This is the third chapter. If you're just starting out, you might prefer Chapter 1. I've messed with the post dates so the most recent post is at the top, and then you see Chapters 1 and 2.
I met Marco Roesner at dinner on the day I moved into my dorm at Berkeley. I think he chose the table to avoid conversation, but got curious when I said hello. He asked about the gadgets attached to my chair, several of which were hand-crafted by my dad. A week later Marco showed up with a wooden joystick he’d built. He asked if I’d try it out, but the moment he plugged it in, my chair started spinning in circles. He got better, though, and now runs Roesner Rehab, which makes fifty different bits and bobs of assistive technology. He uses half my garage as a warehouse and auxiliary lab.
People assume that with a name like Marco he must be Spanish or Italian, but he was born in a small town outside East Berlin. His parents moved west as soon as the wall came down, but he says growing up hedidn’t really fit in since he spoke with an East German accent.
I doubt he'd ever fit in anywhere.
He doesn’t look rattled, though, surrounded by cops while standing in front of my house. He points us out to one of the officers, who walks over to meet our van.
The officer confirms that we live here, and checks our IDs. “Do you know this man?” He points to Marco.
“He’s a friend of Chuck’s,” Donna nods back at me.
“He says you’ve given him permission to work in the garage.”
“Yes, he builds products for people in wheelchairs. Any problem with that?”
“No. No problem at all,” The officer gives a thumbs up to the police surrounding Marco, who relax in unison. “We received a 911 call that he was in your garage with a firearm.”
“A gun?” Donna looks at me in the rear view mirror. She hates guns. Hates them as in she insists my dad put his in the attic when we visit. She’d be happy to see Marco hauled off to jail for bringing one into her garage. “I didn’t say he could bring a gun.” She looks back at me. “Did you?”
“That’s between all of you,” the cop says. “You told him he could use your garage, and he didn’t discharge the firearm, so we’re done.”
“What was he doing with a gun?”
“Fitting it to a wheelchair.” The cop beams. “Never thought I’d see it. There are a lot of vets out there who’d love to go to the range.” He points back at me. “Him, too.”
The cop walks away and the others clear a path for our van. They may be done, but Donna isn’t. She pulls into the garage, kills the engine, and then looks back at me. “Did you tell him it was OK to bring a gun into my garage?”
I told him to keep the gun at his place and make sure Donna never found out about it. I believe my exact words were “if she finds you with a gun in our house, you’re going to have a near-death experience.” Maybe he wanted some extra attention.
“Good. Tell him to get it the hell off of my property or he’ll have to explain to the emergency room doctors how it ended up so far up his ass.” Her voice is cracking. Donna doesn’t believe in swearing (that’s why she’s bad at it). She prefers to choose her words with lawyerly precision.
It’s probably a good thing that my communication panel crashed. That heads off a conversation about what I knew about the gun-on-the-wheelchair project. It also prevents me pointing out that the garage is technically my dad’s, practically ours, but not, under any reasonable definition, hers.
Marco is smoothing down his rumpled shirt as the van door opens, then he leans in to smile at Donna. A piece of what looks like apple peel is stuck between his front teeth.
“The police here are so friendly,” he says. “Back in East Germany, we’d all have been taken in for questioning.”
“If you bring a gun into my house again, I’ll tell them I don’t know you.”
Marco tightens his lips into a sheepish grimace. Then his expression changes for a moment, and he reaches up and scrapes the apple out of his teeth. He looks at the peel before wiping it off on his jeans. “I know you don’t like guns,” he says. “I’m sorry. I thought... I thought you...”
“You thought I wouldn’t come home for a while.”
Marco thinks about that for a few seconds, and then turns to me. “What’s happened to you?”
I explain while he unlatches the chair and rolls me out into the garage. Donna watches from the front seat, and seems to be calming down. Marco gives Gonzo some scratches, and Donna gives me a kiss as she rolls by. “Tell him about picking fights at the card room,” she says.
“I didn't... pick a... fight. That … guy was … just ... a dick.”
“Boys will be boys,” she tuts. “And boys don’t like to lose money. One of these days, your mouth is going to get you in real trouble.”
“The gun would fit your chair,” Marco says. “That would have made him think twice.”
“Shut up ... about ... guns.”
“Hey - open carry is legal in thirteen states. You can even get a permit in some counties in California. Why should people with disabilities be excluded?”
Donna sighs. “I guess if crazy people want to carry guns, why not crazy people in wheelchairs. Where is it?”
“Where’s what?” Marco asks.
“Oh. It’s on the workbench.” He nods to the other side of the van.
“Get it out of here. Now.” She signals Gonzo to open the door to the house (all of our door handles have levers), and then rolls up the ramp. Marco stares after her until Gonzo closes the door. Then he turns back to me.
“Do the motors still turn?”
“Yes... Unplugged... controller... to stop.”
“Let’s move you into the manual chair and take a look.”
He grabs my orange-framed wheelchair. It has a new aluminum bracket attached to its right side. I assume that’s where he was mounting the gun. Marco positions the chair so I just need to stand up, turn ninety degrees to my left, and then sit back down. People are often surprised when they find out I can get out of my chair; in kindergarten kids asked how I slept in it. But I stand up about five times a day. It’s good exercise.
I take a deep breath while Marco moves both sets of foot plates out of the way and unfastens my chest strap and seat belt. Then I throw my torso forward, wait until I feel my feet on the ground, and then straighten my legs. Marco puts his hands under my armpits, both to help me balance and to catch me if my knees buckle. I lean to my right, pivot on that foot, and then Marco lets me crumble into the new chair. He straps me back in as I work to catch my breath. I’m still huffing and puffing when a full-size white Ford E250 Extended van pulls into my driveway. It’s my dad.
Marco grabs a couple of bricks from a pile in the corner of the garage while dad climbs out of the van and walks over to me. He’s carrying two bags of Chinese take-out.
“Donna said to meet you here. What’s up with you chair? Wait. You’re hurt.” He kneels down, just as he did when I was little. His voice rises as he touches my shoulder. “What happened, buddy?”
He hasn’t asked me that in years. He did a lot when I was growing up. Like in third grade when I got left outside after recess, like in junior high when Mark Palaso taped the joystick to drive me into the girls’ bathroom, like in trig class when the teacher said my aide was helping me cheat.
“My chair ... went off a ... curb.”
It all comes back, and a tear wells up in my eye. I try to blink it away, but dad’s only eight inches from my face. He gives me a hug and whispers in my ear.
“We’ll fix it, buddy. We’ll get you going again. Nothing’s ever stopped you yet. Nothing ever will.”
He stand up and turns to Marco. “So what happened?”
“Let’s find out,” Marco says. He shows no signs of having noticed the tear. He rocks the broken chair from side to side, setting it down on the bricks like a car going up on jacks. The wheels whir when he re-connects the motor driver, and show no signs of changing as he moves the control levers back and forth. He disconnects the cable that runs to the levers, and the wheels stop. “Looks like the controls have failed.”
“That’s the part you built,” dad says. He takes a step forward so he’s a bit too close to Marco, who is bent over looking at the chair’s electronics.
“Yes,” Marco starts to stammer. “But lots of things failed simultaneously. I don’t think it was my design that...”
“I’m not blaming you,” dad tells him. “I mis-wired a few circuits in my day, but mostly when shit happened, it was bad parts. All I meant was: you built it, you can fix it.”
“Of course.” Marco grabs a socket wrench and removes the motor driver and the panel from the chair. He carries them around to the workbench. I hear a series of clicks as he fires up the oscilloscope.
I see a slight smirk drift across dad’s face. Apparently satisfied that he made Marco jump, he turns back to me. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
“I could ... use a … shower.”
There’s a clatter from the workbench. “Oh, right. The gun,” Marco says.
We leave Marco to store the gun and debug the hardware. Dad pushes me up the ramp, into the house, and back to the master bedroom. He knows his way around; he owns the place, and only moved out to give me more independence. He and mom bought it thirty years ago, back when an electrician’s wage could pay for a decent house in a good neighborhood of Silicon Valley. They paid less than a hundred thousand. Two bedrooms, one bathroom. It’s worth over a million and a half now; the same floorplan down the street sold two months ago. A million and a half, and they bulldozed the place immediately. A massive palace of stucco is taking shape in its place.
Tearing down this place would break dad’s heart. He remodeled it completely as I was growing up, room-by-room, sometimes more than once, so I could access everything. Something was always under construction. Now my chair fits under every counter, my panel (when it’s working) can control every light. My shower is roll-in, roll-out.
The bedroom is adapted too. Dad engineered it over a period of six months when I started dating Donna. He wandered around San Francisco’s sex clubs checking out supports, asking questions, and bringing home all manner of restraints to experiment with. Donna turned shades of red to rival a fire engine, but after a while started suggesting her own ideas. Dad still goes up to the city from time to time, maybe to see if there’s new stuff that would help Donna and me, maybe to indulge some of his own interests as well; I prefer not to speculate.
Donna tells me she never discussed sex with either of her parents. But my dad seemed to view getting me laid as a personal crusade. I remember in fourth grade the boys at school were talking about stealing their dad’s Playboy and pawing through it in a locked bathroom. I asked my dad about it, and he promptly bought me a copy and turned the pages for me. I woke up that night to mom yelling at him about “that filth you brought into the house.” When he explained what it was for, she said he could go to jail.
“Fuck that,” he roared. “My son’s not gonna be the only boy in school who’s never seen a woman’s pussy.”
That’s my dad.