Last winter I joined the ranks of countless skiers when I tore my left ACL on the slopes of Park City, Utah. Two months later I had ACL replacement surgery where I received a cadaver ligament and 3 screws in my left knee, followed by four and a half months of extremely intensive physical (and arguably psycho-) therapy.
I waited in the physical therapy waiting room until a man looking twenty-five with a slight build, brown eyes and hair, and the chunky black leather old-man therapeutic shoes worn by all non-doctor health care workers arrived with my chart. “Hi I’m Ned, follow me please,” he said. I crutched it over to a table, where he took off my brace and examined my knee. My leg was hairy, black and blue, and covered in surgical tape to prevent the stitches from opening. A sharp pain shot through my leg. “Ouch, that’s tight.”
“I know it is. I’m stretching it,” he said. “I’m aggressive, so this may hurt.” I took a closer look at him. “Do you ever get Jimmy Fallon?”
“Yeah, I’ve gotten that a few times,” he said sheepishly.
Normally I make a great first impression and people naturally open up to me, but Ned – generic, gray-sweatered, aggressive, yet listless – wasn’t having it. I thought about switching therapists but figured it would look too suspicious.
He explained the whole physical therapy process, guided me through some BOSU ball balancing exercises, and then I was done. I would have physical therapy three times a week for the next two months. As I was leaving, another patient said goodbye to him and called him Nenad.
“Nenad, that’s your name?”
“Yes it is.”
“I’ve been calling you Ned this whole time.”
“Yes, you have.”
“How embarrassing. What type of name is Nenad?”
The next week, while doing a bridge leg-lift combo (a medical term for stripper-like pelvic-thrusting), Nenad asked me how I fell skiing. “A friend and I were skiing by a run called Glory Hole, and my friend said, ‘I really want to hit that’ to which I didn’t understand. When he explained what a glory hole was, I started laughing, caught an edge, and fell hard.” But Nenad knew what a glory hole was and started laughing uncontrollably as the whole room watched us. At the next visit, I arrived with a Diet Coke in hand.
“You know, you shouldn’t drink that stuff, it’s poison.”
“Are you judging me?” I asked him.
“No, not at all, I just expected more from you,” again with the sheepishness.
I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because he cared enough to notice or was self-assured enough to mention it. But whatever the case, it was during this exchange that I began to notice him.
A few more visits and I starting finding him sexy, then I started obsessing, and soon I was having daydreams about him on the subway. I read everything I could find about Bosnia on Wikipedia (Who knew?…not me.)
I had a crush on my physical therapist.
I watched him interact with other patients to see if I got special treatment. He’d ice me and the end of each session and then wrap my knee. One day he caught me smirking and asked me what I was thinking about.
“Inappropriate thoughts,” I said…sheepishly.
I mentioned him to friends whenever and however I could work him into the conversation.
“My ex was Bosnian, and most of his family was killed in the war,” said my friend Nick.
“Oh my God! That’s so funny! My physical therapist is Bosnian!” I interjected.
Even though I wore workout clothes during the sessions, I made every attempt to look good – red lip gloss, hair down, accessorized but not overdone. “You’ve never worn that one before,” he said about a ring.
The years of ballet and yoga had paid off, and my flexibility meant he had to make an extra effort to stretch me.
“I can’t stretch you,” he’d say.
“You’re not trying hard enough,” I’d reply.
I started making an effort to be more mysterious. One night I left the locker room wearing a sexy black dress and high-heel, black leather boots. “I don’t know who your date is, but that is one lucky guy,” he said. There was no date, but he didn’t need to know that.
At the leg press machine, he talked about growing up in Bosnia. His family spent time in concentration camps and attempted to flee six times before finally escaping. He didn’t have much of an accent. “That’s because I moved here in 1993 when I was 13,” he said.
Soon something clicked between us, and we were checking each other out regularly in the mirrors and the reflections from his office windows.
He used his phone to show me where he lived in Astoria, which neighborhood, which street, which subway stop.
On Fridays we discussed our respective weekend plans, and on Mondays, talked about all the trouble we’d gotten into.
“We should grab a drink some time,” I said through heavy breathing, again with the pelvic thrusts.
“We should definitely do that,” he said, raising his eyebrows.
By this point, his co-workers saw the mad flirtation going on between us. He would make eye contact with his assistants to let them know to leave us alone. His next patient would arrive, and he’d have the assistant help them instead.
Nenad said he’d go with me to my follow-up doctor’s appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, and asked me several times (okay, five times, but who’s counting?) when my appointment was. It takes a lot of effort to make sex appeal look seamless, and I spent two weeks thinking about the perfect outfit.
Settling on a form-fitting, purple jersey knit dress, a push-up bra, hair blown out, and full-on big-girl make-up and a favorite gold-dipped wheat necklace.
I met him at his office, and we walked down the hall to see the doctor, but something was different about Nenad. He was fidgety and wouldn’t look me in the eye. It felt like a first date.
The doctor examined my knee, bent it, stretched it, and said, “You get an A-plus. You can downgrade your visits to once every two weeks. Keep up the good work.”
I should have been happy with the news, but I wasn’t.
I arrived one day after drinking with co-workers.
“We’re going out for drinks,” Nenad said.
“WHEN?” I said a bit too aggressively.
He grabbed my knee, gave me a serious look, and said, “When you’re done, because then there’s no obligation.”
“When am I going to be done?” I asked.
The initial ten weeks of therapy I had planned for had come and gone.
“Well, I should see you in June once a week until you can start running.”
But, we had been talking about drinks since April.
My ten-minute icing sessions developed into 25-30 minute sessions, and he would sit down with me and chat. We talked about dating, relationships and sexual experimenting .He used the office iPad to take my picture. “We’re using this to show patients how do to their exercises properly. What’s your email?”
I checked my email as soon as I left, he sent me the picture of myself and the title said “To my favorite patient.”
I felt withdrawals as I downgraded to once-a-week sessions, and I peppered Nenad with questions at every visit, “When can I run? How long can I do the treadmill for? Can I do the bike after the treadmill? Can I do yoga? How often do I need to ice?”
He’d occasionally test my knee. He’d have me lay down on the bench, and I’d bend my leg with my foot on the table. He’d sit down next to me, wrap his hands around my knee, pushing and pulling. I giggled. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m checking your knee for stability and strength,” he said, looking serious.
Cheered on by my co-workers, I fabricated reasons to text him about my knee, and soon we were having a full-on two-hour text conversation. The texts started as business but turned flirty, and he finally asked me if I wanted to meet him and his posse for drinks at the Frying Pan.
I showed up and it was just him…and his brother. Nenad wore tight Guess jeans, mirrored sunglasses, and a red and white stripe tight tank top, sporting his tattoos on both shoulders–Sagittarius on one side, the Bosnian flag on the other. Wow, not professor-like at all.
I took a deep breath, walked up and gave them both a hug. I felt uncomfortable. Nenad was attentive yet distant. We talked about cruises, the cost of weddings and a married bartender his brother was convinced had a crush on him. I wanted to leave but opted for heavy drinking.
An hour and a half later, Nenad and his brother began conversing in Bosnian, then Nenad turned to me, “Well, we’re taking off. My brother’s co-worker is having a party in Harlem. What are you doing tonight?” he asked. “Oh, I dunno.” I wanted to die. I had envisioned us spending the whole evening together, going to dinner and maybe even ending with a make out session.
We left the Frying Pan and they walked me to the subway. I couldn’t walk fast enough. He gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek. I darted down the stairs as his brother dragged him uptown. An hour later, he texted me.
Nenad was going to Bosnia mid-July, his first visit since the war. He wanted me to have a few more sessions before his trip.
“Somebody’s birthday is coming up!” Nenad said.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“It comes up on my patient calendar.”
“What are you going to get me?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve got two months to figure it out.”
I told him about my favorite bar where they have about fifty vintage arcade games like Pac-Man and Tetris, all for a quarter per play.
“It’s called Barcade?”
“Oh Laurel, don’t worry, I’m taking notes.”
He seemed distracted during my last two sessions before his trip, which I attributed to anxiety. He once told me he was “emotionally high maintenance.” He asked me to ice my knee at home, instead of our usual icing conversations together.
August 2nd, 5:30pm. My last physical therapy appointment. I thought I’d be out in ten weeks, but it was four and a half months later. I thought Nenad and I would be reading poetry to each other on a picnic blanket in Central Park as he stretched me…non-professionally of course. I still wanted to go out for drinks with him, at at least (the very least) to reminisce and laugh about our time together.
“Hey,” he said as I walked in.
“Hey how was your trip?” I asked.
“Tell me all about it.”
He told me about seeing his family and how different life was in Bosnia.
“Will you ever go back for another visit?”
We spent half an hour together, chatting lightly about his trip as I did leg lifts and lunges. He did the final physical test on my knee, pushing and pulling to check the tendon. I ran on the treadmill. “Yep, you’re good to go,” he said.
I came out of the locker room, walked over to him and said “Hey, I’m leaving now.” He was with another patient, walked over and met me half way. We both gave each other a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. In unison we said “Keep in touch” and then he said “See you soon,” and went back to his patient. I felt so awkward that I added “Thanks for everything.” He nodded.
I exited the building where I had spent the last four and a half months rehabilitating on University Place and walked home. Usually, I was beaming from my visit, but now I was confused and unsatisfied. What had just happened? Just like at the Frying Pan, I had had such high expectations of how it would end.
Two and a half weeks later, just as I was considering weeding out Nenad from my phone, I got a late night text.
The next morning, after a few friendly exchanges, he suggested we meet up at a dive bar by his office. I arrived first and was half way into a beer, playing Words With Friends when he walked in and gave me a kiss on the cheek. We caught up on the last few weeks of our lives, and called it a night three and a half hours later, but we texted until after 1am.
He texted me the next week asking about my weekend, and I asked him to play ping pong.
He texted me a couple of days later and invited me to a music festival. I couldn’t go, but he started texting me at 1:20am after the festival.
The next week at Spin, I showed up wearing a low cut grey tee shirt, cinched with a black metal belt, and a red lacy bra underneath; a combo of sporty and slutty, so I could gracefully play ping pong while showing cleavage. He wore a long sleeve striped shirt, his signature pattern, and fresh cologne, which I had never smelled on him before. We ordered beer, sat down, and he showed me his photos from his trip to Bosnia on his laptop.
He leaned in close so I could see his laptop and went through photos of him, his brother and father visiting their old house, cemeteries where friends were buried after the war, bullet holes in abandoned buildings, reconnecting with old relatives.
We took our places at the ping pong table and played for an hour and a half — screaming, cursing, laughing.
“Aren’t you having a house party this weekend?” My birthday was coming up.
“Yeah, I am, at my friend’s house, you should come! It’ll be a good group of people!”
“Yeah, sounds fun.”
We both left, he gave me a hug, and we parted ways in the rain.
He texted me when he got home.
My birthday was on a beautiful Friday and I had told everyone Nenad was coming. I wore a long black dress and simple jewelry. Thirty of my closest friends and I hung out on a roofdeck – drinking chardonnay, eating shrimp, laughing and taking pictures. It was 9:45pm and still no Nenad, so I texted him.
He didn’t respond but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my evening. An hour and a half later my friend Jen brings my phone over to me, “Someone named Nenad keeps texting you.”
I still don’t know what drizzed means.
I was embarrassed and drunk. I had to have my friend Jen text him for me, since I didn’t have my glasses on.
Couldn’t he set an alarm? My friends didn’t like him already. We had been texting every day, but I didn’t hear from him until eleven days later.
But we didn’t.
The following week, I texted him.
Friday came, I was over it, over him. I wish I hadn’t invited him. My entire design team was dying to meet this guy. “He probably won’t show up,” I said.
My co-workers and I were drinking beers and laughing when Nenad walked in with his brother and another friend. He met my team, and I knew they were studying him, thinking about all the stories I’d told them over the last six months. Nenad and I were talking, when my co-worker thankfully took his brother over to the bar and bought him a drink.
“Yo, I think my boss likes your brother, what’s up with him?” Graeme asked.
“I don’t know, we all talk about it, his friends too. We all tell him to go for it, we don’t get it. We keep telling him to make a move, and he won’t. You know how little brothers can be,” he said.
“Nenad” the physical therapist and me at beer garden
If it’s something I know about myself, I have the patience of a saint – until I don’t – and then there’s no turning back. In my book you’re either on the bus, or off the bus. I had been making all these excuses for the way Nenad was acting – I’m his patient, I’m older than him, he’s shy, he’s Bosnian, etc. And then it finally hit me that he was just playing me these last two months. And then I got my cell phone bill and I was 400 texts and $20 over my limit of 1500 texts a month. 1900 texts??? I would break up my textual relationship with Nenad immediately.
Two weeks post-beer garden I get a late Friday night text.
Over the weekend, I felt guilty. I mean he had texted me a bunch, and was very sweet, I knew I was a lot to handle so maybe he was just being gun shy? I texted him the following Sunday morning.
I didn’t respond. It had to end, or it would go on forever. I couldn’t believe I had once wanted this guy to be the father of my cats.
After six months to work out all the kinks, I had nothing to show for it but soreness.
In physical therapy Nenad was a professional, in charge, had an assistant, told me what to do, and dressed like a college professor. But in the remaining 168 hours I didn’t spend with him each week, he was mostly a thirty-year-old late night texter in mirrored sunglasses and striped tank tops to show off his tattoos.
I had stretched it too far with my physical therapist. WTF…LOL…TTYL.