Just One of Those Days
It's not very often that I completely lose it. I pride myself on being a very level-headed person. No matter how badly things get, my optimism gets me through it until things calm down and feel normal again. Almost any day I can take everything and let it roll off my shoulders, whether those things are names, jeers, or ice-cold syrupy drinks.
Today has not been one of those days.
It starts off with me waking up late. In my haste to get up and get ready for school, I get a little reckless with my balance and wind up slipping off the bed and face-planting on the floor. Consequently breaking my glasses, I might add, and giving myself a pretty horrendous bloody nose. Once I manage to recover from that, I find my spare glasses only to realize they have a scratch in the lens. Of course. I dress, all the while daunted by that ghostly white line hovering over my vision, and leave for school ten minutes after the first bell has rung.
I'm almost a half hour late for my first period by the time I get my things from my locker (on which someone managed to break my lock off and replace it backwards so it takes me six tries to get the numbers put in correctly because I can't actually see them) and because of it I've missed half the lesson. My teacher so graciously gives me extra homework to help me get caught up.
In third period, my teacher springs a pop quiz on us (on the reading I forgot to even look at) and I know that my half-assed invented answers are not going to sit well with my grades. To make things better, after class I get my first daily slushie bath. Orange, possibly my least favorite slushie flavor. I'm late to my fourth hour as I spend half the class washing myself off as best as I can in the bathroom. My fourth hour teacher decides to call attention to the fact that I enter late, (has she never heard of leniency on the handicapped?) and the jock who slushied me happens to be sitting in the row next to me, sniggering. Yes, sniggering. That's the only way to describe the noise he's making.
By the time we finally get to lunch, my stomach is practically eating itself. My rush meant I didn't get to eat breakfast, and to make matters better I realize I've also forgotten to make myself a lunch. And I left my wallet at home. Tina, Mercedes, and Kurt all pitch in parts of their lunches to feed me, but that only adds up to a carton of milk, a bruised apple, a few bites of the strange soupy whatever they served as an entree, and half of Tina's cookie.
Between sixth and seventh period is a typical game of 'tape the cripple's wheels together' that leaves me awkwardly bent over and twisted at wholly unnatural angles while trying to cut the tape with my house keys. Finn winds up rescuing me from that one, which doesn't really improve my mood much. I'm starting to get sick of being rescued by Finn Hudson.
My resentment for the quarterback is only strengthened in Glee practice when Mr. Schuester starts handing out sheet music for the Christmas concert. Predictably, every good piece goes to Finn, and I get dropped with all the partial sections and second-best parts and the occasional guitar bit. Normally this doesn't bother me, but today as Finn scrapes awkwardly through his first run at Baby It's Cold Outside I can't help but wonder if that would be me if I weren't in a wheelchair. I sound a lot more Dean Martin than he does.
At the end of Glee I'm so distracted that I leave without waiting for Tina. Everyone else is chatting about plans for the Winter Ball and I don't want to hear about it. My chair means the school dances everyone gets excited about are null-and-void for me. Even if I decided to go to one, I'd be sitting solo by the wall. No girl wants to spend her evening standing off to the side with Wheelchair Kid while there are dances to be had with able-bodied guys.
I'm out in the parking lot when I realize that I've left behind Tina, who I usually go home from school with. When I turn back to go find her, I find my way blocked by a solid wall of letterman jackets. I don't even hear what sort of idiotic insults they toss my way this time, and a few seconds later I'm dripping in another slushie. I've changed my mind; lime is my least favorite.
The lead jock, some wrestling team punk I've surprisingly never had the pleasure to be introduced to, gets down in my face, taunting me. I'm practically shaking with the pent-up frustration of this day from hell, when something he says actually breaks through the pounding in my ears. "Maybe if you weren't a cripple, your stuttering emo tramp might actually be willing to lay you."
For a second, one fleeting second, everything in the world goes perfectly still and white. And then I actually physically feel my anger snap. My world whips into super speed as I lash out and my fist connects with a solid jaw. I feel pain ricochet through my hand and up into my arm, and the wrestler lets out a bellow as he staggers back, clutching his bleeding lip.
As refreshing as it feels to finally stand up for myself, reality crashes down on me pretty fast. I, Artie Abrams, Wheelchair Kid, just decked a wrestler who happens to be backed up by three other cronies. The odds are not even close to in my favor on this one unless a bazooka happens to magically appear in my hands. Which it doesn't. And in less than five minutes I've been stripped down to just my jeans and duct taped to the flag pole. I would like to remind you at this point that it's December.
I refuse to cry, but it's difficult. Besides the fact that I'm half-naked and taped to a freezing metal pole in the winter, I'm also still coated in slushie, which does nothing for the 'freezing' aspect of this situation. I can already feel the bruises forming on my arms where the jocks grabbed me, as well as on my torso where Wrestling Jerk exacted his revenge for his throbbing jaw. And I'm pretty sure I broke a finger punching him, judging by the way my hand is practically screaming at me.
I close my eyes and let my head fall back against the pole limply. Calling for help isn't going to do me any good because the idiots actually had enough forethought to tape my mouth shut too. All I can do is wait until someone walks by with enough heart to help me out, and hope it's before my skin turns blue.
I'm not sure exactly how long I've been hanging here, but I'm shivering like crazy when I finally hear a familiar voice. God, why did it have to be her? I feel hands on my arms and I open my eyes to a blur of black and blue. "Artie, oh my God."
Tina kneels down, and I have to look down to figure out that she's sawing at the tape around my legs. My face is burning with shame. I'm being rescued by the girl I'm in love with, the one that I should be protecting, not the other way around. There is absolutely no justice in the world for the cripples.
After she's finished with the tape on my legs, she moves up to the ring around my stomach. With that one cut my body is sagging pretty heavily against the tape around my shoulders and she has to hold me up awkwardly with her own body as she cuts through the last bits of tape. I slump uselessly against her when she's done, and I can only say it's a miracle that she somehow manages to get us both to the ground without anyone being seriously crushed.
"Are you okay?" Tina asks, even though I can't actually answer yet because I'm still trying to undo the tape that's looped around my face. She pushes my hands out of the way and uses her fingernails to pry it off, and I wince as the last layer peels off my mouth, leaving it feeling red and raw. Not to mention I think it tore out half the hair at the back of my neck.
I ignore her question as I tear off the cut tape that's still clinging to my body. Ouch, by the way. Tina vanishes from my side while I'm doing it, and when she returns she's got my chair. "What happened, Artie?" she asks and I can hear the panic in her voice as she puts on my chair brakes.
"The usual," I say and I can't help the bitterness in my voice. I'm shaking with a blend of cold and anger, so much that it's almost difficult to haul myself up into my chair. "The jocks doled out their punishment for my crime of existing."
"Where are your clothes?" she asks. I only just realize she's staring at my bare chest and I cross my arms, covering myself as well as I can and trying to retain what little of my body heat I have left. She stands up and starts walking a large circle around where we are. When she comes back she's carrying my socks and undershirt. She holds them out to me and I take them, frowning. Once I've tugged on my shirt I look down and see that she's trying to help my feet into the socks.
"I've got it," I say abruptly, bending over and brushing her hands away, pulling on my socks myself.
"I'm just trying to help," she says quietly and I feel a twinge of guilt that only makes me angrier, although now that anger is directed inward.
"Well you don't need to," I mutter back and Tina withdraws. Why am I such an idiot? It's not her fault I'm like this. It's not her fault I'm not capable of defending myself, or even properly dressing myself. It's not her fault I am the target of every single Neanderthal-esque being in this stupid school. It's mine, and mine alone, for being like this.
"Here," she says and I see her holding out her hoodie. For a moment I almost turn it down, but then she presses it firmly into my arms. "Artie, you're going to turn into an icicle, put on the hoodie," she snaps. My chest pulses rapidly. What is she yelling at me for? Does she think I wanted to be strapped to an icy pole in nothing but my pants? I pull the hoodie over my head roughly, feeling the warmth of it against my skin for a second, before looking up at her. She is frowning, but that's not anger in her eyes. It's sadness. And worry. And pity.
"Quit looking at me like that!" I shout before I even realize what I'm doing. "I am so sick of people looking at me like that. I can't take this anymore. I don't want to live like this. I'm done with other people having to go out of their way to help me, and protect me, and do everything for me that I'm too crippled to do myself. I'm sick of this. I wish I'd never been in that stupid wreck! Hell, I wish I'd never been born!"
Tina pulls back again and I can see something like fear in her eyes. Furious with her and the world and myself, I turn my chair and roll off as quickly as I can. My hand is protesting, stinging pains shooting through it from the swollen finger, but I just use that pain as energy to keep going.
I'm not heading for home. I don't know where I'll head, so long as it's not home where I'll have to deal with this exact same song-and-dance from my parents. My overly-protective parents who tear themselves apart inside every time they look at my chair and see how hard things are for me. There's another pair of people who are suffering because of me. Just like my brother, who gave up on his college scholarship in baseball because that was always my dream and he refused to follow it without me, no matter how much he wanted. He could have played pro. Because of me, he's a real estate agent.
Life would have been so much better for everyone if I wasn't around. My parents wouldn't have to sacrifice so much, make so many adjustments to their lives just to accommodate me. My brother would be a star, a hero to little kids just like he's always wanted. My mom wouldn't have that survivor's guilt that leaves her secretly crying at night when she thinks I can't hear. Tina wouldn't have to deal with the jokes about being a booty call for the cripple, or spend her afternoon hunting down my chair every time the jocks relieve me of it.
There's never been a time in my life, not even right after the accident, where I've wished that things had turned out differently more than I do right now.
"Wishin' for a differ'nt life is a dangerous thing, lad."
I twitch in surprise, glancing around. I'm in front of the city library, the street surprisingly empty for the middle of the afternoon. The only other person is a mangy heap of brown, a homeless man clutching a scotch bottle and sitting on the bottom step of the library. He grins at me, a smile that's only got half its teeth and none of them a color they should be. His eyes are vaguely cross-eyed. I know who he is, everyone in town does; Patches.
"What do you mean?" I ask nervously. My instincts are telling me to just roll the hell outta here, but the fact that what he said was so closely linked to what I was thinking has me rooted to the spot.
"You don't wanna go wishin' for a new life, kiddo, you really don't," Patches says in a wheezy voice that sounds full of amusement. "Trust me, it ne'er works out the way yer thinkin' it might."
"You mean making it so everyone I care about doesn't have to spend all their time rearranging their lives just so I can fit in it?" I ask bitterly. "I'm not sure how that would be a bad thing."
Patches laughs, a weird noise that whistles out between his teeth. "You wanna find out?" he asks, raising an eyebrow that I almost can't see through the dirtiness of his skin.
"What?" I ask, completely sidelined by this question.
Patches doesn't answer me as his eyes fix on a red-haired woman walking toward the library. Once she reaches the steps he lets out a loud bark, and continues to bark at her until she's past the library and walking away, glancing back over her shoulder anxiously.
"I mean you wanna find out how happy that fant'sy world o' yers is?" Patches elaborates as if there'd been no interruption. I feel my heart leap in my chest at the mere possibility, no matter how ridiculous his offer is. Apparently some of it shows on my face because he grins. "Alright, then, let's do this."
"What do you - ?" He stands up and walks around behind me. Before I even have the time to grab my wheels, he seizes the handle of my chair with one hand and shoves me hard in the back with the other. I yell in surprise as I feel my body slide off the chair and I slump to the sidewalk, not even having the time to throw my arms up to catch myself. The last thing I know is a strange, swooping feeling in my stomach and a split second later my head hits the concrete and I'm out.