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Scream

By Joel Peckham


Something is wrong. I am lying on the ice. It is mid February, a year and one month since the accident. I have not yet screamed. That will come. It will come when it comes when I have lost control of everything—completely at the mercy of my body. It will come as a shock as they roll me onto the aluminum x-ray table. An almost disembodied wail that seems as disconnected from me as any long low cry heard at the lakeside as boy. But I have not screamed yet. And though there is pain I am convinced I can rise up out of it, put my hands on the dock and pull up like a strong swimmer in a body-spray commercial—all teeth, muscles and wet shaking locks. I almost laugh. It’s silly really. My son was having a playdate; he’s still there. In the apartment. Watching Ed, Edd, and Eddy with his little friend Mikey. I had left the apple-juice in the car (I always leave something behind), and so, bounced out the door, a little blinded by the early-evening winter sun—proud of how far I’ve come, cane-less, jacketless into the chill air. Earlier in the afternoon there had been a thaw and we had flown kites on the local football field at the bottom of the hill. But the temperature dropped in a matter of hours as I made popcorn, washed dishes.

So I hurried. Didn’t notice the ice until I was almost horizontal with it. Then I hit. Felt something give inside of me.

“Unnnh,” I said, just “Unnh”, more surprise and outrage than pain. “Unnh”.

“Daddy! Daddy?!” Darius is at the door.

“Its OK honey, Daddy’s coming.” I can’t stand, so I crawl toward him, one leg trailing behind.

When the neighbor finds me, I have pulled myself up onto one leg by crawling up the side of the car. I had meant to hop into the apartment, but I am surrounded by ice. Trapped. “I think I hurt myself a little” I say, calmly.

I don’t scream, or even raise my voice. Perhaps I am still in shock, perhaps the drugs are working. Even when I lie on the gurney in the x-ray room, I stay weirdly quiet. When I do weep it is not because of the pain but because of frustration—the knowledge that all the hard work I have done, learning how to walk again, training the muscles to respond again, has come to nothing. I am useless to myself, my son—a cripple trapped inside the body’s cage. I don’t curse God, or like Job, regret my birth. After all, Job had a case. Job was a good man.

My case? It’s only been a year and I have already begun a new relationship, am doing well in a new job, have learned to cook and play guitar. I’ve grown proud, independent. And I feel as if I am living not just a new life, but a false one. Though I still suffer nerve pain and bone-pain—at times strong enough to keep me awake at night and grind my teeth until my jaw hurts—I feel each moment of life is an insult to their memories. So when it comes time lift my body onto the raised, glistening, platform like a sacrificial animal in some ancient religion, I am nearly grateful.

Pain has a way of eliminating the past.

The orderlies, nurses, and medical technicians crowd around me, each taking a corner of the sheet on the gurney, the idea being to lift without touching—to distribute the pressure across my body. Staring up at the ceiling I remember a game I played as a boy. A child would lie in the center of a blanket and the other boys and girls would each grab a piece of the edge and lift it into the air. Then, gathering in close, they’d lower him nearly to the ground, until all at once the little hands would pull, the blanket would snap and the body fly up into the air.

“Ok, Everybody ready? Now. On a count of three”

I remember flying up and up again

“One”

I think of Cyrus leaving the seat of the van, his shoulder and head hitting the glass first and splintering around him in a lethal rain.

“Two”

Did he feel pain? Did have any idea what was happening to him as he flew up and up.

And did he scream?


Joel Peckham Jr. is an Assistant Professor of American Literature at The University of Cincinnati, Clermont College. His essays on grief and recovery have recently appeared in The North American Review and River Teeth, and his second book of poetry, The Heat of What Comes, is forthcoming from Pecan Grove Press. He currently lives with his son, Darius, in Batavia, OH.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore