Her name was Haley and Hope met her in a rainstorm.
Her wheel hopelessly stuck in the mud. She wished she could stand and push the wheelchair to firmer ground but that was a luxury lost to her now. Her legs that once allowed her to run for miles now lay limp, stubbornly refusing to react to even the simplest commands. Her fingerless leather palm gloves were supposed to make maneuvering the wheels of her chair easier on her hands but the rain had soaked through them and she could feel blisters forming on her palms anyway. She was told she'd build up callouses there but as with everything else in life she was learning she'd have to feel the pain first.
"Hey," a small, unfamiliar voice called out from behind her. "Try backing out of the mud."
"Thanks," Hope called back, annoyance bittering her tone. "I've got it, though."
Hope struggled on; every time she tried to push the wheels forward they stubbornly refused to move. She needed upper body strength. That would come to her, too. Again, pain first. The doctor's told her all this, in bigger, harder to understand medical terminology words that made her want to scream in frustration. It would never be easy, they told her, but it would become easier. She just had to be patient and learn how to live her new life.
The first thing you learn when you're in the hospital for a long time is why they call you a 'patient'. It's what you have to be. Life becomes waiting, life becomes patience. The longer she lived in her newly broken body, the less she wanted to be.
Living was a miracle. That's what everyone said. She should have died, that's usually what happens when you sever your spine and tear open major organs. She remembered hazily lying in the crashed car, glass digging into skin whose nerves had just been severed. When she thought of what had happened to her, she remembered the rain the most. It pattered down, making her hair cling to her face as she stared at the stars. She remembered the feeling of dying like she remembered a bad dream. No, nightmare…Night terror? Was there anything worse than a night terror? Dying was worse than a night terror. There's no comparison.
She was such an idiot. That's what she told herself every day. It became her new mantra to go with her new life. She didn't know how easy it was to change. She thought she was untouchable, like nothing bad could happen. No, that wasn't true either. That's what people thought of her, of every young person who gambles with their life. She knew how fragile life was, she knew how fast it could change and yet she made the choices she made, anyway. What did that make her, then? The only word that ever came to her mind was 'idiot' so that's the one she clung to. Especially now, stuck in the mud, unable to move forward.
Her life's story.
Hope gave the wheels a sharp jerk forward. The back wheels moved sideways a little, but other than that, nothing. She wanted to scream but screaming in public is not something you do when you want to people to ignore you, when you don't want to look more insane than being stuck, paralyzed, in a wheelchair, in the mud, in front of the school where people who knew you as the perfect student, the good girl, and then the opposite – the rotten apple, the bad egg, the one to avoid because she might snap. And now what was she? The paralyzed girl. The wheelchair freak. God, she hated labels, especially those put on her by herself. Was that what others called her, or was it what she thought of herself? She didn't even know anymore. She didn't know anything. If she really thought about it, she never really knew anything at all. There was no lost knowledge in the crash, only the gained knowledge that what she thought she knew was a myth and what she didn't know was vast.
"You really should back out," the voice said again. Hope felt anger grow inside her. The anger wasn't new, either. Anger was an old friend. She had lost a lot, more than most, not as much as some, but the anger remained. In the months of recovery and physical therapy, the anger stayed within her and grew. If fractured, splintering inside her, cutting and clawing and overpowering until it was all that remained. In fact, and Hope hadn't told anyone this before, most of her energy was spent trying to tamper it down. She felt the anger like a beast trapped within her ribcage, constantly trying to escape. It shared its home with her heart, or maybe the beast was her heart, now. She didn't know. This is probably why her mom insisted on therapy. She never went, even though it was supposed to help. She didn't go before, when her dad di- she didn't go before, and look where that got her. She didn't go because it was too late for that now.
The anger stayed by her side through it all but so did her mom. The one person in the world who didn't abandon her when things went wrong the first time, and then when they went really wrong the second time. Agreeing to go to therapy could be a small way to repay all that her mother had sacrificed for her, she just couldn't yet. It wouldn't be enough anyway. But then, nothing could ever be enough.
"Really, if you go back and wiggle a little you should be able to get out." The voice insisted on persisting. "Just be careful, don't want to tip over. That would be embarrassing."
"I'm perfectly capable of handling this myself, thank you." Hope called back, the anger bubbling up, threatening to come out and take over; shards of it already invading her voice, making her words come out cold and callous.
"Just trying to help," the voice said again. Hope closed her eyes and inhaled sharply. If they didn't get the hint, she couldn't be held accountable for what she said next. Hope looked up, ready to ream out the girl who couldn't mind her own business. She didn't need another person making fun of her, making her feel stupid or useless. But the retorts died on her lips.
The girl sat in her own chair, her auburn hair in two French braids. She wore glasses that only enhanced her bright, blue eyes. She sat hunched in her chair, straps crossed over her chest keeping her upright. Her right hand rested on the control panel but it was her smile that caught Hope's attention. It was radiant and full of mischief, the happiest she had ever seen.
"Who are you?" Hope asked, and, for the first time in a long time, the anger faded – just a little, it was so subtle she almost didn't notice.
Her name was Haley, and, like so many things in life that are meant to be, Hope met her when she needed to most.