Chapter 22. Rehabilitation Remembered
A couple weeks later, the hospital sent Megan to a rehabilitation center to recuperate. Although I wanted Meg home with me, and I would have hired the staff to care for her, Meg shook her head and pointed to the doctor, who in her short opinion, made more sense than me. She still had respiratory issues and remnants of infection that had to be watched as they were treated and medicated.
The week of Halloween, I brought her a ceramic pumpkin that lit up and delighted her when the room lights were off. Her hands were released from their casts, only to be examined and for one of them to be re-broken and set yet again. Meg’s back still needed salve applied, and I saw the marks that Randy left there when she didn’t know I was looking. At least there was no tendon damage, just a large superficial wound that was the leading source of her infection. Meg remained on the IV and her jaw was still wired shut. At least now she had one hand to communicate with and not her writing hand, making Megan’s already awful handwriting even less legible. After noticing Megan’s difficulties with the dry erase board and my inability to understand her hieroglyphics, the nurse brought in a sign language alphabet card. Meg smiled and she signed something to the nurse.
“What did she just say?” I asked, as if the nurse knew what she said with her hand.
“She just said thank you.”
“So you know this?”
She nodded and smiled large at me.
“And you’ll teach me?” Again, she nodded confidently. I looked at the card and she would mold my fingers in the right configuration. We did the alphabet about seven times before I had most of them down. Then she started to sign words to me.
“Alex,” was her first word.
“Hey, I know that.” She signed the “a” on her forehead. “Alex.” She signed again.
“That’s Alex too, eh?” She nodded and me. She tapped her bed and drew her legs beneath her so that I could sit on the lower half of her bed with her.
“Does your hand hurt?”
She shook her head.
She signed to me. Y-O-U W-A-N-T T-O K-N-O-W?
It took me ten minutes to read those four words.
“I want to know what?” I asked her. She sighed, and when I realized what she meant, I then understood how badly she just needed to tell her story. I shook my head, knowing that it was too much emotion for her to deal with at once. I certainly couldn’t handle it on my own if she had a breakdown.
“No, not yet. When your wires are off, we can deal with it then. How many days left?”
Megan checked the little tabletop calendar from an insurance agent and she had crossed off each day since I brought it to her with a list of other things she had conveyed to me via charades.
“E-L-E-V-E-N,” she signed as I slowly built the word she kept repeating.
“This is harder than it looks, you know that?”
Meg took my hand and brought it to her lips and kissed it. She appreciated my effort.
“Y-O-U A-R-E D-O-I-N-G O-K.”
“Not great, eh?”
Meg giggled. “W-H-E-R-E-’S M-Y S-H-A-K-E?”
“I got it. First you have to guess what flavor it is.”
She thought for a moment. “P-E-A-N-U-T B-U-T-T-E-R C-U-P”
“No, guess again,” I said.
“S-T-R-A-W-B-E-R-R-Y,” she finger-spelled.
“No, not strawberry.”
“G-I-V-E M-E A H-I-N-T,” she signed, adding her pleading puppy dog eyes with it.
“It’s not a fruit flavor or chocolate.”
She thought, and I mean, really thought about it. I started watching the news and realized that she was probably going down the menu at the Berry Patch in her mind’s eye. Well, at least I wouldn’t doubt it if she did, that’s just Megan.
I heard her snap her fingers, and I turned to her, “V-A-N-I-L-L-A B-E-A-N.”
“That’s it!” I said, handing her the bag. I leaned over and brushed her lips with a gentle kiss. Her hand touched my cheek and pulled me back to her when I heard them announce the stock report, so I lingered there with her more than I should have when we heard a throat clear. When I looked up, there stood Ruby near the door. Damn, we were busted.
“How are you?” she asked Megan. Meg signed “O-K.”
Meg finger-spelled very quickly, and I didn’t get what she had said.
“That good, eh?”
“D-O-N-T B-E M-A-D A-T H-I-M,” Meg defended me.
“I’m not mad at Alex.”
“Good.” Meg signed. “Good” and “Thank you” looked pretty close with the palm up coming from the mouth area and that continued to confuse me.
“I L-O-V-E H-I-M,” Meg spelled to her.
“I know, and it’s all right,” Ruby replied.
“H-E D-O-E-S-N-T W-A-N-T T-O K-N-O-W W-H-A-T H-A-P-P-E-N-E-D.”
Ignoring them, I flipped the television channels. Whatever they were talking about, Ruby would tell me when we talked later.
“W-A-I-T U-N-T-I-L T-H-E W-I-R-E-S A-R-E O-F-F,” she replied.
“I can understand that. This is a hard medium for him. You’ve been doing it for a while.”
Meg signed, “I know,” placing a fingered “k” to her forehead.
“How are you feeling?”
Megan shook her hand like ‘iffy.’
“What’s going on?”
Megan pointed to the IV site.
“It’s bothering you?”
She nodded emphatically. Ruby picked up her arm and looked at the red puffiness under the clear IV bandage.
“Has the nurse seen it?”
Meg shook her head.
“I’ll be right back.”
I came over to see what all the fuss was over. Her site was red, and she said it hurt.
The nurse followed Ruby into the room and grabbed a pair of gloves to slip on her hands before approaching Megan. “Meg, we’re running out of places to put it. I could put it in your good hand.”
Meg signed NO very emphatically.
“You’re not going to need them much longer, so a central line is out. What about your leg? You’ll be confined to your room then.”
Meg shook her head.
“Well then, where are we going to put it? The site is good, it’s just irritated.”
“What can you do about it?” I asked her.
“We could clean it and leave it open to the air, change tape, maybe.”
Meg shuttered at the thought of them pulling up tape. The poor kid had really been through it.
Finally, Meg acquiesced. The nurse went out to get some supplies, and Ruby took me out to talk. Meg signed to Ruby that she wanted me back so she didn’t hit the nurse when she pulled the tape. Ruby laughed and agreed. We stood in the hall and talked in a whisper.
“Go on, say it.”
“That I shouldn’t be kissing her.”
“Now why would I say something like that?”
“Because Meg manipulates me.”
“What woman doesn’t manipulate a man?” she asked me, skirting the issue.
“So you’re not angry at me?”
“In a few months, when she’s back to her old self and starts dealing with what happened, she’s going to need you all the more. You are her bulwark right now. You gave yourself the job. I hope you’re in it for the long haul, Alex, because you can’t back out of it until she’s able to work elsewhere.”
“I don’t want her going elsewhere.”
“I’m just warning you.”
“Damn it Ruby, don’t be ridiculous. You know that I . . . I love her.”
“I know you do. I knew it the first time you brought her to my office. But she has a long way to go to being a whole woman again. She won’t be able to love you sexually for a long time.”
“If we get her through the initial storytelling, the flashbacks, and the night terrors, then we’ll have a Davenport’s trial to endure. She’ll have to be present, you know that.”
I asked the same question we all asked, the one we knew the answer to before it came out of our mouths. “Why couldn’t he have pleaded this out?” Davenport was going to torture her as much as he could. He was going to contaminate our relationship by reminding her of what he did to her every time I touched her. The nurse walked through the door as I said good-bye to Ruby and re-entered the room as the nurse left Megan.
“W-H-A-T-S W-I-T-H R-U-B-Y?”
“She’s not angry at us, but she gave me a talking to.”
“That I can’t back out now. You need me, and I need to be here for you.”
“Y-O-U A-L-W-A-Y-S T-H-E-R-E F-O-R M-E.”
“I know. It’s not going to be an easy recovery, Meg. You won’t be whole for a while, you know that?”
“Y-O-U M-E-A-N S-E-X?”
I nodded. Again, she signed at first with her hand shaped as the letter K on her forehead, “I know, N-O-T F-A-I-R T-O Y-O-U.”
“Let’s not go there.”
“I-M. . .” I could tell she was trying to choose her words in her head, then resolved to “A M-E-S-S.”
“You are a survivor. An incredible survivor, and I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.”
She nodded and took my hand. Our little conversations meant so much because of what she had to communicate to me, and the effort it took for me to understand and decipher her communiqué. When I kissed her, my lips traveled to her ear and teased it until she giggled.
Her ragged edged hair looked terrible, and it was the one thing I still couldn’t get used to. How I loved that glorious mane. He knew it too; that’s why he did it. I handed her the shake, and we watched General Hospital together. When I kissed her again, her mouth tasted like the vanilla shake, and I didn’t want that day to end. Once the wires were off, it would all come out. With her mouth wired shut, I could still avoid it completely. However, once she could talk again, she’d begin reliving the terror to the rest of us.
When I got to the rehab center the next day, I had some good news for her.
She wanted her shake, so I kissed her and handed it over. Meg slid in the straw and tasted the peanut butter cup.
“P-B-C, W-H-Y?” she asked me.
“I have news from the prosecutor’s office.”
“W-H-A-T?” she asked.
“He pleaded it out, finally.”
Meg seemed relieved and jubilant at the same time. Unlike other times when she wouldn’t put down that Styrofoam cup if it had a Peanut Butter Cup shake in it until I could hear air sucked through the straw, Meg actually set the cup aside and reached for me. I could do nothing else but hold the sobbing woman close to me.
“Hey, hey,” I said, now unsure of what to do. “Don’t come unglued on me, okay? I can barely read sign let alone understand what I need to do for you.”
She pointed to my pants pocket. I reached for my pressed hanky and handed it to her.
“Anna says you must have a few of those. She’s missing some.”
Meg giggled and opened the drawer to her bed table and handed the stack to me.
I looked over and saw a stack of them folded there, most of them hardly used, as if I had handed them to her and she set them in the drawer soon after.
“Why are you keeping them?”
She pointed to her nose.
“What?” I asked.
She sniffed into the fresh handkerchief, inhaling.
“Oh, my cologne,” I laughed at her, remembering that I douse my lower half with it because I can’t stand perfume near my face. That afternoon, on my way back to the house, I stopped at an upscale toy store and bought her a soft teddy bear. I took him home and put him in my walk in closet then sprayed him with the cologne. The next morning, I took him with me to the rehab center. Meg smiled when she saw the bear and reached for him.
“Not unless I get a kiss first.”
She leaned forward and kissed me as I held the bear behind my back. When I parted from her, I put the bear in her lap and she hugged him. Then she noticed. The look on her face was priceless. A lovely smile spread across Meg’s face as she inhaled his scent, and then reached for me again. After we parted from the kiss, she opened the drawer to the bed table and handed me the stack of my handkerchiefs.
“You don’t want these anymore?”
Meg shook her head then winked at me as I stuffed the handkerchiefs into my jacket pocket.
She stroked the teddy bear’s ears and kissed his black leather nose. I heard her yawn.
“Are you tired?” I asked. She nodded and patted the bed for me to sit.
“N-O S-L-E-E-P W-E-L-L,” she finger spelled.
“What’s Ruby got to do with this?”
She pointed at herself and me back and forth.
“Yeah, you and me... what are you trying to say?”
“Meg, what can’t you do?”
She signed, “I D-O-N-T K-N-O-W.”
“You know, you just don’t want to say it.”
She extended her hands as if she needed hugged, so I held her. When she sat up, she wiped her eyes and moved over to one side of her bed. I kicked off my loafers and sat next to her. Meg lifted my arm and rested her head on my chest.
As I wrapped my arm around her to support her, I knew that our conversation was over. Meg rested peacefully in my arms that afternoon, and I wondered if she’d shut me out like this or hide in her closet when the wires were removed.
Meg slept while I considered her cryptic conversation. When the nurse came in, I asked for a blanket and the nurse took one from the closet and covered up Meg. Tired of television, I reclined the bed and closed my eyes. I held her while she slept that afternoon, knowing that I belonged here with her. For me to be anywhere else would have been wrong.