Summary: 
This is based on a friend's story of how he met his partner. I thought it a great example of how real love, and life, isn't always perfect like the set of The Bachelor but it can be perfect all the same

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I’ve always felt things in colours, and she was a definite yellow amongst the other nurses: the older grumpier ones were a dark blue, the chain smoking practical ones a gun metal grey, the racy twenty year old new graduates were hot pinks and vivid tangerines. But she was a yellow, definitely a yellow. And I could see that the effect on her patients was like sunlight entering from the corridor; even the hardest cases, newly injured and bitter as all hell, managed a small smile after five minutes with her. I had begun to look forward to the Wednesday afternoon shift with the heightened excitement of the early stages of a crush; but at the time I’d tempered that excitement with the realistic outlook I had cultivated from a lifetime of staying on the periphery of the dating scene.  No point in getting all worked up when girls like Nurse Sunshine had always sought the role of friend; I had plenty of friends and didn’t need another one. And yet - she’d been a persistent flirt in the lead up to that fateful afternoon, and obviously, I was responding; still a bit irritated though that she was suggesting something more than what I supposed she wanted. But I couldn’t fight the sunshine: it was too bright. And she had the hair of a reckless girl; long and curly with sandy coloured streaks that suggested long summer days spent at the pub, sauvignon blancs on the balcony. Every time I saw that hair, I wanted to drink those sauvignon blancs. I yearned to drink those sauvignon blancs. But I kept my distance – save the odd joke here and there to prompt that raucous laugh.  I was sure she just wanted to be friends.

 

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He smelt like my mum in the eighties and by that I mean he smelt like Reef Sun Tan Oil, what mothers in the eighties used to lather themselves in  to get that burnt ‘healthy look’. I couldn’t imagine why he smelt like Reef Oil. But it made me feel happy because it reminded me of happy times, my carefree childhood. I inhaled deeply when he moved past me in the ward, and I’d hoped that he hadn’t seen me sniffing him like some weirdo. I mean, when you work in a bleach scented hospital, any lovely smell is deeply welcomed but the coconut smell was something special. I had mentioned him to Karen, who had cocked her head and ‘ooh aahed’ knowingly and declared him a ‘catch’. I had rolled my eyes as an act of diversion – I didn’t need all the nurses gossiping about me. But I found it pretty hard not to flirt outrageously with him.  It was something about his happy-go-lucky nature and the way he cracked old-dad jokes with the nurses, and the way the patients greeted him like an old friend with a solemn handshake and a blokey pat on the back. He was so masculine which was to me like a testosterone steeped gravity pull, especially as I found myself further and further immersed in a career and social life dominated by women. Masculine and sensitive to others and single...and smelling of coconuts. I decided to make a move.

 

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I was taken aback when she asked me if I wanted to catch up after the shift for a coffee. Did she mean ‘coffee’ as a date or as a friend thing? And then she had said something silly but not unusual in my world - I had laughed and corrected her. ‘Coffee at Coogee and we could go for a swim afterwards ‘ she had suggested brightly, no doubt inspired by the balmy afternoons Sydney was enjoying and thinking of the lovely sensation of washing away the hospital in the crisp waves of the ocean. Well, I imagined that would be how it would feel.

‘Uh’ I had indicated my wheelchair and laughed. ‘I’ll take the coffee but I might give the swim a miss’.

She looked like she wanted to die a thousand deaths – turned bright red under the harsh light of the tea room.  She started to apologise but I reassured her that she was not the first person to forget; I had to correct people all the time. And anyway, I felt flattered that she saw the man, not the chair. So I said ‘Yes, coffee. That would be nice’.

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I couldn’t believe that I had suggested a swim. And I’m a nurse! You’d think a nurse who worked in spinal injury would have a clue. But it was out of my mouth before I knew it. I don’t know why I felt so nervous; I’d asked guys out before. But there was something about his direct gaze that disarmed me. It was something about the way his physical condition suggested vulnerability but his manner and interaction with people showed his relaxed confidence, his obvious self assurance. The contrast made me nervous for some reason. I guess that’s what I liked as well: being made to feel nervous. I hadn’t looked forward to something so much for a long time. The coffee went well. He ordered a long black, no sugar. I ordered a caramel latte. I found out that the coconut smell came from an expensive body wash and moisturiser. I admitted that I used a home brand moisturiser from the supermarket. I was pleased: my yin was fitting his yang.

 

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She hadn’t mentioned the chair once in the whole conversation. But she had put her hand on my forearm and coyly, confessed that she had been sure I had caught her appraising my ‘toned arms’ more than once. I had waved away the compliment and joked that it came with the territory, but she didn’t respond back laughing. She just put the compliment out and left it lying there, with her hand lingering on my arm. She asked about the wheelchair rugby I played on the weekends, and said on television it looked like something only mad men would undertake. She said she admired the guts, the craziness. I shrugged it off again, but puffed up with silly macho pride. And it was that stupid pride that made me climb the stairs on the second date. I just had this thing in my mind that I wanted the date to be ‘normal’. I wanted to pick her up at her door, like any other guy would. Like a guy who played normal rugby would. It was silly but then, who wouldn’t be silly when confronted with Nurse Sunshine?

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Another stupid error; I forgot about the stairs. I lived on the second floor of an old Brownstone apartment block in Coogee, no lift. We were going out to dinner; he said he’d meet me at my place. I was so busy blow-drying my hair and tidying the flat that I didn’t even stop to consider texting him, or meeting him downstairs. So when I opened the door to look down and see him waiting at the landing with sweat beading his brow I was mortified. He had left the chair at the bottom and pulled himself up all sixteen stairs: something he had done before in emergencies and at other people’s places, he informed me, but I couldn’t speak I was so shocked and overcome. ‘I didn’t want to text. I wanted to surprise you. I can do stuff you know’ he’d said. He had leveraged himself onto the couch near the door, and was looking around at the decor, catching his breath. ‘I’m not a complete cripple you know’ he had said jokingly, but of course there was much more meaning behind the glib line. It wasn’t about the stairs, obviously. I was quick to point out that I didn’t see him as a cripple, and indeed I didn’t. And then he had arched his neck and looked into the bedroom from where he was sitting. ‘I can do plenty of stuff’. I had followed his gaze and then he had abruptly twisted in the seat. ‘Better get going. Dinner is at seven thirty and I’ve got a shit load of stairs to get back down’. He had smiled ruefully, and I grabbed my bag. ‘I hope your chair is still there’ I had replied. We were in Coogee, after all.

 

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She offered to top up my glass over dinner but I murmured something about being over the limit, and then changed my mind and told the truth: the spina bifida meant that I had reduced nerve endings in my bladder and I really preferred not to run the risk of accidents. She was drinking quite a lot though and I wondered if she was embarrassed about being in public on an obvious date with a guy in a wheelchair – or freaked out by the thought of a guy not having control of his bladder.  But as the meal went on, I realised that she was relaxed and enjoying herself, so I tried not to worry. All that came crashing down though when she laughed at a joke and I spontaneously reached across to kiss her on the cheek; but spontaneity doesn’t come easy when you’re in the chair, and I couldn’t quite reach her cheek. As I leant forward, she pulled her head back so I was left hanging with lips pursed awkwardly. She then pushed her head forward when she realised and we knocked heads. It was slick, really slick. And then the waitress came to take my dessert order and knelt down next to the chair and spoke a bit louder than was necessary. By the end of dinner I was sure that Nurse Sunshine would have been having all sorts of erotic thoughts about the urine dribbling, ‘intellectually disabled’ person with whom she was about to go home. Deflated, I stopped at the front door of her block and bade her good night; it was just a kiss at the door, her leaning down and pecking my cheek. And anyway, pulling myself up sixteen stairs again just seemed a bit too much.

 

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He invited me over to his place for the third date. The third date – universally known as the ‘sex date’. Well, that’s the dating rule that my girlfriends and I had lived by for years. And I would be at his place so he’d be in a comfortable environment; there would be no manoeuvring along crowded pavements with the chair, no million flights of stairs to climb. But now there would be the opportunity for more than just a peck on the cheek: was I to sit on his lap, wait until he got out of the chair onto the lounge? What was the etiquette? June, one of the older nurses at work, just said to ask him what the etiquette was: and have the discussion about sex before we launched into the whole shebang. And was all his plumbing working? I mean, at work, ironically, we sent him in to talk to the new patients about how they would negotiate sex with their injury: it was always best for a fellow male, who understood, to advise and reassure them. But as the week wore on, and I saw him briefly at work (where he bought me a takeaway coffee from a nearby cafe with a chocolate freckle resting on top) I decided I didn’t care how everything would pan out. It would just work. I was in the throes of being gently courted and I loved it.  In a moment of thrilled anticipation, I went shopping after an afternoon shift and bought actual matching lingerie, which was both uncomfortable and entirely impractical. I must have been falling for him.  And while adjusting that itchy lacy half cup bra, I had stood on the threshold of his apartment, and an image had flashed through my mind: me straddling him on the bed, those thick tanned forearms wrapped around me, me unclasping my bra and tossing my head back, him kissing my neck. I had blushed hotly at the thought as he called ‘Come in’ to my knock at the door. I opened and was immediately enveloped by the smell of frangipanis and coconut oil. I stepped into his beachside apartment and was surrounded by white bowls of all sizes with frangipanis floating in water, and tea light candles flickering. The smell was my childhood bought back to life, long afternoons in the sun and flowers tucked behind ears. And there he was, in the centre of it all, white coloured shirt open at the neck and hair wet from his shower.  I had shut the door and walked purposely over to him as he had backed his chair into the adjoining bedroom.

 

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When she had stood at the door in that 1950s rose-patterned dress I was lost: her hair was up in a loose bun and her collar bone had a slight sheen of sweat glistening in the glow of the dusk light. I could see her scan the room and take in the frangipanis and the half smile of delight on her lips made all the pull ups out of the chair to reach the fresh ones on the neighbourhood branches completely worthwhile. I had been about to say something trite like ‘I hope you’re hungry’ or some such cliché, but she had such a misty look on her face that I bit my tongue and that was when she had shut the door and walked over with such clear purpose that I knew immediately  that it was on. I finally got to run my hands through that hair.

 

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It was perfect.

 

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It was perfect.