Where It All Began
Today marks another exciting accomplishment for me at the Charlotte Thomas Rehabilitation Center. I made it all the way up the twenty steps of the dreaded staircase and back down again.
To reminisce about my very first achievement, when Charlotte magically entered my room on my first day here and helped me to move my right hand seems so minuscule compared to what I am doing now. Although Charlotte would disagree, she says that my first accomplishment no matter how small, is what led the way for all my other ones. She has celebrated each and every one, reminding me that they all took great courage and ability on my part to succeed.
Lately she keeps commenting on how inspiring I am to her and how watching me fight every day to be better helps her fight too. I’m not sure exactly what she means by that, she is the one person who has inspired me and has kept me going through all of this. Without her, I would no doubt be confined to a wheelchair alone in my flat taking pity on myself. Her comments recently are subtle but enough to make me worry. I have this nagging pit in my gut warning me that there is something wrong, I just don’t know what it is exactly.
It’s not like Charlotte is obvious when something is bothering her. She goes about her day as she normally does, she is overloaded with work, but she gets it finished, she meets me for lunch every day, does my afternoon therapy sessions, and we spend every night together at her place. The only thing out of the ordinary with Charlotte are her abstruse philosophical one-liners she has been trying to motivate me with. She has always said the most heartening things to me, and I appreciate how uplifting she is all the time, but the way she’s been speaking this week sounds like she’s trying to influence herself as well as me. This is overly concerning to me.
This afternoon we are skipping therapy and I am taking her to the place where it all began for me. I’ve been waiting for this day all week. Charlotte has no idea where I am taking her, I have kept it a surprise. She’s always the one surprising me, now it’s my turn.
“Levi, where are we going”, she asks me all bright-eyed and bushy tailed.
She hops into the passenger seat of the jeep and I tease her by placing a blindfold over her eyes. I know that seems a little dramatic, but I don’t want her to know where we are going until we get there. I have already told her how special this place is to me, if I say anything more, she will figure it out.
I pull out of the parking lot and head south on Interstate 93. She keeps us entertained by trying to find and change the radio station without her sight. She managed to press every button and turn every knob before finding the correct one, and when she found it, she turned the volume up and sang the tune. It was comical, we laughed the entire way to the secret spot.
I parked the jeep and walked over to her side to open the door for her. She held my hand as I led her out and turned her to face the welcome sign. The sign I will always remember, declaring the most ironic name. Charlotte took her blindfold off her eyes and instantly she was all smiles.
“You took me to World’s End”, she repeats the exact words that came out of my mouth when she took me here almost nine months ago.
I reach out my hand for her to hold and say, “Remember when we were at the park in California and I told you I couldn’t wait until I could hold your hand and walk beside you?”
“Yes, I remember”, her words are slow as she gives me a curious look.
“I thought this would be the perfect place to hold your hand”, I smile at her.
She places her hand in mine and we walk together side by side, down the same carriage path we have been down once before.
We enjoy the comfortable silence between us. I’m soaking in this moment, the moment I’ve wished for a long time. No conversation is needed, only her and I engrossed in the natural beauty of this place. I feel Charlotte’s thumb rubbing light circles over mine while her hand is enfolded in mine. I can’t take my eyes off her, the way she closes her eyes and breathes in the cool air captivates me. I can’t think of a time I have ever been happier, she makes me feel like my feet are barely touching the ground, like I am floating in air.
This magnificent place looks different in the spring. The vegetation is only starting to bloom, and the grass still resembles a hint of brown from the winter’s snow. We gladly explore other areas of the park now that I can walk. We can hike along the cliffs and walk along the rocky shore. The views of the bay are always spectacular no matter what season it is.
We arrive at the same grassy spot where we first had lunch. I spread the blanket I packed across a flat area.
“This is a lot easier than when I was in my chair”, I gloat.
Charlotte only nods and smiles. I take a seat down onto the blanket and pull her to sit in between my legs so she can lean her back on my chest. I brush her vanilla scented hair behind her ear and brought my face closer to her so I could gently kiss her neck. She grasped both of my hands and wrapped my arms around the front of her. We sat looking out at the bay while I enveloped her body into mine.
“This is the place where I knew I was falling in love with you”, I whisper into her ear.
She brushes her face up against my chest to look at me. “How do you know it was love?“, she whispers back.
“I was so deep into the darkness when you brought me here, I didn’t understand how I could be worth saving. You held my hand and let me stroll down the path next to you, you lifted me up and sat me on the blanket with you when you could’ve left me in my chair, and you kept your hold around me so that I could sit up while we ate lunch together. You made me feel human again and not someone who was just crippled”, I pour out my soul to her.
She unwraps my arms from her and turns her body to face me. Water is building up in her eyes and she is holding back the tears.
“How do you know it wasn’t gratitude you were feeling that day?” Her question surprises me.
“Of course, I felt gratitude, but it was love that made my body shiver when you touched my hand, love that caused electricity to flicker under my skin when you wrapped your arm around me, and love that sparked laughter back into my soul. Ever since that day you have been the air that surrounds me, the light in all my darkness and the keeper of my heart”, I profess to her.
There it is! The waterfall gushing from her beautiful eyes. I pull her into me again and hold her tight, soaking up her tears with my thumbs.
“Please don’t cry, I don’t know if you are happy or sad?“, I tell her.
“You make me feel all of those things too, Levi. I have never felt this kind of love before”, she cries out.
“Then why are you sobbing?“, I ask.
Charlotte desperately tries to contain her tears and I waited for what felt like eternity for her to collect her thoughts. she turned her gaze to the water and cleansed her cheeks with her shirt. Her sniffles slowed to a near halt.
I can’t endure the suspense any longer, I need to know. “What is really bothering you Charlotte?“, hoping she will engage.
She slowly turns to face me again, this time taking both my hands in hers, softly tracing my palms with the tip of her thumbs.
“It is because of how much I love you that I need you to go back home to England and give yourself the chance to pursue that new acting role, and the chance to enjoy life the way you did before you met me”.
“I don’t understand! You want me to leave?“, I blurt out.
“No, I don’t want you to leave...I love you; I love everything about you, you make me so happy...I just don’t want you to give up on any opportunities. You came here to me so that I could help you walk again, so you could return to your life in England”, she tries to convince me.
I retract my hands from her hold and cross my arms in front of my chest. “Well things change”, I huff.
“Yes, they do, but nothing changes the way I feel about you...please promise me you will give things back home a try”, she forcefully unlocks my arms to hold my hands again.
“Fine”, I mumble.
I know she is right. Mark is counting on me and deserves my presence since he has convinced the director to give me a shot at a new role. I owe it to my parents and my mates to return home as well, but Charlotte is my everything, just thinking about being away from her is making me panic.
She moves her body to sit next to me and holds her arm around my back, then rests her head on my shoulder. We stay together in this position, silently peering out at the sea, and alone in our thoughts.