(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)
Fifty-Four Years and One Month Since Hospital Admission
August 2006 (61 years old)
Julia's assisted living facility had the most beautiful windows.
Not the view so much. But the glass itself. Images poured and flowed as they moved outside.
Nobody made glass like that anymore. Bubbly and uneven. Julia didn't need a time machine to know how the colonial world looked. There it was, filtered through those antique window panes. The breeze in the trees. The blooms on the Rose of Sharon. A perfect visage of an eighteenth century summer day.
At first, Julia missed Cindy's quiet footfalls in an outside gust of wind. The slide of a dresser drawer snapped her back. Stacks of sweet-smelling laundry stood ready to be put away. Cindy's hands worked, but her downcast eyes stared to the side.
"Morning, Miss Julia," she said. Her voice sounded uneven, like it hadn't been used very much.
All of the pretty lines of her face angled down.
"Are you feeling okay?" Julia said. "You don't look too well."
Cindy pressed the slacks down in order to close the drawer. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not, fine."
Cindy shrugged. So small and tired.
"Put the laundry down," Julia said.
"Don't argue. Come on."
"You can't even finish your sentences! Over here. Now!"
Cindy just stood in exhausted confusion.
"If anybody says anything," Julia said, "I'll cover for you."
Cindy's red eyes eased over to the chair.
"That's it. Right here next to me. Come on."
Cindy's shuffling feet and limp arms sagged into the seat.
"That's better," Julia said. "Now, are you feeling ill?"
Cindy shook her head.
"No? Are you sure?"
She shook her head again.
"Oh," Julia said, suddenly seeing all the symptoms. "I see."
Maybe Cindy sensed Julia's insight, because her shoulders collapsed even more.
"Tell me what happened," Julia said.
The young woman's eyes squeezed shut. Her breath caught.
"Oh honey, it can't be that bad."
She played with the wedding ring on her finger. A hand shot up to smear away an escaped tear.
"I can't do it, Miss Julia."
"I can't make him happy. Everything I do is wrong."
Now the tears really broke through.
"I don't believe that," Julia said.
"I've ruined everything."
Julia watched the emotions crash over Cindy. A tissue soon joined the fray.
After a couple minutes, the crisis eased.
"Did he say that to you?" Julia said. "That you ruined everything?"
Cindy shook her head. "No. Not in those words."
"But he was upset?"
"And everything is cold and bad between you?"
"Yes," Cindy said.
Julia edged up the authority in her voice. "I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen right now."
Cindy turned and quieted.
"Look. I've laid here for God knows how many years. I don't like to even count them. My life before this machine seems like a dream. A complete fairytale. I not sure if I even believe it happened anymore.
"So you can say I have no idea what I'm talking about. I've just been laying here, after all, while the world rolled right by me. And maybe it's true. But being the watcher and being denied so many things everyone else takes for granted taught me some things. The kind of things only outsiders can see.
"I know you're convinced that you blew it. That for whatever reason he could never love you. Or never really wanted you in the first place. But it's bullshit, Cindy. You hear me? It's bullshit. I guarantee you he's off somewhere, tired, hurt, confused, impossible to focus. His friends are asking him what's wrong. You've affected him too. You're not the only one who's been hurt.
"The real problem is that people forget, Cindy. People forget everything outside them all the time."
"I want you to touch my face," Julia said.
"Go on. Go ahead."
It was hesitant, but Cindy did.
"I'm really here. Amazing, isn't it? I'm really talking to you. My eyes are looking into your eyes. I care about what you're feeling. I care about what's happening to you.
"But so many times, people look right past that. Right past how the other person feels. They wrap themselves up in everything they're afraid of.
"Afraid of not being good enough. Afraid of losing what they have. Afraid to admit what they really want.
"If he wanted you once, Cindy, he wants you now. Don't deny him that. Don't steal yourself away. Don't crawl under all this ugliness and stare out, ready to fight. Instead, be the best person you can be. Want him, and tell him so. And above all, let him love you back. Because it's the greatest gift, you know. But so often we hand it back. So often, we just don't have the strength to accept it. Don't do it, Cindy. Please. Don't hand it back because you're too scared to take it."
Cindy's chest rose with the deepest of breaths. Remaining tears sparkled with a smile. "You're the wisest person I know, Miss Julia. I don't know what I'd ever do without you."
"Not wise. Just telling you what I've seen."
The teary smile grew. "Thank you for telling me all of this."
"You can always turn to me, Cindy. Always. And I'd give you a hug if I could...."
But, Cindy did it for her.
Back to Part 15.