The Challenge: Write an opening sentence.
followed by Pick an opening sentence and go.
The title sentence was provided by Shauna Clinning. http://shaunamooreclinning.com Thank you, Shauna. Thank you, Chuck.
PS. I don’t know what happened here but only the opening paragraph published and I didn’t notice it until much later. Here’s the complete 1,261 short story.
“I can’t open my legs!” Shauna said with a wicked grin.
“Well, that makes a change!” Glen replied, smirking. “Word around the campfire is you could never keep them closed.”
He picked her up and placed her in the wheelchair. She’d had a double hip disarticulation; the full amputation of both legs.
“Everyone breaks, Shauna,” he said. “The trick is not to stay broken.”
Not to stay broken. That would be easier said than done in her case. In a heartbeat her life had changed from what is was to what it is. An idiot who believed the drink driving laws magically warped around her, that ‘it won’t happen to me’ wouldn’t happen to her. And then it did.
She had been out with the girls for a night out on the town, and a drunken meeting between her car and a parked one meant her legs were now as much of a wreck as they were. The doctors had saved her life, but what had they saved it for?
The amputations weren’t painful. She was out like a light while they were happening. The induced coma was painful. There’s been a debate raging for decades about whether people in comas can hear and comprehend what’s going on around them. For her, there was no debate. She heard, and she comprehended.
The road that has no distance is the longest road of all. Months of physical rehabilitation, of infections and drug cocktails to combat them, played against the backdrop of her struggles to come to terms with this new and unimproved version of herself. Phantom pains in legs that no longer existed, and sharp electric currents that shocked her as they raced up her spine, were no match for the agony that was inside her mind.
Visitors came and went; days and nights passed with stunning regularity. Friends, family, doctors, nurses, well-meaning but unhelpful long term patients who offered her the sort of textbook advice that all the textbooks warn against. The turning point came when the ambulance chaser arrived, telling her it ‘wasn’t her fault,’ that these things happen, that the real culprit was the bar who served her drinks even after it was clear she was intoxicated. That piece of shit lawyer, that vermin with a degree where a heart should be, even hinted that her friends might be liable for letting her drive. For a day or two, to her shame, she even began believing all that. That somehow, she was the victim in all this.
Glen, her remedial therapist, had noted her silences and her willingness to give up. He quietly encouraged her to complete her exercises. She seemed numb to it, going through the motions. He’d seen this stage of recovery often and he’d learned of old that the best way out of it was to let people go through it. His clinical notes recorded it and a closer watch was kept by the psych team.
“Why me?” is a common question when things go wrong. Shauna asked it of herself several times before the recrimination set it. “Why not me?” she thought. It wasn’t the first time or even the tenth time she’d had too much to drink and gotten behind a wheel. “What now?” was her next question. Her life had fundamentally changed forever. “Why bother?” was her last question. She closed her eyes, wishing the pain in her body would exceed and overwhelm the pain in her mind, to make it worth something, to make it mean something, to take the edge off thoughts that were driving her toward no less of a wreck than the one she’d already survived.
It was the ambulance chaser who gave her the answer, in the end. That vile woman had sought to convince Shauna that back was white, that up was down, and that her own foolishness was the fault of others and “highly actionable”. Highly actionable.
There in her modified wheelchair Shauna slid in under the weights that were helping her build the upper body strength she’d need to wheel herself around. There wouldn’t be any motorised chair. “I’m a cripple, not a cripple!” she said to Glen when they’d spoken of the machine requirements of her future life. “Remember your parents telling you about how stupid drunk driving is? I’m the person they were talking about.” She then burst into tears and refused help for nearly a month.
‘The Narrow-Minded Context’ was one of those stories that was never destined to make it onto a bestseller list. Shauna had worked on it for weeks before posting it to her ‘recovery’ blog, which was a good way to keep friends in touch with her progress and, as importantly, to keep her in touch with herself. In it, she wrote of her trials and tribulations, but also of her new understandings; that ‘personal responsibility’ is not a weapon we or others should use as a spiteful way to lay blame. That the people we’re encouraged to ‘hold accountable’ can also do that to us, because our lives, affected, also affect theirs.
She came to understand that we really are part of the whole; unique and yet indivisible from it. That the retailer we took our spite out on today because we ‘felt bad’ is actually part of a chain of people we rely on for just about everything we want and need. That the small inconveniences of life become the wonders of creation when we can no longer experience them. That life isn’t defined by what you have, or don’t have, but by what you do with it and by what you love with it. Shauna had found the ‘trick’; she was not going to stay broken.
More than a year had passed since Shauna had lost her legs, wrecked two cars, suffered through a world of pain, and found her ‘voice’. Her blog had become a healing point for some and a lightning rod for others, but it had become. ‘The Narrow-Minded Context’ hadn’t made it onto the bestseller list, but it had come close. There were calls for interviews and appearances on wowserish television programmes. She’d been approached by a few publishers who saw a book and movie deal. They were all there, waiting for her. It was a short letter written on an obviously homemade letterhead that captured her attention, though, and set her intention for her first public speaking engagement.
‘We are a small group of amputees, supporting each other as best we can,’ it ended, after describing how these people had all come on different ships but were all in the same boat now.
Shauna wheeled herself onto the podium and through the strong lights beaming on her she looked out into an ocean current of hundreds of people, many in wheelchairs or on crutches and canes, and many who were here because her story had spoken to them. She smiled as she looked around slowly, taking it all in. If you don’t read books and engage with others you live one life. If you read and engage with others, you live thousands of lives. She smiled and laughed; the laugh that had won in the face of adversity and revelled in the possibilities of life. Hundreds of people smiled back at her. These were people who had read her blog, read her book, knew her sense of humour, and felt connected to her by circumstance or shared humanity. Wheeling forward, her introduction would be remembered and used in memes for years to come.
“I can’t open my legs.”