“You must prepare yourself for the worst,” the doctor said, staring at us seriously. “You are aware that we can’t be sure of the outcome?”
“But we know you’ll try your best.” Lynn’s mum could barely say the words before she burst out crying.
It had been a tough twenty-four hours, and this was the worst part of it, the seemingly endless hanging around in the hospital waiting room, the endless cups of tea and coffee that was the only way to break up the day.
* * *
I thought back to two years ago, when I’d first met Lynn. I’d gone on holiday with my two best mates, Jack and Matthew, and the last thought on my mind was finding a life partner.
“Listen Peter,” Jack had said to me on our first night, after we’d checked into the hotel at the Spanish resort. “We’ve just finished university, we’ve slogged away for three years and now we’ve come away to get legless every night in the bars, and meet as many willing girls to have as much fun with as we can. The girl Lynn we met at the airport, she’s really nice, of course she is, and I could see you enjoyed chatting to her. But she’ll understand you don’t want to be lumbered with a girl in a wheelchair in a place like this. Okay, Peter, I know you feel sorry for her, but there’s got to be a limit to your good nature. Break your date with her tonight and come out with us– she’ll understand.”
“It’s true, Pete,” Matthew joined in. “You’re too kind-hearted for your own good. As Jack said, she won’t expect you to give up your holiday. Think of yourself, think of getting slaughtered on the local booze. Think of getting laid!”
“You two go out and have some drinks for me,” I told them. “I came out here to enjoy myself. And I enjoy talking to Lynn. I want to be with her tonight.”
Okay, maybe at first there was just a smidgeon of feeling sorry for a truly lovely girl who was paralysed and in a wheelchair and accompanied by her two kind sisters, who were looking after her. But after that first ‘feeling sorry for her’ moment I just gave in to the fun I had in talking to her, and getting to know her, and, for the first time in my life I fell in love.
I was so stupid in those days. I thought love was all hormones and physical feelings and sensations and erotic gratification. I had no idea that it was much much more than that. It was a whirlpool of feelings and emotions and yearnings and hopes and dreams.
During those few days, Lynn and I were inseparable. Her sisters looked after her personal needs, and to my surprise, they seemed a bit wary and suspicious of me, perhaps they were wondering why a normal healthy guy was spending time with a girl who was paralysed. But I didn’t really care what they thought if I’m honest.
“I was getting married,” Lynn explained to me, “when we had the car accident. Ken was driving, but he wasn’t badly hurt at all, whereas the airbag on my side wasn’t working, and I hadn’t put on the seat belt. Afterwards,when he found out I’d never walk again, he couldn’t bear to talk to me, just sent his mum to tell me the engagement was off.”
“What a bastard,” I said, furiously.
“Not really,” Lynn said reasonably. “Ken was a nice enough guy, it’s just he was weak. He knew he couldn’t be strong enough to look after me, so he just cut and run. He was really just being honest.”
And so, as I said, over the ten days we were together, we fell in love. I assumed that there was no way we could physically make love, and I was okay with that. But, to my surprise, Lynn found ways and means that I hadn’t thought of for satisfying our needs, and let’s just say that we were actually able to cross the physical barrier, which made our relationship even more sensational.
After the holiday I just knew I wanted to be with her and no one else. Some of my mates all thought I was mad, telling me that when ‘the magic’ of falling in love wore off, I’d soon tire of having a girlfriend who couldn’t walk, who I had to wheel around in a wheelchair everywhere. But my closest mates, Jack and Matthew included, told me that even though they were surprised, they backed my decision all the way, and wished us all the luck in the world.
I lived in London and she lived in Sheffield, so, a week after the holiday, I went up to visit her.
Imagine my shock when I went to her house and found out it was a huge place, practically a stately home! A passing lady told me that the family who lived there were pretty famous locally, he was a wealthy businessman, and it had been in the papers about his daughter having the car accident and being paralysed. “Such a nice lass too,” she concluded. “They’re right nice people, we were right sorry for them.”
I was so shaken and upset I couldn’t knock on the door, and fled to the nearest pub for a few drinks.
I got talking to this older guy who was sitting at the bar, because he had a sympathetic face and he looked as miserable as I felt.
“I can’t face going home just yet,” he admitted to me.
“And I can’t face keeping my date,” I explained. “I’ve come up here to visit this wonderful girl I met on holiday who I’ve fallen in love with. Everyone tells me I’m crazy because she’s paralysed, in a wheelchair, but I don’t care a damn about that, I just want to be with her. Her sisters don’t seem to trust me, and now I’ve found out why. It seems her family are dead rich, and it was in all the papers about her accident. But I had no idea – I thought she was just an ordinary girl, without any money or anything, like me. She used to talk about ‘the estate’ and I thought she meant she lived on a council estate, not that her home had lands! It’s terrible! I’m just a bloke from a pretty humble background fresh out of uni with a hefty loan to repay. I had no idea she was rich. So her posh parents are going to think I’m some scummy money-grabber, who’s hoping to wheedle his way into the family fortune, aren’t they? That must be what her sisters reckon. It’s a nightmare, and I just don’t know what to do.”
The old chap smiled. “Seems to me you haven’t got any choice. You know how you feel. You can’t just abandon her. At least you’ve got to explain things.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. But tell me this—how am I going to get her family to believe I’m not after her money?”
“Funnily enough young man, I popped in here because I can’t face going home. You see I’ve been putting off meeting my daughter’s new boyfriend, whom I was afraid was a money-grabbing bastard. I was even thinking of offering him money to leave her alone. . . ”
And so I stayed with Lynn’s family for a while, and finally her sisters accepted me, realising that I had not read about the car crash in the newspapers, and that I had no idea she was Lynn McKinley, daughter of the man who’d invented McKinley Vacuum cleaners, and who happened to be a multi-millionaire.
Then eventually I found a job in Sheffield. I didn’t really think of the details of my future. You don’t do you? Life is about making sense of things as they come along, taking one day at a time. The practicalities of living with a girl who’s confined to a wheelchair were things I was happy to learn, and, while I’m no great shakes at medical stuff or nursing, I reckoned that if her sisters and her mum could help her with all those daily tasks, then, when I got home from work, I could learn to do them too.
So I started my new job and we moved into a flat together.
But then my world came crashing down when it seemed she had to go into hospital. Unexpected changes have occurred as a result of her injuries, they told me, and again, Lynn’s mum went into details about the dreadful damage Lynn had suffered as a result of the car crash.
* * *
All eyes were on the door, when the doctor came back in.
“Against all the odds, it worked!” he said, breaking into a huge smile. “As I told you it’s an experimental procedure, and spinal surgery is always very difficult and we can never predict the outcome. But now there’s no doubt at all. She’ll need lots of physiotherapy to build up the muscles again, but in time she’ll be walking on her own two feet.”