Monday, July 17, 2000

In/Exhale - February 6, 2001 - Part I

February 6, 2001


Are you sure?” Jon asked for the fifteenth time. They were in Dr. Miller’s waiting room, and Kai had insisted that Jon take what was supposed to be their rescheduled co-session for himself.
You need this, just like I needed last week. I have an appointment early tomorrow morning and I’ll process what happened today as far as my hearing goes. I’m fine. I’m anxious, but I’m always anxious. I’ll meditate, and if you have any extra time, then we can have a few minutes together.
Jon inhaled a breath. He wasn’t convinced that Kai skipping another session was a good idea, but Kai was seeing Dr. Miller every morning during the week now, and Jon was supposed to be taking a step back, letting Kai know that Jon trusted him. Finally, he nodded. “OK. But just knock if you change your mind. OK?
Kai cracked a smile. “I’m just going to spend the next hour trying not to think about my hearing test, so don’t worry about me.
Jon was about to offer some kind of protest when the office door opened. “You two ready?”
Jon interpreted for Kai since Jon’s body was blocking Kai’s view of the door. Then, with Kai’s nonverbal encouragement, he turned around and walked into her office.
“Just him today,” Kai said.
“Are you sure?” Dr. Miller asked.
Kai didn’t respond, so Jon had to assume that he’d nodded, and a moment later, there was the soft sound of the door shutting.
“Take a seat. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water?”
Jon really wanted some coffee, but he’d been trying to cut back. It hadn’t really worked, but he’d attempted to drink it only when he really needed the boost and not just out of habit. “I’m fine, thank you.”
Dr. Miller seemed surprised, but she didn’t say anything, merely poured herself her own mug and took her seat.
Jon settled himself in the wing chair where he always sat, feeling restless. Maybe a good thing he’d turned down the coffee. He really didn’t like taking this session all to himself. Even if Kai insisted he was OK, he’d skipped last Thursday, and look how that turned out.
“Let’s start off with some deep breathing,” Dr. Miller prompted, obviously seeing Jon’s anxiety.
They took a few minutes, and the breathing exercise did calm Jon down a little, though not entirely. He wanted to get up and pace, so he settled for fidgeting, bouncing one knee and then the other. It didn’t escape Dr. Miller’s notice, and when she raised an eyebrow at him, he cleared his throat, shifted his weight, and consciously tried to sit still.
“How are you, Dr. Taylor? It’s been awhile since we sat down together, just the two of us.”
Jon shoved his hand through his hair. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
Dr. Miller chuckled faintly. “You remember I treat your brother, right?”
Jon sighed. “What do you want me to say?”
Dr. Miller quirked her head, but otherwise schooled her expression. “It’s a simple question, Dr. Taylor.”
Was it? He wasn’t fine. Probably had never been fine ever in his entire life, but you sucked it up and you moved on and you lived your life, because that’s what life was, wasn’t it?
Dr. Miller seemed to realize that she wasn’t getting anywhere with her initial question, so she asked something else. “How are things with Vicky?”
“Fine,” Jon replied. “She finally told her parents. They’re not thrilled, but they didn’t kick her out of the family, so that’s something.”
“And everything is going well with the pregnancy?”
Jon’s knee started bobbing again, and he had to resist the urge to jump up and start pacing. He didn’t want to be here. Especially not without Kai. Kai needed these sessions more than he did.
“Dr. Taylor? What’s going on today? Obviously Kai thought you needed this session, solo, and he’s definitely perceptive.”
Jon worked his fingers through his hair a few times. “I’m worried about everything, all right? All the time. I’m not sleeping. At all. Except when Vicky makes me promise to take a sleeping pill. I’m having trouble focusing at work. I’m getting too emotional. I’m . . . I feel like I’m fucking everything up.” Jon let out a long breath, finally gave in and pushed to his feet, pacing in a tight circle to relieve some of his tension. “I have to be perfect for everyone all the time and I just . . . I can’t.”
“Take a few deep breaths,” Dr. Miller coaxed. “No one has to be perfect. Why do you feel you need to be?”
Jon stopped pacing and just stood there for a moment, thinking. He shook his head and sunk down into the sofa where Kai usually sat. “I’m worried about Vicky and the baby. I have this overwhelming sense of foreboding, that something bad is going to happen to them. But Vicky is worried enough about it, so I have to tell her everything will be OK when I don’t think it will be. When I’m terrified it won’t be. I’ve never felt so scared of losing anyone before other than Kai. But I have to reassure her and tell her everything will be fine, that she’ll be fine, because that’s what I do, right? That’s what I have to do.” Jon clenched his eyes shut. “And I hate that I’m not living with her. That I’m not with her every night I’m not working, in case anything happened. But Kai . . .” Jon took in a deep breath. “Kai doesn’t want to move in to Vicky’s, and I don’t blame him, but also part of me doesn’t want him around her while she’s pregnant. He’s . . . volatile. I know it’s not his fault, but . . .” Jon vaguely realized he was rambling, probably not making any sense, but now that he’d started, he couldn’t stop. That’s how his sessions with Dr. Miller usually went. He was clamped up, but once the words started flowing, they just ran and ran and ran, like his thoughts were leaking out. Like he had to spend so much of his life being careful not to admit how he really felt to the people close to him, to be strong for them, that when he could finally release what the torrent inside his head was really like, it was a deluge. He and Kai maybe weren’t so different after all.
“But I’m so fucking worried about Kai living on his own. I know that’s what he wants, but . . .” Jon shivered. “I have nightmares about him killing himself. Or hurting himself so bad that he dies. And they warp into nightmares about my mom, and I . . .” Jon shivered violently and he had to cover his mouth to try to get himself under control. He didn’t like thinking about his mom, especially not about how much Kai was like her. Didn’t like the memories and images his brain painted for him.
“Your mom was bipolar,” Dr. Miller said, not like a question, more like she was trying to steer Jon’s chaotic thoughts.
He nodded. “She . . .” He took a huge breath. “She attempted suicide more than once.” Jon dropped his gaze to the floor. “I was the one who always found her.” Jon shivered again. Squeezed his eyes shut like that would prevent the images from appearing in his brain. “She . . . it was never peaceful. But the worst was the day Kai was born. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day, even if I live to be a hundred.”
“And you have nightmares about it, still?”
Jon nodded. “They come and go, but with Kai lately . . .”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
No, he didn’t. Jon never talked about it, not with anyone. He’d told Vicky that he’d found his mom more than once, and she knew that Ann’s suicide attempt had resulted in Kai’s premature birth, but Jon had left out the details. And Kai definitely didn’t know. Jon would do anything to keep Kai from learning the truth of how he came into the world. To know that their mother hated him so much she was willing to kill herself to kill him. It would destroy Kai. Jon felt moisture on his cheeks and realized he was crying. Holy fuck. He wiped at his eyes and took a few steadying breaths.
“It’s all right if you’re not ready, but I think this is important.”
Jon swallowed. Took a few more deep breaths. “I still see her. Not just in nightmares. Sometimes when I’m awake. It’s one reason I try not to think about her. Because it’s impossible for me not to see it.” Jon pulled at his hair. “When I was a kid, I spent my summers at the library. I read everything at the JPL and then started ordering stuff from the university. I devoured everything I could, especially about science, biology, the human body. I wanted to understand why the world, why the body, worked the way it did. Most kids my age were still reading picture books and I was learning anatomy.”
Jon stared at the floor a long time. “The day Kai was born was unseasonably cold. Late June, but it felt more like early spring than midsummer. I took off on my bike, started toward the library to pick up some books I’d reserved. But after only a few blocks I realized it was a lot colder than I thought, so I turned back so I could grab a coat.” Jon’s blood went cold as his visual memory walked him through the events of twenty-two years ago. “The first thing I noticed was that it was quiet. Far too quiet.” That feeling of instinctive dread, that gnawing in Jon’s stomach, filled him now as he remembered.
Jon’s eyes burned, and he swallowed thickly. “I smelled it first. The blood.” Jon’s voice wavered. “She was lying in pool of it, half on her side, her long golden hair stained and matted with blood, her arms splayed, the knife still partially clutched in one hand. Blood oozed from her wrists and belly, and she was so pale, her lips blue. She looked dead. I thought she was dead. I thought my baby brother was dead.” Jon eyes were wide, his heart racing, breathing fast like he was standing over his mother’s still form, like if he knelt down he’d touch the warm blood.
“It’s all right. This is a safe space. This is just a memory,” Dr. Miller soothed.
And Jon was able to snap back to himself a little, shaking his head to try to regain some distance. He tried to regulate his breathing, will his heart to slow down. Is this how Kai felt all the time? “I stared at her for I don’t know how long, and then I finally snapped out of it. Called an ambulance, wrapped her arms, elevated them to try to stop the bleeding. I just . . . the fear was there, knowing I could lose my mom and my unborn brother, but I couldn’t feel it. I didn’t feel anything. I was just . . . numb.”
Dr. Miller nodded. “That’s a form of dissociation. It’s a way to protect yourself from particularly painful situations, and isn’t uncommon in children who are used to repeated traumatic events. Sometimes people colloquially refer to that as ‘shock.’”
Jon’s heart was still beating too fast, even if he otherwise felt calmer. “When the numbness wore off, the guilt set in. The doctors told my father that they didn’t expect either my mother or brother to survive. I was convinced it was my fault. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to go to the library. If I had just stayed home that day and made sure she was OK, then she would have been. I was angry. Angry at her for lying to me. For telling me she’d still be there when I got back. She’d promised me,” Jon said, his voice straining. “There’s a strong correlation between premature birth and FS. I try not to, but I can’t help wondering: what if I’d been able to stop my mom? What if I’d been there to watch her? Or if I’d done a better job hiding the knives? What if Kai had been born at term? Would he not have been sick? Maybe they wouldn’t have separated us? Maybe none of the bad stuff in his life would have happened if I had just . . .”
“Dr. Taylor. How old were you when Kai was born?”
Jon looked up through misted vision. Blinked a few times to clear it. “Seven. Almost eight.”
“You’re placing an awful lot of responsibility on such a young child.”
“I wasn’t just any kid. I’d found her before. I should’ve known better. I shouldn’t have left her alone.”
“Is that why you don’t like to leave Kai alone?”
Jon raised his eyes to meet hers. “If he’s not living with me, then he can’t leave his meds and the knives and all that locked up anymore. And I worry--”
“That he’ll hurt himself. It’s not an unfounded fear. But maybe a step in the right direction for both of you would be to give Kai the combo for the safe. It’s a sign that you trust him, but it’ll still mean that he has one extra step to go through when he’s not thinking clearly. Sometimes, that can be enough.”
“Vicky and Kai are all I have. Losing either one of them, especially if I could have protected them . . .”
“Dr. Taylor,” Dr. Miller said gently. “Feeling protective of those you care about is one thing, but you carry around an unhealthy burden of expectations for yourself, not to mention your pathological guilt. We need to figure out a way to help you move past this. To get to a point where you can be healthy.”
Jon knew she was right, but he didn’t see any way he could change. He’d been a worrier all his life, had always been prone to blaming himself, and things had only gotten worse in the past six months. “How do we do that?”
“Let’s do an exercise, OK? It may seem a little silly, but I want you to bare with me. OK?”
Jon pushed his fingers through his hair, then rubbed his eyebrow. “Sure.”
“I’m going to give you a few scenarios and we’re going to analyze them together. The first couple will be hypothetical, but I want you to respond as if they were real. OK?”
Jon shrugged. He was tired and not really in the mood for games.
“Let’s say I decide I want more coffee, so I get up to refill my mug and I stub my toe. Who’s to blame for that?”
Jon crinkled his brow and glanced sideways, confused. She wasn’t kidding about this being ridiculous. “For what? Stubbing your toe?”
“Yes.”
“You are? I guess? I mean, it’s an accident. It’s not like you would stub your toe on purpose. It just happens.”
“So you’d admit in this situation that you can’t really blame anyone?”
Jon sighed, not seeing the point. “I guess?”
“All right. What if I stubbed my toe while getting you a mug of coffee? Where would the blame lie there?”
Suddenly the exercise didn’t seem so ridiculous. Jon shifted in his seat. He knew what the right answer was here, the same as before, but it didn’t feel that way. He knew that if Dr. Miller hurt herself getting him coffee that he would feel bad about it, especially since he was supposed to be cutting back on his caffeine, and he wouldn’t even need as much if he took the pills she’d prescribed him in the first place so that he could sleep.
“Dr. Taylor? Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“That the point of this exercise is to get me to see how I blame myself even when I shouldn’t.”
“That’s part of it. So in this situation, you’d feel guilty?”
Jon sighed. Pinched his nose. Reluctantly nodded.
“Why?”
“Because that’s just how I’m hard wired, apparently. I know it’s stupid. But I just can’t help seeing this chain of guilt.”
“Deep breath. It’s OK. This is a safe space, and there are no failures here. We won’t cure a cycle of self-blame that goes back thirty years in a few minutes. Let’s try another scenario.”
Jon nodded, focusing on taking slow, deep breaths, on not letting his mind take off on its worry train, which it wanted desperately to do, because Jon knew that Kai was anxious about his hearing test today and he was alone in the waiting room, and . . . No. Deep breaths, stay focused.
Dr. Miller seemed to sense that Jon was getting derailed. Maybe her work with Kai, or maybe it was just one of her skills as a psychiatrist. But she reassured him in her calming voice, “Dr. Taylor, breathe and stay in the present, OK? Whatever you're worrying about, put it aside for a few minutes.”
Jon let out a nervous laugh, pushed his fingers through his hair again. He wanted some coffee. He wanted to pace again. But she was right. “I’m here.”
Dr. Miller smiled faintly. “OK. Let’s consider this scenario now. You’re restless so you get up and start pacing like you were earlier. I urge you to calm down, to sit, but you either don’t hear me or ignore me. Whatever the case, you continue to pace. I finally decide to get up and physically intervene. I approach you, reach for you, but you pull away. I stumble and I end up stubbing my toe in the process. Now who’s fault is it?”
“Mine,” Jon said without having to think. He felt a pit form in his stomach and fidgeted.
“Can you expand on that? Why is it your fault?”
“If I hadn’t been pacing, if I’d listened to you, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” Jon said like it was obvious.
Dr. Miller shifted in her chair, looking at him placidly. “And you had control over my decision to stand up, to walk over to you instead of sticking to a verbal request?”
That threw Jon for a moment. “Uh, no.”
“And you had full control over where and how I approached you? Which shoes I wore this morning? Did you force me to wear my new pair I haven’t fully broken in yet and that make me walk a little funny, making it more likely I’ll stumble and trip? Is it your fault I’m wearing uncomfortable shoes?”
Jon began to feel more uneasy. “This is ridiculous.”
“Answer the question, Dr. Taylor.”
“No. I don’t chose your shoes.”
“So couldn’t you argue that if anyone is at fault in this scenario, it’s me for wearing bad shoes and getting involved when I shouldn’t have?”
“Uh . . .”
“Take a deep breath, Dr. Taylor. This isn’t a test. The point of this last scenario in particular was to get you realize there are many factors involved in any situation, most of which are not within your control or responsibility. When something goes wrong, it doesn’t automatically mean you failed. Can you see that?”
Jon shoved his fingers through his hair again. “The fact that you can dress yourself is great, but I don’t see how that matters when it comes to bad decisions I’ve made that hurt people I care about.”
Dr. Miller smiled in a way that suggested she’d expected him to react that way. “That’s why I’d like to do one more scenario as part of this exercise. Pick a real life situation, something recent and not too complex, in which you felt guilty about what happened. By not complex I mean nothing like your mother’s suicide attempt that you brought up earlier.”
Jon sighed. There was a lot to choose from, but he finally said, “Thursday. I was supposed to go swimming with Kai, but I got a call that CPS was going to take custody of one of my patients, so I blew Kai off. We’ve made up, but I still hate myself every time I think about how stupid I was to go to work when I had an obligation to Kai.” Not to mention his worry that it was a habit of his and history was bound to repeat itself.
“Why do you feel so guilty about this? Especially if you and Kai have already made amends over it?”
Jon sighed. Of course Dr. Miller would make him dive deeper. “Kai skipped his session with you on Thursday. A session he really needed, and he missed it because he was angry at me for cancelling our plans. If I had swum with him like I was supposed to, Kai would have gone to see you like he was supposed to.” Jon realized how lame it sounded once he said it out loud.
“It’s all right, Dr. Taylor. This example is more complex than the first three because it involves emotions. The important thing for you to internalize here is that you can’t control Kai.”
Jon laughed, because that seemed like such an understatement. Kai was the most stubborn person he knew. “I know that; of course I know that, but it doesn’t seem to matter when my guilt parade starts up.”
Dr. Miller nodded. “That’s why we’re doing this exercise. Yes, your actions influenced Kai’s decision to swim through his session, but Kai is a grown man. If he decides to skip an appointment, that is not on you no matter what happened between the two of you.”
Jon rolled his eyes and crossed his arms on his chest.
“Let’s go back to the previous example with the shoes. Let’s say we got in a fight during our last session and you said something about my shoes. So then, this morning when I’m getting ready I decide I’ll wear the new ones instead. Then, of course, I end up stubbing my toe. Is it really your fault that I wore those uncomfortable shoes?”
“No, I suppose not,” Jon admitted reluctantly.
“Are you starting to see what I’m trying to show you here?”
Jon nodded. “I’m not in control of everything and everyone, only my own actions, and even then I can’t completely shoulder the blame if something goes wrong.”
“Exactly. I also want you to get some perspective. Kai missing his session ended up being a good thing. I suspect you both learned something from it?”
Jon sighed. Crossed his arms tighter.
“This is important, Dr. Taylor. Don’t be like your brother and make me pry it out of you.” Dr. Miller was smiling faintly.
Jon sighed. “It made me realize that I use work as an avoidance mechanism, I guess. I always have. Work or school. It also reminded me how important it is for me and Kai to spend brother time together.”
“Good. And I know Kai also got something from the experience as well. So feeling guilty about it doesn’t do you any good in this situation. Do you understand? Firstly, there is no blame to be had, and secondly, it worked out for the better. How do you feel about it now?”
Jon let out a breath and let his arms fall to his side. He had to admit he did feel a little better, like some of his burden was relieved. “Better, I guess. But I still worry about choosing work over my family in the wrong moment.”
“That’s something we can work on,” Dr. Miller said with a nod. “There’s a book I’d like you to read. It’s called Goodbye to Guilt. It’ll help you identify your guilty feelings and resolve them. It’s helped a lot of my patients. I’d also like you to start a guilt journal. I want you to spend a few minutes every morning and evening writing down things you’re feeling particularly guilty about and then dissecting them. You don’t have to work on all of them; just pick one or two a day to focus on. Similarly to the exercise we just did. Look at all the parties involved and work out how much of each situation wasn’t in your control or responsibility, and also see if you can determine what good may have come out of it. Analyzing your guilt like this can help give you some distance and clear them from your mind. You can start looking at things more objectively, and ultimately, perhaps stop automatically blaming yourself when something goes wrong.”
Jon nodded, but he wasn’t entirely convinced.
Dr. Miller seemed to sense this. “I know it sounds like a waste of time, but therapeutic exercises like this one can be very helpful. Ask your brother. There are things that I’ve suggested he do that he was skeptical about that turned out to be very beneficial to his recovery.”
Jon nodded. He was jonesing for a cup of coffee so badly.
“I’d like to shift gears and talk about your living situation. You mentioned at the start of the session how you worry about both Vicky and Kai when you’re not with them.”
Jon sighed. Nodded.
“And you’re not sleeping. I mean, you’re sleeping even less than normal, and you’re not taking the sleeping pills I prescribed you?”
Jon grunted. He hadn’t wanted them in the first place. “I’ve always had trouble sleeping. I can deal with it.”
“A few minutes ago, you admitted that you felt like your work was suffering. So you’re fine? Everything is fine, and you have it all worked out as to what will happen once the baby comes, if not before then?”
Jon walked right into that one, hadn’t he? He sighed heavily. “I feel like I’m torn in two. When I’m with Vicky, and I do manage to fall asleep, I have nightmares about Kai dying. When I’m at my place, I dream about losing Vicky and the baby. And I wake up and I have to immediately get in my car and drive over and check on whoever I wasn’t with to reassure myself that they’re OK. Then I go back to wherever I came from and try to get some more sleep, if I can. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t go back to sleep if I don’t check on them. I can’t shake that feeling, that pit of dread in my stomach that something happened to them for real and I wasn’t there to stop it.”
“Dr. Taylor,” Dr. Miller said in a soft yet firm voice, “we just finished talking about how you can’t bare full responsibility for everyone and everything. Not only is it troubling that your sleep is even more disturbed than normal, but it’s dangerous for you to be driving in the middle of the night, especially sleep deprived.”
“I know. You don’t think I already know this? But unless I see them, see that they’re OK, I can’t clear the horrific images my mind has painted for me. And I can’t take the pills because I’ve had nightmares about that, too. I’ve tried, OK? But then I dream that something terrible happens to Vicky and the baby or Kai, and I sleep through it. And if I hadn’t been drugged, I could have prevented it.”
Dr. Miller sighed softly. “Dr. Taylor, I’d like to invite Kai to join us. I think the problem of your living arrangements is something you both need to resolve.”
“Fine,” Jon said a little more surly than he would have liked. What was there to resolve? Jon needed to move in with Vicky, and Kai didn’t want to live at Vicky’s house. He’d already made up his mind.
“Good. Why don’t you help yourself to some coffee. I know you want some, and normally I wouldn’t say it’s relaxing, but in your case, it might help.”


#


Kai was sitting in one of the more comfortable waiting room chairs, his legs stretched out, a thick textbook in his lap. It looked like he was reading and signing to himself. Kai had talked about how much difficulty he had remembering information in English, and that he’d discovered that sometimes if he found a way to make it visual, whether it was drawing a diagram or a map or signing it, he retained it more effectively.
“Kai?” Dr. Miller called out, but when he ignored her, she remembered about his hearing issues. She waved instead, but he didn’t see her, and she didn’t want to startle him.
Finally, Kai happened to glance up. “Oh. Dr. Miller. Is the session over already?” He looked around as if searching for a clock or his brother or something.
Dr. Miller shook her head. “No. There’s something I’d like to go through with both you and your brother.”
Kai’s eyes narrowed, and a look of confusion played over his face. “I’m sorry. What?”
Dr. Miller beckoned him, pointing into her office.
“Uh, you want me to come in? OK. Give me a sec.” Kai closed his book and stuffed it in his bag, zipped it up, and put it on. Then he slipped his arms into his crutches and prepared to stand. Not that Dr. Miller had never seen Kai stand up before, because she had, but she felt like she was staring so she nodded at him and turned back inside, giving him time to join them.
A few minutes later, Kai was sitting in his usual spot, Jon had settled into the arm chair again, Kai with a bottle of water and Jon with coffee. Jon looked nervous and uncomfortable, and Kai, ironically, seemed calm. He wasn’t even fidgeting. Maybe the Zoloft was already working.
“Thank you for joining us, Kai,” Dr. Miller said. “Jon and I were discussing his . . . concerns about your living situation. We all know the status quo can’t last as Vicky’s pregnancy progresses, and I think you both need to discuss it openly, with me working as an intermediary.”
Kai blinked at her, then turned to Jon, staring at his brother pointedly.
Jon sighed, then nodded. He lifted his hands, and Dr. Miller watched as Jon presumably interpreted what she’d said, Kai nodding occasionally to show he was understanding, or at least that was Dr. Miller’s assumption.
Finally, Kai nodded more purposefully, then turned to Dr. Miller. “OK. Let’s talk.”
“What is your ideal solution to the situation, Kai?”
“My ideal solution?” Kai asked, as if confirming what she’d said. When she nodded, he sucked in a breath. “I’d like to move into the dorms. My counselor has already put in an application for me, but I probably won’t be able to get an accessible room until the summer. I said I’d take anything, but . . .” Kai sighed. Glanced over at Jon. “I know that’s not really a viable option.”
“So have you given any thought of what you’re going to do in the interim? From now until you can get into a dorm?”
Kai stared at her hard, then looked to his brother again.
Jon glanced over at Dr. Miller, looking a little uneasy, and even though she couldn’t understand his signing, it seemed like he was struggling to interpret what she’d said. Finally, though, Kai seemed to get it.
He sighed. Shifted his weight. “I’ve been trying not to think about it. I was so focused on trying to be independent, on getting out of the apartment . . .” He looked a little abashed and seemed to be avoiding Jon’s gaze.
Dr. Miller nodded. She knew Kai was avoiding the subject, so she was pleased he’d made some effort in regards to the dorm thing. “What about you, Jon? What solution would you like to see?”
Jon swallowed. He glanced hesitantly at his brother and fidgeted, rubbing his palms on his pants and then shoving his fingers through his hair a few times. Finally, he signed while he spoke so both could understand him easily, though his words were a little halting. “Honestly?” Jon took a huge breath. “I’d like us both to move in to Vicky’s house.”
“Good. So we both know what each of you would like in an ideal world. Kai, why do you want to move into the dorms?”
Kai managed to read her lips this time. He looked uncomfortable, not able to make eye contact with either of them when he finally responded, “I’m worried about ruining Jon’s life if I move in with him and his family.” It didn’t escape Dr. Miller’s notice that Kai again was distinguishing Vicky and Jon’s future child as a separate family group from himself. “I’m worried that I’m . . .” Kai looked up, his face pained, like he didn’t want to continue, but the wordless urging from Dr. Miller prompted him to press on despite his discomfort. “I’m scared I don’t have enough control of myself. That I’m not safe. And even if I was, I’ll still find some way to fuck everything up for Jon, because that’s what I do. I ruin things.” Kai bit his lip hard, and his eyes got glossy, but he clearly was trying to contain himself.
“Kai--”
“Dr. Taylor, remember the rules. No interrupting. Wait your turn.”
Jon sighed, clearly frustrated, but he silenced.
“But why the dorms, Kai? You could stay in the apartment, or rent another.”
Kai’s body language was shifting from the open, more relaxed posture of when he’d first entered to the tenser, closed off, protective kind she was familiar with from their sessions. It meant that they were entering territory that Kai wasn’t comfortable exploring, and he was precariously close to shutting down. But this was important, and Dr. Miller wasn’t going to let him duck this issue any more.
“We need to talk about this, Kai.”
Kai grit his teeth so hard she could almost hear them creak. “What do you want me to say?” Kai cast a glare her way like he wanted to remain stubborn but knew she wouldn’t let him get away with not answering. Kai took in a breath and his eyes filmed so that he had to blink a few times to clear his vision. “I want to be normal, even if it’s only a sliver of it, OK?” Kai pushed some hair out of his face and Dr. Miller observed his hand was shaking.
She knew that Kai had an obsession with normalcy, but she sensed that there was still something under the surface Kai wasn’t revealing. “So if a dorm room--an accessible room--opened up and you could move in tomorrow, you’d be thrilled?”
It took Kai a minute, and he confirmed a couple things to make sure he’d understood her, but finally his eyes spilled over and his anger came out. “Fuck you,” he said, but there wasn’t much vitriol in it. “God dammit.” Kai picked at the front of his shirt, pulling it up to wipe his face. He sucked in a breath through his nose to try to get himself back under control. “I’m not ready to live alone. I . . .” Kai’s eyebrows furrowed sternly. “I don’t want to.” He turned to Jon. “I’m happy that you’re having a son. Really. But . . .” Kai took another difficult breath and glanced over at Dr. Miller as if to confirm he had to continue.
“This is important. Tell Jon how you really feel about all of this.”
Kai sighed, then finally admitted, “I hate that it has to change everything. I feel like I’m losing you, and God dammit, that’s so fucking stupid and selfish. . . . But I just keep going back to that day in November when I realized you were gone. Just gone, and how I felt, like someone had reached into my chest and torn out my soul. Or how I woke up the other day, stuck in one of my fucking nightmares and totally tripping balls, terrified and alone, and I needed you. I didn’t want to, but I did.” Kai took another strangled breath, like he was having trouble breathing. And he was. The beginning of a panic attack--shaking and hyperventilating.
“Breathe, Kai,” Dr. Miller said, even if she wasn’t sure he could hear her.
Either way, Kai closed his eyes and tried to take slow, deep breaths, and although it took awhile, he finally derailed the escalating panic and some of his tension ebbed. “I’m sorry, Jon. I know this isn’t fair. I’m trying. I’m trying so hard not to need you, but no matter how much I tell myself I’m not losing you, that you’re not abandoning me, I just can’t convince my fucked up brain to believe it.”
“That was good, Kai. Really good. Why don’t you take out your fox and pet it for a few minutes. Breathe. Get yourself grounded. Jon’s right here. No matter what decision we come to about your living situation, he’ll still be around to support you. Internalize that. Focus on that. OK?”
Kai nodded, retrieved his fox from his bag and buried his face in it. He was relatively quiet, but Dr. Miller suspected he was crying. It meant a lot for Kai to have admitted everything he had. It was a battle he had been fighting for months within himself: wanting desperately to declare himself independent, to decide he didn’t need anyone, but at the same time terrified of losing those close to him, especially Jon and Renee.
Jon stared at his brother a long time, clearly wanting to comfort him but uncertain whether he should, finally meeting Dr. Miller’s eyes. He had such a distraught, guilty look. He did end up moving to the opposite end of the sofa where his brother sat, but he didn't make a move to interfere with Kai.
“Don’t let the guilt spiral take over, Dr. Taylor,” she said, even though she realized Kai probably wouldn’t be able to hear her, and she was leaving him out right now. But Jon needed some reassurance. “Don’t focus on Kai. Focus on you and what you need, and when Kai’s ready, you’ll have your chance to speak.”
It took almost ten minutes before Kai finally regained his composure and lifted his head, wiping his eyes and nose on his shirt. They were red rimmed but dry, and there was a determination there, a spark that told her that Kai felt better now that he’d finally admitted all of that out loud and in one piece, that he’d gotten some of the pain out in the form of tears and he was ready to move forward. Kai still found the crying spells mortifying, she knew that because he’d told her as much, but he was becoming more accepting of them, especially during their sessions, realizing that they did serve a purpose.
Kai took a huge breath. Wiped his face one more time. “I’m sorry. I’m ready to continue.  Jon can have his turn now.”
“OK, Dr. Taylor, why don’t you tell Kai why it’s so important that you both move in to Vicky’s.”
Jon opened his mouth and looked almost like he was about to ask Kai if he were OK or something that played off the guilt he was clearly still feeling even if Dr. Miller had directed him to try to stop it. But then he apparently realized what he was doing, took a breath, and refocused. “I worry so much about you and Vicky. And the baby. Whoever I’m not with, I spend the whole night imagining horror scenarios in my head. It’s so bad I have to get in my car and check on you if I’m with Vicky, or if I’m with you, I have to go to her house and make sure she and the baby are OK. I know it’s insane, but . . .” Jon started to get emotional now, his eyes filling and he had to stop and compose himself. Jon didn’t like showing his emotional weakness to his brother. No matter how much Dr. Miller tried to remind Jon that he wasn’t Kai’s father and he didn’t need to behave as if he was, Jon couldn’t break out of that role. And part of it was Jon’s belief that he had to be a fortress for Kai, especially now with all that his brother was going through with his mental illness. Jon took a few breaths. “I believe in you, Kai. I do. You’re still the bravest, toughest person I know, and if anyone can get past . . . all that you’ve been through, you can. But you’re not ready to be on your own.” Jon’s emotions started to get the better of him again, and Dr. Miller imagined he was beginning to think of their mother and how he had similar fears for Kai. “I know you hurt yourself,” Jon said, pressing forward. “And I’m not trying to make you feel guilty about it, but I worry so much that you’ll do something, hurt yourself, try to . . .” Jon grit his teeth. He didn’t want to say it, but he finally forced himself to. “Try to kill yourself. When I’m not around. Because I’m not around. And maybe that’s not fair, but it’s how I feel. You and Vicky are the only people in my life that I can say I care about, that I would do anything for, and if I lost either of you, especially if it was my fault for not being there . . .” Tears finally escaped Jon’s eyes and he struggled to brush them away. Finally, he gave up and covered his face with his hands, almost as if to shield Kai from his own emotion.
Kai hesitated, then touched Jon’s arm just enough to get his attention. He signed something when Jon looked up, and a moment later, pulled his brother into a hug. The kind of hug that Jon normally gave Kai during their sessions together. Sturdy and supportive and reassuring. Kai didn’t say anything. Just held Jon for a few minutes before pulling back. “I had no idea I was destroying you like that,” Kai said, with his own guilt in his voice, but his facial expression suggested he was a little hurt that Jon had kept all this from him, yet he was also understanding. It was amazing how much information Kai could show with only his eyes and lips and brows. Kai smoothed Jon’s hair almost like Jon tended to do to him from time to time. “You’re right. I’m not ready to be on my own. I want to get there, and maybe by the summer, by the time a dorm comes available, I will be.” He took a breath. “Vicky needs to understand about my PTSD, what I do and don’t have control over, and when, and what that means. We’ll have to sit down and talk to her. But . . .” Kai took a breath. “Let’s do it. We can start packing tonight, if you want. We’ll move in to Vicky’s together.”
“Really?” Jon said, his voice wavering a little.
“It’s hard for me to have perspective a lot of the time. I’m so focused on just surviving the next five minutes. The next hour. The next day. It makes me self-absorbed. And I’m sorry. Dr. Miller’s helping me realize how being like that can hurt those close to me. I’m getting better at recognizing it, but I have a lot of work to do still. So if you need this, then let’s do it.”
Jon took one of Kai’s hands and squeezed it. Letting out a relieved laugh. “It really feels like I had this weight in my chest and it’s gone. I’ll still worry, but . . .”
“You’ll worry less?” Kai smiled. He put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. ‘You have given me so much. Moving is the least I can give you.” Kai let out a long breath. “I can see now how selfish keeping you from Vicky was. Dr. Miller’s helping me learn how a relationship is about give and take. I’ve been doing a lot of taking and not nearly enough giving.” Kai’s smile grew and he laughed. “I probably need this just as much, I’ve just been too stubborn to admit it.”

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Continue to February 6, 2001 - Part II ----->

3 comments:

  1. So glad to read that the brothers found some common ground!
    Thank you for a beautiful update!

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  2. I love how this episode moves Kai and Jon so much closer to each other, emotionally. They now have a greater understanding of the other's thoughts and feelings and can move forward with a stronger relationship, together.

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  3. Such a nice read :)

    I love these moments between brothers

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