Thursday, November 6, 2008

How to Break an Ankle, Part 13

From the window of the plane I saw the dark shapes of seals slipping along on the waves of the bay before we banked and headed into morning sun, bound for Phoenix, then New Orleans. My cast was an obstruction in the aisle over which stewardesses stepped gingerly. Bim had written on it in blue Magic Marker a message to my father: "Sorry we broke your kid, Al."

I was headed to Florida – home, if you could call it that. My parents had moved there only recently, to a house I had seen only once. There was nowhere else to go; it would be weeks before it was possible to walk without crutches or drive a car. My romantic, adventurous quest, my dream of hitchhiking across America and accumulating all those life experiences, which my grandmother said I so sorely lacked, was over. Crashed and burned. I was completely defeated.

As the jet cruised above a rusted, empty, waterless landscape, I foresaw the near future. The wandering son would return, penniless and crippled, to the protective custody of his parents. His mother would tap an angry foot on kitchen linoleum and dab tears from the corners of her eyes, bemoaning her child's tattered clothing and foolish behavior, "gallivanting" around the country instead of toiling at a summer job. His father would deliver him to a barber shop for a "real haircut, not just some damn trim." Lectures.

It was necessary to change planes in New Orleans for a flight to Fort Lauderdale, and the layover was a long one. A wheelchair awaited me as we disembarked. I protested, but a stewardess cut me short. "Sorry, company rules," she said.
The wheelchair came with an attendant. I can't recall his name; let's say it was James. He was a tall, middle-aged man in a blue captain's cap and white, short-sleeved shirt that contrasted sharply with his black-almost-purple skin. He spoke softly and slowly and seldom. Yes suh. No suh. Where can I take you suh?

I had no sense, no experience, no understanding of the South, and I felt embarrassed for James, forced to serve this master, this reckless, scruffy white boy.
He rolled me through the airport, to the toilet, to the newsstand, humming discreetly.
"Can you take me outside?" I asked him.
"Lawd, no suh!" he chuckled. "Why, you be parboiled out der in dis heat."
"Just put me by the window then. You can leave me there. I'll be all right." I wanted to free him of this menial task, emancipate him.

My eyes grew heavy watching planes land. I watched shadows move and lengthen. I dozed.

Sometime late in the afternoon, I awoke to the gentle shake of James' hand upon my shoulder. "C'mon suh, it time for you to go home."
And so it was.



Moe said...

Great story!

Anonymous said...

That broken ankle was probably divine intervention and an answer to the prayers of your distraught parents for the safe return of their prodigal son.

Park Burroughs said...

Or maybe it was just bad shoes. Moral of the the story: There's a reason why they call them BEDROOM slippers.:)

Anonymous said...

Ugh. Leave it to a grumpy old newspaperman to stick with the sterile facts and not visualize any esoteric meaning in life’s events

Brant said...

Thanks for another great story. I like the ones based in this country better. I guess I'm a little xenophobic when it comes to storytelling. ;)