Here’s the winning submission, racking up a grand total of 1,444 words. Please do hold your applause. *bows* Yeah, I’m not the most humble guy around, but even that's a bit far for me. smile Hope you like it!
“Why did you throw your tray at the nurse?”
I stare petulantly at my hands, a dark scowl on my face, and pick at the hem of the scraggly blanket. The sorrow is not gone, simply displaced by this childish ire, the inane anger filling me to the gills with itself and choking me in its grip. I can’t breathe around it.
“Noah, why did you throw your tray at the nurse?”
Oh, now she’s getting angry. Good. Let her get angry. Let her scream and yell and shout at me. Maybe then I can throw up some of my own anger. I feel sick, my stomach churning.
I curl my hands into fists, balling up the irritating bedding. The blanket is too heavy, too hot, too itchy. I want to throw it in an incinerator and forget that I ever walked -- you didn’t walk -- through the doors of this hospital.
“I’m trying to help you, for Chrissake, would you at least look at me?”
It’s too easy to hold back a soft smirk. My mind travels back to the blanket and the painful sensation its feather-light touch elicits.
I can almost feel my will breaking under the ministrations of her whimpering plea. It scares me. All I am now is a husk, one withered and eroded by the fury of a man who’s lost his everything. What can I do without it? It’s filled me up, replacing every other feeling and tainting my every thought. What will I become without my righteous anger? My voice comes out as a growl, low and feral, rife with furious undertones, as I snap, “He made the mistake of saying ‘full recovery’ and ‘not likely’ in the same ******** sentence.”
She doesn't chide me for my crass language. Instead, she sits on the bed. That simple change in pressure tugs the sheets, dragging the rough fabric over my sensitive flesh, and sets off a chorus of burning nerves, and before I can stop myself, I fling the blanket off me and glare balefully at her. Her face is red, blotchy from crying, and her mouth hangs open in shock, as if she has realized what she’s just done, if only out of habit. I've hurt her terribly just as she realizes that she’s hurt me. Good.
“Please, Noah, I’m sorry--”
I laugh. It is harsh, loud, abrupt, and horribly bitter.
She stops and stares at me for a few seconds, taken aback, but her silence doesn't last. “Honey, he was just doing his job--”
I have purpose once more; my temper flares at her attempt at placating me. “Shut up!” I roar, “Shut up, shut up, shut up! Get out!”
Rage broils in my veins, swimming through my blood as my heart hammers out a frenetic beat, and my eyes prickle with the beginning of stupid, pathetic tears. I wince as she gets up -- the pain, the pain, the pain -- and force myself to smile triumphantly when I hear the room divider curtains slide apart and the door click shut.
I close my eyes and the smile slides off my face. Where is my purpose? Where is my anger?
The nurse called my ‘disease’ idiopathic, which is doctor speak for “We have no clue, Mr. and Mrs. Cripple-parents, but we accept most major credit cards.” He treated me like a freaking child! That snide look to his eye as he explained my medications, as if I didn't understand what he was saying.
I ignored him at the time, out of spite, but, really, I ended up spiting myself. I don’t even know what they’re pumping through my IV. I’m sure he said something about my doc refusing to put me on Galba-something, or maybe Gaba-something.
My head falls to rest on my palms. The darkness feels hot and feverish with words whirling in my mind like a sandstorm, each battering against my poor, tired conscience.
It isn't anyone’s fault as much as I wish it to be -- the possibility is there for me to sling (falsely) the culpability this way and that though. I could toss the blame onto my mum, for telling me to suck it up when the first warning signs reared their ugly heads. Or onto myself, for not insisting something was wrong sooner. Or onto the nurse, for being the bearer of bad news. Or I can lay back and accept my fate. Bitterness is a paralytic, didn't you know? Is that what I will become? Will that bitterness replace me and turn me into a creature, twisted and deformed by sorrow and rage, forever stuck in the stream of time, doomed to sit still as the world rushes by?
The nurse’s words, though cut off, ring clear through my skull: I’m sorry, but full recovery, for someone as late in the game as you are, well, it’s not likely that you’ll ever walk --
Ah, yes, my memory has captured that moment in lurid detail. I sent that colorless, beige plastic tray flying towards his head, pitiful little fruit cup and all. The juice and cubed fruit splattered against the wall, the tray clattered to the floor with a bang, and and and -- he just gave me this disappointed look and I wanted to curl into a ball and cry my eyes out. He used the slightest bit of pressure, too gentle than I deserved, to force me to lie back down. And at that kindness, I broke. I cried desperately for my mother, I whimpered, I sobbed.
What had the doctor called this? Subacute idiopathic transverse myelitis, that’s right. Inflammation in the myelin causing fatigue, paralysis, urinary incontinency, and pain. Pain, pain and more pain. It’s all nerve damage, isn't it? So... Why does it hurt?
God, why me? I was my school's star shooter on our soccer team. I was treasurer of my school's student council. I volunteered at my local library. I was polite. I was an engaging student. I’m a good person! Why me? What did I do? What god did I piss off? What gypsy did I run over to be cursed this way?
I’m sorry... For whatever I did, I’m sorry.
They say that anger is just another form of every other emotion, a mutation, you could say. That, at the root of all anger, is hurt, sadness, guilt, or bitterness.
I've been in this room for a week and this hospital for eight days. I was in a larger room before for a day; I shared it with a girl who’d tried to slit her wrists but instead of going down the road she crossed the street. Maybe I can try that and end this?
Tears spill over my eyelids and I close my eyes, trying to trap the shameful display inside me. They push their way out anyways. Soon, I’m sobbing.
I remember, for weeks before, feeling the tight, sharp vines of pain that had wrapped themselves around my waist and trailed down my thighs. I remember feeling sluggish, dragging my feet around, cracking my back near constantly to try to alleviate the pressure I felt in my lower back.
I remember complaining to my mom, saying surely the grocery shopping could wait until another day. I remember feeling poorly. I remember her waving her hand at me, a stern smile on her face, telling me to hurry up so we could get home sooner. I remember trying to obey, to lift my leg up, and not being able to, like it was stuck to the ground. I remember the rush of irritation that ran through me. I remember wondering (irrationally), What had I caught my foot on? But then my legs gave way, my knees buckling underneath me. I didn't feel anything. I couldn't move my legs. My arms felt like cement tubes, immobile, unable to break my fall for me. I remember falling forward, cracking my head against a steel display -- and blacking out in the middle of Target. What I know until later was that I pissed myself, in public. The EMTs were called. My piss-stained, unconscious prone form was loaded on a stretcher, and I've been in this god-awful hospital ever since. You didn't walk through these doors.
I want to go home. I want to go home and sleep in my own bed, with its soft downy comforter, in my room with its familiar light blue wallpaper. I want out of this crippled body. I just want out of this bed for once, to walk, to feel my own legs supporting my own weight. I don’t want to sit up in a bed or in a wheelchair, I want my own legs.
I want my life back.