest of me and when he does, it's like I'm porcelain or something."
"It's like they don't realize we still have needs, that we need to be touched."
She began to look forward to going out. Her good mood must've been obvious because Clark asked if something had happened to make her feel better. She simply told him that getting out of the house and doing something helped a lot. It irritated her that he seemed to disapprove. She noticed that he frowned when he noticed that her arms had gotten stronger and that she had started putting more care into her appearance. She had stopped wearing black and started going back to the salon regularly.
As she and Ted shared fries at the cafeteria, she said, "He hovers over me, treats me like a child. He doesn't think I can do anything. He doesn't want to hear about how I really feel. I just have to put on a happy face because if I don't . . . He can't handle the reality of what I'm going through . . .We're just going through the motions . . . I think I would go crazy if I didn't have you to talk to . . ."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Clark.
Lana whirled around to see Clark and Jimmy standing behind them. Clark looked beaten and sad while Jimmy looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there, holding his video camera.
"What are you doing here?"
"Perry suggested I do a piece about the physical therapist that you go to but I think I'm going to let Jimmy handle this one," he said before turning around and walking out.
When Lana got home, Clark was sitting in the dark, waiting. He said, "I have done everything for you, taken care of you. But the way you talk about me like I'm this huge burden that you'd gladly get rid of if only you could figure out how." He laughed bitterly. "You're going to go back there aren't you when I'm not looking, aren't you? Suppose I told you that you should go somewhere else for physical therapy."
"You can't tell me what to do! Ted is just a friend."
Clark nodded slowly and with great exaggeration, showing how little belief he had in her words before laughing bitterly. "You know what's funny? I guess I was hoping that having a broken back would keep you from cheating."
Clark got up from his chair, went to the closet and took out a large rolling suitcase.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm ceasing to be a burden."
Panicked . . . Lana said, "I . . . was venting to someone. You can't leave me like this."
"You don't love me. It's just that I was the only one left . . . And when I'm not the only one left . . . I'm not even second best. And to be honest, I've been using taking care of you to run away from being who I should be. I thought that maybe what I could offer you would be enough."
"I don't know what I'll do if you leave . . ." Being left alone and helpless threw her into a panic.
"I've asked Oliver to help you with housing and maybe finding a job. His company's actually got an experimental drug that's been really promising in fixing spinal cord injuries and they're starting trials if you're interested . . ."
"Just because I happened to say a few things . . ."
"No, because you said all the wrong things . . ." He turned away from her and walked out the door.
She opened the door and was planning to wheel herself after him but he had disappeared.
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