Nothing to See Here

“I knew something like this would happen to you someday.”

I tell my mother it was a random act of violence, not a targeted hate crime. I tell her the story I’d told the police officers while I laid in the hospital bed. We’d all agreed that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She insists I be discharged to her care. I want to go back to my apartment. While it is a walk-up on the third floor, I know my friends would take good care of me.

I am heavily medicated. My right leg is in a long mechanical immobilizer with thick black foam strapped in with Velcro above and below my chunky bandaged knee. The metal dials of the apparatus are locked in at 180 degrees. It looks like I’m half robot from the waist down, its bulk strapped snuggly over my oversized pajama pants gifted to me by friends.

My kneecap was shattered into several pieces, now bound together with pins and wires, forever misshapen where the bone was pulverized beyond repair. Woozy from the drugs, wobbly with my new crutches, I am in no condition to fight with her.

Riding from the city to the suburb in the passenger seat of her new ’97 champagne-colored Saturn, the cigarette smoke recirculates through the heating vents back up into my face. Inhaling the familiar stale ashtray air reminiscent of my childhood makes me cough. I adjust the vents away from me, watching the midwinter icy grey freeway pass, thinking about the last time I slept under her roof. It’s been almost a decade since our big blowout when she gave me five minutes to pack my things and leave. I was sixteen and vowed to never return.

Arriving, I am careful making my way out of the bucket seat of her sedan. The icy December walkway, my clumsy newness to using crutches, and the opioids make for an unsettling mix. Walking in, her home is exactly as I’d left it, a mishmash of browns, beiges, plaids, and tans with a film of dust and smokers’ residue.  Late Eighties overstuffed furniture. A couch and two chairs all positioned toward the television. I did not miss the stale tobacco stench.

I spend days in the chair next to hers, leg propped on an ottoman. My brother, when he’s around, spreads out on the couch. The three of us pass countless hours staring blankly at the television, not speaking. An endless rotation of shows and commercials, Fox News, The Price is Right, Home Improvement, Entertainment Tonight.

In a daze, I exist. She serves me chocolate milk shakes and junk food from bags, boxes, and cans during the day. At night, I am fed my prescriptions as I hobble to the sunroom hidden behind French doors beyond the family room. It is a three-season space without central heating that she uses as storage, not intended to be habitable in the deep dead of a Minnesota winter. A makeshift day bed pushed up against the cold outer wall. A single mattress wedged in between stacks of boxes and cabinets, cluttered with papers.  The avoidance of stairs was her excuse for keeping me there and not allowing me to go home to my apartment in the city.

Overnight, it is chilly enough to see and feel my breath. The wall I lay against is frosty from the sub-below temperatures outside. She tells me that’s what the electric blanket is for. I wonder about fire risk with the stiff hot coils of the blanket against the steel of my leg brace and am grateful for the sleep my handful of medications bring.

In the evening, we watch Jerry Springer. In one episode, a couple is about to be married on the show. At the altar, just before the nuptials are exchanged, the bride-to-be finds out that her groom was born female. Once his truth is revealed, a swell of bodies from the audience, presumably her friends and family, rush to the stage to beat and attack him.

I sit silently in an oxycodone haze sipping my frozen chocolate drink watching the assault on a person who is a lot like me, feeling each one of those blows as clearly as those of my own beating only days before. Side by side we watch, eyes fixated on the screen. Feeling the heat of the lamp on the table between us, cluttered with old tv guides, crusted used glasses and coffee mugs, and her heaping ashtray. The thin upward smoke ribbon of her cigarette at rest winding its way toward me.

I can hear the unlucky transman’s head being pounded as unmistakably as I heard my own skull under attack last week. He too, being beaten while frenzied onlookers applaud and laugh. The stitches in my forehead burn. My leg twitches, sharply pulling at the pins in my knee. Wincing, I adjust my heavy lower half, seeking a comfortable position.

One day over shared stories of bodily history and broken bones, friends, lovers, and strangers in bars will tell me I needed a warm bed and nurturing care. That mending requires attentive love, warm healthy meals, and comfort. My scars and disfigured kneecap will serve as peculiar souvenirs of unseen damage that takes me decades to decode and stagger away from.

My mother takes a long wistful drag from her cigarette and says, “She deserves it.”