Stumbling

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In the dark
With an empty heart

Louis hated his body and his body hated him right back

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Louis hated his body and his body hated him right back. He hated the shuffling gait requiring a cane, leftover from pain and numbness that streaked down his left leg one day when he was 19. He still couldn't feel his last two toes, which perpetually felt like a stepped-on gum wrapper was wedged between them. He hated the uncontrolled vomiting that sometimes, though rarely, confined him to his knees, praying for the suffering to end, as his diaphragm hiccuped and spasmed to empty his malfunctioning stomach. He hated the dark. His eyes began to fail him when he was just nine, and his sharp mind knew he had to hurry. He devoured as much visual stimulation as he could until the darkness shrouded his vision completely four years later.

Neuromyelitis optica, an autoimmune disease, had robbed him of his eyes. In short, it meant his body hated him. It took the dumbfounded doctors over a year to identify what was dimming the light in his eyes. NMO, a cousin of Multiple Sclerosis, almost a twin but more vicious. It was also known as Devic's disease. When he was little, Louis thought it was devil's disease, and he imagined demons invading his body and severing his nerves. In a way, that's precisely what happened, only he was the demon. His own antibodies mistakenly attacked his spinal cord, eating away at the myelin sheaths that protected his optic nerves. And then the nerve to his leg. And now his stomach. And next...he didn't like to think about what might be next.

Louis was 24 now, and though this demon would never be off his back for good, he'd learned to live with it all. He found little tricks to ease the anguish of the endless vomiting, like keeping a gardener's knee pillow tucked beside the toilet and eating small meals chewed thoroughly. He could walk almost normally with a cane, which also came in handy when some asshole knocked him off balance. Came in handy not for balance. For a revenge whacking. He learned Braille, learned to read a Bradley watch, learned to use his hearing to absorb the knowledge for which he had been so hungry as a child. He couldn't handle more than one or two classes at a time, but Louis was studying some of the most challenging material in the world at one of the best universities: experimental/theoretical nuclear and particle physics at MIT.

But he couldn't see. So he had an aide, whose job was to type notes from the lectures that weren't said aloud. In his sixth year of study now, he'd gone through a dozen. At least. None were fast enough. None were smart enough. He needed someone who had at least a rudimentary understanding of the material. Halfway through their second semester together, Harry was proving to be the first who could live up to the task.

Harry accepted the job as an assistive transcriber in exchange for graduate courses in nuclear engineering. An idealist at heart, his goal was to find a better way to power the world. When he first took the position, Louis was angry all the time, and it was difficult for someone as optimistic as Harry to understand the darkness in Louis. He often muttered to himself, flicked his cane out to hit passersby who bumped into him, tossed away crumpled pages filled with tiny puncture marks that to most were nonsense, but Harry knew were Louis' own Braille shorthand. Harry studied him, searched for the reason behind his vitriol. It didn't take long for Harry to see it was all just a mask. A veneer. A way to shield himself, protect himself from the world. Harry imagined Louis must have had to work much harder than the rest of them to keep himself secure, to keep his heart secure, and Harry felt this odd and very strong urge to be the one to do it for him. He imagined building a tiny shelter around Louis' heart, with a red front door and window box filled with flowers and maybe even that cliche white fence. It was ridiculous, he knew. He worked hard to impress Louis throughout the first semester, and when Harry's knowledge and intelligence became evident, Louis accepted him with a grunt and a faint smile, and a congenial working relationship developed between them.

In The Dark // A Larry Stylinson ShortWhere stories live. Discover now