Little Man was just one month old, and this was my first night hanging out with friends in months. I was finally starting to feel better from my four day long labor, and tonight I was gonna have a beer with my new husband and my friends.
Christina and RJ were like fashion models instead of high school students - both tall and thin with light tans and dark hair. They made a beautiful couple, so of course part of me hated Christina. I'd just gained 50 lbs in the past five months, from a size zero to a large in maternity pants. Jessy was there with her new boyfriend Brandon, who we didn't know. She was a small blonde powerhouse from Las Vegas, with the post-punk look of Avrille Lavigne.
They were all under 20, and I was newly married, newly mothered, and 22. My husband, Ronnie, had just turned 25 the week before, and was bemoaning his advanced age rather melodramatically, I thought. Ronnie worked with these kids, because he always worked the kind of jobs teenagers take. He worked at bars and pizza places and a hot dog place when I first met him. In the 13 months between meeting him and walking out on our marriage, I watched him lose six jobs. Six crappy, high school jobs.
I was always stressed about money. He would spend everything we had, and then borrow more, never thinking about how we were going to pay the rent or the electric or the phone bill. He was working at a sports bar now, just around the corner from our apartment, close enough to walk (which was necessary, because he had 3 DUIs from before I met him, and wouldn't be able to get his driver's license back for another three years).
Still, it was good to be feeling a little better. The baby seemed to have stopped his nightly three-hour crying jag, and friends and beer awaited me. We sat around the apartment, laughing and talking and telling stupid jokes. Little Man woke up after about two hours and, for me two beers, of this. I changed his diaper, fed him a bottle of breastmilk I'd pumped earlier, expressed and dumped fresh beer-spiked milk, and loaded my baby into his stroller.
The whole gang of us set off, laughing and drinking, walking through the sidewalks of our apartment complex. Somehow Ronnie's glory day stories of teenage skateboard stunts came up - as they always did - only this time, RJ and Brandon and Jessy were all on board. Within a matter of moments their reactions shifted from, "No way" to "Let's do it right now!"
I stood beneath the awning of the single story bathrooms at the pool, and watched as one by one my friends took running jumps from off the roof, into the water below. They let out war whoops of exhillaration and laughed and splashed. Ronnie ran inside to get the video camera his father had given us so we could film the baby. They each jumped a few times more, relishing in how cool the footage would look later. Christina chivvied up the palm tree beside the little building next, and ran and jumped as well.
"Angie, you gotta do it!" She laughed and squealed. Suddenly that childhood fear of being the weird one, the timid one, Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons, blossomed in my chest, helped no doubt by the stress, hormones, and alcohol affecting me. Soon RJ and Christina joined in, adding their voices to the call for me to jump. Suddenly I was the only one - I was doing something against the group. The weight of it was crushing. "I'll hold the baby. Go on up," my husband said, getting out of the water, and coming to stand beside the stroller.
Knowing that it was a bad idea, not wanting to do it, petrified, I made my way up the palm tree with RJ's help, and onto the roof. "What do I do?" I asked, nervous by the height, and noticing the odd way the light looked from the orange street lamp beside us, shining through the palm fronds at chest level. "Just run and jump," BC laughed. I ran. I jumped - too soon. I landed on the outside of my right ankle, smacking into the corner edge of the pool, and whacking the inside of my ankle as well as I fell into the water. I howled in pain. This was worse than birth, or at least a sharper, more pressing pain, rather than constant throb and crush of contractions.
With help I hobbled onto my back patio, only a few steps away and collapsed into one of the dumpster-found armchairs we kept there. Jessy's new beau, Brandon, wanted to take off the tennis shoes I'd jumped in the water with, and to look at my ankle. He was an orderly in a nursing home, but I didn't know him and at that moment I was just so freaked I didn't want anyone I didn't know touching me. Looking back, I think my childhood indoctrinated fear of medical personnel was coming out in a moment of extreme shock, stress, and pain. I wouldn't let anyone but my husband touch my ankle or look at my leg. He took off my shoe and sock as I winced and balled my hands into fists.
"Aw, it's just a bump," he said in a baby-talk voice. I tried to be polite to my guests as I chivvied them out the door, and hobbled around the apartment packing up the baby bag and preparing to go to the emergency room. Despite my husbands repeated reassurances that my ankle was merely swollen, I crawled on my hands and knees and got the baby in his carseat. My Medicaid for pregnancy would only last another few days, and I was convinced my ankle was broken. I'd never broken a bone before; I'd torn muscles, cut skin, and gotten the tendon in my right hip caught on the femur bone semi-continuously for three years, but I'd never felt anything quite this focused and intense before.
As I did far more often than I should have, I let my intoxicated and unlicensed husband drive my car the fifteen minutes to the hospital - it was my right ankle after all. It was late and the waiting room was packed. After nearly two hours of people bumping into my ankle, my son crying or fussing, and my husband complaining how much he hated waiting around for me in hospitals - a refrain I knew well, as my high complication pregnancy had landed me in the hospital quite a few times over the past several months.
Finally, they called my name - still my maiden name at this point, nearly three months after the wedding - and I breathed relief; I was going to get x-rays, a cast, and some pain medication at last. My husband pushed the metal folding wheelchair I was in, while I held my son. We followed the nurse through a set of double doors into the second waiting room.
Ronnie started to ask other people how long they'd been waiting, and what they were in for. For all the wait we'd already done, there were still gun shot wounds and children with high fevers ahead of me. At that point, Ronnie started to get nasty with me. He'd been without beer and pot far longer these few hours than he ordinarily ever went - he spent half his check each week, drinking at work, as an advance on his pay. When he wasn't working at a bar, he'd buy a quart of Miller High Life at the corner store, and the largest soda cup they sold, and just sip his beer through a straw throughout his shift. And I don't know that there's a restaurant in the state of Florida that prevents its employees from smoking marijuana; they simply couldn't stay staffed if they tried to.
I was still in a lot of pain, and it looked like I wasn't going to be seen anytime in the next several hours. Ronnie was being a pain. Little Man was hungry, but the arms of the wheelchair were so tight, I couldn't hold him to nurse him. I wheeled myself over to the bathroom, but then had to stand to get into. I took Little Man's diaper bag in there, leaving the boy himself with his father, and tried to hand express enough milk to keep him content till I could get us into a room with a hospital bed. After about twenty minutes work, balanced on one foot, I had a few ounces. I turned behind me to get the bottle top out of Little Man's bag, when the bottle fell over, with all my wasted efforts. I collapsed on the floor and cried over spilt milk.
Admitting defeat and too tired to meet the needs of my infant son, as well as the demands of my infantile husband, I let him take me home. No cast, no x-ray, no pain medication. Just like it had always been for me. Other people might get to have medical help, but my needs were annoying and a burden on everyone else.
You know that old question, "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?" Do you know how embarrassing it is to realize that the answer is Yes? Of all the posts I've written, this was the hardest to click "Publish" on.