Synopsis: Missing scenes from The Triangle, and what happened next.
Word Count: 4,675
Poor, poor pitiful me… That’s how I felt as I lay there waiting… and I hated every moment of it. I know they’re my family, but still… I didn’t want their help. I have fought for my independence every day since this happened. It just isn’t right. I can do this… I have to do this… If for no other reason than to prove that I’m a man.
The worst part of being restricted to the house of my father was that there was always someone there, asking me if I need anything, can they do anything for me… I wanted them to just leave me alone, but they wouldn’t. I have always been an independent person, even when I was a young child; I had to be. But now I find myself dependent upon those who care the most for me.
To say I had been distracted was an understatement. My return home from a business trip Pa had sent me on was delayed when part of the road was washed out. I had mixed emotions regarding what happened; happy because of what I had in my pocket and sorry that I was missing the party I promised her I’d be home in time to attend.
Before I had left, Laura had pressed me about setting a date for our wedding and I know I should have explained everything to her, but I’m a man who sets out to do a project and I’ll see it through to completion, in every aspect. And my project was to build a house for my future wife and present it to her as a present on our wedding day. Period. End of story.
During the early part of the construction Pa had attempted to explain to me that Laura had expressed her feelings surrounding my limited presence in her and Peggy’s lives as well as the fact that when I was there, I was falling asleep after supper. But I paid no mind to what Pa had to say, I knew all would be forgiven when Laura… when Mrs. Adam Cartwright saw our home for the first time.
How could I have been so stupid that day to have been working on my own, on the rafters, no less? I guess this was my way of dealing with the fact Laura hadn’t acted as I expected her to be when I presented to her my gift, but then… I wasn’t used to dealing with those of the fairer sex, not when it came to something like this.
I remembered how worried I was, unsure how I would be received at Laura and Peggy’s home; after all I had totally missed my own engagement party. Several days later I finally returned home and I casually tossed my hat inside and waited, leaning against the door frame. Peggy was happy to see me as she came out wearing my hat and returned it to me. I whole-heartedly apologized to Laura and I should have sensed right then and there that something wasn’t right, but in my own way I felt that what I had to give and to say would erase all her hurt. Upon my presentation of the wedding ring I had purchased while on the trip and agreeing to set a wedding date; I couldn’t believe how our situation had flipped, me anxious to set a date and Laura asking for more time.
My mind was oblivious that there was something wrong and I knew that this was just a case of pre-wedding nerves, so… as I worked to build our home, I was dreaming of carrying Laura over the threshold on the first night of our new lives together, and it startled me to hear a horse and buggy coming down the road. I overbalanced myself as I lost hold of the piece of lumber I was attempting to move into position.
As I was falling I distinctly remember thinking, ‘This is going to hurt.’ And in more ways than one, that was far from the truth. I heard and felt the air explode out of my lungs as my body impacted with the ground and then I felt a searing pain in my back. My head and my chest were next on the list of casualties as the length of lumber crashed down onto me. And then I didn’t feel anything as my world turned black. I had no idea how long I had lain there before I opened my eyes and saw a vision of an angel, my angel, my Laura.
I tried to explain to her, but my tenuous grasp on consciousness fled.
Paul was thankful that the lumber only glanced off my hard head; and those were his words. He said something about thanking Providence that the rafter had fallen as it had, otherwise I could have been killed.
Joe had been the one to ride for Doc Martin when our cousin Will drove Laura’s buggy into the yard; Pa and Hoss were somewhere out on the ranch. Several of the hands were sent out to find them and inform them of my accident while others accompanied Will back to the construction site in an effort to bring me home.
Joe was still in the room, hovering over me when Paul finally announced his prognosis, “He’s bruised a few ribs and suffered a minor concussion.”
“What about his back?” Joe asked.
“I’m sorry, but it appears that he is paralyzed.”
I heard the gasp of breath and realized it was my own response to hearing Paul’s words. I didn’t hear Joe slip from the room.
“Adam, I’m sure this is only temporary. Your back muscles are in a state of spasm, cramping if you will. And right now, that is blocking the transmission of instructions from your brain down to your legs. I want to discuss your case with Doctor Lee to see if he has any suggestions for how to treat you.”
I nodded, I didn’t think I could say anything calmly.
The second day after my fall found two physicians, Doctor Martin and Doctor Lee, the doctor who treated those from the Chinese community in Virginia City, in attendance at the Ponderosa. Over the years, Paul had worked on numerous cases with Doctor Lee, mixing modern day medicine and ancient Chinese practices in an effort to return his patients to health or to ease their suffering. The good news was that neither felt that I had inflicted any damage to my spine. The muscles and the nerves were overwrought and needed time to heal. I’ve suffered tired and sore muscles in the past and I would willingly experience those instead of this constant attack and the numbness that extended down my legs.
As the days progressed, Hoss was deliberate in his ministrations as he followed the regimen prescribed by Doctor Lee. The two physicians decided that this would be the best resolution for my situation; massage and heat therapy. Both had agreed that before falling asleep that I take a teaspoon of laudanum to help me sleep through the night.
Doctor Lee wished he was more accomplished in the art of acupuncture, but would not even attempt it for fear of doing more harm than good. And so, my middle brother’s strong hands massaged my back every morning and every night, as well as manipulated my legs so that my muscles didn’t atrophy. And after every meal, Hop Sing brought heated towels, rolled up and positioned them under my back, hoping to relax the taunt muscles.
I was thankful for the most part that it was Pa who brought me my meals as well as the newspaper or retrieved books from my shelves. Whenever Hoss couldn’t be there, Pa was the one who worked my legs. I know he’s worried about me, but at least he can keep his facial expression somewhat passive. But believe me; I haven’t lived with this man for thirty-some years to not know that this is hurting him as much as it is me.
I didn’t see much of Joe after those first few days. A few times I thought of how I would feel seeing my youngest brother with his expressions so open upon his face. But the thoughts were fleeting as the pain would pulsate and claim my attention. As it was, I was so wrapped up in the tedium and the pain and how I would provide for my future family if this wasn’t temporary, that I didn’t realize I was actually missing a member of my family.
It grieved me each time Laura entered my bedroom bearing a tray with my food. I was embarrassed for her to see me lying flat in my bed, wearing a nightshirt. Surely it wasn’t the strong state of being for a woman to witness in her future husband. But she had insisted that room be made for her and Peggy in the house, and Pa had willingly complied.
Still, this wasn’t how I foresaw myself with my future wife, but was this destined to be my fate? I was a man; it is the man who is supposed to take care of the family, but not now… maybe not ever. I enjoyed Peggy’s visits, but what kind of a father could I be to her?
The pain in my back had greatly lessened, but for some reason my legs were still numb. Doc Martin tried to explain something about my nerves having been injured as a result of the fall and subsequent contractions of the muscles in my back. It seems that most remedies rely on the same prescription… time. That it would take time for them to recover. He was happy to announce that my condition had improved to a point where he felt I could now safely sit up and get out of my room, and so he brought out the wheelchair. After Pa and Hoss had carried me downstairs, I felt safe tooling about the great room of the house in my new manner of getting around. And Pa had even mentioned something about moving my room downstairs now that I was mobile.
As Paul, Pa, and Laura surrounded me in the great room, I heard hammering outside, and then Joe and Hoss came into the house and the next thing I knew I was outside. They had built a ramp so I could access the outside deck. I’d have to work on building up my arm strength in order to make it up the ramp, but until then… I closed my eyes as I thought about being stuck in this chair possibly forever.
With the re-introduction of my independence I had hopes that my future would brighten. After Doc Martin left, Laura, Peggy, and I played ball. We tossed it back and forth and I was happy, I was making Peggy giggle as I appeared to fumble round with the ball, unable to properly catch it. We laughed and played ball until Laura accidentally tossed the ball over my head. How could I have forgotten my own situation so fast? I tried to reach for it and ended up falling out of the chair. My back hurt as I collapsed to the ground.
Joe was quickly out of the barn and to my aid. Laura stood there, grief stricken, hands to her mouth, tears in her eyes. Peggy stood behind the chair, helping to hold it in place. As my youngest brother pushed me and my chair back into the house, my future darkened.
Hoss and I had a long discussion that night as he massaged my back; he insisted that being outside would help heal me.
“Fresh air has an amazing quality to it. Don’t give up just because ya fell. Ya gotta get up and get right back in that chair,” Hoss stated.
My mind echoed a time from years past when I was teaching Hoss to ride a horse, “If you fall, you have to get up and get right back in the saddle.”
And so I agreed with doctor Hoss and his prescription for fresh air helping me to heal. I just didn’t realize that first my heart would have to break.
Pa had told me earlier that Will would be leaving to take a job with a company in San Francisco, and that didn’t make any sense to me. I thought he liked it here and was settling in well with the family. When I asked about Will, Hop Sing told me that he’d see our cousin go to the barn.
I hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but when I heard voices inside the barn, I stopped, and then I realized who belonged to those voices… I more than heard what they were saying. Pa had tried to advise me so many weeks ago about the need to spend more time with Laura or to at least explain to her why… But I didn’t listen. And now, I was faced with the truth.
I had to face what I had done… I’d taken the woman I supposedly loved for granted and through my own actions, I’d driven my fiancée into my cousin’s arms. In hearing their voices I knew both felt guilty for how they felt towards each other, especially considering my circumstances.
The swish of a skirt announced that Laura was getting ready to leave the barn. As I hid around the corner of the barn, I thought of how her voice had sounded as a long suffering fiancée, a woman who had no real prospect for me being able to provide for her as her husband. But she was willing to forgo her happiness all for a sense of duty to me; because my legs won’t work. She was willing to stay as long as I needed her. He was leaving in order to make it all the more easier for everyone involved, including him. How could he stay? How could a man stay to watch the woman he loved dote on another man all for a sense of duty?
All those days of being trapped in my bed and weeks of being trapped in this damn chair Paul Martin had brought out to aid me until the muscles in my back healed and my legs decided to work, and now I realize that I’d lost her. Faced with the truth, I finally accepted that I was not in love with her, but in love with the idea of marriage and having children.
The afternoon that Laura had pushed me out of the house in this contraption I knew what I had to do. I had to help her, and myself. “We need to talk,” I spoke. In my heart I knew I was not going to be the excuse for them not marrying, for them not being happy. When Will came from the barn, she looked at him in a way she had never looked at me; I saw her mourning behind her brave facade.
I watched as they stood on opposite sides of the yard and said goodbye to each other, their hearts grieving for what could have been.
And that’s why I did what I did, all because of my damnable pride. I stood… I stood and told her, “I don’t need you.” I told her to go to him. I gave them my blessing all because I didn’t want her ‘Poor, poor pitiful me’ attitude.
Pa watched it all, and was shocked when I stood to my feet. It wasn’t so much that I was standing, but the expression on Laura’s face. She knew that she could leave me, and do so guilt free.
“Let’s give them some privacy,” I spoke to Pa as I slowly turned and carefully made my way to the house.
“Poor, poor pitiful me.” That’s how I felt when I collapsed as the door closed behind me.
“ADAM!” Joe yelled, dropping his cup of coffee to race to my side. With his hands under my arms he knelt there and asked, “What do you think you were you doing?”
“Trying to get back in the saddle,” I answered with a lop-sided grin on my face.
“Joe,” Pa interrupted, “Let’s get Adam into his room.”
Once I was settled into my bed, Joe was quick to leave, “Joe, wait,” I called out.
“I need to clean up my mess,” he announced and left. Shortly thereafter we both heard hooves pounding as they left the yard.
“Pa, is Joe alright?”
With the look on Pa’s face I realized that he wasn’t sure either, but then he faced me and spoke, “Are you alright?”
I took a moment before answering because I wasn’t sure how to answer. I finally stated, “I will be. I just hope I didn’t set myself back, pretty stupid of me to stand and then try to walk.”
“But you did it. Now I’ll ask, why son?”
“They were in love Pa, more so than I was with Laura. She was only staying because she felt I needed her. As long as I was in that chair, she felt she couldn’t be happy because she had to stay and take care of me. She fell in love with Will. It just happened… You did try to warn me, but I was too proud to really understand what you were saying.”
“I’m sorry, son.” Pa finished settling the covers over me.
“Don’t be Pa. It’s better to find out now than later, besides now she could leave with Will.”
“I’m here if you want to talk.”
That evening, before supper, Hoss came into my room calling me a ‘dad-burned fool’ for trying such a stunt. “But I guess I can understand why ya done it, older brother.”
His hands worked wonders on my back and I began relaxing. “Speaking of brothers… Have you seen Joe?” I asked as I looked over my shoulder.
For a moment, I saw something in Hoss’ face that I couldn’t explain. I tried to grab his hand and leverage myself over, but only ended up pinching something in my back.
“Just lie still. I don’t need ya goin’ and undoin’ all the good work I done.”
“Hoss, tell me about Joe.”
“Ain’t much to tell. He’s worried about ya.”
“Not so much that he’s been in here as much as you and Pa…”
“I guess he recons ya want your privacy. You ain’t the easiest patient to deal with, ya know.”
“That doesn’t sound like Joe. Hoss wait a moment, help me sit up.”
Hoss didn’t have to do much, but he did wait for me to get settled so I could look him in his face.
“Talk to me big brother,” I encouraged as I reached for Hoss’ wrist.
“It ain’t been easy on him,” Hoss shrugged his shoulders.
“What, not being the focal point of the family for the past month?” I teased.
Hoss’ eyes lit up in anger and I saw him clinch his teeth.
“I’m sorry, I meant it as a joke.”
“Adam, he was here when Paul first diagnosed your back problems… before Pa or I even knew you were hurt.”
“I vaguely remember…”
“And that day when you’s and them were tossing the ball…”
“He was there and helped me up and set me back into the chair. He helped me earlier today.”
“Yeah, same for today,” Hoss’ voice pitched downward.
“Hoss, has he said anything to you? I asked Pa earlier if Joe was alright and he looked puzzled.”
“Nah, Joe ain’t said anythin’ to me, but I guess I understand how he feels.”
I listened to what my brother had to say, not just the words, but the undertones. “How do you feel?”
“It ain’t easy seein’ someone ya always looked up to strugglin’ with hurt. Ain’t easy knowin’ that all ya can do don’t really matter. It’s really out of our hands. We ain’t got the know-how to fix a broken body… or…” Hoss looked to my hand still holding onto his wrist.
For over a month I had been self-centered, but told myself it was only because I needed to be in order to heal so I could take care of my family… But Laura and Peggy weren’t family, not yet, not officially. Was I so focused on the wrong family?
“You need to ask him…” Hoss stood and left the room.
All night I listened for Joe to return home, but never heard Cochise’s hooves enter the yard. Before morning broke, my back felt good, and my legs let me know they were there and ready to work. It’s hard to explain, but I felt I had to get out of bed and had to do something, and that something was to find my youngest brother.
Hoss was surprised to see me enter the barn, and without saying anything, he saddled Sport for me.
Half an hour later I was wondering, if I stepped down, how was I ever going to get back into the saddle to ride home? But that was secondary to seeing my youngest brother sitting against his mother’s grave, his arms wrapped around his knees pulled to his chest.
Leaving Sport ground tied, I walked over and sat down. From all appearances he was not aware of my presence. It was a beautiful morning as the sun rose over the landscape.
“Doc Martin’s not going to be too happy to find out you rode all the way out here,” Joe quietly stated, without moving an inch.
“I had something I needed to do this morning and I felt it was important,” I answered, removing my hat and setting it on the ground. “I find it funny that twice within twenty-four hours I feel the need to start a conversation by saying, ‘We need to talk’.”
“I’m listening,” Joe whispered.
“No… I think you’ve got that… backwards.” I had started to say ‘wrong’, but something told me that Joe wouldn’t take kindly to the word. “I think you’re the one who needs to talk and I’m the one who needs to listen.”
“There you go, being…”
“A Yankee granite head?” I interrupted.
“No… my older brother.” Joe slipped his legs from his arms and sat cross legged.
“Are you okay, buddy?” I was concerned how his arms appeared to be wrapped protectively around his ribs. “You didn’t get dumped from a horse and injure yourself, did you?”
“No, I’m not hurt.”
“That’s a change from your standard, ‘I’m fine’ response.” I watched to see if my words made an impact.
“I’m sorry, Adam,” Joe answered as he looked out over the calm waters, waters that were in stark contrast to the turbulence within my youngest brother.
“Sorry for what?”
“Laura and Will…”
I waited, I knew it wouldn’t do any good to push Little Joe into talking.
“It was hard seeing you laid up like you were.”
“It was hard being laid up.”
Joe looked to me, “I’ve always looked up to you Adam. You’ve always been there for me, my whole life.”
“I was scared… Scared you were going to… leave.”
I knew the word that Joe was hesitant to use was ‘die’; I can imagine how he must have felt.
“When I came into your room in front of Doctor Martin, you were so deathly still… it didn’t even look like you were breathing. I wish I could have helped you in some way.”
I looked back over the past month or so and tried to understand where Joe was coming from, he had helped me. Laura told me that Joe had been the one to ride for Paul Martin, Pa said he was doing my chores around the ranch and had taken over completing the books in order to allow Pa to help me. He had been there those first few nights, and each time I had fallen…
“It’s not easy seeing your hero fall, is it?” I somberly asked.
“No, it’s not. As much as we’ve fought over the years… bet you never realized how much I wanted to be just like you. You had it all, Adam.”
I heard the insecurity in my sibling’s voice…
“Joe, I never deserved for you to place me on that pedestal. I did what I had to do and that was to help Pa raise you and Hoss.”
“But you lost Laura and Peggy…”
“I don’t think I ever really had them Joe. If I had, I wouldn’t have lost them. And it was me who lost them. Laura didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Do you ever want to get married?”
“Some day, but it will be with the right woman…”
“Someday, me too,” Joe whispered.
I took another shot at getting Joe to talk, “I’m sorry that I didn’t realize until yesterday how my injury hurt you.”
“I wasn’t hurt… at least not as much as you were,” Joe acknowledged.
And that was the crux, my little brother was hurting because I had been injured and in order to allow me what I needed to heal, he’d kept all his hurt inside. And in keeping his hurt inside, he had buried himself in the Ponderosa, and now that I was recovered, or rather suffering a very small set back…
“Okay, so I was physically hurt and you were emotionally hurt. Regardless, we were both hurting. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about it or that one of us has a right to claim a greater hurt more than the other, or that your hurt meant less to Pa than my hurt. I wish you had talked to me, or at least Pa.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Joe answered.
“But you do.” And I wrapped my arm around my brother’s shoulders and encouraged him to lean into me.
And so we sat there for another thirty minutes, talking. No accusations, no arguing, neither of us trying to outdo the other, we just talked. God how I wished we could talk like this all the time.
The sun was warming my face and my body; however, my sitting against the cold granite of Marie’s tombstone was causing my back muscles to start aching.
“You said something earlier about wanting to help me, why don’t you help me get up and back on Sport. I’m sure by now that Hop Sing will be quite angry with us for not being on time for breakfast.”
“Who’s going to be angrier, Hop Sing or Doctor Martin?” Joe asked as he held Sport steady and helped boost me into the saddle.
“Probably Pa. You stayed out all night.”
A smile came to my face as I watch Joe swing mount into the saddle upon Cochise as the horse stood calmly next to me.
“Are you feeling better?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess so. At least now I don’t feel so… ‘poor, poor pitiful me’.”
“Little brother, the only time you were ever pitiful was every time you had Pa wrapped around your little finger to get your way when you were growing up. Come on, let’s go home.”
Next Story in the Another Side of the Triangle Series:
This story was inspired by The Waiting Game through The Triangle, credit given to their respective authors.
This story began with JoaniePaiute’s Seedling Prompt of ‘Poor, Poor Pitiful Me’ courtesy of Linda Ronstandt.
I know this was an Adam episode, but I was always disappointed that Joe and Hoss had such brief screen time, the opening sequence and then building the ramp to the deck. And thus my story grew to include scenes that I’m sure were left on the cutting room floor.