As told by Gregory MacCarthy
5135 Kensington Avenue has always been my home except for a stint in the Army. For the first eighteen years, I ran, swam, played football, basketball, and hockey. I was a jock. Then, one fine day after graduation, two of my buddies and I decided to join the Army. We’d show those sonsabitches. Turns out those sonsabitches showed us. Mike and Paul are dead and I have no lower legs. The blast got me below the knees.
After surgery and the healing processes were behind me, I was fitted with prosthetic legs and feet. I hated them. All the things I loved to do, requiring real legs and feet, were off limits. Most of all, I loved going to Yosemite and climbing the falls. Three hours up and three hours down. I can still feel the mist from the falling water cooling my body as I’d climbed. All I had now were memories and even those were depressing. Depression lurked around every corner and there were far too many corners in my life.
My doctors at the V.A. told me they were encouraged by my progress. Yeah right, let them walk on my prosthetic legs and feet for a day and see how encouraged they feel. My future seemed dismal and daunting. Sometimes I wished the blast had taken me with Mike and Paul. I knew they are in a better place. I missed them and often wished I were with them again.
And then the Crenshaw’s moved in next door at 5133 Kensington Avenue. Their son, David, did not live with them but came often to visit. He owned two cars, a black ’66 Chevy Chevelle, and a red ’67 Pontiac GTO. They were souped up and in mint condition. You could hear him coming a block away. He’d rev the engine before turning it off. It was a beautiful sound if you were into auto engines. The noise annoyed the hell out of Mom. I loved the sound; David was home. I suddenly had an interest.
I found the lyrics to ‘The Boy Next Door’ applied to David in so many ways –
The moment I saw him smile, I knew he was just my style.
The next line even more so –
My only regret is we’ve never met.
Without setting myself on fire in front of David Crenshaw, I could think of no way for him to notice me.
“Gregory, he’s probably not gay. He doesn’t look gay,” my sainted mother announced. My last name is MacCarthy. Everyone calls me Mac, except my mother who insists on calling me, Gregory. I could tolerate Greg but no, she has to pronounce the whole name.
Doesn’t look gay? She had to be kidding. How would she know, or was she afraid I’d find someone and leave her. She’s one of those widowed mothers who can’t let go. Nice but clingy. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I told her I was gay. The light in her eyes dimmed as her plans for grandchildren slipped away. At least she stopped asking me when I was going to get married – every fifteen minutes.
She was probably right about David, but I managed to convince my gaydar that he was what I wanted him to be in spite of his macho appearance and his penchant for cars.
And yet, when I’m honest with myself, those damned lyrics ring true.
But he doesn’t know I exist No matter how I may persist
So it’s clear to see there’s no hope for me
Though I live at fifty-one–thirty-five Kensington Avenue
And he lives at fifty-one-thirty-three
But still, I would love to have gotten my hands on his cars and him. Unfortunately, wheelchairs have their limitations. I was anatomically correct, it’s just that my legs, or what was left of them, were useless.
I lifted weights to gain upper body muscle and appeal, which had its limitations. No, I had to do something with a little wit to earn his notice. Coming off as the crippled guy next door was not going to work and it certainly was not my style. I’m not sure what my style is, but that wasn’t it.
David would take off his shirt and spend hours in his shorts, washing, and polishing, and tinkering with those cars. The way his hips would gyrate back and forth as he polished the sleek surfaces of his muscle machines was mesmerizing. It was almost as if he were making love to them. I was envious and very close to becoming besotted.
I used binoculars to get a closer look. There was something sensuous and intimate about watching every movement of his naked, sweating, muscular body, without him knowing I was watching. At the same time, it was torture – watching the sun glisten off the sweat on his pecs, which trickled down, caressing his nipples before free falling onto his abs, then disappearing into the top of his sweat-soaked shorts. I imagined the rest of the journey that sweat was taking before it reached its final destination in the fabric which clung to and caressed his masculinity.
It was like having a lollipop in front of me, with no licking privileges. I would have given anything for one drop of his sweat on the tip of my tongue. I wanted to stop watching him, but I couldn’t. I was hopelessly addicted. That’s all I had, that’s all I would ever have.
I began taking photos of him with a telephoto lens and looking at them on my computer when he wasn’t around. They were of little comfort and only added to the anxiety of my lonely life. Mom saw what I was doing and told me it was sick. The rage her remark unleashed surprised me and shocked her into silence. I screamed, cursing her, God, and the whole world. Tears spilled from my eyes in rivers. “What else do I have in this fucking life of mine? I have nothing. Just leave me alone.”
The reality that my legs were gone and would never return stepped out of the shadows of my mind and stood naked before me. I had not mourned their loss until that moment. I wept so bitterly I thought I would die. I was alone and scared. No one, not even my own mother, could share this misery with me.
The poor woman never brought the subject up again. She was softer and more caring, and I felt closer to her because now she understood what I was going through.
I continued to watch David at every opportunity. He only seemed to become more beautiful to me with each passing day. I wanted to meet him and get to know him, become friends and maybe more. The ‘maybe more’ seemed unlikely, but it was comforting to think about in spite of the annoying lyrics.
How can I ignore
the boy next door
I love him more than I can say
Doesn’t try to please me
Doesn’t even tease me
And he never sees me
glance his way.
And though I’m heart-sore,
the boy next door
Affection for me won’t display
I just adore him
So I can’t ignore him
The boy next door.
How to meet him was my dilemma. I ruled out a dramatic introduction. I would need to become an acquired taste. Something subtle and unexpected. Now, if I could only think of something subtle and unexpected.
I decided Kismet was the only answer. I would have to wait until the laws of the Universe intervened and sent him galloping into my arms and my heart. The only problem … I didn’t believe in Kismet.
There was one consolation, my therapy was beginning to work. I was able to stand and walk with canes. I was told that with a lot of hard work I may be able to walk normally someday. It was my only incentive to live.
Mom took me to the hospital and waited patiently outside the therapy center. The day came when I graduated from the canes and was on my own. I put on long trousers and asked my therapist to invite my mother in. She came in and stopped when she saw me standing alone. I slowly walked over to her, put my arms around her and we bawled like babies – even the therapist wasn’t dry-eyed.
In spite of the difficulties, there was noticeable progress with each day. I used the wheelchair less and less.
It dawned on me that Mother had gone through a lot with me around her neck. I was kinder and more thoughtful toward her now that I was becoming more independent. We had become good friends. I was glad about that.
I noticed David stopped visiting his parents. I didn’t hear or see his cars any longer and began to wonder why. Mother and Mrs. Crenshaw were only neighborly. I talked Mom into asking her about David. She didn’t want to. I guess it was the helpless look on my face which changed her mind.
A week went by. Mom went grocery shopping. She returned and was putting things away when I walked into the kitchen.
“Hey.” She turned around. I knew immediately something was wrong. “What is it?’
“I ran into Marge Crenshaw at the store.”
She pinched her lips to hold her emotions in check, “David was in an automobile accident,” she had to pause. I waited, holding my breath for the worst part. “He lost both of his legs in the accident. Marge said he was so depressed they were afraid for him.”
“Jesus, I can’t believe it. What hospital is he in?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think to ask.”
“Does Marge know about my legs?”
“I didn’t mention it; I don’t know.”
“Invite her over; I think I can help.”
Marge came over immediately. I waited for them in the kitchen. When the introductions were over we sat down at the kitchen table. Mom served coffee.
Marge was a sweet gentle soul who would not have hurt a fly. The accident and the loss of her son’s legs weighed heavily on her
“Marge, I think I can help David, with your assistance.”
“That’s kind of you, Mac. But I don’t see how.”
I smiled, turned in my chair and slowly pulled up my trouser legs above the knees.
“Oh, my God,” her tears erupted. I grabbed her hand and held it tight until she was able to compose herself. “Mac, I was at his bedside when he came to after surgery. When he saw the tent over his lower body he turned his head and looked at me.”
“Are they gone?”
“I was unable to speak. I just nodded my head slightly. He turned away and has barely spoken. His face is expressionless. It’s as if he’s waiting to die. He won’t see anyone except me and his father. I feel so helpless.” She grabbed my hand. “Mac, if there’s the slightest possibility you can help…”
“Well, let’s do a little plotting,” I smiled at her and we came up with a simple plan for me to make an appearance. I thought of Kismet and how I didn’t believe in it. I was beginning to change my mind. I was going to meet David.
Marge and I drove to the hospital. She went into David’s room for a few moments while I waited in the outer waiting room. Then, she excused herself and left David alone. She touched my arm as we passed one another.
I walked in. “Hi, David.”
“Who are you?” He was annoyed.
“I live next to your parents at 5135 Kensington Avenue. I’m Greg MacCarthy; you can call me Mac.”
“Why are you here?” He could have cared less.
It was the first time I had been close to him. I could not keep from smiling. “I thought I might be of some help.”
“I doubt it.”
I sat down opposite him and asked him what had happened. He was reluctant to talk. Marge came into the room and seated herself a distance away and watched.
“You know this guy?”
“Yes, Mac is my neighbor; I brought him with me.”
“What for?” His voice was so pathetic I decided not to wait. I slowly pulled up my trouser legs above the knees, smiled, watched, and waited.
It was as if lightning struck him. He sat up as best he could, looked at my legs, at me, at his mother, whose tear ducts had begun to empty. Then, he began talking nonstop with question after question. Marge had the doctor come in and join the discussion. As the afternoon ended, I got up, let my trousers fall into place and walked to his bedside.
“I’m pleased to meet you at last.” I put my hand out. As David grasped it, I felt his strength returning, which sent a shock wave through my body. All the longing I felt for this man was over. I was touching him and had his complete attention. “May I come back?”
“Yes, Mac. I would appreciate it.”
As I left the room, David called to his mother. I looked back and saw him embracing her. He whispered, “Thank you,” which sounded more like a sigh of relief to heaven than to his mother. Who knows, maybe they were one and the same at that moment.
As Marge and I left the building, she stopped and embraced me, kissed my cheek and began to cry. “Come on Marge, it’s going to be ok.” I was afraid to let her drive, so we walked through the garden next to the hospital and talked about what the future held. “He’ll walk again, Marge. I promise.”
“I believe you, Mac. Come on, let’s go home.”
I had nothing better to do than to coach David each step of the way through therapy. I was able to hold him in many ways during the awkward moments I knew would come. I supported him physically, mentally, and emotionally when he desperately needed it.
A friendship was inevitable; beyond that, I could only hope. It took time before his legs were healed enough to bear the prosthetics. I knew what lay ahead of him and was there every moment, treasuring his nearness. I caressed him without him realizing it. I could smell him when I was close. It was months away, but I dreaded the day when he would be on his own and would no longer need me.
I knew the moment of mourning would come when the realization of his loss would hit him. And it came one afternoon as I was helping him out of bed into his wheelchair. The sobbing began and increased into a rage as his soul expelled the hurt and loss of his limbs. I held him tight, like the lost child he was at that moment. He clung to me like a life raft in his sea of misery as he wept bitterly. I had gone through the same thing. I had no one to cling to when it happened to me. I made sure David would never be in that position.
When the passion of his grief subsided, he withdrew from my arms and apologized.
“For what? They’re gone, David, and they’ll never return.”
He looked into my eyes. He knew I understood what had happened. He smiled as I helped him into his wheelchair.
“Can we go somewhere outside? I get so sick of this room?”
I suggested a park overlooking the river. He didn’t hesitate, “Let’s go.”
Marge dropped us off and said she would be back in a few hours. David and I found a secluded spot and settled down. He looked at me, “You’ve been such a good friend to me, I hardly know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, David. I’m glad I was available to help.”
“How long has it been? I’ve lost track of time.”
“It’s been ten months.”
“I didn’t realize it was that long.” He paused. “You’ve given so much of yourself.”
I smiled at him and said nothing.
“Are you tired of it? There’s still a long way to go.”
“The day you can walk on your own, I’ll think about it.” He was trying to say something else. I did not know how to help him.
David looked away and gazed at the prospect. Then, quietly he asked, “Would you be offended…”
“Offended? At what?” He didn’t answer. “David, there isn’t anything you could do or say that would offend me.”
He began again, “Would you be offended if I told you … I’ve fallen in love with you?” He continued looking at the prospect, waiting.
“Out of gratitude?”
His head snapped around. He glared at me with a fierceness that surprised me. “No, never!”
I was relieved to hear those words. He turned away and waited.
“Would I be offended? No, I had hoped …” now I was at a loss for words.
“Hoped?” He turned and looked at me.
“I had hoped you would feel that way someday.”
“You never noticed?” I laughed.
“I did, but I didn’t think it possible. It was too confusing.”
“Are you confused now?” How I cherished what was unfolding before my eyes.
“I used to watch you wash your cars, half-naked, and dreamed of …” Those damn lyrics popped into my head.
Though I dream of him all the while
“Dreamed of what?”
“Many things, primarily finding a way to meet you.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
I laughed. “Think about it, David. The crippled guy from next door asking you to be his friend.”
David sighed, “Yes, you’re right. Now, what do we do?”
“Nothing. We have the perfect excuse to be together. The problem will come when you are on your own and no longer need me.”
Suddenly our relationship changed to that of oneness. Our conversations took on a closeness I had longed for. Marge picked us up. She was aware something had happened but said nothing.
As I helped David from the wheelchair into his bed, I held him for a moment, embraced him, and kissed him tenderly on his mouth. I looked into his grateful eyes and finished placing him in bed.
“Holy crap,” he looked up at me.
“What?” I wasn’t sure what he meant.
He looked down at himself and then looked into my eyes. I closed the door to his room and locked it.
The months passed quickly. David’s therapist remarked at his rapid progress. They had no idea how love can accomplish miracles. I never dreamed two people could be in such sync with one another. It was as though we could read each other’s minds.
And then the day came when David stood on his own and was able to walk without assistance. We planned it so his parents could enjoy the moment with him. Mom and Marge had become close, not only as neighbors but as friends. So, having her come along was not unusual.
“Ready?” I looked at David.
“A little nervous,” he smiled, “but I’m ready.” He stood steady alone in the middle of the room. I invited everyone in from the lobby. Mom and I stood in the background.
David smiled at his parents and walked slowly toward them. David’s dad grabbed his mother and held her close, tears running down their cheeks.
I put my arm around Mom as we enjoyed the moment. David and his parents embraced and held each other as tears of joy spilled out.
Then Marge broke away and ran to me, embracing me so hard I staggered. “Mac, if it weren’t for you …” She kissed me on the cheek.
David and his father walked over to us. David put his arms around me and kissed my cheek. “Thank you, Mac.” He whispered, “I love you.” He didn’t let go.
“David?” The cat was about to come out of the bag and I didn’t know what to do except stand there and watch.
David’s father was the first to notice, “Are you two…?”
David turned his head to his parents, “Yes, Dad.”
He turned and looked into my face, “Mac, will you marry me?”
All I could hear were gasps. Mom came up and spooned me from behind. The moment I dreamed of had arrived. I had instant flashbacks of David the first time I saw him smile when I realized he was just my style. No more regrets, no more dreams. “Yes, David, I would love to marry you.” I kissed him on the lips with everyone watching.
Marge yelled, “We have nothing to celebrate with.”
David’s therapist saved the moment. “I have two quarts of iced tea in the fridge.” Plastic glasses were filled with chilled iced tea, and toasts were made to a long and happy life.
We didn’t want to wait. The Fourth of July was right around the corner. So, on a sunny, breezy Fourth of July at high noon, David and I stood together in the orchard of cherry trees between 5133 and 5135 Kensington Avenue, exchanged our vows, and became partners for life.
And now the job of strengthening our leg muscles began. The advanced mechanisms for the prosthetic foot and ankle provided the tools we needed to assume normal and productive lives. We wanted to climb together – Yosemite Falls was our goal. Before the year was finished we were ready for the challenge.
Our folks, some friends and a crowd of park visitors gathered around as we walked to the trailhead of Yosemite Falls. Here were two men, with no legs, attempting what seemed the impossible. We looked at one another as the mist and the sound of falling water baptized us.
David smiled, “Ready.”
“Ok, let’s go.” The sound of the gushing water energized us as we began the climb.
Well-wishing friends and family cheered us on. Other climbers joined us, then passed by only to greet us when we arrived at the summit. It took us an hour longer than the normal three hours. We made it with no problems other than we were exhausted.
We crossed the bridge and spent an hour resting and talking with other visitors.
Someone spotted our matching wedding bands and cautiously asked, “Are you two married … to one another?” I laughed and acknowledged we were. The young girl who had asked the question called her friends over, which added to the merriment of the moment. They insisted on knowing everything about us.
Our descent began as afternoon shadows gathered about us. Climbing down was easier so we took our time, resting when necessary. We ached all over when we reached the valley as the last rays of daylight gave way to a beautiful twilight. We had something to eat, showered, and fell asleep in each other’s arms.
David was already sound asleep and I was on my way when I thought about Kismet. I had been so wrong. It really does work, when you let it.