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I watch, hands on his shoulders for support. His hand is tense with pain from gripping.
“There you go…just like that…” I murmur in his ear. I feel it first. A tremor ripples down his shoulder to his shaky hands and vibrates the block, making the other blocks resting on the corner of the half pulled one shake and skew. The tower tilts wildly.
“Goddamn,” he swears, back-handing the whole thing. I gasp as the blocks scattered everywhere with a clatter. Cashew, who has been sitting by his Master’s feet waiting patiently, jumps to his paws and begins to collect the wooden blocks on the floor with his teeth and putting them in a pile.

At the chair in front of me, my boyfriend CJ rests his head in his shaking hands. I embrace him awkwardly from half standing position. “It’s ok, it’s ok…”
“No it’s not ok,” he whines, barely holding back emotion. “I hate this. I hate this! Why can’t I do this? I could do it before with no problem. I’m so fucking useless, I should have died in that car accident.”
“No! Don’t you say that. Don’t you fucking say that. I nearly went insane waiting for you to wake up int he hospital.” I pulled up a chair and sat in it. “I lost weight, I missed work, I didn’t eat… I didn’t go through that hoping you would DIE, Christopher James. I know this sucks, and I know it is hard, but you are young. Your noggin took a whack, but science and medicine saved you. You are so, so lucky CJ. It will just take time for your brain to finish healing.”
“But what if it doesn’t?” He sniffles. His shoulders tremble. I put an arm over him. “The doctors say it will,” I say, more soothing this time. “But even if it doesn’t? I will still love you. And I will still help you.”

CJ looks up at me with wet, sorrowful eyes. I’m still not used to seeing him with short hair. A long scar runs over his ear from where the doctors removed fragments of bone to let the swelling have some place to go. They later used plates to hold his skull together. I smile at him, just to show him it’s alright, and I embrace him. He cries and I let him.

The doctors, the nurses, the physical rehabilitation specialists all told us we were lucky. It’s hard to feel that way, but then you remember the fear you felt during those darkest hours and know that it can always be worse. I knew that fear. Getting the news, driving around in a hysterical daze. Picking a funeral home, just in case. Evaluating his organ donor status, just in case. The car accident happened over a month ago. CJ’s car was pushed into the dividing wall of a highway after a senior citizen blew a tire and lost control of her car. She hadn’t driven in a while, and the air pressure in her tires was low. Her daughter was supposed to take her to an appointment, but said daughter was called to her own daughter’s school due to her kid running a fever. Instead of taking a taxi or calling an Uber, the grandmother just decided to drive herself.

CJ’s car was so crumpled that they couldn’t get into it from the passenger side. They had to physically hook it up to the fire engine to move it, use the jaws of life to get the door off, and extract him. I thanked whatever deity or angel was out there looking after CJ, because the woman driving three cars behind him in his lane was a paramedic on her day off. The small paramedic wiggled in the car from the broken back window and held CJ’s neck still and pressed her shirt to the wound to stop the bleeding until the fire department cut him out. I had sent her many, many thank you cards and gifts, and made a donation to her favorite charity.

I think part of her efforts are why CJ’s brain damage isn’t more severe. They called it TBI, or traumatic brain injury. At the worse, it’s life destroying. Personalities can change permanently. People lose the ability to judge or act rationally or logically. They steal, do drugs, become violent. Their speech and mobility can change.

So in that aspect, CJ was oh so very lucky. He was still him, which is really all I asked God to give me. Sure, his speech was garbled and out of order for days after he woke up from surgery, but now he could speak in short sentences. And sure, he couldn’t remember a week before the accident, but he remembered me and his parents and Cashew. It was like I had cashed in all of my good karma and taken a loan out on the rest.
CJ though struggled with controlling his intense emotions like he used to. He would get incredibly frustrated out of nowhere, then burst into tears the next. This was only worsened by the loss of sensation to the right side of his body, meaning he had to have months of physical therapy to relearn walking on that side. He couldn’t manipulate small items yet either and got terrible tremors trying to grip things.

But I have CJ. I have him, the whole him. I promised myself to take his new flaws and love him even more. Cashew had been dopey with doggy happiness ever since his Master was back. He took special joy in helping, every way he could. He’s a good dog.

I fetch CJ a tissue and some water. “Ok?” I asked.
He nods. “I’m ok. Just…stupid jenga blocks.”
I chuckle. “They won’t win. Up for rebuilding and trying again?”
CJ exhales. He reaches down and pets Cashew, and takes some blocks out of his mouth. “Such a good dog.” He smiles, seeing the pile of blocks by his paws. “He’s so cute.”
“He is. And he missed you. The sooner we do this physical therapy, the sooner you can take him on runs and play frisbee like you used to.”
CJ nods. “I miss that. You know what I also miss?”
“What?” I ask.
“Us,” he says softly. It knocks the wind out of me.
“CJ…” I reply.
“I mean like, intimacy. You must have been so needy without me, and I wasn’t there.” Another tear slips down his tan cheek.
I wrap him in a hug again. “It’s not like that. I was so stressed out, sex was the last thing on my mind. But you know, if your right hand isn’t hurting so much after this…maybe we could fool around a little?”
CJ’s face lights up. “I’d love that. Do handjobs count as physical therapy?”
I pick up a cylindrical wooden block out of a tub on the table. “I think I’m a bit bigger than this don’t you think?”
CJ chuckles. I’m stunned by just how much that noise fills me with glee. It’d been so long since I heard him laugh last. “I think I can grip that. Yeah yours is bigger. And less green.”
My turn to laugh. “Maybe my balls are blue, but definitely not green.”
Then he’s laughing again and shaking his head. “You’re doing so much to take care of me, so I want to take care of you too.”
I put the block down and lean in for a kiss. “I’d like that. But you always come first, understand?”

He nods, very serious. “I will get better. I beat the water temple from Zelda 64 for fuck’s sake. I can handle fucking jenga.” His words are a bit slurred by the tenacity shines through.
“Fuck yeah you can.” I herd the blocks into a pile and slap him on the shoulder. “Get building.”
“Fuck yeah. Hey Theo, put on some music would ya?”
“Oh music. Good idea. How about Metallica?”
“You ok with Slayer?”
“Whatever motivates you, baby.”

I, of course, had no idea that what was really driving CJ was that he wanted to be capable of sliding a ring on my finger when I said ‘yes’.

Captions are fictional. Photo came from here.


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