Usually nothing about being asked about my accident bothers me. I would rather explain my accident and injury rather than have people stare and wonder. It doesn’t bother to take a few minutes out of my time if helping someone understand something better is what is the outcome. I wish more people would ask.
But when the one asking is my 5-year-old nephew, and he asks genuinely and quietly and really wants to understand, it’s hard to explain without choking up just a bit. Caleb has always had a special place in my heart, and I think that it is obvious to everyone who knows us. He was the very first good thing to look forward to after I was injured. I had just found out that Sandra was pregnant just a few days prior to my injury, so his development was what I tried to focus on it while I was in rehab. And he was born just a few months after I got home. In some ways, I feel that as he grew, so did I. He was just beginning, and I was just starting over. We grew together.
Even now when I pick him up from school, he grabs my hand with his little hand and we happily go to the van together. It’s just me and Caleb. He doesn’t notice that some people look twice or hold their attention to me for an extra second, wondering about the wheelchair. He just goes along with it. We’re kind of a team when we are together, I guess.
I never really have thought about telling Caleb about my injury–or how it happened. He has never known me to be able to walk, and I just accepted that as how it is. He was always too little to understand, and I thought he was too little to put any of his own thought or curiosity into the situation. I was wrong.
Last night, he walks up, puts his hand on my arm, and asks with his dark little eyes “Aunt Carrie, why do you have to have this wheelchair?” It caught us all off guard. I didn’t really know what to say to him. It isn’t just another kid asking; it’s Caleb. I want him to understand what really happened, instead of just giving him some easy story to satisfy his curiosity for the moment. I know he’s too young to really get it, but when he is old enough to, I’ll have to explain it again, better. I told him it was a car accident, and it hurt me bad enough to make my legs not work. He thought for a moment and then asked “But you got a new van already, right?” Ah, so to him, the wreck was just like the one I had in November. For now, that’s okay. He doesn’t understand the severity of it, or the timeline either. I don’t expect him to yet. In the future, he’ll need another talk, or maybe he’ll ask more questions. Whichever comes first, I’ll be more ready for. I wish I had anticipated that he would want some kind of explanation someday. After all, he never saw me in the hospital with a halo, in Colorado, so weak and sick that even doing the easiest daily things was a serious chore to do alone. He doesn’t know that things haven’t always been this way.
I don’t know why it affected me the way it did, why I was so upset about it last night the way I was. But it did, and I was. It just made me realize that the toughest people to make understand are the ones I want to understand the most.