Monday, July 24, 2000

In/Exhale - January 26, 2001 - Part III

January 26, 2001 - Part III

Not long after Kai went to lie down, David heated himself yet more food and crashed on the couch, flipping on the TV. Renee noticed he made a point to put the volume on mute, and he must have caught the quirk of her eyebrows or something--damn, he was visually perceptive--because he chuckled.
In the past, Kai would be sleeping and I’d turn on the TV, not realizing the volume was on loud, and he’d come barreling out here to yell at me.” Renee was shocked that she understood all that, especially since David was signing mostly with one hand while his other held a bowl of something that smelled really good even if she didn’t know what it was. In fairness, it had been a pretty visual depiction of what happened, including David imitating Kai pushing his wheelchair hard and fast and then whacking his friend on the arm.
Renee nodded and sat down on the other end of the couch, curling up her legs. David had the TV tuned to CNN, and a beautiful anchorwoman was reporting about a huge blizzard that had hit the East coast the day before, closed captioning scrolling across the screen. The storm had been on the news for several days, and had fortunately hit east of them, sparing Jonesville the heavy snow.
Renee watched along with David for awhile until he finished his bowl and set it aside.
He signaled to her to get her attention. “It would be amazing if I could watch the news in ASL,” he said. “Everything in ASL,” he added with a grin. Then shrugged.
Renee nodded, because she wasn’t sure what to say to that. She could understand. It would suck living in a world where everything was in another language and you had to adapt because the world wouldn’t adapt to you. “You’re the first deaf person I’ve talked to,” she said, taking the mental leap in her head and only realizing after she said it that maybe she wasn’t making sense. The reality was, while in New Orleans, Renee had gone to the Deaf church nearly every Sunday to try to keep up with her sign language, but she’d been too shy to do more than observe at the socials after. It had helped with her signing, definitely, but she was a little ashamed that the Deaf had intimidated her.
David didn’t seem to care about her leap in subject. “I wish I could say you’re the first hearing person I’ve met, but you people are everywhere.
Renee laughed loudly at that and had to cup her hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t wake Kai. “You’re funny.
David shrugged in a, “I try” kinda way.
You and Kai are good friends?” Renee said, signing “GOOD” and then “FRIEND.”
David looked confused for a moment before he realized what she was saying. He waved his hand in the air, palm out, in a “no” gesture, then corrected her, showing her a letter “R” (index and middle fingers crossed) but with intensity to show how close they were. “We grew up together. Went to school together.” David used a sign she didn’t recognize at first--fists in “I” hand shapes (pinkies out) smacked against each other. Then she remembered Kai had told her that was the sign that meant “Deaf school” as opposed to just “school.” David wiggled his fingers as he tried to think of what to say next, the Deafie equivalent of “um.” “You know that English phrase, ‘thick as thieves’?” David spelled it out laboriously slowly until she got what he was saying. “That was me and Kai. Sometimes literally.” He grinned mischievously.
“So you’re the one who taught Kai to pick locks!” Renee said out loud, unintentionally, not that she would have had any idea how to sign that.
But apparently David read her lips, understanding enough. His smile broadened, but he shrugged.
Renee rolled her eyes. Debated about what she wanted to say next, wondering if it was a sensitive subject. “But you were not here during his transplant. Right?” Renee asked, signing slowly as she worked out how to say what she wanted to.
David looked guilty. Shook his head. “One reason I’m here now. Help him get better.
Will he? Get better?” Renee asked, using the same sign that David had, both hands with thumbs smoothing across fingers as they closed, moving downward. Although David had pointed to his head first, as if to emphasize Kai’s recent struggles with mental illness.
David nodded without hesitation, his face showing he had no doubt. “Kai is a survivor,” he said, confusing Renee initially, because she hadn’t realized the sign for “LIVE” could be used that way. “Kai survived being born early. He survived his childhood. He survived his transplant. He survived Thanksgiving. He survived the recent infection.” Renee didn’t recognize the sign for “INFECTION” at first, an “I” hand shaken left to right, so David explained, fingerspelling it and signing “SICK” until she got it.
The infection wasn’t that bad, though,” Renee said, confused.
Now David looked confused--and if Renee thought Kai was expressive, it was only because she hadn’t interacted with the Deaf before. “Jon and I--” David said, establishing Jon by using his namesign--an upside-down J drawn on his mouth with his pinky, like a frown--and then spelling his name and explaining it was Kai’s brother. He then pointed to an area in space to signify Jon for the rest of the conversation. “--we both thought Kai was going to die.
“What?” Renee said out loud reflexively. “Kai told me it was a small infection.
David shook his head. “The infection started in his gut but it spread everywhere. Jon said it was called sepsis.” David fingerspelled it very slowly so she’d get it. “He had a really high fever for days.” Renee didn’t understand the sign he’d used for “FEVER”--which looked like a the gauge rising on an old-fashioned thermometer--until he explained it and fingerspelled it for clarification. “Kai was in ICU in the hospital . . .” David hesitated, thinking, as if trying to remember. “Five days, I think? A long time. We were really worried. The doctors kept him unconscious with medicine, and Jon and I didn’t think we’d ever see Kai awake again.
Renee’s stomach knotted as she watched David’s signing, grateful he was making himself as clear as possible, slow and adding explanations whenever she didn’t understand a sign he used. “Kai lied.
He didn’t tell you the full truth. Kai doesn’t like to think how serious his infection was.  He was in the hospital for almost a month. That’s part of why he’s still struggling with food.” So that was the real reason Kai had waited until she returned from the winter holiday to meet with her. Why she hadn’t even spoken to him on the phone until nearly Christmas.
Kai had told her, when he’d explained about his transplant, that because of the medicines he had to take to keep his body from attacking his lungs, he could get sick. Very sick. But both Jon and Kai had acted like Kai’s extended hospital stay because of an infection had been no big deal. Part of Renee was hurt and angry that Kai had been so close to death and Jon had left her out of it, but part of her understood why he had, and why Kai had minimized things. He was fine now, presumably, and Kai was still struggling with his mental illness. Why further complicate things? After all, it had been painfully clear that Kai hadn’t really expected Renee to want any kind of romantic relationship with all his various caveats.
David was waving to get Renee’s attention again, since he evidently noticed she’d spaced out. “Kai loves you,” David said. “He’ll kill me for telling you. I don’t think he even knows it yet. But he does. When Kai keeps secrets, he doesn’t do it to be mean,” David said, signing slowly partially to help her understand and also, Renee assumed, because he was trying to pick his signs carefully to make it easier for her to get what he was saying.
Renee nodded, almost a reflex, as she turned things over in her mind. Kai could have died. That cold day in November when Kai dropped her off at the airport could have been the last time she saw him alive. Maybe the last time she saw him at all. And that brief terrible phone call could have been the last time she talked to him. What if she’d never had a chance to tell him she loved him?
David tapped her to get her to look at him. His face was contrite, a total transformation from the playful, mischievous expression he’d had most of the afternoon. “I upset you,” he said, but she didn’t get that initially. He’d signed “HURT” on his heart, and it took her a minute to realize what he meant. “I’m sorry. I should have realized Kai would have kept things private,” David said, his hand in a fist, thumb drawn down over his lips.
It’s OK,” Renee said, desperately willing herself not to start crying, not in front of David, who looked like the type of guy who would have no clue what to do if a woman cried. “If Kai had died, and I didn’t know. Wasn’t there . . .
David nodded enthusiastically, took in a deep breath. “That’s how I feel about not being there before, during, and after his transplant. I understand. But Kai doesn’t like to look back. He prefers to stay focused on the future. He’s always been like that.” David signed the “look back” part by pointing his fingers--index and middle to represent gaze--over his shoulder, literally looking back, then used his other hand to forcibly turn them around to face forward. David held up a hand to signal he wanted her to wait. Then he got up, crossed to the TV console, did something with his back to her, and then returned, offering her a game controller.
Want to play? Jon gave this to Kai for Christmas. Kai tends to think too much on the same thing over and over,” David said, obviously trying to keep the signing simple so Renee would understand his point.
Dwell?” Renee fingerspelled.
David nodded. “Playing helps relax him and distract him.” David raised his brows in another wordless question, asking if she wanted to join him.
Honestly, Renee really didn’t play many video games. Sometimes, at home, with her brothers, but she figured why not. “OK.”
David grinned, hurriedly switched the TV from the cable to the game, and settled down into the couch to play. It was some kind of racing game, and Renee found the controller awkward--it had more buttons than she was used to--but as they attempted race after race, Renee found herself relaxing. David was right. It was a good way to distract yourself. And despite her hurt and subtle jealousy that David had spent all these weeks with Kai while she’d been reduced to a few therapy sessions, she was really glad that Kai had a friend like David to help him.


#


For the next thirty minutes or so, David and Renee played video games. Renee wasn’t very good, and even though a part of David knew he should probably let her win, his competitiveness never let him. She didn’t seem to care, though. She was having fun, fumbling through it, though he could tell by the set of her shoulders and the look in her eyes when she thought he wasn’t noticing that she was still worried about Kai. David had really fucked up. He should have realized that Kai would downplay how sick he’d been. Kai did that anyway, and with everything else going on. . . .
Renee was improving, though. She still didn’t really have a chance of winning, but at least she wasn’t finishing last each time. Right now, she was completely caught up in the game, laughing as she hit one of the computer’s drivers with a powerup that sent it spinning off screen.
But then her entire demeanor changed abruptly, her face paling, growing worried, and her hands shifted on the controller, not caring if her player’s car came to a stop. She heard something. She dropped it in her lap and hurriedly got his attention. “I heard Kai scream.
That’s what David had figured. “He has bad dreams sometimes,” David said, trying to reassure her. “I’ll go check on him.
David rose and swiftly went to Kai’s room, though he eased the door open slowly. He didn’t want to spook Kai anymore than necessary. And many times, if Kai was woken by a nightmare, it took him up to a half hour to fully come back to reality. On a bad day, he didn’t: he slipped straight from the dream into a flashback.
Kai was sitting up in bed, his hands behind him, propping himself up, his chest heaving, his eyes closed, breathing heavily. His hair was damp with sweat, sticking to the sides of his face, and his shirt was soaked. He was shaking subtly.
Carefully, David eased closer, snatching Kai’s stuffed fox off his dresser and approaching Kai’s bed.
Kai opened his eyes, and his gaze met David’s, but David wasn’t 100% sure Kai was all there yet. David saw fear and confusion and panic.
David held his hands up, one holding the fox, in a placating gesture, easing a little closer and offering it to Kai. He had no idea if Kai was really seeing him or someone else.
Kai stretched and snatched it from David, hugging it close and burying his face in it.
That was good news. It meant Kai was here, but whatever had terrified him in his dream still lingered. The fox often helped bring him back and calm him down.
Knowing Kai was probably not going to lose it and attack him, thinking he was a threat, David took a chance and sat on the edge of Kai’s bed. Plenty far enough that he wouldn’t need to worry about freaking Kai out.
When Kai finally looked up, he signed single handedly, still holding the fox, “I had the suffocation dream again. I couldn’t breathe,” Kai said, his eyes pleading. Kai had several recurring nightmares. Sometimes they involved reliving traumatic moments in his life. Sometimes he dreamt about being buried alive.
Since his stay in ICU battling sepsis, though, Kai had started having another set of dreams entirely. They usually involved him in a hospital--sometimes intubated--sometimes not. He’d be sleeping in the dream, and wake up suddenly with the sensation that his mouth, throat, and nose were filled--not with dirt like in his buried-alive dream, but like his airways were completely sealed off. He’d explained it wasn’t at all like an asthma attack or even a panic attack. It was infinitely more terrifying, because he had no possible way to breathe--at all. Sometimes in the dreams he’d see figures hovering over him, shadows he couldn’t make out, and they were always threatening, like they were the ones who were suffocating him. In fact, sometimes the shadows seemed to stretch, their appendages slipping into his mouth and nose, cutting off his air. The worst thing about these dreams was how real they were. Kai almost always woke up screaming, sweating and shaking, gasping.
Kai inhaled a difficult breath, still trying to fully calm down. “Renee heard me, didn’t she?
David nodded.
Kai frowned, dropped the fox in his lap. Then he used his hands to shift his body so his back was against the wall, leaning against it for support, pulling his legs up. “It’ll never work, her and me. I’m a mess.”
Yeah, you are, but she’s crazy about you.” David sucked in a breath. “I may have told her your infection was very serious and you almost died. What’s the English expression? ‘Spill the beans’? Which makes no sense. Are the beans secret? Or were you hiding something in the can of beans that you don’t want people to know about?” David’s attempts to hide his admission in pointing out the nonsensical nature of English failed.
“Dammit, David,” David read off Kai’s lips. “Maybe Dr. Miller’s right. Maybe trying to have any kind of relationship with Renee is too much.
When has anything ever been ‘too much’ for you? If you wanted something, you went for it, no matter what anyone told you to the contrary. So yeah, you’re fucked up, I won’t discount that. But if you let all the bad shit that’s happened to you keep you from having any kind of happiness in this life, then I may as well open the safe in Jon’s office and let you take every pill in there, because you won’t be fucking living. What was the point of going through the transplant and all the shit before and after if you’re not going to live?” David signed intensely, fingerspelling the last word to emphasize it.
Adding ‘life coach’ to your resume now?
Fuck you. My life after CH was heading south, fast, but I managed to figure out I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in prison, so I got my shit together. You can, too, and you’re lucky that you have friends and a beautiful woman to help you through it. Do I need to slap you?
Kai laughed then, finally relaxing, the tension and lingering fear from his dream draining away. Thank God. It was always a fine line with Kai, between pushing him hard like David just had, and giving him the space to let him figure things out on his own.
David smiled back, then got up and crossed to Kai’s closet, flicking through his numerous T-shirts until he found the one he was looking for, buried in the back. He snagged it, then a fresh pair of sweatpants and underwear and tossed everything at Kai. “I’m sure you probably need a shower, but in case you’re too jittery for one, at least change.
Kai looked down at his shirt and sighed, peeling it off and using it to wipe the lingering sweat from his body. “Can you smell me from there?
David shrugged. “Maybe you wouldn’t sweat so much if you didn’t keep this place such a furnace all the time.” He held up a finger, disappeared into Kai’s bathroom, snagged his deodorant, and tossed that at him, too.
During the month which included the week before Thanksgiving, Kai’s time in the hospital, and his first week home after, Kai had lost nearly 20% of his body weight. He’d struggled since, and had only managed to add about ten pounds. Despite all that, it amazed David how cut Kai’s abdomen was. No matter how much David worked out, he’d never managed anything approaching a six-pack. It was probably diet, but life was too short to deprive yourself. But it didn’t mean David wasn’t jealous. Even underweight, his bones visible, even with the scars, Kai had a great body. Much leaner and slimmer than David’s, but enviable nonetheless.
Stop staring, you perv,” Kai snapped with one hand, snagging the shirt. “Throwing up on a regular schedule is a great ab workout. Maybe I should market it,” Kai added snidely.
David rolled his eyes. “Just get dressed.
Kai flipped the shirt around, shaking his head before pulling it on. “Really?” Kai said once his his face was visible again.
David smirked. He’d given Kai one of the shirts he’d made for him that said, I put the HOT in psychotic. You’re laughing on the inside.
Kai just shook his head as he pulled his dog tags from underneath the shirt. “I think I can handle the rest on my own. Thanks.
Don’t throw up. If you do, I’ll make you eat again,” David warned.
Kai nodded in a way that made David believe he’d been right that Kai was nauseous. He often woke up from naps--especially if he’d had nightmares--feeling sick.


#


David emerged from Kai’s room, offering her a smile before signing something Renee didn’t quite catch, but that must have been about cleaning up the kitchen, because that’s where he headed. Renee wasn’t sure what to do. After the initial scream, Renee hadn’t heard much of anything from Kai’s room, which made sense if they were talking in sign language, though she had heard Kai say, “Dammit, David” once.
A few minutes later, Kai emerged from his room in his wheelchair, his hair damp and neat, like he’d pulled a wet comb through it, wearing totally different clothes. Strange, but she was relieved to see he was OK, smiling faintly, if tiredly, at her as he approached.
“I’m guessing that’s one of David’s designs?” Renee said, pointing to Kai’s Tee.
Kai rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Look, I’m sorry about . . . you know.”
Renee just shook her head. Then, without thinking, on impulse, she took a step closer, braced her hands on his shoulders, and kissed him.
She felt his body recoil in shock, and his hand flew to her side, but he didn’t push her away. Instead, he kissed her back, hungrily, greedily, barely pausing for breath. He let out little groans as he pulled her down into his lap, closer to him, forcing her to grind against him, his hands roving over her body. After a while he pulled away from the kiss, his eyes dark with lust, breathing hard.
“This is dangerous, Re,” Kai said. And Renee knew he didn’t mean because David was only a few feet away.
“Well, you do put the ‘hot’ in psychotic, right?”
Kai chuckled faintly. His eyes brightened, and his hands shifted from groping to caressing her. “Re . . .” He swallowed. Shook his head. “I don’t understand what you see in me, but I’m so glad that you do.”


#


Renee had left an hour earlier, and Kai felt good, really good, about them and the fact that maybe they could make things work after all for the first time in a long time. David had stayed, but he was hoping to get home in time to have dinner with Megan.
You sure you’ll be OK?
Kai nodded. “Jon is supposed to be off work soon anyway.
Do you want me to make you a prescription shake before I go?
Kai frowned. His stomach was far from happy, and he was worried eating would make it worse.
Since you threw up your breakfast, the only thing you ate today was that peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s 500 calories. And I’m being generous. You’re supposed to be eating 5000 calories a day.” It was true. A PB&J was about 400 calories, maybe, so David was rounding up. But that was only 10% of what Kai was supposed to be eating every day.
I never reach my calorie goal,” Kai pointed out petulantly. Because he often threw up, he could only count a fraction of those calories toward his daily total, depending on how long he went between eating and vomiting.
Which is why these shakes, with whole milk, are like 2000 calories each. To help you. I’m making you one, and you’re going to drink it before I go.
Fine. Make it. But I’ll promise I’ll drink it slowly over the next hour. I’ll never keep it down if you make me drink it fast.
David nodded. “I’ll add some peanut butter to bump up the calories a little more, since I doubt you’ll manage anything else today.


#
Kai was camped out on the couch, his legs stretched out and his head reclined on the top of the cushions, his eyes closed. He still had about half his shake left, but he’d started to feel queasy and decided a few moments of quiet meditation might help him finish without hurling and ruining everything.
He heard the front door opening, and he was calm enough from his mindfulness exercises that his heart only partially lept up in his chest at the sound. He listened as his brother closed the door behind him, took off his briefcase and coat, hung them on the wall. All sounds he could identify because Jon was very much a creature of habit.
“Kai? I’m home.”
“Over here,” Kai said, although the apartment was small enough, and Kai’s legs long enough, it’d be hard for Jon to miss him once he took a few more steps. Not to mention Kai’s wheelchair, which he’d left off to the side, within reach.
He heard Jon approach, lift the insulated cup with Kai’s shake, screw off the top and check its contents before setting it back down on the table with a small sound of disappointment, though he said nothing. “How you--” Jon started to say, but then he immediately stopped himself. “What the hell are you wearing?”
That woke Kai up, and he opened his eyes, pushed himself into more of a sitting position. “What?”
Jon looked furious. He pointed at Kai. “That is not funny.”
Kai didn’t realize what Jon was talking about until he looked down and remembered he was still wearing the shirt David had selected for him. “Seems appropriate,” Kai said drolly.
“PTSD is not psychosis, Kai. You’ve been over this with Dr. Miller.”
Kai shrugged. “Semantics. I’m still nuttier than a fruitcake, right?”
“There’s a huge difference, Kai. And you know you’re not supposed to talk about yourself that way.”
Kai’s calm gave way. “I’m tired of other people who have no idea what I’m going through telling me what I can and can’t call myself. If I want to call myself crippled or crazy, then I should have that fucking right.”
“Positive self talk is important, Kai,” Jon said, angry, but in a level voice. “And psychosis means you’re hallucinating. Seeing things that aren’t real. That’s totally different--”
“No it’s fucking not, Jon. Let’s see you live through seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there. Having your worst nightmares bleed into wakefulness. Try spending a week in the nuthouse because you can’t trust you won’t hurt yourself. Or worse, someone else. Because you literally might not realize what you’re doing.” Kai grit his teeth hard. “I hurt you. I hurt people while I was in the hospital. I knocked one guy out cold.” And Jon wasn’t even aware of Kai’s suicide attempts, how bad things had been for him, how Kai knew, even if he and Dr. Miller hadn’t talked about it, that he probably would have ended up staying another week, maybe more in the psych unit if he hadn’t gotten sick.
Jon’s face changed. This was a revelation. Apparently the good Dr. Miller had left that tidbit out.
“And I don’t know if it’s worse that I don’t remember hurting them, or better. But I got lost in one of my fucking memories--more than once--and I went totally apeshit. That’s why I was there. Maybe you want to forget that and pretend that I’m fine, that I’m not crazy, but I am. Just like Mom. After all, I’m just like her, aren’t I?”
Before Kai even realized what had happened, his cheek exploded in pain and Jon stood in front of him, looking angry, yet shocked and upset.
Jon had slapped him. Actually slapped him. Other than their wrestling match on the floor of David’s living room back in November, Jon had never, ever physically hurt Kai. Not even when they were kids.
Fortunately for both of them, Kai didn’t flashback.
The two brothers stared at each other for a long moment, both angry.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jon finally said coldly.
“No, I don’t, because you’re hiding her from me.” Kai laughed bitterly. “I know you’re the one who took the files David filched out of my car and hid them again while I was in the hospital. You two were in league together. Don’t even try to deny it,” Kai said when Jon started to interrupt. “I’ve been gone, but not that far gone. I get you two are trying to protect me, but I’m not some delicate little flower for fuck sake. I deserve to know about her. I deserve to know more than what Dr. Looney told me while I was locked up. I deserve to know if I am like her, Jon.”
“So you knew about the files this whole time?”
“I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid, Jon. Of course I knew.” That wasn’t entirely true. Kai’s sense of what was reality and what was hallucination had been fuzzy his first few weeks out of the hospital, magnified by the effects of the high fever he’d had. When he hadn’t found the files in his car, he hadn’t been 100% sure that David had ever told him they were there. That maybe he’d just dreamed the whole thing. But Jon’s reaction confirmed Kai’s suspicions that the files had been there, but either Jon or David had taken them because they were worried reading them would derail the crazy train. “I don’t think David could ever get away with lying to me, just like I probably couldn’t to him. We know each other too well. Each tiny microscopic little tic. A facial expression that might last only a fraction of a second. But I let it go, because I had so much other shit on my plate, and David has never lied to me without a reason.”
“Motherfucker,” Jon swore, shaking his head. Jon didn’t swear nearly as readily as his brother, and, like the slap, it surprised Kai. Jon paced restlessly in front of Kai before stopping himself since he knew from their dual sessions with Dr. Miller that the pacing made Kai anxious. “Ignorance is bliss, but fine. You want to know about Mom? I’ll give you the highlights.” Jon sat on the far end of the sofa, perched on the armrest. “They didn’t call it that back then, but Mom basically had borderline personality disorder and also bipolar disorder type I with rapid cycling and psychotic episodes. That’s a fancy way of saying she was moody, selfish, impulsive, needy, volatile, and reckless.”
Kai remembered Dr. Miller had explored both BPD and BD for him as possible diagnoses and rejected both, but Looney (yeah, that was his real name), who had treated Kai while he was a psychiatric inpatient, fiercely believed Kai was both borderline and bipolar. Kai actually shivered. “You found out about the files somehow. Maybe David felt guilty and told you while I was sick. I don’t know. I don’t really care. But you found out and you conspired with David to hide them from me because you didn’t think I could possibly handle learning the truth about her.” Kai’s eyes held only ice for his brother, though his tone was level enough.
“Maybe it was wrong, but I was trying to protect you. Maybe you don’t remember. Maybe it’s a blur. But you were fucked up when we first brought you home back in December. You were so messed up when you went into the psych ward, and then you had a week of that high fever where you didn’t know where you were half the time. You were constantly thinking you were back in the psych ward, or paranoid that I was going to send you back. And that asshole Looney had filled your head with the possibilities of bipolar disorder, and hints about Mom. . . . I’m sorry if I figured you were in a bad place and reading about her would make you so much worse.”
Kai frowned. Jon wasn’t wrong. Even now Kai still had nightmares of the psych ward, of that horrible, lonely white room, of isolation, of how he’d been so desperate to escape he’d tried to garotte himself with his feeding tube. Often, Kai woke up believing he really was there until reality finally seeped in.
“I wanted to protect you,” Jon said again, more earnestly, his eyes so sad. He dipped his head, shook it. “I didn’t want you to see the records from their deaths, either. I wish I had never read those.” Jon hesitated a moment, looked up, as if to ask, wordlessly, if Kai really wanted him to continue. He seemed to see his answer, because he nodded. Took in a deep breath. “The newspapers said Dad died instantly. But that’s not true. He was alive when the paramedics got there. Trapped. In agony. Crying out for his children and wife.” Jon’s breath caught. “When they cut him out of the wreckage, he bled out. In seconds. He was a good man. Not much older than I am now. I admired him so much. I wanted to be him when I grew up. And I’ve spent my entire life wondering if Mom hadn’t demanded they go out that night, if . . . if he’d still be alive.” Jon took in a rough deep breath. It was rare that Jon let Kai see him this upset. He wasn’t as good as hiding his emotions as Kai, but Jon always put up the front of the doctor, the older brother with the cool, calm head. “But we can’t change the past. Only the future. I guess I wanted you to focus on that. On getting better. Not on our mom and her problems. And mistakes.” Jon looked up, stared at Kai earnestly. And Kai saw fear there. Genuine fear. And worry.
And it hit Kai. Jon was terrified that Kai really was like their Mom. And it was obvious, by the way he’d described her, by how he refused to talk about her when Kai asked, by how he’d spoken of their father’s death as being her fault, that Jon hated her. Jon hated their mother, and he was terrified Kai was just like her, and that he might come to hate Kai, too.
“I get it,” Kai responded coolly, snagging his wheelchair and transferring into it.
“Where are you going?” Jon said, caught off guard.
Kai pushed to the door, where he started pulling on layers. “For a walk.”
“It’s like -20 with the wind chill, Kai!”
Kai pulled his head through his fleece and started wrapping his scarf around his neck, head, and face. “Good.”
Jon rose. “Kai, you can’t go out there.”
Kai stopped, his coat on but unzipped. “Don’t, Jon. I think you’ve interfered enough already.” With a sharp jerk, he zipped up his coat, slipped on his gloves, and headed out the door.


#


Kai spent the next half hour or so touring the apartment complex until he was so cold he couldn’t feel his fingers or even his legs. When he re-entered the apartment, Jon was sitting on the couch but facing the door, tapping a VHS tape on his lap, just waiting. Like he’d done nothing but sit and stare at the front door anticipating Kai’s return.
Kai hurried out of his outerwear, hanging everything up, rubbing his hands and thighs and rims with his gloves still on to try to warm everything up. Once he suspected it’d be warm enough, he pulled off his clothes, checking his rims. They were still painfully cold, but not so bad he couldn’t deal with it. Slowly, he pushed closer to Jon, curious.
“Here,” Jon said, holding out the tape. “If you’re so determined to know about Mom, to see why I tried to protect you from her, here.”
Kai accepted the tape, confused. The label, in an unfamiliar handwriting, said, A. Taylor. 05/27/84, followed by a number, like some kind of serial or catalog code. The date meant it was only a few months before she died.
“Dr. Looney recorded most of his sessions with her and had them transferred from 30mm film to VHS. I have them all stored in the bank, in a safety deposit box, but this one must have gotten left behind in my office with some of her paper files. The ones David stole from me,” Jon said bitterly. “Watch it, if you’re so fucking curious. But I wash my hands.” He stood up. A moment later, Kai heard Jon’s bedroom door shut, although it was a symbolic gesture, since none of the interior doors could latch.
Kai stared at the tape a long while, turning it over and over in his hands. Finally, he pushed to the TV and shoved the tape in the VCR. He switched the input settings and waited for the video to begin.
It didn’t take long for Kai to realize the sound was still off, probably from when David had been using the TV earlier, but Kai resisted the urge to turn the volume up. Especially once the image of his mother appeared on the screen. It was eerie to see her, even on the low quality film.
She was tall, thin, delicate, with long, flowing golden hair the same color as Kai’s. She was dressed in white scrubs with the JMH logo stamped on the front, identical to the outfit Kai had worn in the psych ward only weeks earlier. She was sitting on a couch, her long legs pulled up to her chest, her arms embracing them, her chin resting on her knees, looking so much like Kai it was uncanny. Her eyes were the same beautiful, unique blue as Kai’s, and like his, they stared out vacantly, so sad and guilty. Kai paused the video and studied her for a long while. That was his mother. A psych patient, looking just like Kai--her face, her hair, even her posture.
Kai took in a deep breath. Debated ejecting the video, but instead he started it again. The sound still off, just watching his mother. Kai could read lips well, but he noticed his mother often hid her face, pulling her hair in a curtain over it or burying her face in her knees. Just like Kai did.
She also had Kai’s restlessness, rarely staying in the same position very long, often playing with her hair or picking at her clothes or wrists. In fact, at one point, Kai noticed the scars--long marks along each forearm not too dissimilar to those he’d seen on other people in the psych ward. Suicide scars.
Again, Kai was tempted to turn on the volume, to find out what she was saying, what Looney--whom Kai presumed was off camera--was asking her. But at one point Ann looked up, her long hair falling over her shoulders, hugging her legs tightly to her, and she appeared so forlorn. So guilty. Her face and eyes as expressive as Kai’s own. An expression Kai recognized himself in far too easily. And Kai decided maybe Jon was right. Maybe it was better not to know. At least for now.
Kai stopped the tape. Ejected it. Decided he’d shove it in his closet along with his boxes of pre-transplant memories. Maybe later he’d get himself together enough to discover what Jon had so desperately tried to keep him from knowing was all about. Perhaps related to his mother’s suicide attempt. But for now, maybe Jon was right. Maybe ignorance was bliss.

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4 comments:

  1. This is another beautiful chapter. I'm very sad to see that the relationship between Kai and Jon is still on the rocks. I've always enjoyed their interactions. I look forward to seeing how things are progressing between Jon, Kai, and Vicki. Thank you so much for the update and I look forward to reading more! Please continue :-)

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  2. Incredible depth and insight in your writing. It must have been a tough chapter to write, but you wrote it with such emotion and clarity. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

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  3. This is beautiful chie. Thanks for writing this this is simply beautiful. I can't wait for more.

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  4. I'm so glad In/Exhale is back, that break felt like forever! I've read I/E from the beginning and I really enjoy every update, this story has totally sucked me in. You're a great writer and I love watching these characters develop.

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