I should become a professional wrestler. My name would be Mad Justice. I would stitch MJ on my chest and tie a tomato-red satin cape around my neck. It would flap behind me as I bounced into the ring. I’d wear badass boots and have really big hair teased on all sides.
Instead, I was an incensed domestic, stacking plates on the counter, squeezing too much soap under the hot running water, clenching my teeth in silence as the sink foamed.
It was weeks since the latest incident, but I couldn’t let it go. Anger was now something I was comfortable with, like slipping on my favourite pair of jeans. We’d gone as a family to the local Remembrance Day ceremony, the first one since the accident. Steve wanted to take Owen. He said it was time. I told him we’d go together.
That morning, he rolled out of the bathroom wearing his green wool uniform. He still looked like a soldier. I counted the medals on his chest: one, two, three, four. One for every six months-plus we were apart. His jump wings sewn above them, wide open like a bird about to take flight. Golden. I watched him leaning over, putting on his boots in his wheelchair with the brakes on. Black laces gripped in hands calloused from wheeling himself around. He laced them tightly, like he had done all those times before, even though he’d never walk in those boots again. Then he sat up tall in his chair and positioned his maroon beret on his cleanly shaved head. I had married such a handsome man.
Owen wore his good pants, black, with a thick sweater under his winter jacket. I wore black pants as well, with my grey turtleneck and black wool coat. Funeral clothes. All three of us with poppies pinned like splotches of blood to our chests.
Since we would all be separated on November 11, we decided to go to the local ceremony the day before. There, at least, we could remember together. But the hardest day we would spend apart. Ontario does not recognize Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday. On November 11, it would be business as usual where we lived.
As we approached the community building, a parade of cadets was already sliding into formation. Legion people strapped with medals and banners paced with equal parts of purpose and pride.
My eyes scanned the perimeter of the building, looking for the way inside.
“Do you think there’s another way in?” I asked.
“There better be. I see stairs, and a lot of them,” Steve said as he pulled into the parking lot. I felt my jaw clench, my teeth grinding front to back. For God’s sake, not today. “Just relax, Dan,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”
He’d barely brought the car to a stop when I swung open the car door and jumped out of my seat. At the back of the car, I clutched his wheelchair frame, attaching both wheels and rolling it towards the driver’s side. Slowly, he transferred into the chair, the spasms in his legs shaking his body like a vibrator. When his legs stopped shaking, he picked them up with his hands and positioned his feet on the support plate at the front of his chair, strapping his feet in with a bungee cord so they wouldn’t fall off without him knowing. We’d learned this the hard way: his feet had flopped over while his arms propelled the chair forward, jamming his feet under the metal frame. Several times, he could have fallen flat on his face. And then there were the times that he did. He pulled down on his jacket and straightened his beret, squeezing it against his head into proper placement.
“Let’s go,” he said as he wheeled ahead towards the cadets, legionnaires, and other spectators who had started to arrive. Owen and I followed hand in hand.
“Excuse me,” I asked an older woman legionnaire. “Where is the wheelchair access to this building?”
She looked around before answering me. Her eyes skimmed past Steve, then Owen, then me. Then she scanned her surroundings from side to side. A man stepped forward and spoke before she could open her mouth.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think this building is wheelchair accessible, Miss. We’ll send someone in to find out.”
“What the hell,” I murmured under my breath.
Steve shot me a glare. I knew he wanted me to be careful with my language in front of Owen. I spoke to Owen in French while we waited, telling him the world still had so much to learn and this was one of those teachable moments. Owen just shook his head and agreed with me. He knew I was angry. Steve waited patiently without saying a word.
The Dependent is a true story written by Danielle Daniel the military wife of paratrooper Steve Daniel, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for fourteen years before his army career came to a crashing halt when an accident near Armed Forces Base Trenton left him paraplegic and their future in shards. The Dependent is a brave and modern love story revealing immeasurable loss and grief and the journey to lasting hope and forgiveness. To purchase a full copy of the memoir, visit the Latitude 46 Publishing website.
Danielle Daniel is a Métis author and illustrator who recently published her first memoir The Dependent: A Memoir of Marriage & the Military. She is the author and illustrator of the award-winning children’s book ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox’ (Groundwood Books). Her second children’s book is due for release in 2017. Danielle Daniel has a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Education and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing through the University of British Columbia. She lives in Sudbury, Canada with her husband Steve, her son Owen and their dogs Frodo and Suzie.