Boston, Part Six
The next morning we quickly got ready and went to the lobby. I kept an eye on our luggage while Hannah talked to a woman at the front desk about the missing neck roll. I watched their body language and facial expressions and could tell that things were not going at all well.
The exchange concluded, and Hannah walked over to me.
“They fucking threw it out!” she said.
“I don’t know! They said they’d be willing to give me money to get a replacement. That’s not the point. Proper neck rolls are almost impossible to find.”
She returned to the front desk while I mingled awkwardly in the background. A few minutes later, Hannah updated me.
“The woman gave me the address of a medical supply store two miles away and said I could buy one there. I said, well, why don’t you go and buy one?”
“Exactly. We don’t have time for that, our shuttle is due here in half an hour.”
The woman behind the desk walked over to us.
“I’m so sorry about all this,” she said. “I’m going to buy one now. When’s your shuttle coming?”
We told her. She clenched her jaw.
“Well. I’ll try to make it back here in time,” she said, and left. I sat down next to Hannah and our luggage, and wondered who would show up first: the shuttle or the woman.
“How guilty will you feel if she gets killed blowing through a red light on the way back here?” I asked.
The shuttle arrived, but the driver didn’t come in.
“Are they early?” I asked. “They must be early. They’re not supposed to come yet.”
“They’re early,” said Hannah. “Let’s just wait in here.”
About ten minutes later, a different woman entered the lobby, saw us, and presented us with a bag. There was a brand-new neck roll inside.
“Is that all right?” she said.
“It’s perfect,” said Hannah. “Thank you.”
We met the shuttle, and I dozed off on the way to the airport. Once there, we had to wait two hours for our flight. Finally, three men arrived to inform us that they were ready for Hannah.
“Can David come? He knows how to turn off the brakes on my chair and get me into my sling.”
“No, he can’t, but once we get you ready he can come down and meet you,” said one of the men.
“It’ll be about five minutes,” one of the men said to me.
They hustled her off past a security checkpoint and I was left alone.
Here’s the secret about Hannah and I: when we’re traveling, we’re totally dependent on each other. While it’s an oversimplification to claim that she’s the brains and I’m the body- there’s some amount of overlap- that’s generally the case.
I’m horribly disorganized, and my memory doesn’t work, and I have difficulty approaching people and navigating systems.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to board a plane without her showing me where to go.
I’m also better at attending to Hannah’s needs than most people. I know how to work her chair, and how to move her around. I can often anticipate what she wants before she asks for it.
I sat by myself in a strange country in a strange terminal, not knowing what I was supposed to do, or what was being done to Hannah.
A small, bald man approached me. He was the one of the men who had escorted Hannah.
“You can come with me now,” he said, and led me down a jetway, down a staircase, and out onto the tarmac. Hannah was being messily transferred onto a Hannibal Lecter chair. Her face was fixed in a wince.
“Show them how to turn off the chair,” she told me. I did. They managed to get her onto the plane, and this time we were allowed to sit side by side. It was the first time we’d ever sat next to each other in real chairs. When I’m sitting next to Hannah and she’s in her wheelchair, she looms over me. When I’m standing next to her, I loom over her. In reality, we’re the same height, and sitting together in the airplane was the first time I ever really noticed this.
The flight to Ottawa was enjoyable, but uneventful. We rose through a blanket of clouds toward the beginning of the flight, and remained above them until we landed. As a result, there wasn’t much to see out the windows except a vast, bumpy white plain, but it was still beautiful. When the setting sun bounced off the clouds in the distance they looked like water.
Our plane landed, the other passengers departed, and Hannah and I waited for airline employees to bring the Hannibal chair.
There was commotion on the ramp outside the plane. A man in a neon orange vest came aboard.
“We just realized that the aisle chair doesn’t fit on the ramp. There’s a narrow section right by the door of the plane, and it won’t pass through. We’ve never, uh, we’ve never used this particular ramp before. It’s a different one. We’re going to keep trying to push it past.”
He left, I heard voices just out of sight- hushed, urgent, upset- and soon after, two men in orange vests boarded.
“Here’s the deal,” one of the men said. “We can’t get the chair on the plane. We can park it outside on the ramp and carry you about five or six feet to the chair. If you’re comfortable with that.”
“I don’t want to be picked up,” said Hannah.
“Well, we might be able to find another aisle chair somewhere in the airport. It could, uh, it could take awhile.”
“I’ll wait,” said Hannah.
The men left. Me, Hannah, and the flight attendant stayed on board. She made awkward small talk with us.
“In any organization there’s always a weak link,” she said.
Eventually two men in orange entered the plane, bringing a Hannibal chair with them.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” one of the men said. “There’s a little bump right by the door of the plane, and we’re going to have to lift the chair over the bump. Just like this high,” he said, and demonstrated. “And it’ll only last a second. You okay with that?”
“Yeah, fine,” she said.
“Don’t worry, we’re plenty strong,” the man said.
They awkwardly lifted her onto the chair, tied her down, and carried her off. I followed. On the tarmac, there were several men waiting around for no apparent reason. The two men who were pushing Hannah tried unsuccessfully to place her in the wheelchair. They almost dropped her. A third man joined in, and again they failed.
“We’re going to need a fourth guy,” one of the men said. “Duane, come over here!”
Hannah looked boneless while being lifted, and the men didn’t know how to handle her. Strength and numbers has nothing to do with it; they’re used to handling luggage, which is sturdy and unmoving. Hannah is like gelatin, and moving her requires a specific and untransferable number of skills.
The four men managed to land her in her chair. Parts of her chair had come off during the flight- two pieces that had already been loose- so I carried them, as well as all our bags, and we staggered off across the tarmac in the bitter cold.
A chatty flight attendant led us through endless corridors and a security checkpoint, apologizing all the way. She seemed surprised when Hannah told her that she hated flying.
Hannah and I were left alone, finally, blessedly, by the front door of the airport.
“So,” I said. “How’s it going?”
She shook her head ruefully.
“I just wanted to tell them to leave us alone,” she said. “We could’ve sorted it out together.”
We took awhile to regroup and then headed outside to try and find a taxi to take us to our hotel. I thought we’d probably be waiting all night, but an accessible cab arrived after only a few minutes.
When we entered the hotel, we were both tense and exhausted. We had no idea whether our room would have accessibility issues. I only knew that if were faced with even one more setback that night, I’d probably snap and burn the hotel to the ground.
Our room was huge, with two queen-sized beds and a large, empty space in the corner that was big enough for a dining room table.
But that’s a nice problem to have.
Unfortunately there was no roll-in shower. Hannah had assumed we wouldn’t need one, since we were only staying one night. But we hadn’t had time to shower the night before, so we were both gross.
“Let’s just bite the bullet,” said Hannah. “It’s one night and I’m too tired to transfer to another room.”
We went downstairs to the restaurant, where once again we were the last customers to order food, and the last to leave.
Afterward we retreated to our room. Hannah set the alarm on her phone for 4 A.M., which would give us only four hours to sleep.
Her alarm woke me up, I managed to only swear once- albeit really loudly- and we staggered through our morning routine. We had only an hour and a half to get our shit together, and that might seem like a lot of time, but we had a lot of shit. Hannah had to be got up (literally; she has to be pulled into a sitting position), transferred onto a hoyer lift, then onto the toilet, then back into the lift, then onto the chair. Her socks have to be put on, her shoes have to be put on, I have to help straighten her clothes and do up zippers. We had to pack the things we’d used overnight, I had to find something to drink, which led me to using a twenty dollar bill to pay for a two dollar iced tea out of a vending machine.
We made it downstairs just in time to meet our shuttle at 5:30. I had to go back upstairs to get the hoyer lift, because I couldn’t carry both that and the luggage. I left Hannah at the front desk to settle the bill.
When I got back, the man behind the desk was on the phone and visibly pissed. Hannah was pissed off, too.
“They sent an inaccessible cab!” she said.
“I don’t know!”
On the phone, the man was talking to someone.
“That’s bullshit, man, that’s total bullshit! I was here all night, I didn’t see anyone. When did the driver say he showed up?” He listened. “Three A.M.? The ride was booked for 5:30!” He listened. “No, he was not here at 5:30. The customers were. The driver wasn’t.” He listened. “Yeah, send another van.” He hung up and shook his head. “I don’t know why they’re lying. They should just admit they screwed up. When did you say your train was?”
“7:40,” said Hannah.
“All right, I’m going to see if I can contact another cab service,” the man said. He dialled a number. “Hey, I got a customer for you,” he said. “They were supposed to ride with D.J.’s cab service, but they screwed up.” He listened. “Yeah, they didn’t show up. Claimed they did. Bunch of liars.” He listened. “As soon as possible, yeah. That’d be great.” He hung up.
“All right, we got two cabs on the way. We’ll see who gets here first. You just hang tight.”
Hannah and I stood next to the luggage by the front door of the hotel.
“I swear to God, I’m going to lose my fucking mind,” I said.
“We’d better not miss our train,” said Hannah. “I don’t know what’ll happen if we do.”
We were due to attend a wedding reception at five that afternoon. Our train was due to arrive in Toronto at eleven. When we got back to Hannah’s, we had to shower and get dressed. If we missed the train, there was no way we’d get to the reception.
After fifteen minutes of waiting, a cab pulled up in front of the hotel. It was not D.J.’s; it was the one the man at the desk had summoned.
The driver delivered us there speedily, assuring us on the way that we’d definitely make it. We did. Indeed, we were so early that the train station wasn’t open yet, so Hannah and I stood outside in the freezing cold for what seemed like forever.
A VIA rail employee finally unlocked the doors to the station, the train arrived shortly afterward, and we were boarded without incident.
The train rumbled out of the station into the countryside, and I was immensely relieved. “We made it,” I said.
Hannah checked her phone and grimaced.
“What is it?” I said.
“Never mind,” she said. “I don’t think you can handle it right now.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure we can deal with it later,” I said.
There were no more obstacles standing between us and home, and that’s all that mattered.
I fell into a deep sleep.