The Cripple

by OldSarge69

Copyright© 2019 by OldSarge69

Romantic Story: I had been sitting in the food court when I was nearly hit by falling boxes. Offering to help triggered an outburst from an angry young woman. "What, you see a cripple and think you have to help? What do you know about handicaps? Why don't you shut up and leave me alone!" she screamed. The entire food court was silent. I didn't respond, just got my cane from a chair where I'd left it. As I was leaving the food court I heard, "Please stop!" The words weren't quite so angry now.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Romantic   Heterosexual   Fiction   Military   Tear Jerker  

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread – Mother Teresa

“Why don’t you mind your own business, you jerk.”

Those words were coming from a very angry woman, responding to my offer of assistance.

I’d been sitting in the food court at the local mall drinking a milkshake when I was nearly hit from behind by some falling boxes.

When I turned around I saw a very pretty young woman looking panic stricken at the boxes and bags littering the floor and offered my help.

“What? You see a woman with a limp and think you have to help because she’s a cripple? I don’t need your help nor anyone else’s,” she continued, her voice getting louder and louder.

All conversation at nearby tables had stopped and we were becoming the center of attention.

“Look, young lady,” I tried to placate her, “I didn’t see you, didn’t see you limping. All I saw were some falling boxes and thought I’d offer to help.

“And a limp doesn’t make anyone a cripple! The only thing that can make you a cripple is how you feel about yourself ... not how others feel about you,” I added.

“Well la-de-da, why don’t you take your psycho-babble about my feelings and shove it up your ass, you bastard! What do YOU know about handicaps?

“Why don’t you shut the hell up and leave me alone!” she shouted.

The entire food court was silent with everyone watching us.

I didn’t offer a response, just shrugged.

Then reached over and got my cane from the nearby chair where I’d left it.

With cane in one hand and pushing up on the table with the other I struggled to stand, then started limping off, relying heavily on the cane.

I did stop for just a second to glance at the angry young woman.

I’ve often heard the phrase, “white as a ghost,” but since I’ve never seen a ghost I can’t say for certain if she was, indeed, that white but she was definitely white as a sheet.

She never looked up at my face, just stared at the cane.

I started walking – well limping – out of the food court.

I’d reached the exit to the food court when I heard a woman’s voice yell out, “Stop! Please, stop!”

The words weren’t quite so angry now.

I stopped – for a few seconds – then continued walking away.

Again, I heard, but now in an almost pleading voice, “Stop! Please ... please stop.”

This time I didn’t even slow down but kept walking.

I have to admit something here.

Yes, I have a limp and will have one for the rest of my life.

Yes, some days I use a cane.

The truth is however, most days I don’t actually bother with the cane.

Most days the limp, caused by a shattered knee from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) my Humvee hit in Iraq isn’t really all THAT bad.

My knee always hurts some, but I’ve gotten used to it.

The only times I really need the cane is when I’ve over-exerted myself and know the knee will be stiffening up later in the day.

Today was one of those days.

I’d over-exerted myself earlier mowing grass and weed-eating and knew, sooner or later, the knee would begin making me pay.

Even with the limp I walk faster than most people do.

Blame that on the little habit the Marine Corps has of making us grunts walk 20 or 30 miles with full packs and carrying weapons.

After six years active duty I’d probably walked several thousand miles carrying upwards of a hundred pounds and in the six years since my various surgeries and medical discharge continued to walk to strengthen the knee.

Today, though, I was over-emphasizing the limp, leaning heavily on the cane.

Yes, the knee hurt but nowhere near as much as it did sometimes and probably I could’ve dispensed with the cane.

It was something of a theatrical limp for the benefit of the idiot woman in the food court.

Now the struggles to stand up after I’d been seated?

There was nothing theatrical there. I really did have to struggle to stand from a seated position, but after that I was okay.

I’d just reached the down escalator when tiny little fingers grasped my left hand.

I looked down ... and saw the face of an angel.

Long blonde hair surrounded a beautiful face and I was looking squarely into a set of intense blue eyes.

Innocence and openness and curiosity vied for each other in those eyes.

She must be about six years old I thought, then felt a deep, deep pain in my heart as I realized my daughter ... my own daughter would have been six by now.

I felt some tears forming in my eyes as I looked at this almost too beautiful to be true young girl.

“Please sir, my mother can’t walk that fast. She was seriously injured in the wreck that killed my daddy four years ago. Please, won’t you come back so my mother can apologize to you?” she asked.

The words were very adult and grown-up, but were spoken with a child’s lisp.

I could see she had already lost some baby teeth.

“Please” came out like “pleds,” “fast” sounded like “fass,” and “wreck” sounded like “weck.”

I’m not sure how to phonetically write what “seriously injured” or “apologize” sounded like.

I hadn’t noticed the child when I left the food court.

I spend several hours each day working out in my home gym and can easily bench-press 300+ pounds. I also do at least 100 push-ups each morning and 100 more at night.

I am, quite frankly, one of the strongest people I know. At least in upper body strength.

Yet when this beautiful little girl tugged on my finger and started leading me back to her mother my strength seemed to be ... gone.

I could no more have resisted than – well picked up Stone Mountain itself, in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

In less than two minutes we were back at the “scene of the crime” for lack of a better term.

Unfortunately those two minutes seemed an eternity as seeing this little girl had triggered things in my mind I’d sworn never to think about again.

My wife had been six months pregnant when an 18-wheeler hit her car head-on.

Before that, we’d picked out a name, painted the baby’s room pink, bought pink baby clothes and other accessories.

Then the Marine Corps, in its infinite wisdom, had decided the freedom of the known world depended on my going back to Iraq for my third tour in five years.

I’d been in the “sandbox” for less than a month when my Humvee hit one of the ubiquitous IEDs.

I only have hazy memories of the next week-and-a-half.

I woke up at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, which is the largest American military hospital outside the United States.

When I awoke, a nurse called a doctor who informed me what had happened, where I was and that they had performed one surgery on my knee.

I was being readied for medivac back to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., for more extensive surgery.

I immediately told them I had to call my wife to let her know I was okay.

Still fairly groggy, I didn’t think about the look they exchanged.

I remember the doctor saying “your family has been contacted” before the nurse administered something to put me back to sleep.

I vaguely remembered waking up at least one other time and insisting I needed to call my wife and let her know I was okay.

Again I was told my “family had been contacted.”

My next clear memory was waking up at Walter Reed.

When the nurse at Walter Reed saw I was waking up, she left to get a doctor.

This doctor told me I’d had an additional operation on my knee but the prognosis was good.

I asked if my wife was there and again didn’t think about the look the nurse and doctor exchanged.

“Your ... family is in the surgical center waiting room,” was all he said and I saw the nurse inject something into the IV.

The next time I woke up I was apparently in my room by myself.

Then the door opened to what I was later to find out was the bathroom and Helen, my mother-in-law, walked out.

My throat was so dry I barely could talk, but I managed to croak out, “Helen, where’s Mandy?”

I can’t begin to describe the look Helen gave me.

Fear, anguish, pain, despair all crossed her face before she burst into tears.

Suddenly it hit.

I remembered the look the nurse and doctor in Germany had given each other when I asked about my wife.

And the look the nurse and doctor had given each other here at Walter Reed when I did the same.

And how any time I mentioned my wife I was only told my “family had been contacted.”

Seeing the despair on Helen’s face, along with the tears, crystallized a husband’s worst fears.

I heard an animal-like cry of pain and rage, then realized those sounds were coming from me.

I vaguely remembered sitting up in bed, still screaming and ripping out the IVs in my arms before I managed to swing my legs out of bed.

The overwhelming pain from my knee was like nothing compared to the pain in my heart.

I later found out Helen’s husband, my parents and my two older brothers had gone downstairs to the hospital cafeteria and were almost back when they heard the screams.

By the time they ran inside I had managed to get my feet on the floor, only to fall flat on my face and then tried crawling out of my room

It took my two brothers, my father and Helen’s husband Bob to hold me down before the nurse got there to administer a sedative.

When I woke up again I was completely immobilized.

I had straps across my chest, waist, hips and upper thighs.

In addition both arms were tied down to the bed.

I’d managed to rip out every single stitch in my surgically repaired knee and had another operation to correct additional damage I’d done.

Of course I didn’t find that out until later.

When I did wake up again I felt amazingly clear headed and ... almost unemotional.

Indeed, I felt as if I really weren’t there, as though I was almost looking at someone else – wearing my face – looking around.

As I quietly surveyed the room, Helen and Bob, my parents and both my brothers were there and all talking quietly.

I laid there for a few minutes before one of my brothers glanced over and noticed I was awake.

“Alan,” he said, jumping up and walking over to the bed.

“What happened, Doug, what happened?” I asked very hoarsely.

My throat felt like it was on fire.

I later found out I’d damaged my vocal cords with my screams of anguish.

“Well, you managed to rip out the stitches...” he began.

“NO, Doug!” I croaked out, “Tell me the truth! What happened?”

By now my father had gotten up and crossed over to the bed.

He just looked into my face for a minute before nodding.

“An 18-wheeler crossed the centerline, hit Mandy head-on,” he said. “She never had a chance, Son.”

I could hear Helen start to cry again.

“And ... the baby?” I whispered.

“I’m sorry, Alan. Both were killed,” he answered.

I just nodded my head.

I could hear the words ... but didn’t really understand them.

I looked over at my mother-in-law who was still crying.

I felt a little sad – for her.

It must be terrible to lose your daughter.

It took ... it took a few seconds ... a few seconds to realize ... that I’d also lost my daughter ... and my beautiful, beloved wife.

I again heard an animalistic scream of anguish, followed by someone screaming, “Mandy! Mandy! Mandy!”

By now the nurse was back and injecting something into the IV.

I’ll be the first to admit, during those moments before the medication kicked in, I wasn’t quite sane.

I accused them of hiding Mandy and threatened to kill everyone if they didn’t bring Mandy in right now.

I vaguely remember waking up a few times over the course of the next three days.

The doctors were keeping me heavily sedated to prevent me from further injuring myself.

I’d drink some water, chew when they put something in my mouth and then drift back asleep.

On the fourth day I woke up, finally fairly clear-headed.

I was still wearing restraints.

My father was alone in the room, reading the newspaper.

“Dad?” I whispered.

I barely managed to croak out that word.

I’d further damaged my vocal cords the second time I began screaming.

My Dad immediately jumped up and came over.

“How long have I been ... out?” I asked.

“What do you remember?” he asked.

“In Germany they told me my vehicle hit an IED but I don’t really remember that,” I answered.

“That was 10 days ago,” he said. “They were keeping you sedated in Germany and here.”

He went on to explain I’d had one operation in Germany, then another here at Walter Reed.

“They had to do a third operation after ... after you woke up and found out about ... about Mandy.”

“When ... when was Mandy ... when did Mandy die?” I asked.

“As near as we can figure, with the different time zones, about 15 minutes before you hit the IED,” he explained.

That meant, I thought to myself, she was already dead before I was injured.

The pain and grief I was feeling was almost overwhelming.

Not to mention the guilt.

Somehow ... somehow I felt I should have ... should have KNOWN. Should have felt ... felt SOMETHING when Mandy died.

I remember we’d been joking in the Humvee before the explosion.

I had been JOKING with my buddies ... while Mandy and my daughter were dying.

“What about the funeral?” I finally asked after several minutes, knowing they couldn’t have waited 10 days.

My father explained the funeral was two days after Mandy died, while I was being flown back to the U.S.

I’d like to say I had no more episodes of screaming and crying out for Mandy.

I’d like to say that ... but I can’t.

It was another week before the restraints were removed from my arms.

Even then, the body restraints remained for several more days.

It was another six weeks, and only after extensive counseling, before my father slowly pushed my wheelchair across the cemetery to Mandy’s grave.

Mandy and our daughter had been buried together.

Seeing their grave, covered in flowers, was the most terrible thing I’ve ever experienced.

While I understandably was crying, at least I was no longer consumed with rage.

Oh, I was still plenty mad. But I was learning to control the worst of the anger so I was no longer a threat to myself ... or others.

Due to two more surgeries, it took the better part of a year before I recovered enough to be able to walk without crutches.

And gotten used to hearing words such as “disabled veteran” and “handicapped veteran.”

And learning to hate those words!

And closer to two years before I finally, fully accepted Mandy’s death.

Or at least thought so at the time.

Those two minutes to get back to the food court, with this little angel holding my hand, brought all those memories back.

It may have only been two minutes, but it seemed a lifetime to me.

The young lady who had berated me so angrily just minutes before was seated at another table about 20 feet away, in a little alcove off the main food court.

I guessed she was about 25, while I’d just turned 30.

I glanced over to where I’d been sitting and noticed my milkshake was gone.

The young lady was sitting down in a defeated posture, shoulders slumped, eyes looking down at the floor.

Yes, it was obvious this was mother and daughter.

The mother had the same long, long blonde hair but the features were mature and even more beautiful than the daughter.

It was obvious how beautiful this child was going to be as she got older.

I couldn’t see the eyes of the mother since she was still looking down at the floor but her face was now bright red, rather than the ghost-white I’d briefly seen.

“Mother, don’t you have something you want to say?” I heard the child ask, in a surprisingly stern voice.

“Mother” flushed even darker red.

“I ... I ... I,” she stammered, “I feel like such a complete fool. A total idiot. I’m too embarrassed to even ask for forgiveness. What I said goes beyond forgiveness.

“I’m very sorry,” she continued, “I’m a real fucking idiot.”

“Mother,” the child exclaimed. “We don’t use words like that!”

Mother and daughter exchanged glances and both smiled.

When “mother” smiled I barely suppressed a gasp.

She was already one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen and yet her smile transformed her face into an ethereal beauty that was beyond compare.

“Mother” finally raised her face and looked at me for the first time.

As our eyes met I felt an almost other-world experience.

Her eyes were so sky-blue they almost looked like ice crystals, yet seemed to be boring into my soul with a laser-like heat and intensity.

Those eyes seemed to be pulling me inexorably forward.

Suddenly the cane was no longer just a prop.

I honestly felt like the only thing keeping me on my feet was the cane.

At first I couldn’t even speak.

Then I was the one who was doing the stammering: “I ... I ... I ... look, don’t worry about it. I know you must have been having a difficult time.

“Apology accepted and please, don’t worry about it anymore,” I added, very flustered.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some errands to run,” I finished and begin to turn away.

Turning away from those sky-blue, glacier-blue, laser-like eyes took nearly all my strength but I finally did so and began to walk away.

“Mother?” I heard the daughter ask.

“Wait, please wait,” I heard from “mother.”

“Don’t go yet,” I heard her ask.

I stopped, but didn’t trust myself enough to turn around.

“At least let me buy you another drink,” I heard. “They’d already thrown your drink away and wiped your table.”

I was about to tell her “don’t worry about it,” when the young girl darted directly in front of me.

She stood there for a few seconds, then crossed her arms across her chest.

“It would be extremely rude of you to leave now,” she declared in a very adult-like manner, “especially since my mom has offered to buy you another drink.”

The combination of child-like lisps, along with the adult words and delivery were very disconcerting.

If she’d been an adult I’d have said this child was daring me to try to leave.

As in, “you can only leave over my dead body!”

We eyeballed each other for a few seconds before I lost.

I finally shrugged and turned around and sat down.

Now I was the one looking down, not daring to look at “mother” eye-to-eye.

“It actually wasn’t a drink but a milkshake,” I began, only to be interrupted by the child.

“Milkshake? Can I have a milkshake too, Mommy?” she excitedly asked, sounding exactly the way a six-year-old should sound.

“Mother” laughed. “Of course honey, what do you want?”

“Whatever he’s having,” she answered, pointing to me.

“And you, Mr... ? I’m sorry, I haven’t even asked your name yet.”

Despite myself I looked up and into those glacial blue, bottomless eyes again.

I again felt like I was falling, even while seated.

Suddenly I couldn’t remember my name.

“Umm ... umm ... umm,” was the only sound coming from my mouth.

“Okay, Mr. Umm,” I heard the child laughingly respond and “mother” joined in with her own laughter.

“Warren,” I finally managed, feeling rather proud of myself, “Alan Warren. My name is Alan Warren.”

“Okay, Mr. Warren,” I heard “mother” say, “My name is Judith Beck, and this is my daughter Kaitlyn Beck.”

Judith held out her hand and when I touched it, I felt almost like I’d touched a live electric wire.

It was a definite shock, and I could see Judith’s eyes open wider so I knew she felt it also.

Kaitlyn then held out her hand and we also exchanged a handshake.

“What flavor, Mr. Warren?” Judith asked.

I had no idea what she was talking about.

“What flavor, what?” I lamely responded, eliciting more laughter from mother and daughter.

“Milkshake, Mr. Warren? What flavor milkshake do you want?” Judith asked slowly but with a huge grin on her face.

I could feel my face flush bright red, provoking more laughter from the two.

“Please call me Alan. ‘Mr. Warren’ is my dad,” I answered, “and chocolate.”

“I knew it,” Kaitlyn cried out, “My favorite.”

Judith handed Kaitlyn a $10 bill and we both watched as she walked to a nearby food court window and waited to place her order.

We were both watching Kaitlyn but that didn’t stop Judith from talking.

“Kaitlyn and I just moved to Atlanta and we were buying new clothes for school,” Judith said. “School starts next week and I’ve been putting it off ... putting it off ... because (she pointed to her leg). That’s why I had so many bags and boxes.”

“Kaitlyn seems to be amazingly mature for her age,” I ventured, “what is she, about six?”

Judith looked at me and said “yes.”

“Kaitlyn was only two when my husband ... when her father and I were in the wreck,” Judith said. “For the first two years I was in and out of hospitals with different surgeries. For the first year I couldn’t walk, was confined to a wheelchair.

“I’ve ... I’ve never told this to anyone before, but ... but Kaitlyn and I almost reversed positions. At times she acted like the mother and ... and I acted like the child. She had to help me in and out of the tub, help me get dressed, had to learn to cook – at least simple dishes, how to wash clothes and dishes.

“I remember on her fourth birthday ... I was recovering from another surgery. It had been a really bad week, and I couldn’t even get out of bed to bake a cake. My mother was helping, but she had a job and a life of her own so she couldn’t stay full-time.

“My mom would stop in the morning on her way to work and at night on her way home, but mostly it was Kaitlyn and me.

“Anyway, it was her fourth birthday and I couldn’t even get out of bed! I was so upset and mad and feeling sorry for myself. What kind of mother can’t bake a cake for her daughter’s birthday?

“I hated myself, I hated my mother and ... and ... I hated Tom, my late husband. I was so angry at him for leaving me and Kaitlyn all alone.”

I reached out and started gently patting her hand.

“That I can completely understand,” I heard myself say, then added, somewhat to my own amazement: “My wife was killed in a wreck six years ago ... while I was stationed overseas. I ... I went through a lot of ... of the same feelings you just described.”

“Then I’m very sorry for your loss as well,” Judith said.

“Anyway, when my mother stopped that morning I screamed at her. I told her I hated her, told her to get out and I never wanted to see her again. Told her to leave me the hell alone.

“After she left Kaitlyn came to my room and got in bed with me. She laid down beside me and grabbed my head and put it on her little tiny chest and just lay there for hours rubbing my neck and singing to me and telling me how much she loved me.

“I fell asleep with her singing and woke up with her singing and fell back asleep with her singing to me. When my mother came back that night, Kaitlyn was still there, still holding me, still singing.

“Kaitlyn never had much of a chance to just be a little girl, just be a child.

“When I yelled at you and you walked off using the cane, Kaitlyn told me to call you back.

“At first I refused and she stood in front of me with her hands on her hips and told me if I didn’t, she’d slap me. I’ve never seen her so mad before.

“That’s when I called the first time. You stopped for a few seconds but started walking again. The second time I called ... the second time I called because I wanted you to come back. I wanted ... needed to apologize.

“When you didn’t stop Kaitlyn told me, ‘I’ll get him Mommy,’ then she ran off before I could stop her. I was scared to death. What if you were some kind of murderer or something?

“When I saw her holding your hand and leading you back, I was happy and scared. Happy she was coming back but scared about what I’d say. And I REALLY mean it, I’m so sorry for what I said.”

I continued to pat her hand and told her it was okay, I understood.

By now Kaitlyn was at the front of the line and placing her order.

Both Judith and I were watching her.

Actually I had never taken my eyes off her.

If the truth be told, I was actually a little scared to look into Judith’s eyes again.

“Somehow you don’t seem to be the kind of person who spends a lot of time at the mall,” she added.

“You’re right about that. Today is probably the first time in two or three years,” I responded.

“What brought you to the mall today?” she asked.

I hesitated before answering.

“Well ... my girlfriend asked me to meet her here after she got off work at seven,” I answered.

“Are Kaitlyn and I interrupting, keeping you from meeting your girlfriend,” she asked, glancing quickly back at me.

“No, we met an hour ago. Actually ... she said she hopes we can continue to be ... to be friends,” I said. “I’ve just been kind of wandering around since then.”

Judith didn’t say anything but looked back at me again.

I shrugged my shoulders, “You know how it is. Four months is practically a long term relationship these days.”

Judith continued to stare at me.

“Then I’m even sorrier for the way I acted,” she finally said, reaching over and grabbing my hand, “First your girlfriend dumps you then I dump all my crap, my insecurities ... and ... and my anger ... all over you.”

“Oh look,” I said, changing the subject, “Kaitlyn is coming back.”

Kaitlyn was carrying one large and one small milkshake.

To tell you the truth, I’d been wondering what it would have been like if fate or chance had not intervened in such a way in my life, if it were my daughter walking over and placing the order.

Would my daughter look anything like Kaitlyn?

Would she so carefully pronounce each word?

Would she have the same sense of seriousness yet with a glint of mischief in her eyes I noticed in Kaitlyn’s eyes?

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