Happiness is ephemeral. Just when you think you have it in your grasp, it can slip through your fingers like grains of sand.
It happened this way. Tom had gone to Sydney for a couple of weeks to see his Dad, and before he went he arranged that on the day he returned we would go to the cricket together. I was not that interested, but I had been before and was prepared to do it because it made Tom happy to have me with him. A week after he left, some of the girls at my school contacted me. Excitedly they said that there was a new teen girls' clothing store opening and they were having an opening sale with huge bargains. I had been saving the money I earned by working part-time at a fast food outlet, so of course I said I'd go with them, totally forgetting about my date with Tom.
It was a very hot day when Tom arrived at our house the following Saturday. Mum told him I had gone out shopping and I must have forgotten about our date, which indeed I had.
Tom was always good-natured, and learning what had happened he said something like “Oh well, I'm sure she's having more fun than going to a cricket match. Tell her I'll catch up with her later please, Mrs Collins.” and headed off down the street.
When I got home, very excited at having snapped up some bargains; three skirts, a summer dress and some tops, Mum met me at the door and said “Tom was here. He said you arranged to go to a cricket match together.”
My face flushed as I gasped “Oh no! I completely forgot about it. I'll give him a ring and apologise.”
Just then the phone rang and Mum answered it as I went up to my room to hold the new purchases against me and admire them. The look on Mum's face when she came to my room, made me stop what I was doing and stare at her.
“That was Pam Shore on the phone. Tom's been in an accident.” she said quietly.
“Oh no! What is it Mummy, is he...is he...?”
“He's in hospital. They don't know yet how bad he is.”
“Oh Mum, I must go and see him! Oh this is all my fault.” I gasped.
“Not tonight Darling,” said Mum “They're treating him and only his Mum is allowed to visit. Perhaps you can go tomorrow. I'll be ringing Pam to see how he is.”
That night I barely slept. Over and over again I kept thinking that if I hadn't forgotten about our date, this wouldn't have happened.
The next morning, Mum rang the hospital and was put through to the ward and eventually to Pam Shore who was already there. She found out that Tom had decided to go for a swim instead of the cricket, and had dived into shallow water, hitting his head. She also said that Tom was now conscious, and I could pay him a brief visit in the afternoon.
The hours ticket by interminably until it was time to leave for the hospital. Mum came along too of course. Hospitals are scary places, but I had to see Tom and beg his forgiveness for forgetting our date. Pam Shore was sitting next to the bed where Tom was lying flat. He was sporting a big bandage, but otherwise seemed unharmed and I breathed a sigh of relief. After a brief chat, Pam asked my Mum if she'd like to go down to the small cafe run by the hospital auxiliaries for a cup of tea – very diplomatic!
I sat close to the bed and held Tom's hand.
“Tom, I'm so very sorry for forgetting about going to the cricket with you. If I'd remembered, none of this would have happened.”
“It's alright really.” he replied “I knew you didn't deliberately stand me up. What could be more important that a dress shop opening anyway?” he smiled.
“Oh stupid clothes! “I cried. “Nothing's more important than you. So when will they let you go home?”
Tom's smile faded. “Well it could be a few weeks or more.”
“For a cracked head?” I said “Can't you get over that at home?”
Tom suddenly looked very serious “I didn't want to tell you really, but it might be more serious than a cracked head. You see when I dived into the river I did something to my spine, and now I can't feel my legs. The doctors say I may get the feeling back, but right now I can't move them or feel anything.”
The room spun and I'm sure I turned white as the full implications of what he was saying came home to me. Perhaps he would never walk again.
I started to cry “Oh Tom, truly it's all my fault, how can you ever forgive me?”
He smiled and stroked my hand “There's nothing to forgive. You didn't know I would decide to go for a swim instead of going to the cricket, and it was my own fault for not checking the water depth. Goodness knows, people are warned about that all the time.”
Just then Mum and Mrs Shore came back. It was obvious to them from looking at my tear-streaked face that Tom had told me what might have happened, and I could tell by looking at Mum that Mrs Shore had told her too.
“I'm so sorry to hear about your injuries Tom.” said Mum, and then to me “We really must be going now Mandy. The nurses did say a short visit.”
“I'll come and see you again soon Tom.” I said, and leaned over the bed to kiss him. I'm sure it was the first time either of our parents had seen us kiss, but it would have felt strange not to have done so in the circumstances.
When I got home, I threw the clothes I had bought into the bin, I felt I couldn't bear to wear them. Mum later rescued them and persuaded me that neither the clothes nor I were to blame, and anyway it would cheer Tom up if I looked as pretty as possible when I visited him.
I was as good as my word about visiting him, going to the hospital almost every day. I say this because I have done some bad things in my life, so perhaps some good things help to balance the bad. Sadly the news was not getting better, as Tom still could not feel his legs, and after many tests, it was concluded that he had a form of paraplegia and would need to get around in a wheelchair. I did my best to be brave when he finally told me the bad news, holding back my tears until I had left the hospital.
It never occurred to me that Tom's accident should make a difference to our relationship, but Tom had long hours to ponder his future, and it did weigh on his mind. One day when I was sitting with him in the garden of his home, he took my hand in his and said “Mandy, please don't misunderstand me. You are a wonderful friend and I don't know what I would have done without you these last few months, but I want you to seriously consider finding yourself another boyfriend, especially after you have your surgery. Find someone who can give you all the things that I no longer can.”
I was shocked and tears started in my eyes “Tom, please don't send me away. You are the only one for me, and so what if you have a physical problem, so do I and that never got in the way of our friendship, so neither should this.”
“But you will be able to fix your problem, and I doubt if I ever can. I'm just suggesting the best thing for you, and whatever happens, we'll always be friends, you know that.”
As I walked home, I pondered his words. It hadn't crossed my mind for a moment that we should break up over his present condition. I wondered if there was more that he wasn't saying. Had the injury made him impotent, and did he think that would be enough to make me go away? I confess that at the back of my mind I had always looked forward to the time after my surgery when we could make love as a man and woman. Now I had to consider the possibility that that might never happen, but even that would not have made me leave him. In the end though, Tom made the decision for me.
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