Wind Before

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2011

Catherine Pugh
Wind Before watching a girl running in a wheelchair

Now she sat helpless, her days of freedom just a memory

“Just take it easy, Jenna. We don’t want you to fall.” Jenna gritted her teeth and took a step. She gripped the walker in front of her so hard her knuckles were white. The pain she expected didn’t occur, and she looked up with a smile.

“Mom, do you think I…” Her leg collapsed underneath her and she thudded to the ground with a cry of agony. Tears were wrenched from her eyes against her will, but it wasn’t the pain. She was used to pain. Pain was her constant companion. It had been with her ever since she had fallen off the stone wall by the creek while chasing her cousin and shattered her leg. The surgery to implant the stabilizing rods had gone wrong, and Jenna was left with a useless leg. No, she was crying because of the hopelessness of it all. Every day she tried to exercise, to strengthen her leg, but she still couldn’t take a single step. Her mother was at her side, but she wasn’t aware of it. At that moment, her world consisted of the walker on its side with its wheels still spinning, her throbbing leg, and the tears that streamed down her face and soaked her shirt.

*          *          *

Jenna had PE first period, but it wasn’t physical. Usually, PE was just sitting in her wheelchair reading or doing homework. Today she watched the other kids. They lined up at the edge of the jumbo track, the mile-long course they ran each day. Mr. Heket blew his whistle, and they were off. Alexa was far ahead, her long legs pumping gracefully. But then, reflected Jenna, she always was. It hadn’t always been that way. Jenna could still remember the days when another slim girl had been out in front, by far the fastest, the strongest. I ran like the wind, thought Jenna bitterly. I was the wind before. Then a twinge in her leg reminded her that things were different now. Now she sat helpless, her days of freedom just a memory. The doctors pretended she could make a miraculous recovery, but Jenna could see the truth behind their fake smiles: you will never heal. You will be crippled for life.

Alexa was nearly finished with the run, and Jenna listened intently for her time.

“Well done, Alexa. 5:33.” Jenna sat upright in shock. The record she had set before her fall still stood, but not for long now. It had been 5:32. Alexa smiled breathlessly. Now along came Daniel, always second. Jenna tuned out again. Soon, the slower runners were arriving. As fashionable Sasha finished, she ignored Mr. Heket and continued chatting with her friends.

“Hey, you know? I hate running. Sometimes I wish I had, like, a broken leg or something.” Jenna spun the wheels of her wheelchair, intensely angry all of a sudden. Skillfully maneuvering over to the group of kids, she planted herself firmly in their way. Sasha looked at her, surprised.

“Excuse me,” she said in an overly enunciated tone, as if Jenna was stupid as well as wheelchair-confined. Jenna remained still.

“Believe me, Sasha. You don’t want a broken leg.” Sasha shot a glance at Jenna’s leg.

“Oh, yeah. Oops.” She shoved past Jenna, who made no move to stop her. Jenna felt tears stinging in her eyes, remembering days past. Sasha had been her friend, before the accident. Now Sasha found her own friends, and Jenna was alone. Wind before, thought Jenna, watching Sasha’s retreating back. I was wind before.

*          *          *

“Guess what, Jenna?” gushed her mother as Jenna was lifted into her car. Her face was glowing. “Doctor Johnson says there’s some different technology he can try, and he thinks it can help you!” Yeah, right, thought Jenna. Like anything can help me now.

“It’ll mean more surgery. Do you think you can handle that?” Jenna wasn’t sure. She had been suspicious of surgery since hers had gone wrong. Her uneasiness came from the voice in her subconscious that asked, “What if it happens again? What if you’re paralyzed, or even killed?

“I don’t know… What’s the different technology?”

“Well, they tried inserting rods before, but Dr. Johnson says they could try metal plates. He also said they might have to re-break the bone… Do you want to do this?”

Do I? Jenna asked herself. If there’s even a small chance I can run again? “I… Can I think about it?”

“Of course.” Jenna retreated into the recesses of her mind for contemplation. The surgery could fix her, she knew that. But, persisted that tiny little voice, what if…

“No!” Jenna declared, defiantly.

“But, Jenna…” Her mother’s voice was sad.

“I… No, I didn’t mean it that way, Mom. I meant, like, no to not doing it. I mean, yes. I’ll do it.” Jenna was babbling. She was determined not to live in fear and let that voice win. Her fears and doubts intensified, but she mentally shoved them away. I could be wind again, Jenna reminded herself.

*          *          *

It was deathly cold in the waiting room. Jenna was only half-awake. Why did I have to get up at three in the morning? she thought. She vaguely glanced around the room, taking in the cold plastic chairs and the walls that were so white it hurt to look at them. A side door opened and a nurse stepped out.

“Jenna Rakashashov?” Jenna became slightly more awake as adrenaline coursed through her. She slid her wheelchair into the next room, where a nurse helped her onto the gurney. Lying back, she gazed up at the white ceiling tiles that looked like they were made of cardboard. The gurney began to move slowly, and Jenna could feel her leg throb with the same rhythm as the clicking wheels. Ha, she said silently to the voice of doubt inside of her. I win. I’ll be fixed. Then she tried to relax, watching the squares of fluorescent light whiz by overhead.

*          *          *

Jenna craned her neck upward as she was wheeled into the operating room, trying to see what it looked like. She gasped. The stainless room was painfully familiar. It couldn’t be the same room—this was reconstructive surgery, not the emergency room—but the room was laid out in exactly the same way. Jenna remembered the scared little girl who had been wheeled in. That girl had come out with a ruined life. The nurse stopped for a moment a few feet past the doorway. That little voice flared up again, screaming, “It’s not too late! Tell the nurse you’ve changed your mind!”

No, Jenna thought. I have to do this. Suddenly a great weariness came over her. She just wanted it over with.

She was wheeled over to the operating table. A second nurse came through an adjoining doorway and they unstrapped her from the gurney and re-strapped her to the table. Jenna shakily lay back, tiredness dragging at her limbs, her bones like lead inside her. When the surgeon entered, she didn’t register his face except as a blur. She was asleep before they injected the anesthetic.

*          *          *

Jenna drifted in and out of sleep for days. She was briefly aware of being moved a few times, sort of remembered a soft white bed. She had blurry memories of her family around her, holding her hand and murmuring comforting words. She remembered lots of wires and tubes and nurses. Mostly she slept. And she dreamed.

Wind Before lying in a hospital bed

She remembered lots of wires and tubes and nurses. Mostly she slept. And she dreamed

She was at Sasha’s birthday party, but Alexa and Jenna were the only ones that came. Sasha decided they should have a race. Jenna was healthy… healed. Running was the easiest thing. She won the race by entire minutes. Sasha was congratulating her, wanting to be her friend again…

Jenna’s rough hospital pillow was wet with her tears.

*          *          *

Everything was fuzzy. Jenna was hot, and a slight stickiness on her cheek suggested she had been drooling in her sleep. She squinted unsurely at the pale blue figure approaching—another nurse. She helped Jenna sit up. Jenna felt very groggy, but an idle observation made its way through her stupor to her brain. Hmm… no pain. Jenna knew this swinging-legs-over-lifting-upper-body routine should make her at least wince. A small hope began to flicker inside her. It was quickly dampened as the nurse rolled over a wheelchair. So, nothing had changed. Jenna sighed. She was wheeled out to her mother’s car. Dozing as she was driven home, she was barely aware of her mother’s chatter. Briefly aware of being carried from the car, she was deposited in her bed and left to sleep. Jenna tried to sit up to examine her leg, but before she could, all was black.

*          *          *

Jenna woke again with perfect clarity of mind. Apparently, her subconscious had been thinking while she slept, for several things were immediately clear: the reason she had felt no pain had been the anesthetic, and the nurse had asked for a wheelchair because she was still unable to walk, so the surgery had probably failed. Jenna gripped the handles set in the wall by her bed and heaved herself into a sitting position. Her leg flopped weakly, but there was still no pain. Jenna realized it probably was because the anesthetic was still strong in her leg. But…

“Curious,” muttered Jenna aloud. She could have been certain the anesthetic was gone because she felt so alert and awake. So where was the pain? She glanced at the LCD display on her alarm clock: 3:45 am. Jenna closed her eyes, bracing herself, and then looked down at her leg. It was limp and weak as always, with a bloody sewn-up cut along her shin. Ewww, Jenna thought. But it wasn’t as nasty as when she’d first fractured her leg. She lifted a cautious hand and poked the stitches, then bit back a gasp at the stab of pain. Her leg was definitely not numb. Now that she had prodded it, her leg began to throb again, but it was a sharp, clean pain, the pain of a healing body, not a crippled one. Jenna smiled a little, then lifted herself into the waiting wheelchair and rolled down the hall to her parents’ room.

“Mom?” Her timid voice sounded unnaturally loud in the still room. There was no reply except the steady breathing of her mother and father.

“Mom!” But it was her father who sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“What’s the matter, Jen?”

Jenna contemplated this. “Nothing, I guess. And that’s the matter.”

Her dad laughed. “I’m sure that would make perfect sense if I was awake.”

“Mm? Jordan, who are you talking to?”

“Mom!”

“Jenna?” Her mother was more awake now; her tone was worried.

“Um… should I be feeling pain?”

“No! Oh, Jenna, I should have known! Dr. Johnson said that when the body rejects surgery, maybe it will reject it again. Oh, no, what kind of a mother am I? I shouldn’t have let you…” her voice trailed off into sobbing

“I’m fine, Mom. It just feels… strange.”

“Ohhh. Why don’t you go back to bed? We’re seeing the doctor in the morning.”

*          *          *

Dr. Johnson folded his fingers together and stared over them at Jenna, sitting across from him at his desk. “You’ll definitely have to go through extensive physical therapy, but I think there’s a positive chance you’ll make a one-hundred-percent recovery.” Jenna felt a surge of excitement. Just a few weeks more of the walker and she could be wind again!

*          *          *

“Just take it easy, Jenna. We don’t want you to fall.” The same words, Jenna realized. But it’s different now. She didn’t wince as she took a step. So she took another. And another. And that flicker of hope burst into flame and soared. There was a buzzing in her ears and a burning in her heart as she touched the opposite wall. She had made it across the room! Mason, her physical therapist, grinned.

“That’s great, Jenna! Do you want to try it without the walker?” Jenna shoved the walker away and touched a hand to the wall for support. It was so strange, to stand upright without any aid but the yellow plaster at her fingertips. Unsteadily, she began to move. The act of walking, once natural, was now a science. Swing leg forward, transfer weight. Lift other leg. Repeat. Jenna made up a little song in her head as she walked. One foot in front of the other, one step after another. She began to move more confidently. Her old grace returned, and she was fluid, she was flying. She was running, without being aware of the transition. Then, she was brought back to earth—literally. She felt her leg crumple and she hit the ground hard. But she wasn’t crying this time. There was nothing to cry about.

*          *          *

Jenna thought she would never forget the looks on her classmates’ faces when she walked out to the jumbo track. Jenna didn’t push herself in the run, knowing she had no hope of beating Alexa. Besides, if she collapsed, she would have no help—or so she thought. When she inevitably did fall, someone did stop, gazing down with an unreadable look—Sasha. As they finished the run together, Jenna didn’t listen to her time. All that mattered was that she was flying. She was wind again.

Wind Before Catherine Pugh

Catherine Pugh, 13
Saratoga, California

Wind Before Hannah Feldman

Hannah Feldman, 13
Warren, New Jersey

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