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Hart Vetter lives and writes in New York’s Hudson Valley. 2024 publications of his include Across The Margin, Cleaver Magazine, Halfway Down The Stairs, Bull Men’s Fiction, Discretionary Love and Workers Write.


Trigger Warning

A note to the reader: Oh Lucky One is a follow-up to Minor Marvel, a story published last year. While Oh Lucky One is a very good read on its own, if you have the time, please consider reading Minor Marvel first.

There’s this nurse, Rafael, furry, burly, brown, beautiful, who’s my favorite at the hospital. He’s there the moment I come to.

Later as I’m closer to coherence, I look forward to his competent hands that know no fear of touch, a wipe here, a pat there, a prolonged brushing against skin, so welcome, no reason needed.

“They stitched you up good,” he says.

“Thanks,” I say, like it’s a compliment.

“Let the healing begin,” he insists. His smile is one of warmth. I wonder if it comes naturally or is an acquired trait. Warmth is not mandatory for his job description, as the other staff show abundantly. Could this be a field for me, once life is back on a routine keel again? I’m not warm by nature and have a hunch why that is. Growing up I felt having to cold-hard-fend for myself was part of the deal, every step of the way. I was not anyone’s favorite. Two siblings, three absent fathers, one overworked mom. I’ve grown into an outlier. Always in the top two biggest kids in class helps you stand out, but not as a hot pick for chum.

“You think I’d be good at this?” I ask.

“You have a big heart,” he smiles, I can tell I’m turning red. He makes it sound genuine and not in a flippant, big-guy/big-heart kind of way. Rafael has a standard family, two kids, I quickly find out which is too bad.

I get out faster than expected.

They assign me a caseworker, Adele, who’s tending to thirty-two clients at the moment, she says like a brag. She sure knows the ins and outs of care.

Cash won’t be an issue for a while. There’s been go-fund-me money that gushed and then ebbed, but would have streamed on if I’d pushed a little but didn’t feel right.

Rafael is game to join me on the float with another humpy nurse as the community tries to honor me. For what exactly? Surviving?

Soon I’m in my apartment convalescing and wondering what next. An event like mine gets you in the limelight for all the wrong reasons for just little while. They even take pictures of me upon release framed by the doctors and a few bigwig administrators and reception personnel. But not Rafael. I don’t notice until later. Fact is, celebrity wanes fast and not a damn soul wants to hear another word what made me one. Shock value — been-there, done-that; attention span — recalculating. Hey, you made it. Thank your lucky stars. Don’t dish us up a downer, day in and day out. You didn’t even lose a limb or get your face all fucked up for life. And it was nothing like metal shrapnel as from a genuine war wound in Fallujah. Just good old American plastic that we can’t get enough of, from the stocking cart and buffet dishes that got accidentally blasted in the form of indiscriminate rounds in your direction. The surgeons fished out what they could without messing your internal fabric or the exterior more than necessary.

What I find out, too, is I’m a serious grinder. I’ve had no idea, but now I know.

My dentist is Dr. Kim. He says I’m one of the worst grinders of teeth he’s seen. He muses if there’s something new and stressful in my life, because he’s never noticed such excessive wear before. He’s not much up on the headlines, I decide, or he might have a clue. Far be it for me to bring the incident to his attention. He’s not a psychiatrist by a long shot, he says, but what I must be processing every sleeping moment, night after night, qualifies as massive dental abuse. The night guard he gets me fits like a thick, rigid glove. Go chew on that, he smiles, clench all you want.

If that’s the worst of what I’ve got to deal with I’d sing Hallelujah at Carnegie Hall provided they let me. Getting up from my bed or the john or out of a car or the dentist chair for that matter, the pressure of just walking reasonably straight, all these simple movements shake awake nerve endings emitting stinging alerts — signals that all want their say and their scream of having been violated by blunt, inconceivable velocity and force.

My physical therapist understands and thinks he’ll get me to do better. He goes by Crunch. Like Cher, one name only, he says dryly. His actual name is with a K and heavy on consonants, spelled Krajncz or thereabouts. Somewhere Eastern European. Slovene, Slovak, something like that. At first blush I think he’s an older, sweet, sad sack. I mean it in a loving way. Closer up, he’s pleasantly stoic, fifties, a great bald head, hairy forearms, a hairy neck above his polo. He has the magic touch, that’s the thing about him. He doesn’t seem all that strong, but his grip and the moves he makes me perform cross some sort of line, leave me sore and exhausted, yet grateful each day after. Maybe that’s a field for me, physical therapy. I know well they prefer their instructors normal-sized.

“Should I try one of the weight loss drugs,” I ask him one morning, “that they advertise on late-night TV, one of the ones with a jingle and a pudgy lady dancing as they rattle off litanies of side effects, all the while the pudgy lady twirls in a flattering dress and appears to feel glorious.”

“What have you got to lose?” Crunch tells me.

He’s onto something. It’s going to be a new me, a new chapter, so why not?

“You think I could be good at this?” Line of work is what I mean.

“I think so,” he says, “Once you study a few years and have your certifications and we’ve got your own physicality managed. For now, you stand and walk a little slanted, you know that, right? People prefer their therapists fully erect.”

“Ooh,” I say and notice he’s blushing before his stoic face engineers a smile. We go for coffee one day, Crunch and I. The chatting is decent, but not a spark in sight. “You’re you,” he says, “Be that way. Talk to Adele, maybe she can get you signed up for school.”

I can’t see myself back at the market where it happened. I won’t even shop there. Can’t. The whole crew signed an adorable card with thank-yous in many colors, hearts, tears and hugs. In an envelope like I used to get from Payroll, the boss himself, Mr. Fielder, scribbled Mr. Green Forever, because I’d singlehandedly turned the produce department into a magnet called Greens. I’m not so sure what exactly he means, forever. But the check is a surprise.

As Crunch makes me contort my upper right side into a quarter pretzel, he says: “Hey, you had a good gig going. Now you need a regular therapist to help sort things out, up there, you know?” He’s probably right. Though if he’s in treatment, it hasn’t made his a happy face.

Adele knows a therapist and lines me up. Ginette’s her name. Older, if white hair means wise, it’s what she is. How I see myself, she wants to know. Victim or hero? “Is there no middle ground?” I mutter.

Also, if finding something positive comes easy to me, she wonders. “It’s not a yes or no question,” I mumble, but maybe that’s the point.

She talks about scars, That they’ll always be there, but don’t have to be front and center. She doesn’t say I ought to embrace them which is good. Some let them be overgrown with daisies; she laughs at some point. “I’m more a cacti person,” I say, not sure if any of this is helpful.

If I had my druthers, what would I do? “What good’s a fairytale thought like that?” I grumble. “Let all the trauma out in one evil fart, that’s what I’d do.”

She laughs. That’s healthy. Like a miracle enema to flush out the dread. We can do that, she says, if we’re patient and slow, we can get there.

My ex who’s introduced me to violence like it can be a good thing before it gets out of hand, texts me to get together. It’s the first time I’m literally screaming. I change my number. Perhaps popping my night guard in 24/7 is what I need to do. Ginette thinks I should have just told him, no thank you, that I’ve moved on, end of story. I worry he finds out where I moved.

When he rings the door, I first think it’s Amazon. So there we stand, face to face, the first time since we broke up, me still a bit crooked. Something about him has changed. Still a hot dude, thick eyebrows, thick hair. Oh yeah, he made most of the gray go away. He says, “Wow, so glad you made it.”

We hug in the open door. At first it hurts, then it feels warm and wonderful and I cry like a helpless little baby girl. I’m about to invite him in, but he says he’s with somebody new, three years my junior. Damn cradle robber. He just had to see me, he says, that’s all, to make sure I’m ok. It looks like he needs something off his chest. “It’s me who made you…” he says, “… strong.” As if the word to him holds magical appeal. There’s pride on his face. “I toughened you up.” Like I should be grateful. “Chances are you’d never made it out. It’s me who gave you resilience.”

“Don’t come back,” I scream. I slam the door. I’m shaking. If only I could vomit on demand. Right on his shoes. Right at his crotch. Too bad I can’t.

“Let’s go for a drink,” says Crunch when I call to tell him. Crunch grows on me.

Adele calls later. The Pride Center needs a caseworker. Maybe I’d want to apply. They pay for classes. I think I’ll give it some thought.

I don’t know summer colds are a thing, but I catch a bad one. I’m up one night to pee when during a sudden mega sneeze the night guard plops out straight into the flushing toilet. Gone! Oh my God. A most unfortunate sequence of events.

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