Not much comment on this one - just a glimpse of Mick as he tries to conquer the challenges of returning into a life as normal as possible and keeps wondering about his professional future, just like the questions posed in the song I've chosen as a soundtrack.
Johnny Cash - Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound
It's a long and a dusty road, a hot and heavy load
And the folks that I meet ain't always kind
Some are bad, some are good, some have done the best they could
And some have tried to ease my troubled mind
And I can't help but wonder where I'm bound, where I'm bound
Can't help but wonder where I'm bound
I've been wandering through this land just doing the best I can
Trying to find what I was meant to do
And the people that I see look as worried as can be
And it looks like they are wondering too
And I can't help but wonder where I'm bound, where I'm bound
Can't help but wonder where I'm bound
July - September 1946
The ball smacked into the wall and bounced back with a hollow sound. My third miss in a row.
A rude curse was on the tip of my tongue, but I bit it back so Helen wouldn't chew me out again for my sailor's mouth.
When she lobbed the ball at me once more, I was prepared and flicked it right back at her at a tricky angle. She made an adventurous lunge for it to keep it from smacking into the door, which was already decorated with some dark smudges from similar accidents, and threw me a killer glare.
"Do you think that's funny or what? I'm not the one who's supposed to get some exercise here!"
I only grinned.
I actually did think it was very funny to have duped my formidable therapist for once, a little bit of satisfaction for all the hours of grueling training I had put in under her merciless eyes. Her methods rivaled those of the worst drill sergeants I'd seen in the army, but there was no denying that she had whipped me into quite good shape on the new leg.
It had been – and still was – a very demanding undertaking to walk on two legs again. This basic staple of a normal life, which comes so naturally to you that you never even think about it, was pretty strenuous now that one of those legs was mostly made up of plastic and steel, even if I was a lot fitter now than I had been back at the hospital. Most of all, it was hard on my right hip. When you're short of a knee joint, it's your hip that has to do all the work, which is exactly as taxing as it sounds.
After my first sessions with Helen, the bit of leg that was still flesh and bone had ached so fiercely that I had been rather hard pressed to believe I would ever be as nimble on my disparate feet as Dr. Baker had promised I would. Although I remembered that it had taken a long time to adapt when I had first tried using an artificial leg, and I guessed the lengthy break after the additional surgery hadn't helped matters either, I'd had some serious doubts that I would really make it work.
Two months into the training, wearing the leg for a longer period of time wasn't a big issue any more, and I had overcome the balance problems I'd had in the beginning. Only when I started training with the prosthetic leg had I realized just how well I had got used to my body's changed center of balance meanwhile. The first time I tried standing on two legs without support, I'd almost fallen over sideways because I had automatically leaned to the left to compensate the missing limb.
I could do a lot better than that now, at least in the protective environment of the rehab facility. I had not yet dared to go without the crutches outside the training room, but at the end of today's session, Helen told me to stop being a coward, to finally take the plunge and go home with only a cane to lean on.
Judging from the steely look in her eyes, she wasn't going to take another no for an answer, and, knowing I wouldn't have to take the bus home because Evelyn would be coming round in the car she'd recently bought with the proceeds of her book, I nodded obediently.
When I left the room, she was already there, sitting in one of the shabby chairs lined up in the corridor, leafing through her notebook, only looking up as the door snapped shut behind me.
Her eyes grew large and lit up with surprise when she became aware of my new accomplishment.
With a somewhat sheepish grin, I made my way over to her, a small surge of pride rising in me.
It was slow, it was pretty awkward, and it certainly was a far cry from smooth or even elegant, but if I went out into the street now, nobody would immediately recognize me for the cripple I was. A casual onlooker would see the cane and the limp and probably assume the cane was just a temporary aid, the limp the result of some silly little accident or, in these post-war times, that both was due to a shot-up knee at the worst. I could live with that, a lot better than with those curious stares and pitifully kind smiles.
Evelyn's eyes were glittering with happy tears when I stopped in front of her, and I asked jokingly, "Does it look so dreadful that it makes you cry?"
She shook her head and smiled, a big genuine smile. "You're impossible, Mick." She laughed and sniffled and wiped at her eyes. "It doesn't look dreadful at all. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
I brushed her words aside with some ironic remark, but it gave me a warm shiver of joy to walk down the corridor with her, one hand free to hold hers, just the way perfectly normal lovers do.
The prospect of little bits of normalcy returning to my life was what kept me going when Helen challenged me again and again to take things a trifle further than the last time around, when I wanted to strangle her for torturing me like that, when the muscles in my hip screamed with soreness or I lost my balance for the umpteenth time, toppling to the floor or banging into the parallel bars we used in my gait training.
If I carried on doggedly in spite of all the little crises and setbacks, it was as much for Evelyn's sake as for my own.
Often enough, I couldn't see much progress and got close to contenting myself with the less than satisfying status quo, but then, I couldn't just give up when she was so incredibly supportive, celebrating every little hurdle I mastered, encouraging me when my doubts got the upper hand.
Right after my first visit with Dr. Baker, she had been to some antiques shop downtown and found an ornate mahogany walking cane with, of all things, a stylized seahorse carved into the handle. "I don't care how long it takes you to get there, but one day I want to see you use this instead of those unwieldy things", she had said, nodding at the crutches.
The seahorse indeed became my faithful companion as my skills with the new leg improved and I grew more confident using it even outside my familiar home ground, going for little walks or taking a bus or train to the beach or into town while Evelyn was at work.
Once, I even sat in on one of her lectures at the university, as she had invited me to do whenever I felt like it.
I didn't understand all the scientific details and theories she was talking about, but I was highly impressed by her confidence in front of her large audience and the calm authority she exuded. The students seemed to appreciate and like her, flocking to the desk after the lesson to ask questions or discuss certain aspects of the subject matter. I knew she had noticed me, she had given me a tiny wink as she entered the room, but I didn't want to attract anyone's attention further than that and left without speaking to her.
When I wasn't out and about or at the rehab center, I tried to fill my days with additional exercise – I had begun working out with weights and even devised a way of doing push-ups one-legged without keeling over – and started to brush up my knowledge of various things that might come in handy for my job search.
I had begun to put out feelers in all kinds of directions and applied for a few jobs that didn't sound terribly exciting but at least would not mean gathering dust in some dull office, and I had even had a couple of interviews so far
I didn't actually mind too much when the personnel manager of the print shop phoned to say they had found someone with more experience to fill in the vacant position. Typesetting would not have been the career of my dreams anyway.
Later the same day, the owner of the boating-supply store near Cronulla Beach had been very sorry to inform me that they had decided on another candidate.
This in turn really dragged me down. I had hoped I'd get to work at the small shop close to the sea, handling material I was familiar with, serving customers who loved the same things that I loved.
Getting rejected twice in one day made me feel useless and unwanted again and had me wondering if I'd ever manage to find acceptable work.
I was determined to make it somehow, but what good did all the determination in the world do if nobody gave me a chance to prove to myself and to the world that I was still a valuable person despite my disability?
To dispel the negativity, I went into what had become my room for a particularly exhausting workout.
An hour later, I was out of breath, sweating profusely, but my mood hadn't improved much.
After a quick shower (or what passed for quick these days), I went out to take a walk, marching on and on with my fake leg until it seemed about to burst into flames any second and the pain drowned out my morose musings.
I treated myself to a taxi home, where I arrived long after Evelyn had come back from work. By the time I showed up, she was seriously worried.
"I needed to get out", was all I said by way of explanation, and I must have given her quite a forbidding look, for she did not ask the questions she clearly had on the tip of her tongue.
Over supper, we spoke only of trivial things. I mainly let her talk about her workday, interjecting the occasional yes or no, and finally got up, saying I would hit the sack early tonight.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, I changed into my pajamas and then leaned back against the headboard with a groan. I was feeling utterly spent, and the leg hurt something awful.
I closed my eyes and rubbed the bridge of my nose, disappointed and angry with myself and my failure to get a job and the limitations to my activity.
My smarting leg and strained hip were clearly telling me I had overdone the exercise quite a bit. Coming home, I had barely made it up the stairs to the second-floor apartment.
A long walk and two flights of stairs had taken me to the limits of my physical abilities. How pathetic.
Not much more than a year ago, I had marched through the sweltering jungle for days on end, carrying my pack and rifle and tons of other equipment, with hardly any food or sleep to keep me going.
The door opened, and Evelyn came into the bedroom in a cream-coloured cotton shift, her copper curls tumbling unrestrained down her back.
"Now what's the matter, Mick?" she asked as she climbed into bed to sit next to me.
"Got turned down", I said. "Remember the print shop?"
"Oh well. Wasn't that the one you didn't really want at all?"
I gave her a tired smile. "Too true, but I guess it'd have been better than nothing at all. Especially when I won't get the job I wanted either. The boating shop called, too."
"Damn. That's really too bad."
I shrugged and pretended to take it in my stride. "Guess it would have been too good to be true."
I slid down on the bed, stretching out to relax my legs, massaging my cramped hip.
"What's with your hip?" she asked immediately.
You really couldn't keep anything from that woman.
"Hurts", I said laconically.
"Why? Something wrong with the new leg? Isn't it fitting properly? You know Helen said that might happen when the …"
"I guess I shouldn't have tried to exercise and walk five miles in one afternoon", I cut in. "I should have known that was a bad idea for a cripple like me."
"Mick - just how far did you walk?" she asked in a severe tone. "From here to Harbour Bridge?"
"Almost", I confessed. "No, don't say anything, please. I feel like crap anyway. I'm totally busted. You know, walking like that takes a lot more strength than you might think." I groaned as I kneaded a particularly tense spot in my hip. "I wonder if I shouldn't be doing a lot better by now. Maybe I am one of Dr. Stiles's seventy-five per cent after all."
She laid a hand on my shoulder and said, "Don't say that just yet, Mick. It's only been a short while since you began at all. Give yourself some time. What did you expect, strap on the new leg and go run a marathon?"
I winced, both at the absurd idea of me running a marathon and at the pain flaring up forcefully. Involuntarily, my hand went to my thigh.
Evelyn was sure to detect the movement at once.
"Does it hurt so badly?" she asked. "More than you think it should? Maybe there's really something up with the leg and you should have someone look at it?"
I shrugged. "Don't think so. I guess fake legs are a bit like new shoes. Takes a while until they don't pinch and chafe any more, and you shouldn't wear them too long at a time. Only trouble is, with shoes, you can always put on another pair or go barefoot. The choice I have is between the pain and the crutches. Or not to walk more than a mile without a break. Fantastic." I bared my teeth in a sarcastic imitation of a smile.
"Oh, Mick, don't be so defeatist", she sighed. "You're not giving up on it, are you?"
I shrugged again.
"Please don't. It's not like you. You still want to prove that idiot Stiles wrong, don't you?"
There she was again, appealing to my pride in order to awaken the spirit of rebellious defiance she knew I had.
This was exactly how she had got me to go see another specialist at all.
"Sure I do", I said, adding somewhat grumpily, "If only it didn't hurt so damn much."