Monday, August 16, 2010

Carma’s Corner: Three Seconds (the conclusion)

For the last nine weeks, I have shared the story of Nathan Hendricks, a tale of bravery, defeat, and struggle. Nathan’s date with Gangucha stripped his life of independence and confidence, and he is left with dependence and uncertainty. After months of grueling therapy and “learning to live”, Nathan is asked to return to the rodeo to watch his dad ride. Despite his frustration and anxiety, he eventually agrees to watch his dad. Nathan Hendricks will once again take the spot by the fence—not as the excited little boy—not as the young, successful rodeo star, but as the man who will always be remembered by the rodeo.

Three Seconds

“As soon as we can get you ready,” she says, throwing down the towel on the counter.
Nathan finds the drive long and yet too short; a million thoughts race through his head. What will everyone think of my wheelchair? How will everyone treat me? Will I be able to handle sitting on the sidelines again? He doesn’t know the answers, but with each passing mile he’s coming closer to them. As his mom pulls on to the rodeo yard, Nathan sees the usual frenzy of men putting on gear, clowns making the crowd laugh, and horses sunning themselves in the corral. Everything seems surreal. I belong to that world, Nathan thinks. I owned that world, but now my chair owns me. A knock on the window startles Nathan from his thoughts; he looks over and sees Jake. Nathan’s mom rolls down the window.
“What are you doing here?” Nathan asks, smiling.
“Your old man is riding Gangucha,” Jake says, pulling out the wheelchair. “We’ve got to hurry; he’s about ready to ride!”
Nathan looks over at his mom and says, “He can’t ride Gangucha; he’s going to get hurt. I can’t watch that!”
“Maybe you should just believe in him like he did with you,” his mom says, as she and Jake lift him into the chair. “I have no control over what bull he rides.” She snaps the seatbelt into place. “All right, you’re ready to go; you can catch a ride home with dad.” She gives him a quick pat on the shoulder before jumping back into the car.
“Are you ready for a bumpy ride?” Jake asks, as he begins pushing the chair over the grass.
“Just sit me over there by that railing. That way you won’t have to push me very far.”
“Don’t you want to see your dad before he rides?”
“No, he’ll know where to look to find me. Besides, he’s going to need the time to focus himself before riding Gangucha.” Jake shoves the brakes forward and kneels beside Nathan. For a few moments, neither of them speaks, but both stare ahead at the empty ring. Nathan looks around and notices many people staring at his chair; a tinge of anger and resentment boils within him. He knows those people no longer see him as Nathan Hendricks, but they now see him as the young man who played with Gangucha a little too long. They don’t understand, Nathan thinks. They don’t know what it feels like to straddle a raging bull; they have never experienced the challenge and exhilaration of a successful ride; they don’t know what addicting force pulls at a rider.
“Hey, there’s your dad,” Jake says, pointing to the left side of the ring. Nathan looks over and sees his dad standing on the gate and looking over Gangucha. Nathan hears the thumping of Gangucha against the sides of the chute; he knows the “devil” is in ill-temper.
His dad glances over at the railing, and for a second, their eyes meet. He smile and tips his hat before descending onto Gangucha’s back. Nathan looks away; he still can’t believe he’s going to watch his dad’s ride. Why did I come? I’m the one who’s supposed to be on that beast; I’m the one who’s supposed to bring his fall. A roar of cheers erupts, jolting Nathan from his thoughts. He watches as the gate swings open and Gangucha emerges in a whirlwind.
Nathan peers at his dad; he’s sitting firmly: feet securely wrapped, hand tightly positioned, arm held high. Gangucha pivots right, then left, back legs kick, and then twists again. Nathan watches the clock…one second, two seconds, three seconds; he looks over to his dad and sees him willingly dismounting.
“What in the world?” Nathan says. “He had a good ride going. Is he hurt?”
“I don’t know,” Jake answers.
Nathan looks up and sees his dad running towards him. He reaches the railing, leans over, and says, “There’s your three seconds, son!”

The End

Carma’s Corner: Three Seconds (continued)

Reality hits; Nathan realizes that his future will not include walking. The life he once knew of independence and excitement will be exchanged for dependence. A wheelchair will replace the bull riding, a new kind of ride that Nathan does not want to take. Will Nathan find the strength to embrace his new identity, or will his new identity give him a ride into despair and frustration?

Three Seconds

“Just remember your dad and I will always be here for you, no matter what!”

As the weeks melt into months, Nathan finds his time filled with grueling therapy, a training harder than bull riding conditioning. The simplest tasks of sitting in a chair, eating, and dressing are tiring and awkward. He no longer sees the athletic physique, balanced posture, and strong muscles that he once had; his body now consists of stiff, thin limbs and numbness. Everything he knew as Nathan Hendricks is gone: the handsome young rodeo star, the hardworking ranch hand, the fun loving, carefree friend, and his dad’s pride and joy. He is frustrated with the new Nathan Hendricks: the invalid.

“Hey, Nate, I gotta ride today. Jackson is out sick,” dad says. “Want to come along?”
“I don’t want to go.”
“Well, I need someone to cheer me on. Come on, it will be just like old times.” Dad sits down next to Nate, scoops up a bite of cereal, and puts it in Nate’s mouth.
“It’s not like old times, dad; it will never again be like old times. I’m not that little boy anymore; I’ve ridden. I’ve felt the sweat; I’ve smelled the bulls; I’ve had the rush. I can’t go back to that little boy by the fence!” Nate looks away. His dad sits silently for a moment before getting up from the table. Nate hears a few muffled whispers in the back room, a door slams, and then the shaky rumbles of his dad’s truck. He looks down at his half-eaten bowl of cereal; a year ago that same bowl of cereal would have been devoured, the chores would have been finished, and he would have been on his way to a rodeo before 9 a.m. He glances at the clock – 10 a.m. He is not finished with breakfast; he is still sitting in his pajamas, and he is clueless as to whether or not the chores are complete. He doesn’t care. Nathan knows life will never return to old times.
His mom walks into the kitchen, sits down, and begins spooning up the remaining cereal. She is quiet; Nate is thankful for the silence. As she places the last spoonful in his mouth, she says, “I really think you should have gone along with your dad today.”
“Mom, I don’t want or need to hear this right now!”
“I know what you don’t want to hear, but I also know what you need to hear. You need to hear that your dad lived for those Saturdays at the rodeo; you need to hear that he loved to see your smiling face at the fence; you need to hear that he was scared when you started training, but he wanted to support you; you need to hear that he spent every night with you in the hospital; he’s always been there for you; he’s always believed in you. That’s what you need to hear!” She grabs the cereal bowl, stands up, and walks to the sink.
“What time is he riding?” Nathan quietly asks.
“About noon, I think. I can drop you off on my way to town, if you wish to go,” Mom says, grabbing a towel from the drawer. Nathan watches as she gently wipes the dishes and places them in the cupboard; she makes no eye contact with him and says no more to persuade his decision. Nathan knows that his mom knew she had already convinced him to go.
“What time are you leaving for town?”
“As soon as we can get you ready,” she says, throwing down the towel on the counter.

Carma’s Corner: Three Seconds (continued)

When Nathan awakes, questions race through his head, but his parents provide few answers. Anger and frustration set in; his dad tries to console him by noting he had a solid ride with five seconds. But Nathan is determined to ride again to bring the proper fall of Gangucha. Will Nathan’s determination be enough to see him back on Gangucha, or will his determination be needed for something not yet known?

Three Seconds
Nathan reopens his eyes and looks at the empty chair beside the bed.
Nathan opens his eyes and sees his mom sleeping in the chair beside the bed. His mouth is dry, but he notices his headache is less severe. A surge of fear rushes through him when a rhythmic beep ripples through the room: beep, beep, beep, beep. His mom remains motionless, almost seeming dead to the noise. Nathan soon hears a few quick steps before the beeping is silenced. He shifts his eyes to the left and watches the nurse punching buttons on a monitor. She looks over and says, “Hey there, you’re awake.”
“Yeah, I just needed a quick nap.”
“Well, a quick nap never hurts anyone, but you’ve had us worried,” she says, pushing one last button.
“I only slept an hour. What was there to worry about?”
“Nathan, do you know what day it is?”
“Of course, it’s Tuesday, the same day when I started my nap!” Nathan responds with a yawn.
“No, it’s Friday, November 6; you went to sleep on Tuesday, October 16.” Nathan is silent. “Let me wake your mom; she is going to be so thrilled. She hasn’t left your bedside since the Tuesday that you remember.”
“Can you wait a minute?” Nathan asks. “Can you tell me what the doctors have been saying? I know you will be straight with me.”
The nurse grabs her chart, flips through some pages, and reads, “Doctor Kovensky and Doctor Murdall have determined that you are suffering from a serious neck and head injury.”
Nathan’s mom shifts in the chair and quickly stands up when she notices the nurse beside the bed. “Is everything all right?” she asks before seeing Nathan’s open eyes. “You’re awake!” Tears roll down her face as she leans over to kiss his forehead.
Nathan watches the nurse quietly slip out of the room; he wants to ask her some more questions, but she escapes under the fussing of his mom. He looks at his mom and says, “Has it really been three weeks?” She nods her head. “Where is dad?”
“He’s doing chores at the ranch, but he’ll be back tonight. We’ve been here every day and night.” She pulls her chair closer and sits on the edge of it. “How are you feeling?”
“Well, I’ve been better, mom. But my head doesn’t hurt as much.”
“Is there anything I can get you? Some ice chips, maybe?”
“Can you tell me what is really going on?” Nathan asks, looking into his mom’s eyes.
She leans back, runs her fingers through her hair, and slowly says, “The doctors are 95% certain that your injuries will not allow you to walk again. But there is so much out there today…there’s electric wheelchairs…there’s assistive feeding devices…there’s even animals who are trained to help you…there’s…”
“Mom, mom, I don’t care about those things; why didn’t you just say I’ll never ride again?” Nathan feels a tear slip out of the corner of his eye. “It’s not fair; it’s just not fair! I rode Gangucha well; I was only three seconds short, mom, only three seconds!”
She stands up and puts her hand on Nate’s shoulder. “Honey, everyone knows you rode that bull well; your record will forever be remembered.” She is silent and looks out the window. Nathan senses her intense regrets even in her silence.
“I’m sorry, mom. It’s not your fault.”
“Just remember your dad and I will always be here for you, no matter what!”

Carma’s Corner: Three Seconds (continued)

In the previous column, Nathan Hendricks wakes up in an unfamiliar world, a world filled with antiseptic and rhythmic beeps. He quickly becomes aware of his helplessness when the grip of nausea attacks him. With a nurse by his side, he learns a few days have passed since he last opened his eyes. But Nathan still doesn’t remember or know many of the details surrounding the last few days. It isn’t until he sees the red handkerchief does the past come reeling through his head. Will his inner strength be enough to get him through the unknown, his future?

Three Seconds
A tear slips out of the corner of his eye; he remembers part of the story now.
“Nathan, Nathan, can you hear us?” a cowboy said. Nathan slowly opened his eyes to a circle of faces leaning over him.
“Uh-huh,” he moaned. His lips and tongue felt like coarse sandpaper, but that was all he could feel. The stabbing pain he felt when landing had subsided. I think I’m all right, probably just got the wind knocked out of me, he thought.
“You’re going to be fine,” dad said, gently placing his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. Nathan couldn’t feel his dad’s touch; he could see his dad’s hand, but there was no sensation.
Am I going to be fine? Nathan thought. There is something definitely wrong. He remained silent about what he was feeling or not feeling. He could read the worry in the eyes above him, and he didn’t want to add to their grief.
“An ambulance is on the way,” a voice called in the distance. A few seconds later, a new pair of eyes was above him; it was Jake, Nathan’s best friend. “How ya doing, Nate? Help is on the way!” Jake and Nathan had been friends since the first grade; their friendship started when Nathan noticed Jake sitting alone at lunch. Nathan sat down beside him, and it wasn’t long before they were laughing and teasing the girls who walked past them. Nathan always thought of Jake as his little brother, even though they were the same age. But Jake was little. His height of five foot and weight of 130 pounds was small to Nathan’s six foot and 200 pounds. Whatever Jake lacked in stature he made up for in energy, enthusiasm, and wit; he would do anything for Nathan and always had some joke to make him laugh.
“I thought you couldn’t make it today,” Nathan whispered.
“Your dad called and said you were riding Gangucha. I wasn’t going to miss your showdown with the devil; I can potty train myself some other day!” All the faces in circle slowly turned and looked at Jake. “I’m kidding, guys; I’ve almost mastered it.” Each of the guys slowly took a step backwards. Nathan smiled, knowing that Jake was just trying to relieve the tension.
A siren was heard in the distance and grew louder with every passing second. It wasn’t long before a flourish of new people hovered over him, shoving out all the familiar faces. Someone gently untied the red handkerchief from his neck and replaced it with a brace; another person was pumping a blood pressure cuff, while the other was listening to his chest. “Pressure is a little high,” the man said.
“Airways are clear,” the lady said.
“I think he is stable for transport,” the other lady reported. “We’re going to slide a plastic board under you, Nathan.” Nathan closed his eyes as the medics gently pushed the board under him; for the first time he felt fear wince within him.
“Hang in there,” Jake called.
“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” dad said. “You’ll be fine; you’re in good hands now.” He gently tousled Nathan’s hair and then turned away. Nathan could read the fear in his dad’s eyes, but he felt a little better knowing that he wasn’t the only one who was scared. The medics slowly lifted the stretcher and began the trek across the ring. A single clap was heard in the distance until it erupted into a chorus of applause around the ring. Nathan closed his eyes; he didn’t deserve the applause, not this time; he had been beaten.
The stretcher jostled a little as the medics pulled it into the ambulance. The doors were slammed shut, and all was quiet. Nathan sighed; he was tired. Nathan heard the ambulance sirens blaring, but he was too exhausted to even question the medics on what might be wrong with him.