I winced as the moving truck hit a pothole. There had been a lot of potholes since we had turned down this road that seemed to have been forgotten by time, and it seemed the state of Texas Maintenance Division.
I could see my dad periodically glancing up in the rear view mirror to check on me every time we hit a bump. I groaned in pain as my metal leg braces rattled up against the seat. My legs, still healing from the last break thanks to an old bat of a lady who found the potato chip aisle more interesting than watching where she was pushing her cart, were beginning to ache.
“It barely touched her, she’s fine!” The old lady had insisted. My incessant wails of pain and the shards of bones nearly protruding from the skin said otherwise. Four more surgeries, and five months of physical therapy later and I was somewhat back on my feet. Kind of.
I looked down at my legs and grimaced, now painfully swollen in the confines of the braces. Without the braces supporting my weight and keeping them straight, my legs were almost useless. They had been broken so many times they bent this way and that. There was next to no muscle mass, despite everyone telling me there was still a chance of gaining some use out of them if I just kept working on strengthening the muscles. To this, I always responded with, “What muscles?”
My legs stopped where normal people my age’s knees should be. Between that and my curved spine, I was a whopping 3 ft and 4 in, or a little over 102 centimeters tall. At school, I was by far, the shortest kid in my junior high. I usually hid my midget legs under a long skirt, or had a light blanket on my lap, mostly relying on my powered wheelchair to get from class to class as an aid from the disability department trailed behind me.
To be fair though, it wasn’t really that old lady’s fault for breaking my legs. She really had only tapped me with her cart as she said. It would have been so much worse if I hadn’t been in my wheelchair; the fall could have killed me.
When I was around one and half, my mom lifted me by the legs while changing my diaper and heard, what she thought at the time, was the cat batting something around on the floor nearby. I began screaming bloody murder for the rest of the day. After changing me and realizing no amount of bottles, food, cuddling, or sleep would console me, she reluctantly took me to the emergency room. After all, all she had done was change me, there was no way I was hurt.
Turns out, the sound she heard wasn’t the cat. It was my hip breaking. It opened up a whole CPS investigation after reading the results of my x-rays. Not only was my hip broken with no possible explanation other than a diaper change, but after another set of x-rays just to see if I had sustained other injuries in their care, they saw improperly healed breaks in my right leg, right arm, three broken toes, two fingers, and a rib. My parents almost lost custody of me right then and there. Hospital staff were in the middle of filling out a child abuse report when a doctor noticed a strange phenomena in my eyes. Where the white should have been, there were instead streaks of blue. After running more tests, I was diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bones syndrome.
“You doing okay back there, Forest?” my dad asked.
“Are you trying to hit every bump in the road?” I replied. “You’re gonna break my neck before we even get there!” The last thing I wanted was to be in a neck brace again. I’ve learned to live with being confined to a chair, all I ask in return is free range of my neck. It was awful only seeing what was directly in front of me.
I could hear my mom playfully chastise him about the nickname, but he just laughed. We had a bit of a twisted sense of humor in our family. My real name was Jasmine, but my dad either called me Wade or Forest, depending on if my braces were on or off. Both of them horrified the general public, and I got just as much of a kick out of it as my parents did. My parents, my dad especially, were not very politically correct about my condition, and I liked it that way. Dealing with people was awkward, I didn’t need that kind of tension at home. I’ve been told I hide my insecurities behind a self-deprecating sense of humor.
During my physical therapy sessions, as I held onto the staff’s hands and inched my way up and down the hallways my father could often be heard shouting, “Run, Forest, Run!” Seeing the horrified looks on the staff and fellow patients faces was priceless. It wasn’t until he explained why he sometimes called me “Wade” that almost got him kicked off the visitor list. Some jokes were meant to stay amongst family.
Two years ago, for my 13th birthday, my dad had taken me to the movies to see DeadPool 2. When the scene came on where Wade sat on the couch with a normal top half and baby legs, my dad leaned over and whispered, “See, you could be a movie star if you wanted to.”
“Oh, Forest, listen!” My dad said suddenly before turning up the radio. Oh no. I let out a groan. “Our song is on!” A soft guitar melody played before Ed Sheeran, accompanied by my dad, began to belt, “When your legs don’t work they used to before!”
“Stop it!” I groaned and shook my head.
“And I can’t sweep you off of your feet!”
“I’m taking my hearing aids out!” I said yanking out the small brown devices from my ears. I could still hear him, but he was muffled and sounded further away, almost as if underwater.
I hadn’t realized how much I had begun to rely on reading lips until the pandemic hit. The hearing aids helped, but only so much. With everyone wearing masks, understanding people had almost become impossible without saying, “Can you repeat that?” at least ten times. I had at some point broken a handful of small bones in both my ears and now sound didn’t travel as well into the inner canals. In other words, my ears were deformed because I kept sticking my fingers in them as a kid digging for wax. Thank god I wasn’t a nose picker or I’d have suffocated during this pandemic.
When I was sure the singing was over, I put my hearing aids back in. No need damaging my ears any more than they already were by listening to my dad try to hit the high notes.
“Honey, is the other van still following us? I haven’t seen it in quite a while.”
“They probably just took the main road further down. It’s fine, I’ll call them when we stop.”
“Are we stopping soon?” I ask hopefully. I had never been in a car this long and my joints were beginning to ache. I fought against the 5 point harness that had me buckled in straight and tried my best to get comfortable. I stared at my little brother, Evan, enviously. He was sacked out in his car seat completely dead to the world.
“There’s a gas station about 40 miles.” My dad said.
“40 miles.” My mom grimaced. “Is there anywhere closer to stop? I really have to go to the bathroom.”
“There’s plenty of cactus to choose from.” my dad said.
“Very funny.” My mom said. “No, seriously.”
My dad chuckled. “How about a Gatorade bottle?” My mom let out a snort. “What about you, Forest?” I rolled my eyes. “Jeez, you women are so picky. Why did I think a road trip with girls would be a good idea? If we have to stop at every gas station so you can pee we’ll never get there.”
“Just because you have no problem going on the side of the road doesn’t mean we all have to. Right, Jaz? Jaz?”
“My life would be so much less painful if I was a guy. I would so pee on the side of the road if I was a dude.” I admitted.
“Forest, no, you can’t be a boy.” My dad said suddenly, before breaking out in a grin. “That would have been the first thing you’d break.”
“That would be an awkward trip to the emergency room.” My mom admitted.
“Hi, 911? Yes, my son, James, broke his penis touching himself again, should we just glue it back on or- oh ok, I guess it’s Jasmine from now on.”
I laughed. “There’s no bones in a penis… I already googled that before.”
“Why are you googling penises, Jaz?” my mom asked, turning around to look at me.
“To know if I would have broken it by now.” I admitted. “But you can’t so…”
“What would you do if you had a penis for a day?” My dad asked. I laughed as my mom smacked him.
“What kind of question is that to ask of our 15 year old daughter?”
“I would have definitely taken you up on that Gatorade bottle, and then I would helicopter dick myself to Austin already.”
“Enough about penises, both of you.” My mom said, shaking her head. We rode in silence for a few seconds until my mom added, “I’d take you up on the Gatorade bottle too.”
When we finally pulled up into the gas station, I watched as my mother nearly bowled over a group of children on her way to get inside.
“Uh, I can wait, thanks.” I said, still strapped into the seat.
My dad chuckled. “I’ll get your chair, sit tight. She’ll be back to help you.”
I could hear my dad rummaging in the back. There was lots of crashing, and swearing, before finally the back door shut again. My mom still hadn’t come back yet, and I was starting to fidget. It wasn’t good for me to wait this long. My bladder wasn’t very strong, and getting in and out of the car, into the chair, then into a bathroom and on the toilet was a whole production that took time. I craned my neck and looked for either sign of them. Finally, my dad came back, but without my wheelchair.
“Small problem.” He said. “It’s in the other truck.” I looked at him horror struck. I could walk five, maybe ten steps max with assistance. Someone, most likely my dad, was going to have to carry me. As much as we tried to avoid it for both our sakes, sometimes it was the unavoidable cost of needing constant care that he occasionally had to help me with personal needs. My mom couldn’t be everywhere, and sometimes I had to be picked up. Since I couldn’t afford to be dropped even a single time, my dad had to do it. Even grabbing me wrong could break bones.
I sighed in defeat. He’d have to be the one to take me to the toilet.
“Let’s get this over with.” I unbuckled myself and scooted to the far edge as I could and slowly inched myself down the makeshift ramp on my butt until my legs were dangling outside the van.
“Sorry, Forest. We can’t leave Evan in the car. We’ll have to wait for your mom to come back and we’ll all go together.”
“Yay,” I said sarcastically. We waited a few more minutes. I was getting more desperate. We tried to make small talk, but I interrupted his speech on how great the children’s hospital here was. “Dad, I can’t wait much longer.” I admitted.
“Can you watch, Evan? Will you be okay by yourself for a minute? I’ll see what’s going on.”
I shrugged and hung out on my perch for a few minutes. My dad came back with a large grin on his face. He ignored my many questions before digging in the back and coming out with a pair of my mom’s pants. He chuckled and shook his head. He said something, but I couldn’t read his lips behind the mask. He gave me a thumbs up, but I gave him a thumbs down.
“Stupid legs.” I mumbled. I looked left and right. The place was deserted. I was more and more tempted to just hike up my skirt, pull down my underwear and go on the ledge and be done with it, but the problem was my braces. They would have to be taken off. The plastic floor could be rinsed off with a water bottle, but the leg braces cost at least $5,000 each. They were in the way and they kept my legs from going sideways. They ran all the way up from my feet to my hips. “C’mon guys, hurry up.”
I sighed in relief when I saw both my parents rushing forward. My mom was holding a bag in her hand and looking uncomfortable. Without a word she threw the bag in the back with the boxes and closed the door before coming to join us.
“I’m so sorry, Jaz,” she said. “I thought the chair was in the back and your dad would have you loaded and waiting. Mike, help me get the braces off her.” They worked as fast as they could, but I was running out of time. My mom’s hand kept fumbling with the straps. I was biting my lip and clenching my fist and beginning to rock back and forth.
“Hurry up!” I moaned at them. My dad got the left brace off first and set it aside. The air felt so good on my bare, sweaty leg. He looked up and around. Only one other car was in the parking lot and there was no one by it.
“I’m going to pull off your clothes, okay?” I nodded and readied my hands to cover myself. I winced in pain as the fabric, as gentle as he was, slid down my legs. It didn’t take much to irritate the nerve endings.
“Got it.” My mom said, freeing my other leg. I was finally naked from the waist down. Going inside wasn’t an option. My dad had already turned around and was standing at the other end of the van to give me privacy with however this ended. “I guess you can just go there.” my mom said. I frowned. I had already leaked several times, and it was clear it would go down a leg if not both. The thought of my legs getting wiped down right now made me hesitate, despite wanting nothing more than to just get this over with.
“Clean up will hurt.” I said.
“Do you see any way she can go without getting it on her legs?”
“Uhh, maybe.” My dad said. “I don’t think she’ll like it though.”
“Will it hurt?” I asked.
“I’ll have to pick you up, but I don’t think it will get down your legs.”
“Do it.” I said reaching out my arms to be picked up. I didn’t care who saw what at this point.
“Please don’t pee on me though.” He said. I winced as he slowly picked me up.
“But I love you.” I said through clenched teeth. My eyes were shut tight. I didn’t want to know his plan, I only wanted relief. “I’d only be marking my territory.”
“Don’t you dare.” He said. I felt myself get lowered onto something hard and plastic. “There you go. Don’t worry, I’ve got you.” His arms were wrapped around my chest keeping me steady. “Go on.”
“Mike! Seriously!” I heard my mom call out. It was too late to change plans though. It was sweet relief. I didn’t care where I was. What mattered was my braces, and it wasn’t going down my legs at all.
I didn’t give my dad enough credit. He saved me. He was my hero, my savior. He was- I opened my eyes- He was SO DEAD!
“So anyway, yeah.” I emailed my friend on the phone. “That’s how I got my butt stuck in a trash can lid in front of a 7/11 for twenty minutes today. My dad had to pour vegetable oil on me in order to get me out. The clerk even came out and offered to call the fire department for us. Luckily, I kind of look like a little kid with a mask on. Oh yeah, so my dad told me my mom got traveler’s diarrhea, only she forgot her phone in the cab and couldn’t text for help. So I guess I wasn’t the only one in an awkward position.”
I was exhausted when we finally arrived at the motel. My hips, legs and back hurt. My three year old brother, Evan was screaming his head off and no one could get a hold of the driver in our other U-haul. It wasn’t just my wheelchair, it was all of my medical gear, my records, my clothes. It was a good thing I didn’t pee myself earlier because until we find the truck, all I have is the clothes on my back.
I crawled on the floor, dragging my near limp legs behind me into the bedding my mom made me on the floor. I wasn’t happy about not getting to sleep in a bed, but there was nothing to prevent me from rolling off. I was even less happy about the other arrangement.
“But I’m not even a bed wetter!” I protested.
“I know you’re not, sweetie, but we don’t want you crawling around and getting hurt in the night. I know this isn’t ideal, but we weren’t planning on not having any of your things with us.”
I had a special mat I could put on the floor that absorbed my weight and put less stress on my wrists, but that was in the other truck. When I wasn’t in my chair, I was dragging myself along the floor.
“I’m not wearing Evan’s bedwetting shorts. I’m 15!”
“Jazz, you had to pee in a trashcan today.”
“At least I made it to one.” I mumbled under my breath.
“Look, it’s just in case for whatever reason. Maybe you wake up in the night and you’re just in too much pain, or you can’t wake us. No one’s making you use them, but if you do it’s no big deal, here’s some wipes, and a spare. There’s a trashcan by your head. Just slip it off and throw it away and no one will know.”
“Just wear it, Jasmine.” My dad said into his pillow. “We want to go to sleep.”
“Fine.” I grumbled. “What?” I asked when my mom knelt down next to me.
“I want to see what it looks like.” She slid my skirt and underwear down and winced. “Oh, Jaz. That looks so painful. It’s all swollen.”
“Yeah.” I mumbled into the pillow. “It hurts.” I winced when she started rubbing ointment into my skin.
“I’ll get you something for the pain in a minute, this is just for the swelling.”
I nodded, before pulling out my hearing aids, and laying my head down on the pillow. I let out a yelp when she got to my hip as I let her guide the shorts up my waist.
“I changed my mind. You’re staying put tonight.” She handed me a pill and a sip of water.
I wish I would have listened.
A few hours later I woke up with a nagging bladder. I didn’t want to use the shorts, but I couldn’t fall back asleep no matter how much I tried. In my half conscious mind, still heavy with sleep and oxy, I began to crawl to the bathroom. I made it two feet away from my blanket pile.
I heard the snap before I felt it. In the blink of an eye, I was on the ground. My mind was filled with hot searing pain that radiated from my left wrist to my elbow. I was vaguely aware of dull muted voices around me as I rolled on the ground clutching my arm and screaming in pain.
Hands picked me up and carried me out into the night.
We had no way of knowing this trip to the emergency room wouldn’t be like all the rest.