Sunday, July 23, 2000

In/Exhale - January 30, 2001 - Part II

January 30, 2001 - Part II

Kai sat in his wheelchair in the far corner of the dermatology waiting room, a surgical mask covering his nose and mouth, idly flipping through a magazine. He was trying to pretend he didn't see the other patients and their families staring at him, and he wanted to tell them he had had skin cancer that had spread to his spine and paralyzed him, just to see the looks on their faces when he did. But he said nothing, just sat there, tearing pages out of the voluminous women's magazines as a way to try to modulate his fury.
Kai wanted to throw things, break things, scream at the top of his lungs, because riding the crest of his anger was the self-loathing and tears that still wanted to come from what had happened in the lab. Kai’s hearing still hadn’t come back, and he was beginning to believe more and more that it wouldn’t. Sure, maybe it would today, but then it would go out again tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, and that would be it. And he was so, so angry at himself for being angry at himself, as illogical as it was. He was insane and he deserved to be locked up, and he didn’t want to go see his derm, he just wanted to find something he could destroy because he was certain the anger was going to explode, and he was worried he might do something he’d regret, like hurt someone.
Kai reached into the pouch behind his legs and pulled out his pill case, the one he used to carry his daily dose of meds divided by time of day. He always carried it with him, and always had an extra dose of Xanax. Kai could take it now, and maybe it would help him calm the fuck down. But Kai stared at the case, where he could see, through the plastic, into the other segments. The small white quarters of the Xanax tablets representing his doses for the remainder of the day, sticking out amidst his other medications. Three more pills, since he took it four times a day, plus his emergency dose. Kai’s mouth watered as he imagined taking them all at once, finding somewhere to crash, and sleeping the rest of the day. One whole pill--two milligrams--wouldn’t really be enough to knock him out, but it would relax him.
Kai’s hand shook. He knew that would be a bad idea. Not because anything would really happen if he took so much at once, but because it was a slippery slope. He could take one extra dose, but he knew he should be careful and limit himself beyond that. Kai gripped the case, debating about ignoring the pills and just leaving. Taking off. Maybe going to the pool. Maybe he could swim away his self-hatred and anger. Yeah, like there was a pool big enough for that.
Kai was still debating when he noticed a blur of color in his peripheral vision. He looked up and saw a nurse in pale pink scrubs standing in front of him. She pointed to him, then toward the door that led back to the exam rooms. Then she pointed to her watch. When Kai checked in, he’d mentioned he needed someone to come get him when it was his turn since he couldn’t hear his name called. It was surreal. Since Kai had started talking regularly, people had stopped treating him the way they always had growing up, like someone who couldn’t understand. The worst was when he’d get dismissed because they’d decide it was too difficult to deal with the retarded deaf person, or whatever they thought he was, and they’d get either irritated or flustered. This nurse seemed patient enough, and he appreciated that she jumped straight to gestures and didn’t bother to speak to him. He didn’t need to try to read her lips.
Kai nodded, smiled faintly and slipped his pill case back in the pouch behind his legs. Then he followed her into the back, hiding his irritation when she held the door open for him. The nurses did that for all the patients, he had to remind himself. It was just his anger latching onto every little thing to fuel its fire.
She led him to the weigh station, where a standard manual scale stood, and then she hesitated, looking down at him, focused on his wheelchair. This nurse didn’t know him, but she wasn’t so stupid that she didn’t realize his wheelchair was his and not something temporary. She seemed to be debating something, finally looking at him and speaking slowly. Again, he could hear her voice, but it was almost like a bad PA announcement; he had to rely on her lips to give him a clue as to what she was saying, though the context helped. “Can you stand?”
Kai always hated that question. He knew it was innocent, but everything was pissing him off right now. He shook his head. He wasn’t wearing his braces, since he was going to need to strip soon anyway, and had figured it’d be easier that way. Balancing on one of those scales was a nightmare when he was wearing his orthotics; without them, it was impossible.
She nodded in a way that suggested she’d expected that answer. “Do you know how much you weigh?”
Kai couldn’t weigh himself at home, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t gained any more weight since his last weigh-in with his nutritionist. “One seventy-five.”
She nodded and scribbled that down, then beckoned him into an exam room. Forgetting herself, she started talking when he couldn’t see her, as she was opening cabinets to get the gown and a drape.
“Did you say something?”
“Oh, sorry,” she said, making sure she was facing him this time. “I’m going to take your vitals and then I’ll give you some time to change. You’ll need to take everything off, OK?” Kai was pretty sure he wasn’t understanding her, successfully reading her lips, so much as he was using his familiarity with the situation to assume what she was saying. He wondered if he’d be able to get an interpreter on such short notice, although he didn’t really have to talk to his derm. She was going to scour his skin, take some samples, and he wouldn’t know if she’d found anything concerning for at least a week.
The nurse checked his blood pressure, pulse and blood oxygen, and temperature. She frowned when she finished with his blood pressure, and said something as she studied the numbers on the screen.
“If you don’t face me when you talk, I can’t understand you,” Kai said.
She swallowed her reaction to his reminder in an apologetic smile. “Do you tend to have low blood pressure?”
Kai nodded.
“OK.” She wrote everything down in his chart. “I’ll leave, and you can go ahead and strip--everything, including your underwear--and get up on the table. Can you get up by yourself?”
Again, she didn’t know him, and he’d lost so much weight, he knew he didn’t look strong the way he had before he’d gotten sick. But he still had to take a breath before he replied with a nod.
“OK.” She seemed nervous around him. Maybe he wasn’t masking his anger as well as he’d hoped, and he was dangerous when he was mad, if his experience in the nuthouse was anything to go by. “The doctor will be by shortly. She’ll knock to make sure you’re--” Her eyes widened. “Oh. Um.”
At this point, Kai didn’t care. He just wanted to get things over with. The doctor was going to see every part of him anyway, and it wasn’t like she’d never seen him before, either. “Just have her push the door open a little, then pause. If I need more time, I’ll call out.”
That, ironically, made the nurse relax, as if she’d been the patient. She smiled. “I’ll give you a few minutes,” she said in a way that suggested she was giving him “extra” time because he was disabled. It was written all over her face, and it pissed him off.
He managed a smile, though, but once she’d left him alone, he cupped a hand over his mouth, compressing the mask, and screamed. What was wrong with him today? Thank God he’d at least had enough self control to keep from ripping that poor, sweet nurse a new one.
Kai pushed to one of the chairs and started stripping. First, the surgical mask, then his sweatshirt and Tees, then his shoes, then his pants. He thought about leaving his socks, but his derm was thorough. Since he was immunocompromised, he was susceptible to cancer anywhere, much more than a regular person, even though Kai normally kept his feet covered. He discarded his socks, then his boxers, adding them to the pile of clothing. He stared down at his thighs, at the scars his pale hair couldn't hide, at the fresh scabs, some of them from deep cuts he’d made yesterday, and despite being cold, he flushed with shame. No way she’d overlook those. And it’d be her responsibility to ask him about them. At least the bruise on his right leg from his fall the other day was fading.
Kai’s anger flared. He bent in half and breathed into his knees, trying to get himself under control. He finally pushed himself up in time to see a flash of the nurse’s embarrassed face before the door shut again. He sighed and pushed to the exam table, shifting the folded gown and drape out of his way. The table was high, and he wasn’t as strong as he used to be. He locked his wheels and heaved himself up. It took a couple tries, but he made it. He knew he needed to eat better, but he just . . . couldn’t. Kai shivered and pulled on the gown, not bothering to tie it because what was the point? He shivered again and covered his legs with the drape. He struggled to take slow deep breaths and not focus on the closed door, to identify his anger but let it roll over him like it was water and he was a stone.
A few moments later, the door opened a crack. After a minute, it opened the rest of the way, and his dermatologist strode in. Her name was Bertov, but he usually just called her Dr. B. She was a tall, fit but broad woman with closely cropped dirty blond hair and eyes that changed color depending on what she was wearing. Today, she was wearing a teal blouse that made her eyes look like sea glass.
“Hi, Kai,” she said with a smile. “I heard you’re having some hearing problems? Is this recent?”
Kai nodded. “I had a really bad infection in December, and it was my life or my ears.” He tried not to say it too sardonically, but he wasn’t sure if he succeeded.
“You going to see an ENT?”
“Next week.” Kai took a breath. “If you don’t look at me when you talk, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
Her smile faded for a moment, but she nodded and flipped open his chart. Kai could just barely see a glimpse of what had to have been some notes from his last visit, including a diagram of the human body, front and back, where she’d perhaps indicated any places she’d taken biopsies from. She said something while she was looking down, then caught herself and made herself look up at him. “Any skin issues since I saw you last? Anything you’re worried about?”
Kai started to shake his head, but then he looked down at his thighs. He chewed his lip. It’d be better to tell her now then to wait during the exam, especially since it’d be more difficult for them to talk. “My thighs . . .” he began, swallowing.
“OK . . . ?”
“You know the scars I have there?”
She nodded. “From when you were younger.”
Kai inhaled. “I . . .” His hand was shaking a little, but he pulled the drape and gown away on his right side, just enough she could see what he was talking about.
Her expression changed initially, but then she put on her stoic doctor’s face as she leaned in a little to look. She hadn’t put gloves on yet, so she didn’t touch. After a moment, she stepped back. “Kai . . .” she started to say.
“I’m being treated,” he said, trying not to sound too defensive.
Her face said she was sympathetic. “Some of those scabs are very fresh. Some of those wounds look like they were deep.”
Kai dipped his head. His anger had faded more toward overwhelming shame and self-hatred, and if he wasn’t careful, he’d lose it, break down for no good reason in front of Dr. B, and he wasn’t going to allow that to happen. He took a breath. “I did it yesterday. But I saw my shrink this morning, OK?” His words came out almost pleading, like a little kid who’d confessed something he’d done wrong to his mom and was begging her not to tell his father, the disciplinarian.
She waited until he was looking at her, and then she said, “You need to be careful, Kai. I know you know this, but not only are you at increased risk of infection, but if you cut too deeply you can cause some really serious damage to the vessels or nerves or muscles in your leg, or anywhere else you cut.” The way her eyebrows rose on that last part suggested she was asking without asking if he cut on other places on his body.
Kai sighed. He pointed to his left thigh and his torso. “Mostly my thighs, because it’s easier to hide those marks.” Kai felt his face heating, not with embarrassment, but shame. Then he added, before she could ask, “And I fell the other day. Saturday. The bruise.” Kai’s blush deepened, and he made sure his legs were fully covered.
She nodded. Her face was serious, but held no judgement. “Let’s get started, then. I’m going to begin with your head and back, then your face, then your arms, then your torso. Then you can lie on your stomach and I’ll check your buttocks and the backs of your legs. Then you’ll flip over and I’ll check the rest of your legs and your feet, and lastly, your groin area. I’ll have a nurse come in at that part, for your protection and mine, OK?”
Kai took in a breath. He was suddenly anxious, even though he’d gone through this exam before. He nodded.
She thought for a moment. “Give me one second. I’ll be right back.” She popped out the door, just poking her head out, and a moment later, she re-entered with the young nurse from before. “I’m going to use Maria here just to help me take some notes for the first part of the exam, and she’ll relay to you what I’m saying if you can’t see me. Are you all right with that?”
That actually did help Kai relax a little, because he wouldn’t have to worry about trying to understand Dr. B when she was working on his back or some other part of him that would make talking awkward. But he gestured for the doctor to get a little closer, and she got the hint and waved Maria away to give Kai a little privacy. “I don’t want her to see my thighs. Please.”
Maybe there was something in Kai’s eyes that told Dr. B how important that was to him, how hard it had been for him to even admit it to her in the first place and not try to lie about how he’d gotten those scars, because she nodded. “Of course.”


#


The exam seemed to take forever, Kai’s anxiety slowly inching to the forefront with every minute. Dr. B spent a long time on his back, shoulders, face, and scalp, taking several different skin scrapings with Maria’s help, and occasionally asking him if one mole or another hurt when she touched it. None of them did.
“Your hair has gotten so long,” she said at one point as she used a comb to separate it to make sure she was checking every part of his scalp. Kai’s hair was so light, and his skin naturally fair, that she didn’t want to take any chances.
He just shrugged.
“You wear a hat when you’re outside in the sun for more than fifteen minutes, and you’re using sunscreen?” she asked, pausing to make sure that he could see her lips.
He nodded. The truth was, sometimes he forgot to put sunscreen on, especially if he was having one of his down days and just getting out of bed to take his medicine was an achievement. But he was normally pretty careful, and especially in the summer, he always wore a hat.
“Good.” He didn’t so much understand the word as guess at it, and she went back to work.
She lingered on his chest, particularly his ribs and stomach. She took a few scrapings from his sternal scar, since she’d explained last time that it was unlikely, but possible the scar could become cancerous because he was immunocompromised, and one thing he’d learned about her, and one reason he went to her, was she was extremely conservative and thorough. Kai was determined not to survive all that he had with the transplant and infections and everything that came with it only to die of a perfectly preventable cancer.
After a moment, Dr. B sent Maria out of the room, and Kai wasn’t sure, but her arms were loaded with the samples, so Kai presumed that maybe Dr. B had wanted to send some of them off before she started on more, but then she looked at Kai seriously. “You’ve lost a lot of weight since I saw you in August.”
Kai hesitated, but he finally nodded.
“Is it something we need to talk about?” It was Kai’s understanding that most derms were the kind of doctor who saw you for five seconds and then were out the door, but Dr. B wasn’t like that at all. She specialized in patients like Kai, who were immunocompromised or who had other cancers, and so she believed in taking her time. It was another reason Kai liked her.
“I told you; I was sick.” Kai pointed to his ears. Though he wasn’t sure how convincing he was. Yes, he’d lost the weight because he was sick. And yes, to a certain extent, he was still recovering from that GI infection, but he knew that if he tried harder, like he had after his transplant, he could eat the 5000 calories a day he was supposed to, that he could go at least a few days without throwing up once.
Perhaps Dr. B saw all of that guilt playing out on his face--damn, Dr. Miller had totally fucked him over with this whole “Don’t be afraid to express your feelings” mantra. She softened. “All right. You’re seeing your nutritionist regularly?”
Kai nodded.
She seemed like she wanted to ask him more, but she decided to leave it at that. “OK, go ahead and get on your stomach. We’re nearly done.”


#


Kai was fine with the rest of the exam, even the part where she had to examine his thighs. He tried not to look at her when she was moving her fingers over all his fresh scars and scabs there, because he couldn’t stand to see any kind of condemnation. Kai hated himself for cutting so much since his release from the hospital, but he couldn’t always stop himself. Yet another way he’d lost control. Ironically enough.
Kai was lying on his back, willing his heart to stop racing. He trusted Dr. B. He’d been examined and manhandled by hundreds of doctors and thousands of nurses in his lifetime, from top to bottom. He had no reason to be so anxious. And yet he was. Trying to breathe slowly and deeply hadn’t really helped, either.
Maybe part of it was that Dr. B was handling his feet, and Kai hated people touching his feet. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He just didn’t like his feet manipulated, because they spasmed so easily, and they really, really hurt when they did, sometimes not relaxing for hours. He tried to pray that was it.
She was delicate as she finished with his feet, and then she took the time to cover him back up with the drape so he wouldn’t be cold. She walked toward his head so he could see her more easily. “You OK?”
Kai swallowed. His instinct was to lie, to tell her he was fine, to just finish up already, but instead he took a leap. “Not really.” He wished he’d taken that extra Xanax. Or more. Dr. B was delicate enough with the biopsies that though it hurt, if he’d drugged himself, he may have been able to sleep through the majority of the exam.
“We can skip this last part, if you’d like, Kai, but--”
“I know,” he said. “I’m just anxious today. I don’t always need a reason to be.”
“We can reschedule to finish the exam. It’s all right.”
The truth was, Kai would've liked to do that, but he also knew if he didn’t finish it now, he probably wouldn’t come back. He forced himself to be convincing when he insisted, “I’m fine. I mean, I’m not, but I’m fine enough to finish this.”
Dr. B smiled that doctor smile, trying to be reassuring. “All right. Let me call in the male nurse, and I’ll try to be quick.”
Kai felt like his heart was going to burst from his chest, like his body had decided a single panic attack in one day wasn’t enough. He was seriously tempted to take another Xanax, right now, but he’d have to climb back down into his chair, then transfer to the table again, and it would take twenty minutes for the drug to hit his system. Kai clenched his eyes shut, and the ringing started in his ears again, dizzingly loud.
He opened his eyes a moment later and saw Dr. B reentering. Behind her was a male nurse, a big, burly man dressed in blue scrubs, and if Kai hadn’t been halfway toward Freakoutville, he might have remarked about how hilarious it was that the nurses seemed to be wearing gender-coded scrubs. Kai pushed himself up so he was sitting, and a wave of dizziness and nausea swarmed him so powerfully he thought he was going to pass out.
The male nurse rushed to Kai’s side to catch him since Kai wavered. He gripped Kai’s arms tightly to steady him, and Kai’s fear went from zero to 120 miles per hour in seconds.
“Don’t . . . don’t  . . .” Kai struggled to say what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t seem to get any words out. He attempted to pull away, but the nurse was stronger than him, and he couldn’t escape. Kai’s eyes darted around the room, frantically, his breath rapid and shallow, his eyes wide, his fingers numb.
Vaguely, he knew both the nurse and Dr. B were talking to him, but he couldn’t hear them, and even if he could have, he wouldn’t have been able to process it. Kai felt reality tearing at the seams, flashes of a dark bedroom and a shadowy figure wearing scrubs silhouetted in the doorway.
Kai began to squirm, in full panic, desperate to get away, barely breathing anymore, shaking so hard he couldn't get his arms to cooperate. He had to get away, but he couldn’t. He was trapped. He was being held down. Distantly, Kai was aware he was screaming, but he couldn’t stop. The shadow was going to get him. It was going to devour him. Hurt him. Choke him. Kai screamed and screamed until his voice went hoarse and the darkness overwhelmed him.


#


Kai felt sick. Nauseated. Heavy. Like his body was filled with wet sand. Vaguely, he heard the familiar sounds of a hospital ward seep into his brain. Someone snoring. Nurses talking. Carts squeaking. Footsteps. An alarm sounding somewhere. The occasional PA announcement he couldn’t quite make out. Kai struggled to open his eyes, but it was difficult.
He felt relaxed, though. Like he hadn’t in a long time, and it would be so easy to fall back asleep.
“You’re safe,” he heard a familiar male voice say, and someone took his hand. “It’s OK to sleep.” A moment later, Kai felt Jon smooth his forehead.
Kai breathed slow and deep and tried again to open his eyes. He managed to do so, just a slit, the room so painfully bright. He couldn’t make out much except the paint color told him he was in the medicine ward. He tried to remember what happened. Had his blood pressure crashed? Kai swallowed. Let his eyes fall closed again. Kai was lying on his back, his hands at his sides. He forced the one that Jon wasn’t holding to twist, his index finger the only one up, hoping Jon would understand.
“What happened? Is that what you’re asking?”
Kai offered the faintest nod. He was so tired. So heavy. He hadn’t felt this way since that first day he woke up in the psych ward. Kai had panicked his first night and attempted to kill himself. Even with all the precautions, he’d nearly succeeded. He’d been pretty heavily drugged after that for awhile, until Dr. Miller had apparently intervened and had the dosages pared back so he’d be cognizant enough for talk therapy.
Jon sighed heavily and squeezed Kai’s hand. “You don’t remember?”
Kai’s mind was murky from the drugs. He tried to think. Vaguely, he remembered the panic attack he’d had in the lab, and his hearing going out--it had apparently decided to return--and going to his dermatologist, Dr. Bertov. He remembered being angry and upset and anxious. “No,” Kai managed to say, his eyebrows knitting. He tried opening his eyes again, a little wider. The light still hurt, and he blinked against it. Saw the curtain dividing his half of the room from his snoring neighbor’s. Saw Jon’s worried face. A glimmer of panic, restrained by the drugs, surged through Kai’s body. Had he hurt someone?
“Shh, relax. You’re OK,” Jon said, perhaps seeing Kai’s fear on his face, or perhaps his pulse had spiked enough to register on the monitor, even though it was on mute. “You panicked in the exam room of your dermatologist. They had to sedate you pretty heavily. So deeply they wanted to monitor you for awhile. They wanted to admit you directly to psych, but I wouldn’t let them.”
Kai shivered, realizing he could have woken up alone, surrounded by silence and white. “Thank you,” Kai said. His voice was hoarse. He felt his heart struggling to race in his chest, as if it were fighting the drugs. It only made him more tired. “Anyone hurt?”
Jon shook his head. “No. You nearly hurt yourself in your panic, because you almost fell off the exam table, but no. No one was hurt. The nurse was able to hold you while the doctor hit you with the drugs.” Jon’s voice was sad. Kai wondered if there was something Jon wasn’t telling him.
“Do I have to stay?”
“For a while. They’re going to send a psych resident to evaluate you, and the truth is if he decides to commit you for 72-hours, I can’t stop him. Not if he thinks you’re--”
“A danger to myself or others,” Kai said resignedly. Hopefully they didn’t have him on strong doses of benzos by the time Kai saw the shrink, because he was planning on saying whatever he needed to so he wouldn’t be forced back to psych. He’d do anything to avoid that.
Jon smoothed Kai's forehead. “Do you remember why you panicked?”
Kai’s head was foggy. Panic did that to him, especially if he dissociated. He shook his head.
Jon sighed in a way that suggested he thought Kai was holding back, but he didn’t press him. “Try to sleep off some of the drugs, OK? I have to check my blood sugar, but I’ll be back. I promise.”


#


Vicky knocked on Jon’s office door. Even though he’d been working in the outpatient clinic today, he’d been so swamped with patients they’d barely seen each other. He hadn’t even had time for lunch; merely chugged a glucose shake and headed off to his next patient.
“It’s Vicky,” she called when he didn’t immediately respond.
“Come in,” he said.
Vicky was surprised to see Jon sitting at his desk, his glucose meter on the surface and a glass filled with amber liquid beside it, the bottle nearby. Whisky. Jon never drank, and certainly not on the clock.
“Jon?” she asked uncertainly.
He sighed. Leaned back in his chair. “I haven’t drunk it. My blood sugar’s too irregular today since my schedule’s all off, but I really want to. Mostly, I’ve just been smelling it.”
Vicky twisted the bottle closed and slid it aside, perching on the edge of the desk. “What’s going on? They told me you suddenly took the afternoon off. Did something happen to Kai?”
Jon lifted the glass to his lips and took the tiniest sip. As if just to get the taste of it. “I know it’s a cliche, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I had stopped my father from leaving that night. Found some way to convince him not to go.” Jon set the glass back down, shaking his head. “All these years, I’ve wondered where I’d be today if he had never walked out that door. But then I realize Kai would probably be dead, because I would never have been able to afford to go to the schools I went to, to power through high school, college, med school as fast as I did. He wouldn't have had me to fight for him or to have the trust fund to pay for the surgery. He wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn’t be here right now.” Jon looked up and smiled faintly at her, reaching over to touch her belly. “We wouldn’t be here right now.”
Vicky pushed some of Jon’s hair down, crazy and tangled from where he’d obviously carded his fingers through it repeatedly. “Stop worrying about Kai. Whatever it is, he’ll be OK.”
Jon’s anger surprised her. “I can’t stop worrying about him, Vicky. Worrying is what I do. I’m a worrier. I’ve been a worrier since I was a little kid. Dammit.” He stood up and started pacing. “So what if I think I'm making the right choices sometimes, and I'm not?”
“What are you talking about? Jon? What’s going on? Talk to me.”
Jon sighed and dropped, like a dead weight, into the couch. “Kai’s losing his hearing.”
Vicky’s eyes widened and she went to sit next to Jon. “Because of the antibiotics?”
Jon nodded. Carded his fingers through his hair. “He claims he's not angry with me, but it’s destroying him. It’s my fault, Vic. It was my call.”
“Jon,” Vicky said, taking his face in her hands. “You saved his life. Kai has to know that.”
Jon pulled away, rising again and pacing. “Of course he does. But he’s so far from better, Vic. He’s trying. Every fucking day. But you don’t just get over the stuff he went through like that,” Jon said, snapping his fingers. “Especially since . . .” Jon shook his head and headed to his desk, grabbing the shot and swallowing it.
“Jon--”
“I know. I'll probably get drunk. So what? I don't know if I can do this anymore, Vic.”
“Jon?” Alarmed, Vicky rushed up to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. His gray eyes looked so lost. Her heart beat out a frenzied staccato. Jon, like his brother, was occasionally prone to depression, but he always managed to fight it. Usually with her help and by throwing himself into his work. She’d never seen him truly look like he’d given up.
“It’s all my fault. Everything. Everything that happened to him while we were apart,” Jon said, his voice beginning to break although his eyes were dry. “And I'm beginning to think some of it was very bad. Much worse than anything he’s told me about. How can I be strong for him when it’s my fault he’s so hurt?”
Vicky embraced Jon, holding him tight. The alcohol must already have hit his bloodstream, making him blubbery. “Shh. You know you are not responsible for everything. And you admitted yourself Kai might not even be alive if things had worked out differently, so stop blaming yourself.”
Jon didn't seem convinced. “He had several panic attacks today, including one so severe they would have sent him up to psych if I hadn’t intervened. It’s tearing me apart seeing my brother go through that. Knowing that someone--” Jon shook his head.
“What, Jon?”
Jon sighed, pulled back and studied her eyes for a long time. “I don’t know for sure, and Kai would kill me if he knew I was talking to you about this, but . . .” Jon shoved his hand through his hair again. “I think Kai may have been abused by one or more male employees at County House.” Jon dropped his eyes. “Abused, abused,” Jon said, as if to clarify without having to say anything.
Vicky drew back, her eyes widening. Was Jon suggesting Kai had been sexually abused, perhaps repeatedly, as a child? “What?”
Jon reached for the bottle of whisky, but she stopped him. “It’s just a suspicion I have.”
“Have you talked to him about it?”
Jon laughed, grabbed the bottle from her, and twisted it open. “Have you met Kai?”
Vicky glared at him, but didn’t try to take the bottle again. “But doesn’t the state do background checks?”
“You’ve never been to County House, have you,” Jon said as he took a swig of the liquor, grimacing. “How many people are going to want that job in the first place? It’s grunt work, minimum wage. The state’s not going to be too picky. County House is overcrowded, underfunded, and falling apart. Besides,” Jon said as he forced himself to push the bottle away so he wouldn’t drink anymore. “From what Kai tells me, the turnover there was ridiculous.”
“So even if someone did abuse any of the kids, he’d probably be gone before anyone noticed.”
Jon winced. “It’s sad, but true.”
“Are you going to talk to Kai about it?”
Jon carded his fingers through his hair. “I thought I might talk to Dr. Miller. Maybe she can suggest whether or not I should approach Kai about it, and if so, how I should talk to him. I know he’s struggling, trying to be ready to get back to his life when he doesn’t feel like he is. I can see it, even if he won’t admit it. I don’t want to tear open other wounds if I don’t have to. You know? It’s bad enough he’s getting more persistent asking about our mother. I don’t know how long I can hide who she really was, what she did--” Jon’s voice broke. He cleared his throat and shook his head as if he could toss out the turmoil. “I feel like we’re all hamsters spinning in this neverending wheel.”
Vicky wrapped her arms around him, kissing the top of his head. then she laid his hands on her belly. “Still spinning?”
Jon sighed. “What if I fuck up our baby’s life as badly as I have Kai’s? My own?”
“Jon,” Vicky said, her shoulders dropping. She pushed some hair out of his face. “Are you still seeing Dr. Miller on your own every week?” Jon saw Dr. Miller every other week with Kai, and he'd gone a couple times solo while Kai was in the hospital, but he’d given up once Kai had come home and Jon felt like he had to focus on his brother’s recovery. As usual, putting himself on the shelf. “Because I think you need to. You need to get yourself healthy. Maybe if you could resolve some of this guilt you’re always carrying around, you’d be able to sleep.”
Jon let out a sound that was probably supposed to be a laugh, but it didn’t quite get there. “I’m trying. I just feel like I need to be so many things for so many people and I can’t be that anymore. Like I’ve failed Kai and Martin and you . . .”
“That is not true. OK?” She kissed him. “You haven’t failed. You do need to learn to try not to take the weight of responsibility totally on yourself, but that’s part of what you need to do to get healthy, OK? And you have me. You don’t have to do all of this on your own. Remember?”
Jon smiled at that and laid his hand on her belly, caressing it. “Thursday, right?” That was when Vicky’s mid-pregnancy ultrasound was scheduled.
Vicky nodded. “You are going to be an amazing father.”
Jon leaned into her, holding her close. They were silent a long moment. “Have you given any more thought to telling your family?” Jon meant about the pregnancy, shifting the subject away from him and his and his brother’s problems. Vicky’s pregnancy was probably in the family rumor mill by now, and Roni, Vicky's youngest sister, had figured it out at Thanksgiving, but Vicky hadn’t made any kind of formal announcement.
“I’ve thought about it,” she said evasively. “You should check your blood sugar again.”
“I will before I go back to Kai’s room,” Jon replied. “Don’t change the subject.”
“I keep meaning to, but then I think, would it really be so bad to wait until the baby’s born? Then they’ll have to accept it, right?”
“Vic, I pray there isn’t, but if there is something wrong with our baby, if he’s sick, if he’s a preemie. . . . You’re going to want your family’s support. Wouldn’t it be better to work out everything now, in the middle of your pregnancy, so you have time to settle things with them?” Jon reached for her hand. “And don’t tell me you can live without them. You might not be close with everyone, but do you really want your baby to grow up without knowing their grandparents, or their aunts and uncles and cousins?”
Vicky sighed. “This is what I get for dating a genius. He’s always right.”
That made Jon laugh. “That is not true.”
“What, that you’re a genius, or that you’re always right?” Vicky wiggled her eyebrows.
Jon was smiling faintly again, and it was a beautiful sight after his down mood. “If you want me to go with you when you talk to your parents, I will.”
Vicky squeezed Jon’s hand. “I appreciate that. I’ll talk to Roni, but it may be something I have to do on my own.”

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6 comments:

  1. Great chapter. Interesting revelation that Jon has come to. I'm glad Vicky is supportive of him and him helping himself. I always look forward to your Tuesday updates and enjoy each chapter. I look forward to seeing where Kai's journey of recovery takes him next. Thank you for your update.

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  2. Wow, poor Kai. The way you write him I find myself totally captivated. The deafness, the wheelchair, and then my heart breaks as he loses control and ends up sedated again. I sincerely hope he catches a break. He's trying so hard! Thanks for writing and sharing!

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  3. Amazing chapter. Thanks for the great episode.

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  4. Thank you for the new chapter!

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  5. For me it slowly gets unrealistic.
    Now Kai has, in addition to everything, also have to deal with eating disorder, loss of hearing, and sexual abusion?
    I have a penchant for "difficult cases" but that's a bit too much for my taste.

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    1. LOL. I warned that the story could get melodramatic. I write where the story wants to go, and largely for myself. Sorry if I've lost you.

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