Captiva Memories

Christopher Wheeler watched his mother lift his seabag and place it in the corner of the room. Maggie leaned the crutches against the nightstand so that he could easily reach for them from the bed. He admired the cozy atmosphere of the place, but this room, in particular with a chair near the window, appealed to him. A perfect place to hide out.

His mother had taken great care to help him settle into his new home. The Key Lime Garden Inn, although a traveler’s destination, would serve his desire to enjoy his surroundings while staying invisible. Any interest in him would fade as soon as the guests went about their vacation. A corner chair provided a perfect spot for him to look out the window and watch the butterflies swoop in and out of the bush, and he could hear the ocean waves crashing against the sand.

The awkwardness that hung over them started the minute his mother met him at the airport. Christopher wondered how long before he would wear out his welcome. Perhaps he should have had a Plan B if this arrangement failed. 

He could tell that his mother didn’t know how to talk to him, and that suited him fine because he didn’t want to talk, anyway. She and her new husband, Paolo Moretti, had built a ramp for wheelchair access when they took over the inn. Such things were required for establishments these days. He imagined that his mother had no idea at the time that one day her youngest son would have need of it.

“Would you like to take a tour of the place? I know you must be tired, but I’d love to show you around.”

“Not right now, Mom. I am tired. I’d like to take a nap if that’s all right with you.”

“Of course.”

Maggie turned down the bed and then the shades. “We get lots of sun here. You’ll need to keep the shades down if you want to sleep in the middle of the day.”

Christopher smiled and nodded. “That’s fine.”

She stood in the doorway, and seemed unsure of what to do or say next.

“Do you need help getting into the bed?”

“No.”

The second he answered her, he regretted it. He sounded angry, and he was, but none of this was her fault.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I can manage on my own.”

His mother looked lost. He could see her wanting something more to do for him. The look on her face convinced him he needed to reassure her.

“Mom, you’re going to have to get used to this. We all are. I’m going to be in this chair for the rest of my life. It’s probably a good idea for me to get on with it. I’ve got to learn how to live with this. I’m sure I’ll probably fall now and then. You can’t always be there to pick me up. Do you think you can stop hovering?”

“I’m sorry, Christopher. I didn’t mean to hover. I understand what you’re saying. This is all so new and I’m not sure when to help and when to leave you be. I’m used to taking care of you.”

“I know. It’s going to take some time.”

He could tell that she heard his words, but was a long way from accepting his situation. 

“I’ve got to run over to Chelsea’s for a bit. If you need anything at all, send me a text.”

Christopher held up his cellphone and wiggled it. “If it makes you feel any better, I’ll put my cellphone right next to the bed.”

His mother closed the door behind her as she left, and he immediately wheeled his chair to the window instead of getting into the bed. The garden looked beautiful and abundant with flowers and vegetables. He could see his stepfather, Paolo, cutting the grass.

He looked down at his legs and cringed. They had amputated his right leg just above the knee; his pants folded under what remained. No matter how many times he played the day of the bombing over in his mind, he couldn’t make the leap from laying on the ground to sitting in a wheelchair. Piecing together what he remembered with what he was told proved almost impossible. Too many days and nights passed before he found himself under his mother’s care once again.

He wheeled himself back near the nightstand and pulled one crutch close. Standing on his left leg, he leaned his right side onto the crutch. Moving the wheelchair down a bit he turned to sit on the bed.

What seemed like a small maneuver drained him quickly. These were the moments that frustrated him. He ran marathons and jumped out of airplanes, for heaven’s sake. 

Realization set in fast—that was before. Before he lost his closest friend in the world. The day that ended everything for him and began a new life that would expect much of him. It would demand that he believe in a future filled with joy and happiness and would insist he get on-board with living.

Except he didn’t know how and felt no desire to find a reason to go on. The days following post-op where a blur. Surgeons, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and social workers, each involved with his care and rehabilitation annoyed him and he did little to assist in his own recovery.

His lack of interest in a prosthetic device fitting, kept him firmly in his wheelchair most days, and although he’d met with a psychiatrist a few times, he hated those sessions and dismissed the man after four appointments. 

With very little interest in healing, Christopher struggled to get out of bed every morning. His family’s love and support meant the world to him, but he couldn’t forgive himself for being alive when so many of his friends were dead. That pain tortured him every minute of every day. Now, living on Captiva Island, he planned to lay low and keep his suffering confined to his room as much as possible.

He placed the crutch up against the other and lay back on the bed. He longed to be back in Iraq. He wanted to fight those who killed his brothers and sisters. The military had become his home, but now all he had left of that life were memories.

He lay staring at the ceiling, feeling untethered and alone. It would take a miracle to bring him out of this darkness. If he could only sleep. Maybe when he next opened his eyes, that miracle would come. The only problem was that he didn’t believe in miracles. He didn’t believe in anything anymore.

He reached inside his shirt and pulled out the dog tags that hung around his neck. Everyone had a set—one to stay with the body for identification, and one to be sent back to the family in the event of his or her death. Christopher wiped the tears that fell with the sleeve of his shirt. He never knew what happened to Nick, only that he’d been killed in the blast.

For now, finding out what happened to his friend was the one thing that gave him purpose. As soon as he was able, he made a promise to himself that he would visit Nick’s family and tell them what a brave son they had. How, more than once, their son saved his life. He’d explain it all, and then whatever happens after that, he didn’t care.

CAPTIVA MEMORIES WILL BE RELEASED IN AUGUST 2022

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