This story is by Leandri Geldenhuys and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
There’s blood on my hands, and no matter how hard I tried to wash it off, it remained. No matter how much I tried to rid myself of the guilt, the pain still lingered. I just couldn’t live with myself anymore, so I did what I had to do. I went to the police and turned myself in.
They took my statement and consulted the injured party. I didn’t kill him as I thought, but that didn’t mean I got away scot-free. The judge gave me six months of community service at the local rehab facility where I would help with physical therapy.
Life sucked, but it was better than the alternative… prison. I had been working at the rehab for over three months when I ran into Jason, my ex-boyfriend’s brother. I hadn’t seen Jason in months, so it was a shock to learn that he’d become paralysed. At first it was awkward, we knew each other from the past, but the more we spoke and gotten to know each other, the more I realized that I had more in common with him than his brother.
It started out with random chats at the rehab while helping him with his exercises and quickly went to friendship coffees and walks and rolls in the park. Our friendship grew to the start of a relationship and for the first time in months, I felt things were finally starting to look up.
Jason told me once that he was at an all-time low as he couldn’t cope with losing his legs, but after starting rehab he found that each day became less of a struggle and the days he saw me, were when the days seemed to shine just a bit brighter.
He drove me home as he always did. He never wanted me to drive, “It’s the only thing I have left from the old me, even though the ride is a bit tricked out for the handicapped” he told me after I remarked that I was a capable driver too.
“Can I ask you a personal question? How did you lose your legs?” I asked after a while on our way home. He took a deep breath and I knew I hit a nerve. “It’s ok, you don’t have to tell me, I was just curious. Forget I asked” I quickly added. I didn’t want him to think I was forcing him to relive the worst day of his life.
“No, it’s ok. The support group always encouraged us to share saying that the more we talk about it; the better things will become.”
“It was about six months ago, I was on my way home from a party. The guys I was driving with left me on the side of the road when I took a leak. You know how frat guys are, was a huge joke for them. I wasn’t angry as I would have done the same if the roles were reversed. It was raining hard that night but luckily, I wasn’t too far from home. I don’t really remember much of the walk home, only that it took me twice as long, drunken walk and all. I was close to Turner’s bend when I saw bright lights in front of me. I thought it was the idiots that finally came back for me, so I walked in the middle of the road trying to make them stop. I never realized that the bend was that dark or that the rain was that bad. I woke in the hospital a few days later and the doctors told me I was in an accident and was paralyzed from the waist down.”
I saw every detail of the story. I saw the bend, the bright lights, the guy in the middle of the road. The screeching tires, the busted glass. I felt the blood drain from my face, shivers ran down my spine as my hands became clammy. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. The life was being squeezed out of my lungs and there was nothing that I could do to make it better, to relieve the pressure that was building and crushing me from the inside.
“So that’s my story.” Jason spoke, but it felt like forever since I heard his voice. He put his hand on my leg and could immediately tell that something was wrong. “Claire? What’s wrong? You’re shaking.”
“I’m not feeling well, please take me home.” Was all I could muster. I felt sick to my stomach. As soon as he stopped the car in front of my house, I jumped out and ran home without a glimpse in his direction. I heard him calling, but I couldn’t muster the strength to look at him.
I just made the bathroom, on my haunches, it felt like everything I was holding in the last couple of months came out. The fear, anger, resentment, everything I was feeling came reeling out until I was left coughing up air. My head hurt from all the pressure and release, so I decided to turn in for the night, but my mind kept going to Jason. How will he every forgive me when he found out what I’ve done? I can’t even forgive myself.
The next morning, with little sleep, I decided that I had to sort this out once and for all. I had to clear my conscience and earn the forgiveness and redemption my soul needed.
With no reason to delay, I made my way to Jason’s place. I practiced different ways of saying ‘Hey, I killed your legs’ but they all just sounded pathetic to me. I kept repeating the apology that didn’t seem too hapless.
I parked the car and walked up to the front door and knocked. As soon as the door opened, my heart dropped. Jason sat there in his chair, hair rugged and still wet while wearing nothing but his shorts. “Can we talk?” I asked before he had a chance to even say hello.
“Um, sure.” He replied while following me outside. I sat on the porch bench trying to think of ways to tell him.
“It was me!” I blurted before he could say anything.
“What was you?” He asked coming closer.
“It’s my fault you lost your legs” I finally blurted out. I could see that he was struggling to process what I meant. I took a shaky breath and told him what happened. I told him how I caught his brother in bed with another girl, how we had a huge fight, how I drove home in tears and through the storm. I told him how I hit something but didn’t know what it was, freaked out when I saw a shadow in the rear-view mirror. How I was a coward for running and not facing up to my actions. How it was my fault he is paralyzed and that if I only called the police, they would have gotten him to hospital sooner and maybe even save him.
I was struggling through my tears and pain to apologize when he came closer. I was waiting for the yelling and screaming, for him to chase me away for the dog that I was, but nothing came.
“I know.” Was all he said as he enclosed my shaking hands with his own. My face must have said it all as it was his time to come clean.
“After the accident, I was in a bad place. I was angry as hell. I wanted the whole world to suffer the way I was. My coach at the support group gave me some advice when the police came and asked if I wanted to press charges. The coach mentioned that maybe you were just as scared and angry as I was. That I shouldn’t project my pain unto others and that I should first try and understand what happened and what you were going through. So, when I saw you at rehab, it was like looking at a mirror. I could see you were going through the same things as I, and that anger and fear just vanished.”
I was crying as he was explaining everything to me. “Why don’t you hate me?” I asked between sobs.
“I did, for a while. But I realized something after that first chat we had. Even though the accident took my legs, it had given me so much more. I found peace, within myself and in everything I saw and did. I found true friends and realized who the fake people in my life were. So, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I would still be the boy drinking with frat guys. And besides, love doesn’t hold grudges. Love forgives and redeems.”
With that, our lives started changing. Our slates were cleaned, and we lived each day with brighter hope than the day before.