Pathways

   Pathways (Version 1)

Cereal or toast?  It isn’t such a difficult decision is it really?  But my brain is still fogged from the night before and right at this point in time making my mind up whether I want to hang on the cupboard door or hold it open is about as much I can handle this early on in the day.  After swaying for a minute I settle for draping my arm over the food stained door and groping around with my free hand scattering fossilized Shreddies and Cheerios that have lain undisturbed on the sticky shelves for months. 

I find the tattered pack of painkillers I’m looking for and swallow two down then rest the tumbler on my forehead, enjoying its coolness against my skin.  As I stand there, leaning against the sink, an unwelcome realisation creeps up on me as I hear the bin wagon approaching outside.  I’ve forgotten to put the bin out last night.  I recall the stinking overflow of rubbish piled up in the backyard, the empty take-away boxes and partially crushed beer cans.  Another fail. 

When will I ever get my shit together?   

Forgetting to put the bin out front might not seem like that big a deal but stacked up alongside those two important meetings I forgot to attend earlier in the week and my subsequent dismissal there can only be one conclusion.

Without even realizing it, I’ve slipped into the godforsaken realm of loserdom and now I haven’t even got the will power it takes to decide what to have for breakfast. 

But wait a minute… 

What about that blonde I woke up next to? 

I can’t remember her name but somehow she had remembered mine and she didn’t look like the type to sleep with losers.  Definitely a choosy sort, I muse reflecting on the expensive cut of her figure hugging dress and her penchant for bubbly the night before.  Feebly I flick away a persistent bluebottle and wonder if she might be able to tip the scales either way on the toast or cereal issue.

In boxers and flip flops I toddle back to the bedroom to ask which she’d prefer. 

Christ!  Why do my legs feel like jelly? 

An image of me dancing wildly and consuming multiple jello shots with the aforesaid blonde suddenly pops into my head.

Well that clears that up then! 

It certainly seems as though I had an interesting night.  It’s just a shame I can’t remember any more of it – I figure it will maybe come back to me later, once I’ve had a few coffees.  For the time being my main concern is trying not to move my head too fast because if I do I’ve a sneaking suspicion it might go off like a hand grenade.

  “I’ve got cereal or toast.  Which would you prefer?” I say, popping my head round the bedroom door.  There’s no reply.  I stare blankly at the duvet thrown back to reveal the crumpled cotton sheet and the imprint left by our warm moulded bodies. 

Has she gone without saying anything?

Filled with dismay I throw myself on the bed, where, above the howl of rush hour sirens and bin wagons I detect the sounds of a shower running.  I can’t believe I didn’t hear it before.  Still, at least she hasn’t gone yet.  In my higgledy-piggledy airing cupboard I sort through my ancient array of stiffened towels to find the fluffiest of them all.  Then I knock tentatively on the bathroom door.

  “I don’t know whether or not you found the towels, but I’ve left one outside the door,” I call out in what I hope is a casual tone that carries no hint of neediness.  

I smile down at my feet wondering if she might ask me to bring it in. 

Disappointingly, she doesn’t answer so I drop the towel on the floor and consider going back to bed for a bit.  After all it isn’t even nine o’clock yet and I’ve nowhere of any particular importance to be now that I’m unemployed.

  As I consider this, I hear the lock turn and a hand snakes out to scoop up the towel.  I’m not sure if she means to, but she’s left the door slightly ajar, giving me a glimpse of slick golden skin beaded with water droplets. 

Hm…

A deliciously fragrant steam escapes through the gap in the door.  I breathe deeply, my gaze glued to the crack.

  “Thanks for the towel Tyler,” says a muffled voice.  “I hope you don’t mind but I only have time for cereal and coffee.  I have to get back to the office.”

  “Not a problem,” I tell her.  “Tea and toast coming right up.”

  “Huh?”

  “I’m only joking,” I chuckle.  “I’ll be back in a mo with your cereal and coffee.”

  A short time later I’m hunched over my cereal bowl wondering about the gorgeous woman sipping coffee on the end of my bed.  Our eyes meet briefly and part of me begins to wonder about the possibility of seeing her again.  Unfortunately she must have read my thoughts and stands up to leave pouring cold water on my hopes.

  “Ok I’d better go, but thanks for everything Tyler.”

  She flicks her hair to one side as she grabs her tiny black handbag and makes for the door on legs that would make super models weep with envy.

  “Hang on!”  I call after her in desperation.  “What if I want to see you again?  Perhaps we should go on a proper date?”

 Without warning she doubles back and kisses me passionately enough to make my headache vanish and my shorts bulge.  I’m sure I must look quite a sight, with my mouth hanging open and my person in such an obvious state of befuddlement.  I rub my stubbly chin and watch her leave, jumping slightly as the door slams behind her curvaceous bottom.

 Well that’s that then…might as well take a shower myself…

The air in the bathroom is still laden with steam and moisture.  It trickles down the mirror above the sink, all except for the parts that are daubed with bright red lipstick.  Before stepping into the shower she’d written her phone number and underneath she’d scrawled;

Call me.  Kimberley Dalglish x

      Pathways (Version 2)

It’s amazing the difference a good night sleep makes.  If I don’t sleep my memory suffers as well as my mood.  For a while there I’d really struggled with insomnia and the resulting negativity was just feeding it.  Thankfully though I’ve managed to break the cycle by stepping up my exercise regime and slowing down my party lifestyle.  Notice I said slowing down?  There was no question of me giving it up entirely.  A man’s got to have some down time to offset the daily grind.

Looking through the window I notice the bin wagon approaching but I needn’t worry since I put the bin out the night before.  You see now what I mean about my memory?  The mundane stuff is easier to remember when you’re not dragging yourself around after only two hours sleep. 

I grimace and swallow the last mouthful of shreddies then empty my coffee cup in the sink.  Almost choking in my haste I adjust my tie and grab my briefcase from the work top.  Just in time I remember my notes from the two meetings I’d attended at head office last week and rummage like a mad man through the magazines and papers on the coffee table hoping they are still there.

They are. Right underneath the Sunday Times.  I breathe a sigh of relief, check my watch and hurry out of the house, stuffing the papers inside my briefcase as I trot through the gate.

Exhaust fumes burn my throat as I pass endless queues of cars lining up to get into the city like ants pouring into an anthill.  The bank where I work isn’t very far but I increase my pace to a brisk walk to get past the toxic cloud hanging above the traffic jam.

Up ahead a young woman has parked in a controlled parking zone and appears to be embroiled in heated dispute with the traffic warden.  A pretty pointless exercise, I muse.  There is no way she is going to win that argument.  People stare, but walk on by, caught up in their own little bubbles.

  “Look Ma’am it says quite clearly, “No parking at any time.  And believe it or not that includes blonde airheads driving their Daddy’s BMW.   I’m assuming you can read?” he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm.  He takes out his note book and starts scribbling.

  “This is exactly my point.  I’m not disputing the parking ticket,” the woman retorts.  “I’m disputing your insulting tone and your ignorant, narcissistic behaviour.  How dare you call me an airhead?  I’m not surprised people get pissed off and stab you folks from time to time.”

Workmen standing on the scaffolding around the building site next door stop to watch, shouting lewd phrases of encouragement to the irate young woman.  She scowls as one of them wolf whistles.

Now the traffic warden looks really miffed.  Intrigued, I slow to see what’s going to happen next.  He lifts his radio and flicks the switch.  After a short buzz of static he reaches the emergency operator.

  “This is Tom Haines requesting police back up on Haringey Street.  I’ve just issued a parking ticket to a Miss Kimberley Dalglish who has subsequently hurled abuse at me and has just threatened to stab me.  Over.”

  “We’ll have someone right there as soon as possible Tom.  Just remain calm and follow procedure.  Over,” says the woman on the other end.

  “Why you lying piece of shit!” the blonde exclaims.  Suddenly she lashes out at him, obviously close to tears. 

  “Hey! Hey!” I cry, taking her by the arm.  As she turns to look at me, her eyes full of tears I know I’m going to be late for work.  But what the hell, I can’t just ignore the situation.  If someone doesn’t do something she could end up being hauled down to the police station.

  “Come and stand over here,” I suggest, leading her to a spot beneath the scaffolding.

 “Do yourself a favour and don’t speak to him again until the police get here.  He’s just a bully.  I’m sure you know the type.  Drunk on the only the bit of power he’s ever had.”

She nods and then groans, “I can’t believe I let him get to me.”

  “Don’t worry about it,” I smile.  “He gets to practice being an asshole all day long.  Not many could stand against up against skill of that magnitude.”

Suddenly there are a series of massive crashes from above followed by the shouts of terrified workmen, as the scaffolding collapses sending standards, ledgers and transoms hurtling towards us.  For a split second we feel something slam into us with indescribable force and then that’s it.  Nothing. Everything is gone.  Reality is gone.  She is gone, snatched away forever by fifteen tons of scaffolding falling from the sky. 

For me there is nothing but days and days of blackness as if I’ve fallen into a bottomless void, absent of nearly all thought like a developing fetus floating in my own private limbo.  But the drugs they pump into me start to wear off and I became dimly aware of something from time to time.  I’m still alive. I’m resurfacing. Slowly.

When I finally come to properly and can move my head, I find the sight of bandaged stumps where I formerly had legs hard to comprehend.  I had been warned, of course and I knew from the amount of time I had lost that my injuries must be pretty severe.  But still, it is a terrible shock and it hits me with such gut wrenching force it is like the impact of the scaffolding all over again, but many times worse.

Gradually with counselling and therapy I have grown to accept my altered body and become reconciled to it in my mind.  At the Edward Lipnicki Centre I meet other amputees and survivors of accidents every Monday in an effort to enunciate my feelings and achieve some kind of emotional healing.  Many of them have amazing stories to tell and put me to shame with their determination to look beyond what had brought them to this place.  Without them my journey would be so much harder.

But after countless hours of discussion and reflection none of us have ever been able to answer the hardest question of all and all those that follow once you go down that particular path;  What If…?

What if we had made different choices?

Regarding even the tiniest things?

Would it change these outcomes that we so utterly detest?

Change lives? Save lives? Save Kimberly?

Put the bin out. Don’t put the bin out. Help a stranger. Don’t help a stranger. Take a girl home. Don’t take a girl home.

Truth is, none of us fucking know.

Maimed, damaged, healthy or sane all of us are at the mercy of pathways.

So be careful how you choose yours.

Cause it’s hard to know.

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