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Spearfish Lake Tales
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Joe/Joan book cover

by Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 4

I’m not going to try to say very much about the rest of the time I was in the hospital. Oh, I had visitors every day, and each of them managed to give me a few hints or clues about what Joanie really had been like without me actually coming out and asking anything. Looking back, I’m very glad I had the time in the hospital after my transition, if that’s what you want to call it, because it gave me time to come to grips with being Joanie. I’m sure that if I had to do a complete transition with no warning and no chance to settle in I would have given the whole show away.

Among my early visitors were Diana and Barb, both of whom were a lot younger than I remembered from our class reunion. At that time, although she was still tall and slender, Diana looked old with many deep lines in her face, and ruddy, battered skin that looked as if she’d spent a lot of time in the sun, which I knew she always had. There wasn’t a hint of that in the face I looked at from the hospital bed. Barb was a lot lighter than she had been at the reunion, maybe a hundred and fifty pounds at a guess with no hint of the butterball she was to become. Now, both of them said they were sorry that they hadn’t insisted on me riding back home with them rather than allowing me to ride back with Lanny. I told them not to worry about it; it was water over the dam, and what was done had been done.

By that time I was getting pretty tired of just laying on my back in the hospital bed – and I was getting stiff and sore from it, which I guess told me I was improving. Fortunately, that didn’t last much longer; later that day Dr. Sloan said I could at least sit up on the edge of the bed and have something semi-solid to eat. An hour or so later I did just that, with a bowl of chicken noodle soup. The ambrosia of the Gods couldn’t taste much better, at least to me right then. It was nicely salty – this was before the days when the word “salt” around a hospital was as dirty a word as “tobacco.” It was awkward, since it appeared I was still right-handed, and my right arm was in a cast; I was pretty clumsy trying to eat with my left hand, and I’m afraid I made something of a mess.

A good deal of the pain I had been in was fading now, and I had gotten used some of what I had. My headache was still there, but most of the time it was in the background. It was clear I wasn’t going to be in the hospital forever. I can’t say I was bored, since I had a lot to think about and I spent my time exploring all the ramifications, but it got dull at times. Sometimes I just watched television trying to get my head into 1965, but that only went so far. I knew there were things that I needed to learn about Joanie that I couldn’t learn from a hospital bed.

Later that day, I had a real treat – a couple of nurses got me out of bed and into a wheelchair. It felt good to be able to sit up and move around, although I was slow and clumsy with that since I still wasn’t using my right arm very well. After some preparation, Mom even pushed me down the hall to a visitor lounge, which was at least a change in scenery.

Day by day I improved, although it was clear that I was going to be very limited in some of the things I could do until I got the casts off, which would be a while. Still, I didn’t expect I would be in the hospital an awful lot longer, and Dr. Sloan even said so.

As time went by they started to unhook some of the tubes and things that had been attached to me, giving me a little more freedom of movement in the wheelchair. When the catheter came out I started having to use the bathroom to urinate. I had to be helped onto the pot, and I learned it was going to take me a little while to get used to the idea of doing it like a girl. That may have been just as well, as I could not have stood up with the casts I had on at that time.

After about a week we started making arrangements for me to go home. That was a little earlier than I expected, especially now that I knew how bad a beating I had taken, but Dr. Sloan said that getting out of the hospital atmosphere would probably help me as much as anything. This was, of course, before the days when the insurance companies tried to get patients out of the hospital even before the doctor had finished up the stitches; I don’t think I would have been there as long had it been fifty years later.

Since I was in a wheelchair at best, it was going to take some arrangements around home for me to be able to get along. Dad didn’t figure into that, at least during the day; he was a carpenter, and his time off came in the winter months. What’s more, there was a lot of work around for a carpenter right then, and it looked as if he was going to be working a lot of overtime or evening jobs. Mom didn’t have a lot of vacation or sick days available, and she’d used up some of them already while looking after me. I wasn’t involved in the planning, but somehow Mom and Joey worked out a deal where she would work half days until school was out less than a month in the future. For the other half days, the school would allow Joey to take some work home with him – actually some for him and some for me. Since we were both so close to the end I don’t think they cared very much under the circumstances.

Finally the day came when Mom and a nurse helped me get dressed in something besides a hospital gown and a robe – a sweatshirt and a loose wrap skirt, since the casts on my legs precluded pants. It was also the first time I had on a bra; it had taken Mom’s help to get it on since it was still hard for me to use my right arm. It was the first time I could remember that I had worn one and it seemed strange, although less uncomfortable than Joe had always imagined it to be. I figured I had better get used to it, since I realized it would be a fact of life from now on.

(In case you’re wondering, I did know how to put on a bra and make it look like I’d done it for years. While Cindy and I may not have gotten along perfectly, especially toward the end, I’d lived with her for forty years and absorbed a lot of feminine ways to do things, even though I had never had the need to put most of them into practice.)

I was loaded into the wheelchair and pushed out of the hospital. It was warm for the tail end of April, a nice day to be outside. The sunlight and clear skies were welcome after days of being cooped up, and I was all eyes checking out what was around me. It was different.

When I had been Joe, I had spent most of my life living around Simsville and Hamford, when I hadn’t been on the road, of course. Nothing was new to me in one sense of the word, but in fifty years there had been changes and I was surprised at how much things had changed – or hadn’t changed, if you want to think of it that way. It was 1965 outside of the car window, all right – I could tell it from the cars and other things outside – but at least what I saw more or less jibed with Joe’s memory.

Some things were different from what my memory was telling me, and I wasn’t sure if it was just fuzzy memory, or what. For instance, Mom was still driving the ’62 Pontiac I remembered, but Joey was driving a ’55 Chevy, one of those classics that would be worth a lot of money in another fifty years. The only problem with that was that I knew I had been driving a rather beat-up ’59 Rambler American as Joe in my first life. I never had been very happy with that car, but I got it for the right price – free – and had spent some time fixing it up so I would have something to get around with while I saved my money for a decent car. It had been a clunker, but I had driven it until I left for the Army. That by itself should have told me something, but I didn’t realize it for a while.

We didn’t go straight home; Mom went out of the way to show me some of the tornado damage, which was extensive although on a limited path. None of it was quite new to me – I still carried good Joe memories of what the place had looked like, although the details were fuzzy after fifty years.

After a while we got home – the same home I remembered, not surprisingly, except it wasn’t quite the same home I remembered, also not surprisingly. It was a modern ranch house – Dad had built it while I was young enough to not remember living anywhere else. It was relatively large, but in Joe’s youth it had only had two bedrooms. In those days, the master bedroom had been quite large, and as Joe I had been in the smaller one. In this life the big bedroom had been partitioned off into two much smaller ones for Joey and me, and the folks were in what had been my bedroom. Otherwise, though, the house was much the same as it had been in Joe’s memory.

The house was built into the side of a small slope. It was a couple of steps up to the front door, and from the garage still a step up into the kitchen, but by going through the garage and out the back door we got to a sliding door out onto the patio. I could get over the sill in the wheelchair without any assistance.

Though Joey didn’t have the same bedroom I remembered, it was about as sloppy as I had kept mine when I had been him in my other life. I had no memory of my bedroom, of course – it hadn’t existed in Joe’s life – but it was neat and clean, which indicated that Joanie must be as well. There were a few odd things scattered around enough to tell me that no real effort had been made to fix it up for my return. I had little to unpack, only some odds and ends I’d collected in the hospital.

“Glad to be home, honey?” Mom asked.

“Mom, you wouldn’t believe how it feels,” I told her honestly.

“Would you like to lie down and rest for a bit?”

“No, Mom. I’ve been on a bed and resting so much I’m about ready to scream. Let me grab a book, and then maybe I can sit out back and enjoy being outside.”

“All right. I have a few things I need to put away. Call me when you find the book you want, and I’ll help you get out onto the patio.”

As she left, I could see that there was a great deal for me to learn in that room. It represented what Joanie had been, what I had to be, and there were things there that told me a lot about her. There were a couple of bookshelves, for instance, and they were nearly full. A quick glance at the titles told me that Joanie had been a pretty serious reader, although her tastes were not surprisingly different than mine had been as Joe – more feminine, the kind of things girls would be expected to read. That was something of a relief in more ways than one. I had always been a reader too, with a taste for science fiction and more boy-oriented things, and a couple of mentions in conversations with Joey had told me that he was a reader with similar tastes to what mine had been.

There was a copy of James Michener’s Caravans sitting on the bedside stand, with a bookmark a short way into it. I remembered reading it a long time before, and it might even have been the same book, although after all that time I didn’t remember a great deal about it, other than I had been impressed by the exotic primitiveness of the country. The recent history of Afghanistan – at least in Joe’s mind – had given me one view of the country. From what I remembered of the book, it had given a considerably different view. In any case, it appeared that Joanie had been reading it, so it would be a logical one for me to select. Besides, it was a paperback, so I figured it ought to be easier for me to manipulate. “I’ll just read this,” I told Mom. “It’ll do for now.”

A few minutes later I was outside, in a chaise lounge rather than the wheelchair, with a glass of Coke on the table beside me, and the book in my hand. Although I had learned much in the last few minutes and had much to think about, right at the moment I didn’t want to deal with it, so I started reading. Within a few minutes I was into the story and I remembered more of it than I thought I had. It was set right after World War II, when a young American Foreign Service officer is sent to locate an American girl who has run off from her family to seek an exotic life away from her humdrum suburban roots. Even Afghanistan wasn’t enough to satisfy her, or at least that was what I remembered from the book.

In the long run I could probably not have picked up a better book, for several pieces of it resonated with me. I could have cared less about Afghanistan – Joe’s memories of the American involvement there half a century later had a lot to do with that – but the thought of doing something adventurous and exotic, a rebellion from a lower middle class suburban life held some promise to me. I remembered telling Tom in the cab of the truck just before the lightning struck that if I had a life to live over I wanted to do something different with it.

As I read the book, I often found myself stopping to think. Now that I had a life to live over, I needed to do something with it. From where I sat, I realized it would be no great trick to just become a suburban mom, raising kids and doing the normal thing. But I had been there and I had done that – not as a woman, granted, but it seemed like only a short step from being Joanie the high school student to becoming something rather like Cindy had been. She had been a suburban housewife who was bored with life and dealt with it by immersing herself in the false lives to be seen on television.

I can’t let that happen, not now, I told myself. Fate or whatever it is has given me a second chance, and I’d be a fool to not take advantage of it.

I suppose I sat there reading and thinking for a couple of hours. Mom came by several times, asking me if I needed anything, but I always told her I was fine. I could see she was trying to be nice to me, but for the moment I didn’t need a lot of help. Since it was an unseasonably nice day, the house windows were open, and I heard Mom talking on the phone with someone. I wasn’t paying attention to her very much, but at one point I heard her say, “Things are mostly back to normal around here. Joanie’s out on the patio reading a book, as if that would be a surprise.” That sounded to me like I was convincing her that I was still the old Joanie, for now, anyway.

The next day was cold and rainy, so there wasn’t going to be any sitting outside with a book. Mom was with me through the morning. I talked with her a little, watched the Today show, and when that palled on me I retreated to my room and started in on another book after I finished Caravans. She made me an early lunch, then took off for work, leaving me alone for a few minutes until Joey showed up for the afternoon watch.

Joey brought an armload of books with him, and some work from various classes – mostly reading assignments, and I had some catching up to do. At that point it wasn’t clear if I would be in good enough shape to go back to class before school let out, since we were still in the old high school then, the last year it was used as a high school. It was one of those old-fashioned brick three-story places with stairs all over the place, and it would have been difficult to impossible for me to manage in a wheelchair. If I could be on crutches before school was out, well, maybe.

He told me that he would probably be bringing me some quizzes before it was over with, and I would have a couple of essays to write. “I don’t think they’re expecting too much except for you to show some effort,” he told me. “If you didn’t do a thing I think they’d still give you your diploma.”

Under the circumstances I wasn’t worried about graduating but the reading assignments, especially, were welcome since they gave me something to do. The writing assignments would be a little harder since I still wasn’t using my right hand very well – while my fingers worked fine, my arm was still in a cast, so that limited things considerably.

Joey was very attentive and solicitous to me, which I had been led to believe hadn’t always been the case before the accident. In fact, sometimes it was hard to get him to let me do something for myself. Especially in the first days home I had difficulty using the toilet – it was difficult to maneuver the wheelchair up to it so I could get on it, and then I had more difficulty getting my panties down, to the point where I just quit wearing them for a while. Until I got a little more mobile, I had to have someone’s help with both chores, and while it wasn’t any problem for Mom it got a little embarrassing for Joey.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “You’re not going to be seeing anything you haven’t already seen.”

“Don’t be so sure about that,” he replied. “And besides, you’re my sister. It’s not the same thing. A month ago you’d have screamed your head off if I’d found you sitting on the toilet.”

“So that was a month ago and things have changed. I can live with it for now if you can.”

We got along, and after a while it wasn’t even awkward for us – and fortunately, it didn’t last too long. I’m sure he got some glimpses of some things most people would think he probably shouldn’t have, but so what? I’m sure he knew what a woman looked like down there, since I figured he had read Playboy just like I had done when I had been him at his age. But at that age I hadn’t seen a naked woman over the age of puberty, and I would have been willing to bet good money that he hadn’t, either. Realistically, other than a few aberrations like the car and having a sister, from what I could tell our histories were remarkably the same.

(Using the word “aberrations” calls for a comment, I think. In looking this back over, I realize I’ve been using some big words you wouldn’t expect in a truck driver’s vocabulary. At that point in my life as Joanie, I wouldn’t have used them either. In fact, it was hard to remember to not use the kind of language you’d hear out of a truck driver, and I wasn’t anywhere near as foul-mouthed as some drivers I knew. As Joe, I was not dumb. I may not have had much education, but I was well-read for a truck driver and enjoyed learning new things, no matter how disorganized my learning of them might have been. Some of the things I had picked up haphazardly as Joe were absolutely vital to me in those days and in the years to come. However, in the years since this took place I’ve been a lot better educated and had jobs where I was expected to be considerably more literate than a truck driver, so that’s what you’re seeing.)

Joey was a huge help to me in those first weeks after I got out of the hospital. I still had to go to the hospital for outpatient treatment every two or three days. Sometimes they were just routine checks, but as I got better it also involved physical therapy, especially on my legs to keep me from losing too much muscle tone. Since much of the damage was around my knees, I was in casts from my mid-thighs to the arches of my feet, and I was told I could expect to have difficulty walking for a while after I got the casts off. Since for some reason most of those appointments fell in the afternoon Joey got stuck with the chore. Unlike Mom, he was big enough and strong enough to be able to pick me up and put me in and out of his car, so that made a lot of sense.

Even with that, after two or three weeks I was starting to feel more than a little housebound, and I was chafing under it. When you got right down to it, it wasn’t really boring. I had plenty of reading to do, and while a lot of it covered familiar ground it kept my mind occupied. I got out of the house with Joey’s help enough that I didn’t feel as if I was totally a prisoner of the four walls. I often had friends dropping by after school, Patty almost every day. Diana and Barb were also there frequently, and others less often. I suppose I must have been a bit of a wallflower since I didn’t provide a lot of the conversation, but the things I learned from them gave more substance to making them think I was still the Joanie they had always known.

So far, so good – and there were other things that helped me out, too.

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To be continued . . .

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