This is a response to The Daily Post’s prompt, Reach.

It’s hot in here. Where is here, exactly? Temporary or permanent? No answer. We’ll see. Will we?

“Get out of your head,” he says. “Stay present with me. It’s important.”

Oh. Yes. You know what’s important, right? You don’t know importance past your paycheck.

I’m breathing too fast.

“Slow your breathing,” he says, smiling. “Count your breaths with me, ready? One….two….”

I imagine stuffing a kerosene-soaked sock in his mouth and lighting a match to the same slow count.

My God! Is this normal? Do others hate him like I do?

“Focus!” he says and smiles. “You can do it!”

Of course they hate him. Does hate damage my progress? I laugh. One inch instead of two? I’ll surrender the inch and keep the anger. It’s IMPORTANT.

He wipes my sweaty forehead. It pulls away from his hand on its own. He looks down. Wow, he’s felt it. I watch the hurt soak in. It makes me feel better. I’ll enjoy this awkward moment.

I want to cry. WAIT A SECOND. That is not allowed. My watery eyes don’t listen. Thanks for this added embarrassment! I wish I could disassemble my body like Lego pieces and rebuild me.

“Let’s take a break,” he says, checks the straps and leaves me.

The door shuts behind him like it shut on my life, a decisive and loud CLANG. Now I’m a marionette! Tied to lifts and rails operated by my puppeteers. I’d cut the strings, if I could. I would.

Can I bite them in half with this mouth of mine that breathes fire now? Maybe I can melt them with my ugly words. Yay!

Are you happy, God, you mean son of a bitch! WELL? I was a good girl. I was a good girl and you broke me. You let this happen.

WHY AM I STILL HERE? I want to shout. I don’t get past “Why..”

Now I’ll cry some more and pretend I wasn’t when he comes back. CLANG goes the Door of Death. Who’s this?

A tall young guy comes limping in, bent a bit at the waist. His red hair makes me smile. He is already smiling. No, oh no. You can’t have that, stranger. You cannot have my smile. Your legs work.

“How long?” he says.

“Five months.”

He nods. Another smile, which I return. I hate myself.

“Middle of the rails already,” he says, tapping his finger on the three-feet mark. “At five months?”

I nod. Go away, kind sir. I’m busy being angry.

“L4? L5?” he says.

“Both,” I say, “incomplete, obviously.”

“What happened?”

“Surfing,” I say, without glaring.

I try to glare now. He laughs.

“Are  you laughing at me?” I ask with as much offense as I can find.

“Yeah, yeah I am,” he says, sitting on the stool. “I’m Paul. I’m an L1, 2, 3 and 4. Incomplete, obviously. Drunk driver. Three years ago. Took me over a year to reach three feet on the walking rails, where you are now. I wanted to die, walking like a broken robot, shitting in my pants like a little baby.”

“How did you do it?” I whisper, “how did you get your legs back without losing your mind?”

“One inch at a time,” he says. “The distance doesn’t matter as long as you’re going forward.”

I look at the end of the rails seven feet away. How many inches is that? May as well be to the moon.

“I get the anger,” he says, “I do. But this is you now, accept it or not, this is you. And you’re still in control of your mind. So decide how it’s going to be for you and everyone in your life.

“I hated him too,” he says, nodding toward the door. “I used to think of things that could happen to him so he’d know how it feels, how we feel.”

I consider sharing the kerosene sock idea.

“It’s natural to resent people after something like this. You feel cheated, hopeless, angry. But look, your back’s already broke. That’s enough. Don’t let the injury break your spirit, too. Keep reaching for healing and you’ll get there, just like I did.

“And don’t be too hard on him. He’s the best physical therapist for miles, and an angel for not giving up on us, if you ask me.”

And with that he was gone, walking out of the gym on his own two legs, unassisted. With every step he took, I felt myself returning from wherever I’d been for five terrifying and lonely months, grateful for the red-haired angel who guided me back.

“Thanks for sending him in here to talk to me,” I tell my therapist.

“Who?” he says.