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IV.

Anger 

He wouldn’t admit to feeling anything, if people asked. It was easier to pretend he felt nothing, that he was apathetic rather than just pathetic. It was one of those questions you always got asked by the doctors, the analysts, the people seeking to understand—“And how do you feel about that?”

Haley was one of those people who wanted to understand. In the two weeks since he’d come home from the hospital, she’d been trying so hard to get through to him. She was one of the ones who wanted to know how he felt. He supposed he would have been the same way—he was so used to knowing how she was feeling that the times he couldn’t read her were rare. “You think I need to see you with my eyes to know what’s going on with you?” he’d asked her once. He never had needed to, and the reverse had always been true as well.

For the most part, they’d always been honest with each other. They’d learned over the years what dishonesty could lead to, and it had nearly torn them apart a few times. If he’d had the foresight to see it, he would have realized that now was turning into one of those times.

Haley couldn’t read him this time because he wasn’t letting her read him. Any emotions he had, he kept bottled up, hoping that it would ease the mental pain the way the painkillers did for the physical. All it did was make him feel it more, make him think on it constantly. All he found himself feeling was anger.

Nathan’s temper had always been somewhat of an issue while he’d been growing up. Coaches had had to bench him a few times in order to stop him from picking fights. He could get pissed off, and he vented that type of emotion physically. He picked fights, he shot hoops to blow off steam, he went running. Things like that. A psychiatrist would tell him that these were his outlets for his temper.

None of these outlets would work for him now that he couldn’t walk. There was a saying he’d thought of when Haley had left him—you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry. That was definitely the case here. The use of his legs had been something he had taken for granted. He’d never thought it could be taken away from him, that it could all be gone so quickly because of that damn temper. And yet here he was, stuck.

His temper had gotten him into this, taken away the things he took for granted. Everyone always told him, Whitey in particular, that if he wasn’t careful, if he didn’t rein himself in, it wouldn’t end well.

The two weeks since he’d come home from the hospital had been a parade of family, friends, and neighbors. Jamie spent some days with Lucas and Lindsey, others with Mouth, Junk, and Fergie. Neighbors came by with food and empty promises to Haley to call them if she needs anything. Haley’s oldest sister, Vivian, came by for a few days, and he heard her on the phone with Lydia and Jimmy every few nights. There was no one who wasn’t concerned for him.

Haley was doing her best. She was cooking, cleaning, teaching, keeping Jamie occupied. He had no idea how she managed all those things, and in the back of his mind he knew he should be helping. Still, he made no move to—he was next to useless without his legs.

He was sitting on the living room couch one afternoon, watching an old basketball game on ESPN Classics. The door opened and he looked up, seeing Haley come in carrying some paper bags. She looked more tired than usual. He sometimes heard her still awake at all hours, making lesson plans or reading in the living room.

She walked over to the couch and leaned down, kissing the top of his head and reaching over the couch, putting a paper bag in his lap. “I went and got your favorites,” she said, holding the bag open so he could see inside. “From that burger place we went to with Jamie a while back? I remember how much you liked it…”

She was trying; he’d give her that. He mumbled a thanks to placate her. He knew that she wouldn’t be able to stay long—this was her lunch break, and she had to get back to the school soon. Still, she sat down on the other end of the couch and opened her own bag, taking out a salad. Haley had always been the one who ate healthy; cereal shopping with her had the potential to become a minor battle.

She looked towards the TV, watched it for a minute before she recognized it as a basketball game. A basket went in and the spectators went crazy. “You shouldn’t be torturing yourself like this,” she said after a minute, looking back at him. “The doctor said dwelling on it can set you back, make you recover slower than you would have…”

“You don’t believe that crap, do you? That positive thinking or any of that can do anything?”

“Nathan, it’s worth it to believe in something,” Haley protested, sighing. “Why do you insist on being so pessimistic whenever anyone tries to give you some shred of hope?”

“Because I’ve seen the statistics, Haley. You hear about it all the time when players get hurt. I’ve seen this happen in the pros and to guys I knew. You don’t recover from this.”

“So all the examples you saw haven’t, but don’t you want to be the one who at least tried? The doctors said this could be temporary. You just have to want to get better—”

“And you think I don’t? Do you honestly think I don’t want to get better? You don’t understand, Haley,” he said, the one phrase he has probably repeated far too often these past few weeks, because she doesn’t get it. How could she? “Even if I do walk again, it’s done. I can’t play again. It’s over. Maybe I can coach some half-assed kiddie team, but that’s it. If I do get better, Haley, there’s nothing I can do.”

“You can find something,” Haley tried, putting the salad aside and reaching out to grab his hand. “Nathan, if you just work at it, you can find something else. This doesn’t have to be the end of the world!”

“Well, it is. Okay, Haley? It is for me.”

It was almost the same argument they had the night he’d come home from the hospital, the one they would be having for weeks to come. They’d probably never see eye-to-eye on it, anyway. He knew she would be upset by it, but what was he supposed to do? Pretend to be all positive and peppy about something that probably wouldn’t happen, only to have to act disappointed later when the expectations he’d never wanted to have in the first place were dashed? No.

Haley got up, seemingly unable or unwilling to respond, just as she had been every time they’d argued about it in the past two weeks. She took her purse and slung it over her shoulder again, combing her fingers through her hair. She changed her tactic, made a peace offering. “I thought we could go out to dinner with Jamie tonight. He’s been with Luke and the others so much lately that I just thought it would be nice for the three of us to go out…”

The logical part of his mind knew he was supposed to say yes. He was supposed to be the dad he’d been before the accident, the husband who didn’t let an argument with his wife reach the point where she simply gave up rather than have the two of them working through it. The logical part of his mind could recognize the hope in her tone, could realize that there was probably a little more of it there than she’d wanted to express.

The part of his mind that had been running his responses lately made him give a noncommittal answer, though they both knew the dinner wouldn’t happen. Haley bit her lip and moved to the door. And as horrible as he had been recently, the more rational part of his mind took over for an instant, making him feel badly for the way he’d just treated her. He reached out, holding up the container with the salad she’d abandoned. “You’re forgetting…?”

She looked at him for a moment, and he could almost feel her trying to get a read on him, to understand how he could go from angry one minute to the husband she knew the next. The confusion on her face didn’t completely fade, but it lessened a bit as she walked back to the couch, leaning in to take the salad and then kissing his cheek. She touched her cheek to his for a second, taking a slow breath. “We’re gonna get through this,” she whispered, then walked away.

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