A Beautiful Year – Summer
Her Volvo looked like a foil gum wrapper after Tatum had been digging in her purse. The picture was taken from the top of the ravine and included the swath of destruction that she made falling, sliding and rolling to the bottom. Muddy brown roots were reaching for the sky, the weight of the vehicle smashing trees upside down. A smear of red clay made the earth look like it was bleeding.
Looking at the picture, Michelle’s body ached and her palms were sweaty. She could feel her own tears welling and looked over to see that Robert too, had glassy eyes.
When she woke up in the hospital she had no idea what had happened. One moment she was driving down the mountain to the grocery store, and the next she was covered in wires and plastic tubing, connected to a hospital bed. Her Mom was there, white faced, clutching her phone and then sobbing.
She was in the hospital for a month. A month of surgeries, tests and being attached to machines beeping in the night. Her parents brought her children and it was so good and so hard to see them. She wanted to hold them, and chase them and push them on swings. Their angelic faces constant reminders of all she couldn’t do.
Robert told her what happened. That someone heading up the mountain had taken one of the hairpin turns too wide and forced her off the road. She had rolled a number of times before hitting a tree and coming to an immediate stop. It was probably the force of the stop that broke her back, they would never be sure. But without the fateful placement of that tree she would have been in the river, so she tried to be thankful for that.
Next was a picture of Robert, Audrey and Tatum reading together in bed. Hot tears rolled down Michelle’s cheeks. She didn’t know that she could feel so thankful and so guilty at the same time. Robert had stepped up, he took care of the children more than her parents did. She didn’t know if she could ever thank him enough, or forgive herself.
The next was picture of Michelle at physical therapy learning to walk again. Healing physically was a long and lonely road. She was happy she made her living with her fingers because even a half year later she wasn’t happy with her progress. She could walk at the therapist’s, or on her special treadmill, or if Robert was able to help her and hold a lot of her weight, but she couldn’t be counted on. It was like when she was potty training Audrey. When Audrey first got it, she was good at home, or at Nana’s, but if they were going to be in public, or in the car, Michelle would put training pants on her. She just couldn’t take the chance.
Michelle didn’t know if she could watch anymore. How could she possibly marry Robert? She couldn’t even take care of herself. She turned to him, “Baby, I can’t watch this. I can’t do this.”
“Just wait. Please? Just wait a minute more.”
The next image was a video of Robert in his studio space above the garage. He was sitting on the couch with his phone in front of him on the coffee table. He was talking to his parents on speakerphone. He kept looking at Ray the camera man and smiling, Michelle could tell that he was excited.
“I’m going to ask her to marry me.” He said. There was static-y silence.
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait until she is back on her feet, honey?” his Mom asked.
“I don’t want to wait. I want her to be mine, right now. I’ve waited for five years –“
“Robert, she’s not going anywhere. Take your time, be sure.”
“I am sure.”
There was more silence. Robert looked less happy. He was fidgeting and drawing pictures on the table top with his finger.
“Honey you know we love her…”
“Do you? Is that what all this is about? Cause I can’t think of any other reason.”
“Robert, she is in a wheelchair! I’m just trying to look out for you. I think you’re being romantic and not realistic.”
“I’m waiting for your point, Mom? You taught me that everyone was equal, and now she has a temporary setback and everything changes.”
“Are you sure it’s temporary?”
“Yes, but so what? I can’t love someone who can’t walk. I can’t believe this bullshit. I didn’t expect it from you.” His head was in his hands.
Michelle wondered why he had included this in the video. She couldn’t believe that he mother in law was happy about it. Knowing how Gwen felt made her feel awful. Without moving she tried to remember where her soon to be Mother in law was sitting so as not to accidentally make eye contact with her.
On the video, Robert said: “You’ve been really quiet Dad.”
“Well son,” he said, and Michelle was preparing for the worst. “This is probably the first and last time that I’m going to say this. Don’t listen to your mother.”
Part 1: Winter
Part 2: Spring