Thursday, March 23, 2000

Fractions part 2

Stray cats

The first time I see Patrik is in ninth grade. It’s after our second class and as we walk towards our lockers, I notice in the corner of my eye that there is someone sitting at our table. The nerdy girls table. I gasp for air and I feel the hair of my neck rise and a shiver run through my body when I realise what's wrong with this picture. There is a teacher standing in the eastern corridor chatting with a group of boys, and all these students moving to and from class. -All while this boy is sitting on top of the table, curled up in fetal position with his hands covering his face, -crying. No one else seem to even notice him. I put my anger aside and hand my books to Anna, I swallow the big lump in my throat and go up to talk to him.

“-Are you OK?” I ask.
I put my hand on his upper right arm and he immediately shies away, startled, then looks up under his black hair. He dries his tears with his sleeve and nods.
“-Come with me.” I say, and he follows me to my sanctuary, the school library, that I know is empty this time of day.
The librarian, -Edith, is my friend. She is a tiny, soft and quiet woman and she gives us each a glass of water and lets him wash his face with a warm wet towel. We sit quiet for a while, but when he picks up his glass, I see that there is something wrong with his hands:
-When he moves his right hand, the fingers of his left hand moves as if they were also grabbing something in the air.
When he sees me staring at his hands he nearly drops the glass and quickly hides them both under the table, and nails me with his blue eyes. Tense, anticipating my comment or question.
“-Hey you don’t need to do that. I think it looks kind of cool." I burst out louder than I planned. My head spins and I can’t believe I just said that! Did I just out myself as a freak to the new guy? Because I’m still fascinated with everything that is different, and I’m still chasing clues on how to fit into this world. -It is like whenever I meet someone with a disability, I have to try to find out if they have the answer, -the key to fit in even if you are different. Just maybe, he can teach me how it’s done.
I know my face turns bright red, but I see him drop his guard a bit.
He finishes his water and I ask for his name and class, but all he says is:
“-I’d like to go back to class now.”
After he leaves, Edith scribbles something on a library bookmark and hands it to me.
It says “Patrik Isaac, 9C”, and I feel the familiar butterflies in my stomach, excitement bordering on anxiety.
We didn't share any classes but from that day, he shadowed me. For months Patrik acted like a wounded stray cat who was not sure if he was going to be fed or kicked. He stood there in the corridor between my classes but kept his distance. Our eyes would meet, sometimes several times a day, and when I nodded slightly or raised my hand I could tell how it eased his anxiety. But if I was with my friends or talking to someone else he would stay away. We were not friends, as we did not talk or hang out, but we had each other's backs. I was highly aware of and grateful for the things he would do: -Like take a step forward and grab their attention if he saw any of my nemesis’ at school approach me. Things that only another person who have been bullied for a long time would understand.
Thus I had a fairly quiet semester without much trouble, allowing me to focus on my studies and reading in the library. I would watch him, his barely noticeable limp, the way he always tried to hide his hands and how his hair would fall down covering his eyes because he was always looking down on the floor. If only he would smile and light that intense fire in his eyes, I would find him attractive, even though that thought was unfamiliar to me.
He was tall but tried to hide it, on the skinny side, had a chiseled face with high cheekbones and black semi-long hair. He did anything not to stand out in a crowd.
As I started to dread the end of the semester that meant we would change schools, he started disappearing from school for three - four days or a full week. I would visit the office and they would tell me his dad called him in sick for so and so many days. Whenever he returned to school I could tell he was more distressed and shying away from people but of course he wasn't going to tell me why -we weren't speaking.

Rumours started flourishing and I heard from my friends -who knew I was a bit hung up on him; that I should stay away from him because everyone knew his brother was some sort of drug dealer and that Patrik was probably using too and thats why he was always so spaced out. I defended him because I knew he wasn't on drugs, only shy and anxious -But what did I really know? Nothing. I hadn’t even tried alcohol yet and had no wish to do so.
I was relieved that at least Christine was on my side but I was starting to feel left out in the group, as I didn't care for fashion, make up, parties, or boys -other boys, that is. I was still devouring books and I glanced through every medical book in the school library to try to learn something about mirroring hands, but unable to find anything. The other rumour that worried me was that Patrik had bruises on his arms and on his back that had shown after PA and that he had stopped going to PA and quit the soccer team. I realised shockingly that when he was there waiting for me after my classes, he was probably skipping classes to be there.

-Everything changed the afternoon when me and my little brother were jumped and mugged by some bullies after school. I had met up with my brother outside his school and when we walked over the meadow on our way to moms house, two twin girls and two boys came up behind us. One of them held my arms behind my back and they emptied our pockets and bags and called us names. When my brother stomped on one of the guys feet, the boy slapped him over the back of the head so that he fell to his knees. I was so angry and I turned around and as hard as I could, I put my knee between the second guys legs. Bent over, cursing us, they let us go, threw our bags away and ran. We had a few scratches but mostly, we were both a bit shocked and mum had a real fit when we finally got home.
The day after this event I get my first glimpse of the real Patrik as he waits for me after school.
The girls just laugh and notes me in his direction and head for their bus home. I wait patiently for him to speak.
Patrik is pacing back and forward, looking down on his white sneakers, but he asks:
“-Can I walk you home?”
“-Do you know where I live?” I ask.
“-Yeah kind of... You probably shouldn't walk home alone” he mumbles.
“-Well it’s a good 20 minutes walk from here.” I say shyly, to which he replies “ -OK” and follows me closely.
“-Where do you live, close by?” I ask.
“-I... live at dad's, with mum.” he says uncomfortably.
I thought it was a really odd answer and I wait for him to continue, too aware of how high his anxiety level is, having watched and waited for him for months.
He hesitates but continues:
“-And I have a brother. But he is older than your brother. I mean, he is older than me.
His name is Rickard. But he’s not really my brother... I mean...But we are pretty close.“ he stops and looks at me beggingly.
“-You mean like a stepbrother? I have a stepbrother and a stepsister but she doesn't live here, she lives with their mom.”
“-Not exactly...” he says and looks down on his shoes again.
As we walk he carefully keeps his left hand in his pocket.
I want to ask him about his hands and about why he has been missing school, but I’m worried I will make him uncomfortable with too many questions.
“-So where do you live?” I repeat instead.
“-I live in Edsviken.”
“-Edsviken?” I repeat before it sink in.
“-But that's miles away! And you are really walking me home? You'd have to take the bus down to the station and then the train to...”
“-I don't really like being at home.” he interrupts and now nervously scratches his face.
“-Me neither.” I agree and look up at him.
“-Sometimes I stay at my brother’s flat in the city. I have more friends there than in school.” he continues.
“-Why do you go to school here?” I ask.
“- I didn't want to change schools but mum made me. She says I ruin it for her... ” He makes a gesture with his right hand: “-She... doesn't like it”.
I will probably never get a better chance to ask him so I go ahead:
“-Why do they do that, your fingers...?”
“-Fingers, wrists, and toes too. Mirror dystonia. It’s caused by a genetic mutation.” he says more calmly.
“-People think that I can just will them to stop moving, but I can’t.” He speaks fast, almost like he is relieved to finally tell me.
He takes out his left hand, palm up, and wiggles all ten of his fingers. The fingers of his left hand moves a little slower.
“-I’m one of only four people in the country who has it.” he says.
“-Here: -put your finger on the muscle below my thumb.” he says and hands me his right hand.
I can't believe he is letting me touch him. This is the same guy who could barely speak to me! My heart volts and I feel the familiar tingling in my chest. Fascinated I do as he ask and he moves his fingers.
“-Soft yeah? -Now try the other hand” he says and I put my thumb on his left palm.
He moves his fingers but I can tell his palm and thumb are rock hard, and his skin is rougher.
“-Arthritis. Apparently not only old people get it.” he explains.
I ponder on this as we walk in silence to the bus stop closest to my home.
“-So that's the real reason to why you're not in PA class.” I say.
“-You've heard the rumours? “ he hesitates again.
“-My father is strict but he doesn’t... beat us”.
“-My father... “ he starts and I know that his anxiety is back, but he sighs and continues:
“-My actual name is Patrik Hansen. Nev Hansen is my mother and my father is Thomas Isaac. I’m signed up in class as Patrik Isaac, but most of the teachers know who I am.
My eyes widen in disbelief. Stunned, frozen in the middle of my step, I say:
“-So basically you own half the town, and your mum is like, a supermodel? For real?”
“-For real”. He confirms.

I'm dying to tell mom everything about Patrik, and this surprises me because it’s the first time I remember wanting to confide in her again for like, ever. Maybe its because she genuinely seemed to care the day before. But I know she won't appreciate me talking about his hands. Just like Patriks mom, I don't think that she likes having a daughter thats not like everyone else. When I come home, I rush upstairs to tell her that the boy Patrik from school is really Nev Hansen’s son and that he walked me home because he didn't want me to get in trouble.
I smile to myself: He didn't want me to get in trouble.

Patrik slowly ease into our group of friends. We don’t talk about who his parents are in the group because I guess he has reasons for taking another name in school. I'm also assuming the girls knew way before me, because they always listen to the gossip that I never pay attention to.

At first he never talks to anyone but me and his eyes are always on the floor, on his shoes, or somewhere in the distance. The girls tolerate him because of me and they get used to having him around. He often comes over to sit with us during recess or when we study.
He walks me home once or twice per week. Sometimes in silence, sometimes we have long conversations, but always at his pace.
I learn that he loves birds and that he is a computer wiz. He enjoys hearing about my journalistic dreams and about my writing. He misses being able to play football, but says that if I want to, he would like to take me to some games. He avoids all my attempts to talk about why he had to change schools and dodges most questions about his parents.
He explains that his dad works a lot and that his mother used to travel and be away for long periods, but she doesn't have many modelling offers anymore so most of the time its just the two of them.

His best subject in school is my worst; math. It’s obvious he is not going to pass school this semester because he has missed so many days but we don't talk about it. I excell in swedish, english and arts but I write my final paper on genetics, forking it into sections about muscular dystrophy.
When I'm with Patrik, he gives me space to be me, without feeling like I'm under constant pressure.
It's a welcome break. When we need it, we become eachothers shields against the rest of the world -when the attention is on him, I can blend in with the background, and vice versa. But I still haven't figured out or come to terms with if something is wrong with me, my fascination and thirst for knowledge about disabilities seem never ending. I think a lot about this but it's not something I can share with mum, the girls, or Patrik. Because I'm still scared that I will not fit in.

When we reach the end of may, Patrik starts summer school as a last chance to get his grades for high school. It means I don't see him but I bite my lip and focus on exams.
I hear no word from Patrik until mid june when my family leaves for a summer holiday in Bulgaria. I've told mum I’d rather stay home alone and because I’m so terribly moody, she agrees. The truth is I’m scared of going on a trip with my siblings.
"-I heard you were still at home so I was hoping you would like to come to the festival that starts tomorrow." Patrik stutters over the phone.
I would totally love to, I miss him and I say yes even though I have already promised the girls and Jimmy. He asks me to pack a bag and says that he will send a car for me in the morning.
He is sending a car!

When the grey Saab pulls up I'm convinced it's Patrik driving and it makes no sense since he doesn't have a drivers license and he is only 15 like me. The driver gets out of the car and it’s not Patrik but someone who's a spot on lookalike, -only a few years older, a little rougher. Same tall slim build, same dark hair and eyes, but with a stubble. He has an energy in his step that Patrik lacks but the same acute awareness of everything that is happening around him. Combat ready -that’s what he is.
"-Rickard" I exclaim without a doubt.
"-Or Rick, if you prefer. At your service my lady", he says amused and bows. "-Just let me finish a smoke first"
Giggling I get in the car and wait for him.
He hops in and asks me if I've been to Edsviken before. I say yes, that we usually go to the bonfire and the music festival, so at least twice a year.
"-But have you been to the house?" He laughs.
"-No, Patrik hasn't invited me." I say cautiously.
"-I’m just joking. Relax. Nobody ever gets invited to the house when our parents are in.
-You’ve made an impression on him. He talks about you. He doesn't care for girls otherwise.
-So I made him call you as this is really the high point of the season. You should enjoy it.
And I'm all for anyone that can see through his problems. He doesn't have many friends of his own."
Problems, I think to myself. I just can't wait to see him again.
"-How do you mean? I ask carefully and start twirling my hair around my finger.
"-Have you ever heard him mention his friends? Jon maybe? "
"-Yeah", I reply.
"-Jon is my friend. He knows him through me. And he’s 28."
I just nod.
"-I see that you are looking at my hands."
I become embarrassed and he continues:
"-I don't have it. Patrik really hit the jackpot, genetically. -Did he tell you Nev is not my mother? “
"-He said you weren't his real brother". I reply.
"-Oh he did? But nothing else? -We have the same father." He says bitterly.
“-My real mother died when I was born -But Nev, she is still jealous.”
Rickard has a very sharp tone in his voice when he talks about his parents, but he is very charismatic and he talks a lot, and he talks fast -and it turns out it’s really easy to talk to Rickard about most things.
"-So what interests you about my brother?" He asks and glances at me as he is driving.
I have to think about my answer but I feel that Rickard is not going to analyze and turn my answer into something else.
"-We both seem to feel better when we are together. He makes me feel important. He is thoughtful and protective and he can tell if I’m anxious or sad. He is awkward, but sweet and brave. "
“-That’s a very honest answer. -Patrik has to deal with a lot of abuse and control from our parents but I try to make sure he stays at my place as much as possible. -It’s best though if you don't ask too much about them", he warns me.
I make a mental note but even though neither Patrik or Rickard seem fond of their parents it's hard for me to imagine the Hansens as bad parents.

I don't expect Patrik to hug me or anything when I see him, but for a second there is a smile on his face that even reaches the eyes. He is much more relaxed around his brother and their friends than he is in school. We have the most amazing time setting up at the party tents backstage which is practically in the backyard of their house. There is food and drinks and we get to not only meet the bands but hang out like it’s the most natural thing. I’m beside myself when one of my favorite new bands arrive, not because I get to meet them (I'm too shy to really talk to them) but because Rickard takes me aside and tells me they only booked them because I had told Patrik I liked them. We listen to the sound checks and Rickard is a whirlwind who is everywhere and Patrik introduces me to their friends. There is Jon, the tall skinny technician who loves diving, whom despite nearly being twice his age seems to be close to Patrik. Nano, the law student, with his short set stature, dark skin and black eyes, Jon’s girlfriend Linn and her sister Tess. If they are surprised to see that Patrik brought a girl over they aren't showing it, and I feel very welcome.

More people join throughout the day and overwhelmed, me and Patrik sneak out.
We follow the walkway along the lake and watch as the grassy field in front of the stage fill with people, families and couples, and for once I feel like we could be like them, one of them.
I tell Patrik this and he smiles.
This is his domain and he shows me the bird feeding areas and points out different nests and some bird houses that he has built. He tells me about the different bird songs that we can hear and we feed the ducks and the white swans down by the water. He challenges me to count the number of birds I recognize but I can't come up with more than six or eight and he laughs for the first time. Then he carefully guides me through the trees in the swampy area of the lake and he shows me the herons. We watch the magnificent grey birds hunt in silence.
We meet up with the girls and Jimmy in the afternoon, and when they have a chance to meet the bands and Rickard I know Patrik grows and gains more respect in their eyes.
We lay down on the grassy hill beside the stage and allow ourselves to be swept away by the sun, the music and the feeling that summer is finally here.

In the early morning hours, one by one start to drop off. Patrik and I slowly walk up to the house. I don’t know what I had expected; something grand, something classy, but definitely not this. The house is big, but its empty. The furniture are all in white, beige and grey, but there are no decorations, no books on the shelves, no paintings on the walls, not even flowers in the windows. There are no photos, and for someone who makes a living of having her picture taken, it seems really odd. What kind of people live like this? I begin to understand why Rickard looked at me so strangely when he asked me if I had been to the house, because it’s so bizarre. I form my question, but one look from Patrik and I stay quiet. He guides me through a hallway and the kitchen to the back of the house and upstairs to his bedroom. The room is bare, with walls painted in grey and a window with a view not towards the water, but towards the road. I can’t see anything that could tell me this is Patrik's room, except maybe the computer at the desk. In silence we lay down fully dressed in his bed. Patrik crawls up in fetal position with his head on my chest, I fold my arms around him and he cries himself to sleep. And somehow nothing about it seem strange.

This continues for a magical three days after which their parents return. I sneak out just before they arrive. Patrik goes back to summer school and I help him prepare for his tests and his final report. The girls says I'm crazy because I'd rather study than enjoy the summer. We study nearly every day, not at the house but at the library at the local community center. He seems tired and hollowed eyed but he refuses to tell me why. I try to drag it out of him word by word but he is used to keeping his secrets.

Two weeks after the festival, Patrik comes to see me at my place. Mom is excited about meeting him and even though he is nervous things go well. He is very quiet all through dinner and both mom and stepdad likes him, and when step dad asks about his hands he politely replies that he is born with the condition.
When we are alone in my room he sits down on my bed and he bluntly asks me if I want to move in with him and Rickard at the city apartment. -I'd have my own room and keys if I want. He says he is not going back to stay with his parents. He sees the confused look on my face and exhausted and pale he whispers:
"-I... might not have explained everything to you.”
“-When I'm not in school....when dad calls me in sick, It's not because I'm sick, but because he can't let it show. "
He starts unbuttoning and removing his shirt as he speaks and I help him pull his sleeves down. There are fresh long red scratch marks and cigarette burn marks on his left arm, on his back and at the base of his neck, as well as undefined scars and bruises in various sizes and degrees of healing.
"-It was never dad. It was her. Once she broke my fingers too because I couldn’t control them."
I feel a cold get a hold of my heart, my hands tighten their grip on the bed post, and I try hard not to scream. Between clenched teeth and shaking in anger I say:
"-Patrik we need to tell the police... you... you are her son, she is dangerous, she can't do this.
-Oh god, how long has she been doing this to you?"
"-We can't,.. you can’t, you must not tell the police. " He hastily interrupts.
"-We can't because we had a huge fight and she... -She threatened Rickard and... And we made a deal. If we don't say anything we can stay at the apartment until I turn 18. I can choose what school I want to go to, if I pass I can even go to school with you. If I don’t she will make sure Rickard and I never see each other again. If we tell the social service they will split us up and the press will...”
"-And she's not going to hurt you again?" I say sharply and my eyes are starting to tear.
"-She would never admit to having hurt me Carro. But they've signed the papers that allows me to live with Rickard."
I'm completely shocked but there is nothing more I can say because I know he is right. His mom!
For a moment I suggest he stays with me but it’s not a serious suggestion and he knows it.
He tells me he is also worried about Rickard possibly starting to use drugs again. He hasn't had many sober days since their parents came home and they had the fight.
The idea we pitch to mom is that Patrik needs help with his studies and she accepts as long as it's only for the summer, since it's the Hansen family. The pride in her eyes is now almost sickening - her own daughter living with the Hansens.

The city apartment is completely different from the house. It’s a big loft and it is not dirty but you can tell four guys lives there alone. -Jon and Nano spend all their time away from uni there. It even smells lived in and I like it. Patrik has set up a network of computers in the living room, that is far more advanced than anything I've seen in school. My room is not big but it has a window with a view over the rooftops. Patrik can't help himself as he points out several birds nests and I'm so happy to see him this excited.

Rickard gives me a few conditions for staying with them:
-To never ask him about or talk about what I find in the apartment, in his drawers and his room, that might be of questionable nature. He shows me his air gun and bullets, so that I will not get shocked if I do find it. But being there feels like the most natural and obvious thing in the world, and there is no tension here, something I’m used to in my own home.
Neither me nor Patrik bring a lot of things over, I only have some clothes, paints, some cd's and a few books. My room has a desk and a simple bed, but Patriks room is even smaller, cramped with a tv and a large bookshelf filled with books, mostly about birds. I get my own key and I can come and go as I like.

The city streets still make me uncomfortable, and I haven't told Patrik why, but he can of course tell. I dont know why I can't tell him, even after he told me about his mother's abuse, and this bothers me.
We spend all our time together. At the apartment, walking through the parks, or in the huge Royal Library with all the old books, relaxing or studying. While Patrik studies, I study him, and I’m ever fascinated by his hands. Since he can't coordinate his hands very well, he has a lot of different tricks to do things one handed and with the help of his environment.
It’s more difficult for him to lift and carry heavy or big items or do anything that requires two hands; but the bad part is how the constant, forced movements of his left hand stiffens and hurts his joints. The more his finger moves, the bigger the strain. His left hand is often in the way and I learn when to fold it into a fist and hold it still, which he prefers over receiving help with doing things.
I watch him, and I draw his picture with his high cheekbones and sharp eyes, with birds on his shoulders and eating from his hands, or him sitting by a desk in the library. When Rickard sees the drawings he frames one for his wall and sends another to the visitors gallery at the library, and I can’t believe it when it’s actually accepted.

At the end of the summer we are both accepted into the same school, though in different classes. Patrik will be studying computer science and I will mainly be studying language and literature. Rickard doesn't go back to uni in the fall, but together with Nano and Jon he has big plans to start a nightclub.
I have officially moved back home, but I hardly ever stay or sleep at moms place and sometimes the girls sleep over at the flat too, but I think it’s just so they can go out.
I don't feel very close to them anymore, only Christine. I sense the jealousy from them, and one of them even asks me if we are having sex. But sex is so far from my mind that I dont even understand when she starts talking about using toys. -Patrik and I don't kiss, make out or hug and we don't sleep in the same bed, and it hasn't crossed my mind that maybe people think we do. I get all my energy from being with him, he makes me feel safe, I know I belong with him but I don't know the difference between what we have and a sexual attraction, and I don’t really know what it means to be in a relationship. We spend most evenings next to each other in the sofa, leaning on each other and me holding his hand, watching tv or talking.

It doesn't take me long to realise that I’m in the wrong class in school. Firstly, I know most of the students in my class from my old school, so it’s not really the fresh start I was hoping for. Secondly, while my class is in preparation for university, Christine has chosen to go directly to nursing school and she is also taking extra english classes, and she has her future planned in details. I know I should have taken the nursing class but the idea of switching now seems too big a task. We study together and I devour everything she shares and I share with her both my knowledge and my questions. She is so used to my weird quirks and interests by now, that she doesn’t question my curiosity.
I hesitate to ask, but she hasn't read or found out anything about mirror dystonia because its so rare. Between classes, the lot of us usually meet in the library reading room or in the computer hall. This is the beginning of the internet revolution and we spend many of our breaks chatting on mIRC.
Patrik is excited, there is real, actual joy and excitement, when he tells me that he has been asked to assist in an extra computer class, and I sign up for it. I help him set up the computer hall before the class because his hands are bothering him, we spend a lot of time on the computers both in school and at home, it's what he enjoys but it wears him out. He is never really free from pain. I learn everything about motherboards and memory but I don't really follow on the programming.

Rickard rents a bar two weekends a month for his club. It's not a big place, and it’s not an environment Patrik nor me enjoys but its busy. We hang out in the lounge or the kitchen some afternoons before they open. Patrik says he wants to keep an eye on Rickard and I know he feels responsible for him. -Jon is the real boss of both the household and the bar, making sure we have everything we need, that the rents as well as the staff are paid and that we have food at home. Not that anyone ever cooks anything, but Rickard or Jon always bring food in from one of the Hansens restaurants, bachelor style. Rickard has not lost control of his drinking since the big fight with their parents, but he smokes quite a lot. It takes me several months to realise it’s not just cigarettes, but there is nothing I can do but remind Rickard that I don’t approve. He will just grin at me and rush off. Because one thing about Rickard is that he never stops, he is never still. Nano assures me Rick isn't dealing but I'm concerned.

Part 3

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1 comment:

  1. You have great writing talent. I am enjoying reading this immensely.