Disclaimer: Alex Summers, the X-Men and everyone else mentioned belong to Marvel. No infringement of copyright is intended or should be inferred. This vignette is inspired, fairly obviously for those who keep up with such things, by events in Uncanny X-Men #411 and fifteen years or so of interest in and affection for the character. Feedback would be welcomed with open arms at Latex1@tinyonline.co.uk
My name is Alex Summers, and I remember the moment of my death.
I remember dying.
But mostly, I remember living.
The thing is, most of the last year that I remember living has been in the prison that my own bodyís become. All the things Iíve seen, all the things Iíve done, and Iím still no further along than when I was born. I canít feed myself, dress myself, even talk. Iím catheterised. I wear diapers.
Of course, the nurses donít call them diapers. Theyíre incontinence pads. But itís the same thing. Iím so completely dependent on others that I canít even control my own bowels or bladder. Youíd think that it wouldíve become easier. After all, itís been this way for almost a year now. Youíd think that the humiliation of having someone else wipe your ass for you would fade after the first few months. But it doesnít. Oh, you get used to it, of course, but the indignity doesnít get any more palatable with time or repetition.
The nurses here are, for the most part, great. Sure, theyíre performing whatís termed personal care for you, doing everything for you -for ME- that I used to be able to do myself, and theyíre generally very professional about it, striking the right balance between being compassionate and clinical, not making too big a deal out of it or making the embarrassment of a grown man soiling himself any worse than it already is, but sometimes (maybe inevitably, I donít know) theyíll be talking to each other across you.
Iím not the heaviest guy in the world, but muscleís denser than fat and while thereís been a certain amount of muscular atrophy over the past year despite the physiotherapy programme, Iím still solid enough to require two people for anything physical. Of course, thatís the rule anyway, but like any rule it gets bent and, occasionally, broken. Back pain used to go with territory if you were a nurse; not so much these days, but thereís still a certain strain lifting someone by yourself.
Itís weird but, as much as I sometimes resent the occasions when theyíll talk about me rather than to me, I canít really blame them. Itís not like theyíre getting much response out of me. And what I learn about their lives, the things they talk about while doing their job, these little acts of voyeurism Iím forced into, they serve as my entertainment. After all, my eyes and ears still work. Itís just everything else Iím having problems with.
Thereís one nurse, Annie Ghazikhanian, who seems to spend more time with me than anyone else. I do tend to see a lot of faces, of course, and over the past year, as happens in any workplace, some of them moved on, getting replaced by new faces. But sheís been my... I donít know what youíd call it, primary carer? for most of the time Iíve been here.
Annie could talk professionally, at an international level. But then I guess you get into the habit of doing all the talking if the person youíre talking to isnít doing any of it. Sometimes, her persistence amazes me. In all the time sheís been working with me, she never seems to have given up the hope that, one day, Iíll talk to her. Itís not like I couldnít hold a pretty decent conversation with her by this point. Seems like I know everything about her life, like Iím privy to every detail.
I know all about her son, Carter, all her hopes and dreams and fears for him, things I can relate to after my time with Scotty, my own son in another world, in another life. But despite her unfailingly positive attitude I get the impression that, outside of her job and her son, she doesnít have much of a life. Itís probably fuller than mineís been recently, but she still seems lonely.
It seems sometimes that sheís kind of got a thing for me but, strangely enough, although Iím completely vulnerable, I still feel safe with her. Maybe because sheís let herself be so vulnerable with me, intentionally or otherwise. Sheís let me see whatís going on in her life, in her head, and that act of trust is another reason that I donít mind her talking to me non-stop. It makes me feel useful, and connected to the outside world.
I donít know if she really thinks I take any of it in, or whether itís just the triumph of hope over experience, but sheís my window on the outside world. Through her, I feel connected to Carter, I know which celebrity is sleeping with which other celebrity (or, in some cases, celebrities), and Iím pretty up-to-date on world affairs. More than when I was busy saving the world, or one like it, ironically enough. These days, at least, I have time to sit and listen, albeit no choice in what I listen to.
Today, the news is about me.
Well, not entirely. But Iím mentioned in one of the articles. My apparent death when the plane Greystone and I were in blew up. I survived and spent a year in an alternate reality, which made both more and less sense than this one. And now Iím here.
From Annie reading to me previously, Iíve learned that the X-Men have gone public, Professor Xavier himself, in what is a pretty radical about-face, outing them on national TV. Given what actually made it into the papers, Iíd love to know the story behind that one. What else has happened while Iíve been gone?
Maybe Iíll find out. Annie seemed a little freaked out by seeing my picture in the paper, learning that I was a mutant, but she told Carter that she was going to ring Xavierís, try to get in contact with Scott. Of course, she talked to me about it, too, once she realised I was actually still there.
The last time I saw Scott in person I threw him out of a plane. Thatís enough to put a strain on any relationship, and Scott and I have never been as close as either of us would have liked. For a long time, I resented Scott; you know, big brother/little brother stuff. Thought he could be a bit of an asshole on occasion, but then Iím hardly innocent on that score. The last time we talked before I died, or whatever you want to call it, I apologised and he forgave me. Pretty much like that. One or two more words but essentially that easy.
Of course, thereís still a lot to work out between us. God knows, I had some pretty intense experiences while I was gone, and I donít know what Scottís been up to. If what I hear from Annie is any indication, Xavier going public has caused more than a few ripples, and I can only imagine whatís been going on behind the scenes, all the stories that didnít make it to the media.
So Iím lying her in my bed, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the nurses outside my door being quiet as they do their rounds, the squeak of soles, the faint smell of disinfectant (which, let me tell you, is infinitely preferable to the alternative). In the distance, thereís the reassuring white noise of traffic that, most nights, helps me to sleep. But not tonight.
I thought I was resigned to being here, or at least that part of me was, but maybe some of Annieís optimism has rubbed off on me. She saw the picture in the paper, read the story. And when her shift ended and she said goodbye to me, like she always does, and she told me how she was going to try to get a message to Scott, she left me with something I thought Iíd forgotten.
After all, in my time with the X-Men, Iíve come back from the dead. More than once. Got better, as the flippant saying goes. Overcoming my current condition should be a walk in the park by comparison, shouldn't it?
And so I just lie here, unable to sleep because, maybe some time soon, I wonít HAVE to just lie here.
Because, for Annie Ghazikhanian, this is more than a job: itís a vocation, and her commitment doesnít end when her shift does.
Because my brotherís one of the most determined, most stubborn people Iíve ever met.
Because, in the world in which Iíve spent so many years of my adult life, miracles happen and anythingís possible.