Friday Excerpt: new (W)hole

I first finished (W)hole in 2009 and it quickly took on a life of its own, being the only novel of its kind. There has yet to be another book telling the inside story of what it is like to be a disability devotee. Written by a devotee for devotees and for anyone else who is curious about sexuality and what it is like to grow up with a sexual desire that frightens you. 

This month (W)hole transforms. It’s second edition is being published through Dev Love Press and it has gone through a series of revisions to improve it. There is now more of the male perspective, as Stewart gets more chapters in his point of view. 

Here is one of these new chapters…

This was a mistake. Stewart pushed through a hallway thick with people, watching the ground and trying not to run over anyone’s toes. Cold metal ran by under his fingers as he rolled smoothly over tile floors. Each time he looked up he was struck anew by how old he felt. He had been thinking of himself as somewhere around college age for the last few years, but the difference between twenty-five and eighteen had never been more evident.

He arrived at the right classroom and yanked open the large, swinging wood door. Releasing the door, he gave a sharp push to his wheels and beat it falling back closed. After a momentary feeling of victory against the door, he stopped short, realizing that he was on a small platform with stairs leading down to the white board and teacher’s desk far below.

The lecture hall was built for hundreds of students, but had been given to a class of thirty. Of course. Stewart was stuck at the top, and the entire rest of the class was clustered at the bottom. He sighed and pulled out his notebook, resting it on his lap. When the professor began, Stewart strained to hear the lecture going on below. The backs of the heads of the other students dotted the landscape like pills scattered on a bedspread.

Even though the professor tried to include Stewart, occasionally calling up to him with a question, there was no getting around how physically isolated he was. He wondered if it were worth complaining to the school, asking for the class to be moved. Probably not. They would tell him that space was limited and they couldn’t find another room. Not their fault. Just how things are.

The notebook on his lap remained empty. He shifted in his wheelchair and wondered what had possessed him to think returning to school was a good idea.

Although, the plan had been to get away from his suffocating life in South Carolina and that at least was working. Even though he was older than the other students and he had never been that interested in classroom learning, he had to admit that it was nice that no one here knew who he was.

Certainly there were still stares and curious looks, but it was nothing like back home. No reporters knocking on the door, no calls from magazines. Anonymity was a relief.

After class the students below filed past him and many smiled kindly. Stewart nodded in return, but said nothing. He wasn’t going to fit in at school, but that was fine. He didn’t need a social life; he needed a viable career path.

A now familiar fear squeezed inside his chest. What work would he be able to do? Who would hire him? It was so rare to see a cripple like him doing anything beyond showing up in feel-good company training videos. It wasn’t a matter of what he was capable of doing, but rather what others would allow him to do.

After his injury he had spent about a year wallowing alone at Aunt Claire’s house, but then a friend had set him up teaching little kids how to swim. They were five and six. His wheelchair had meant nothing to them. Once he got into the water with them, they easily forgot all about it.

Stewart thought he could do that forever. Sure, the small town was boring, but the water was freeing. In the water he could feel himself a million miles away. Years went by and Stewart felt mostly satisfied by what he was doing.

It all ended abruptly when one of the parents complained. Perhaps his friend could have ignored a few complaints, but five-year-old Lucas’s parents would not let the issue go. They raised questions about how a paralyzed swim teacher was going to save a drowning child and soon started a petition to get him fired.

After that he had found no work. Maybe there were just too few opportunities in the area. Finally sick of watching his money leak away, Stewart decided to follow the joy he had felt interacting with children. So here he was getting a teaching certificate.

The last student didn’t keep walking past, but stopped in front of Stewart. He was an enormous man, towering over Stewart’s wheelchair, wearing a football jersey and jeans. Shaking his head, with a somewhat vacant expression on his face, the giant said, “Does this shit make sense to you, man?”

Stewart’s mouth twitched up towards a smile. “It’s just the first day, all summary,” he said. “I’m sure the professor will fill in the details.”

The other student looked skeptical. He shook his head slowly. “I hope you’re right,” he said.

“I’m Stewart, by the way,” Stewart said, raising his hand to shake.

“Huh? Oh, I’m Travis,” the kid said, shaking the offered hand with a meaty grip. “We should do, like, a study group or something.”

Stewart nodded. “Sure,” he said. He pulled on his wheel rims to get turned around and headed back toward his dorm. Travis followed along beside him like an overgrown duckling.

As he wheeled, Stewart glanced up at Travis and had to smile a little. He had always had this quality; something about him made people want to follow. For a moment it reminded Stewart of Pete and his chest tightened again.

He engaged Travis in conversation to avoid the thoughts, and his new friend was happy to talk about football and the Red Sox and moving from western Mass into the city. Travis left him at his building and they arranged a time to get together for studying.

The memory of Pete was still waiting, though, in the back of Stewart’s mind. Instead of going inside, he turned away from the door and pushed toward the sidewalk leading out of the campus and into the city.

There were times when he just had to see the water. It was the reason why he had never lived away from the ocean, but always on the coasts. He weaved around people on the sidewalks as he headed for his favorite part of the bridge. Cold air nipped at his exposed fingers.

Arriving at the exact spot, he nestled his hands inside the sleeves of his long-sleeved t-shirt and became very still. His heart settled as he gazed down at the dark green water. It always calmed him to watch the movement of the river. Put things into perspective. Even though it was very different from the oceans he used to spend all day, every day, in, everything down to the smell still reminded him of why he had loved surfing.

He remembered the feel of the salt-soaked air pushing against his face and the intense silence in his ears. He remembered the feel of being carried by the water, held up and yanked towards the shore.

After staring at the water for a long time, Stewart blinked back to the present, and his chest finally loosened, he wheeled back to his dorm.

Stewart rode the elevator up one floor and pushed down the hallway to his room. Inside he found his roommate, Robert, on hands and knees cleaning the tile floor with a rag. Stewart stopped in the doorway and raised an eyebrow.

“Robert,” he said, “you have got to chill.”

“Oh, hey, Stewart.” Robert sat back on his heels, then stood and moved out of the way so Stewart could get into their room.

“Do you need anything?” Robert said, hovering anxiously.

Stewart paused and looked at his roommate. “No, Robert. I don’t need anything. I’m not going to need anything. Just be a roommate, okay? Forget whatever Claire told you.”

Robert sank onto his own bed. “You know that I need this for my resume.” He paused, looking down at his hands. “Also? Your aunt is scary.”

“Fine,” Stewart said, thinking how not delighted he was to be Robert’s project. “You could lower the bookshelf.” This room was supposed to be the accessible one, but though it was larger than many rooms, with a door wide enough for the wheelchair, there were a few oversights. The furniture hadn’t been changed, so the shelf for textbooks was mounted above the desk and Stewart couldn’t reach it.

Robert immediately crossed to Stewart’s side of the room and began examining the shelf, pulling it and poking it to figure out how to move it.

Stewart sighed. “I’m going to use the bathroom,” he said, gliding out of the room. “Please don’t follow me.”


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