Fragile Chapter 45

Saturday at the DeSoto's passed in relative peace after the somewhat tumultuous beginning for Roy. Though he still wasn't thrilled at requiring someone's help to achieve even minor tasks, he found a way to accept the assistance with relatively good humor.

As Johnny had guessed, Roy was guilty of overestimating his abilities in consideration of the current status of his injuries. After Roy again attempting to right himself from a horizontal position from the sofa this time with similar disastrous results to the morning's event, Johnny resorted to an actual physical demonstration of an easier process for rising to a sitting position.

After sitting Roy up on the end of the sofa, Johnny plopped himself down full length on the couch with his feet draped over Roy's lap. Grinning up at Roy, Johnny waited for the inevitable grumble.

Roy first glowered down at the feet in his lap, and then turned with raised eyebrows to glare at Johnny. "Comfy?"

Johnny chuckled. "It'll do. But that's not the point. Apparently Pally, you don't do well with verbal directions. I'm thinkin' a demo might do the trick. I can't keep picking you up like some broken toy."

Roy rolled his eyes in response. "Oh, you think you're being funny huh?"

Johnny answered with a sly grin. "Watch and learn my friend, watch and learn." From his original position lying on his back, Johnny slowly curled himself inward and onto his side. Once he was in a semi-fetal position, he pulled his knees toward his abdomen before slowly and carefully easing his feet to the floor. As he lowered his legs off the sofa, he used a forearm to push his upper body upward. When the range limits of his forearm were reached, Johnny used his abs and core strength to finally finish completely righting himself. Smugly he turned to look at Roy.

Roy's face bore one of those 'ah' expressions. "Now let me see you reverse the process." He demanded smugly.

Johnny sighed. "Well, that's a little more complicated, and will likely require wrists more healed than yours are right now and broken ribs that have knitted a bit more. Sorry, I'm not a magician. You're gonna have to wait for good ol' Mother Nature to do some healing work before we can go there.

Roy sighed in frustration. "Did I mention this sucks?"

Johnny snickered. "Only about a thousand times."

Roy sighed heavily turning his head so he was not facing his partner. "Two weeks ago, if someone had told me I was going to end up being a helpless invalid dependent on others for even the most basic of needs, I'd have thought they were nuts. I mean, I see things like this happen to other people. In our line of work we see it all the time. But….. " His voice trailed off with a note of despair.

Johnny leaned over on the sofa and bumped shoulders with his best friend. Roy didn't turn to look at him, but gruffly returned the signal as if in silent acknowledgement of the support and commiseration his partner offered.

"Look Roy, I know there's nothin' I can say to make this any easier. It does suck. Ya' know."

Roy nodded wordlessly to affirm agreement.

Johnny's eyes too found some spot on the other side of the room on which to focus while he continued to speak. "It doesn't matter how many times we see someone else deal with sudden life changes either. When all of a sudden you're the guy lookin' up at the paramedics rather than looking down on the patient, well….. I guess it reminds us how fragile our little reality is.

Roy nodded glumly. "Yeah, no kidding."

Both men sat in companionable silence then for a few minute, each alone with his own thoughts.

"Ya' know, Brice and I were talkin' about this whole idea when we were sharing a room at Rampart. We sort'a agreed that thing we think of, count on even, to be our role in life, our safety in the place we think we belong… well, all that's just an illusion. It's this fantasy we create for ourselves so we'll feel safe; ya know? Like everything we think we are, think we know….. every part we think we can claim to play in life….. All of it can be swept away in a flash. Then everything is different.

Roy humphed with dubious concurrence.

Johnny considered for a moment his own experiences as the patient. After a few moments he spoke some of his thoughts aloud. "I guess normally, I don't consider myself to be a control freak. I mean, I'm pretty easy going most of the time. I like to think I can get along with anyone, adapt to most situations."

Roy nodded. "Yeah, me too."

Johnny sighed. "But then somethin'll happen like we have a patient die, or some stupid accident happens and someone gets hurt…..or I wake up at Rampart. Then…. Well, then I figure out that maybe, just maybe I might be something of a control freak after all. I mean, there's nothin' I hate worse than being trapped flat on my back in a hospital bed; unable to get up, can't run away and hide or just wish whatever happened would NOT have happened. Then….. Well then I start to figure out I do really like to be in control. I don't like it when I can't make things happen. I'm not good at dealing with thing's just happening to me or others."

Roy again found himself nodding in agreement. Everything Johnny was saying applied to him. "Yeah…. Me too. I mean, I know I am the guy who takes charge. Cap's told me that, you have…. And I do it because I am good at it. But….. This?" And Roy raised both injured wrists in front of his face, and then glanced dolefully down at his casted ankle. He shook his head in a somewhat disbelieving 'no.' "I'm NOT any good at…what was it you said while ago? ….Being the guy looking up at the paramedic."

Johnny chuckled. "Yup, I've sort'a figured that out Pally.

Roy nudged Johnny none to gently with an elbow. "Oh hush. You've got no room to talk in that area my friend."

Johnny now raised his hands in surrender. "Oh, you don't have to remind me of that partner. If possible, I am probably worse at it than you are. You at least deal with most of the hospital stuff with some semblance of dignity. I hate that stuff; all the poking and prodding, no privacy, no way to protect your dignity when you don't even have your own clothes to cover you. And then there are the meds….. Uh….. I hate that stuff! And because I end up in the hospital because I'm sick, or hurt, it all has to be the way it is so I can get better. But I hate it. I hate it all. There's no real way to stop any of it from happening. I just feel so out of control and helpless. Nope! Not my thing. I guess that makes it official. I am a control freak!"

Roy turned to eye Johnny speculatively then. "I get not liking the hospital routines. I mean, really! When at the end of the day a guy can't even count on ending up wearing his own shorts, I totally understand hating the being the patient thing. But the meds Johnny? I mean, sure, they sort of zone me out. But, they do ease the pain and let things heal. But for you? There is something else about them that seems…uh…well…terrifying? Why is that Johnny? What is it about the meds you hate so much? I mean, I get it sometimes. Like yesterday when I was still a little stressed from getting home from Rampart to find Cap here, then he came around bringing my meds. I understood it a little then. I felt like I should be alert to host guests in my home, not doped up. But after I thought about it for a while, I really do understand why the meds are important. So? What is it about meds you hate so much?"

Johnny cleared his throat uncomfortably then. After a long pause he attempted to explain what he knew had been a long standing mystery for Roy. "I guess, when it comes right down to it, it's about control. I mean, the drugs are SO powerful. I fight with everything I have to keep from losing myself to them. But they always manage to whisk me away. It's like becoming a prisoner in my own body or something. I can't reach out for connection, I can't see or hear anymore, I can't even think. I just fall into this black swirling pit where everything means nothing. There's no time, no substance, no contact….nothin'. It scares me to be so lost. I'm always afraid I won't be able to find my way back."

Johnny shivered involuntarily Then after a few moments of silence he shrugged his shoulders and made eye contact with Roy once again. "I don't know….. I guess when I was younger my life was pretty messed up. I was a kid, and really knew how fragile my grip on what I thought was reality could be. Somehow I found strength to hold on to myself in the whirlwind of my life by promising myself I'd never be so helpless again. I figured being a rescue man would put me in a place where I was in charge. I would be the guy running in to save the day. Being superman; that'd make me invincible. But then…..It turns out rescue work gets dangerous…..and I end up getting hurt….. And well…ya' know….. There's the procedures at the hospital, and the drugs…..always the drugs….. And there I am helpless again." Johnny again shuddered involuntarily.

"It's like I'm never gonna get away from dealing with the helplessness." Johnny shrugged again.

Listening to Johnny's words, Roy could identify with the sentiments though he suspected he understood the conundrum for totally different reasons. Medication and hospital procedures really didn't bother Roy. These things were just a means to an end, treatment helped heal injury. But when considering his current physical disabilities, Roy definitely now had a clearer view of the humiliation and frustration of feeling helpless and at the mercy of those around him. Oh sure, he'd felt as if he had no control when working as a paramedic he'd had a patient die. But in a way, he was in control there because at least he had made attempts to keep the person alive. But, being injured and unable to care for even his most basic personal needs; that turned things into a whole new ball game.

"I guess I have always been careful, and planned everything out so I could avoid ending up not being in control. But not even planning can prevent everything huh." Roy commiserated.

Johnny bumped Roy's shoulder again. "You know what though partner; though helpless does suck, and we don't always get to be the guy in charge… having friends and family to take care of you when things go south is a good thing. You, JoAnne and the kids and the 51's family have taught me that."

Roy turned a warm gaze toward Johnny. "Yeah, it does. And Johnny, Jo, me and the kids have and will always be glad to be there for you when you need us."

Johnny smiled back at Roy. "I know that Roy, and I appreciate it. Still doesn't make having to need the help any easier."

Roy nodded in agreement. "I'm figuring that one out."

Johnny reached out and patted Roy's slumped shoulder. "Well keep on figuring partner, 'cause another thing you've taught me is how to hang on tight when someone's kicking and screaming because accepting help is tough. I've learned by witnessing you're stubbornness with me. I'm gonna hang on till you can do for yourself."

Roy pondered silently, "Damn! I walked into that same trap again. I must be losing it, either that or Johnny is far more manipulative than I've ever given him credit for." Roy shook his head in slightly annoyed amazement.

"Yeah, yeah…. All right. I hear ya partner." Roy grumbled good naturedly.

The remainder of Saturday and all of Sunday passed relatively comfortably at the DeSoto home. There were a few minor blow ups, but nothing that couldn't be worked out.

By Sunday evening, Roy's wrists had healed sufficiently so he could begin to get around balancing himself carefully with the walker Johnny had brought home from Rampart. Once he became more mobile, Roy's self sufficiency increased dramatically. By Monday morning when it was time for Johnny to go back on shift at the fire station Roy and JoAnne were capable of once again managing the tasks of living adequately so as not to need constant help at home.

For the next few weeks the DeSoto family gladly accepted assistance with physically strenuous tasks like yard work, or heavy house cleaning from visiting friends. Gradually as injuries healed, life began to flow back into more customary patterns.

Eight weeks later:

The alarm clock on Roy's side of the bed woke him. Sleepy blue eyes opened to peer into the as yet darkened bedroom. Slipping a hand out, Roy felt for his wife on the other side of the bed. Alas, her place at his side was empty. She'd apparently already gotten up leaving only a comforting hint of her scent and a tiny trace of body heat remaining in the covers as a reminder of her presence.

Roy took a moment to enjoy a deep stretch and yawn before flipping the covers back and crawling from the safe harbor of their bed. Padding across the bedroom on two completely dependable feet, Roy headed for the bathroom to take care of morning business.

Several minutes later, emerging from the steamy lavatory, Roy smiled indulgently when he noticed his uniform, and undergarments were laid out neatly waiting for him on the corner of the bed. Allowing the towel he wore around his waist to slide to the floor, Roy relished the coolness of the fresh morning air as it caressed his as yet damp flesh. The comforting smell of coffee and bacon drifted up from the kitchen reminding Roy his wife was downstairs preparing to send him off to work with a warm breakfast.

It had been pretty close to two and a half months since Roy's fall down those stairs in that structure fire. So many experiences had come his way in that time. His firehouse family had unwaveringly stood with him and his family as the recovery process unfolded. There had been lawn mowers, house cleaners, grocery shoppers, and drivers available. He and JoAnne were cared for in situations ranging from causal to the most intensely personal. Roy mused now as he reflected that though the experience would never be one he could ever see himself willing seeking to repeat, he still could not deny the affirming growth he'd seen in himself through the ordeal.

Though Roy always lived by the motto it was more blessed to give than receive, he now knew that to be able to receive was absolutely essential for any well rounded human. If these past two months had taught him anything, they had offered an extended opportunity for investigation of his relationship to weakness, reality and control. He now knew on a personal level the precarious nature of life and security. Things could change in an instant, and it turned out that adapting to such change sometimes had more to do with allowing the helplessness of those moments to exist openly so that others could be blessed by having a chance to offer assistance. Perhaps by receiving help in a weakened state Roy had somehow been able to offer the gift of giving to those who wanted so much to share their strengths and aabilities with Roy and his family.

Roy shivered in the morning air and woke from his reverie to suddenly realize he was still standing in his bedroom nude. "I need to get dressed. I'm going to catch my death of cold standing here like this. I'm chilled, that has to be why I'm shivering." Roy never even stopped to consider the thought process he'd experienced might have had something to do with that moment of physical discomfort.

When he had dressed, Roy found his way to the kitchen where JoAnne already had the children waiting and food on the table. Good morning kisses and greetings were exchanged, then giving way to the morning feeding frenzy while sleepy bodies gained greater alertness through ingested nourishment. After several minutes of growing alertness, conversation began slowly with plans for the next few days becoming topics of discussion.

"Hey Roy, I am marinating some of that rolled flank steak Johnny likes so much. How about you invite him and Shelby to come for dinner tomorrow evening?" JoAnne suggested.

Roy set down the coffee he'd been sipping. "Hey, that sounds like a great idea. I mean, we've been talking about having this dinner for a long time now. I'll ask him when we get to work this morning. I'll call you and let you know."

Breakfast passed with much planning on the part of the DeSoto family, and all too soon it was time for Roy to take his leave. Grabbing up his duffle and spare uniforms, Roy kissed his wife and kids goodbye, and headed for station 51.

When Roy drove into the parking lot of L.A. County Fire Station 51, he found that his partner's Land Rover was already in the lot. In fact, all the vehicles from "A" shift were present except for Chet's VW van. Roy chuckled to himself realizing this would mean Chet would likely end up with latrine duty, and Johnny would begin the day with a big smile.

After stowing his gear in an empty locker room, Roy strolled across the apparatus bay into the kitchen. Marco, Mike, and Johnny were seated around the table drinking coffee and enjoying pastries from a pink box in the center of the table.

"Hey Roy! It's good to see ya back!" Johnny happily greeted his partner while saluting him with a raised coffee cup.

Marco chuckled. "Yeah Roy, glad to see you! But I'd bet Gage is REALLY happy to see you because the last two shifts we've had he's been riding with Brice."

Warm laughter filled the room.

"Eh, he wasn't all that bad Marco." Johnny said waving off Marco's remarks with a casual hand. "I mean, we bonded while he was injured. The guy isn't all bad."

"Oh?" Roy questioned while pouring himself some coffee.

"Bet you'd rather have Roy here though." Mike challenged Johnny's glib reply.

Johnny raised both hands in silent surrender. "Oh, no question about it guys. But, after spending time in the hospital with Brice, I sort'a get where he's coming from. He can still be a pain, it's just now I realize why he's such an exacting person. I guess it helps to have some perspective."

Hank Stanley walked in just in time to hear the last few remarks. "All right then Gage, I'll remember that. It'll make things easier if I'm looking for a sub for Roy there when he's out. I like hearing you enjoyed your time with Brice."

Johnny gulped. "Ya know Cap, I'm just gonna hope Roy's not out that much, and if he is I'll leave it to your wise discretion to find me a sub. After all, we've got young Ricky around too, and he's pretty great to work with."

Stanley chuckled. "Good point." He'd really only been yanking Johnny's chain, but could tell Gage wasn't taking the bait. "Hmmm….looks like we all might have grown up some these past couple of months." Hank mused while silently noting some pride in his men's behavior these past two months.

In honor of Roy's return to work, roll call was handled informally while pastries were consumed. Chester B slid into the kitchen just in time to rescue a jelly doughnut from uneaten lowliness, and to receive his latrine duty for the day.

In preparation for beginning their morning, Roy and Johnny adjourned from roll call to inventory the squad. As they inspected the contents of the bright red work truck, the two men chatted amiably.

"Say Johnny, JoAnne is marinating some of that rolled flank steak you like so much. She asked me if you and Shelby would like to come over for dinner tomorrow night. Interested?" Roy offered.

Johnny paused in his counting to turn a smiling face toward his partner. "Hmmm, sounds good. We were supposed to go out tomorrow evening, and I think I might just be able to talk her into it. Want us to bring something along for dessert?"

"Sounds good." Roy confirmed. "How about you guys come by at around six."

"Sounds great partner." Johnny confirmed while stuffing the last of their equipment into the side compartment.

The conversation these two friends were enjoying was cut short when tones and klaxon sounded sending them to an MVA on the 405 freeway. Johnny's long lanky frame slid into the passenger's side of their bright red work truck and Roy took his traditional place behind the wheel of the squad. With lights flashing and sirens screaming the men of station 51 sped off into their day secure at least for the moment in their roles as rescuers.


Authors Note: When I began this story over a year and a half ago, I had no clue it would take me this long to find my way to the end. I tried something new, and composed an outline for the plot. Honest, the outline was no more than a thousand words long. But, as the story unfolded I found I needed to flesh things out to offer a complete version of my image of how it should be. For those of you who have taken the trip with me, and offered so many kind words of encouragement, I am truly grateful.

In an interesting twist, this story has been a growth experience for me that in some weird ways has paralleled my real life. Things and people we know to be ever present are, I have learned, indeed fragile and changeable.

In the time it has taken for me to put this story together I have seen so much drastic change in my own life.

A friend who I thought was indestructible died suddenly and unexpectedly this past October.

A mortal enemy who seemed to rule the world with a tortuous hand fell deathly ill and almost died in August. Now this poor woman has lost all her hair, and is only able to work half time having barely the energy to come to work, let alone make other folks life miserable as she always seemed to want to do.

My biological brother died suddenly and tragically in a freak accident this past July. The occasion of my brother's funeral gave me a chance to re-connect with my biological family. A heartwarming feeling, I must say. That whole experience was bittersweet.

A coworker who I adored yet struggled with absolutely self destructed last school year. He is now retired, and thankfully finding his own path to recovery from addiction.

My foster mother with whom I share a very interesting relationship very nearly died, and will likely die sooner rather than later. But even in her own way she gave me a gift by allowing me to see her weak and vulnerable when I spent three days attending her in the hospital.

My beloved Callie, 18 year old adored cat finally lost her battle with age and disease. I had to have her put to sleep last April. Two of my dear friends came and took me to the vet with my baby that last afternoon of her life. All three of us stood in that room and cried in those last few minutes. Two new girls from two local shelters, Chloe a blue point Siamese and Sissy a pear shaped Calico, now call my place home. We are adjusting.

I have watched life change for me and others in so many ways this past twenty months. I suppose, like Roy and Johnny in this story, I too struggle with my own control issues. Strength has always been a virtue and weakness a sin. But alas, I too am learning life is fragile. Anything can change in the blink of an eye, and all that is left is for us to cope and adapt.

Thanks for hanging in there with me! I hope you too were able to grow some along the way.