January 31, 2001 - Part II
Kai avoided the ICU wing of the sixth floor--the pulmonary floor--as much as possible when he wasn’t a patient. Even the waiting room, which was technically outside the doors. But Jon had asked for a favor, and Jon had done so much for Kai he felt like it was the least he could do. Besides, he had about thirty or forty minutes to kill before Vicky could take him home. Even though he felt like shit, Kai had enough hold on his nausea that he could manage, even if his hearing was still out and he had to be careful and pause every now and then to fight the dizziness.
The Respiratory ICU--RICU for short--waiting area was pretty full, and that made Kai uneasy. He scanned the haggard faces of worried friends and family, searching for the woman matching Jon’s description. She was sitting in the far back facing the doorway so that she could easily see anyone who entered. Unlike the other people in the room, who were talking to each other, reading magazines or books, or watching the TV, she simply sat there, hugging herself and looking worried and scared.
Jon had told Kai the basics--that her name was Harriet Vinter, that she was Deaf and her education level wasn’t high, that her son very possibly had FS and could very likely die. That she was from a tiny town northeast of Jonesville and had brought her son here hoping that they could help him, but that she’d had bad experiences before, and was naturally distrusting of doctors and hospitals. But the main thing that had convinced Kai to come was when Jon told her she was all alone.
Kai nudged his mask down so it was around his neck. “Hello! Harriet?” Kai signed from the doorway, using the namesign Jon had showed him she’d used. “My name is Kai Fox,” Kai said, demonstrating his own namesign. “Dr. Taylor sent me.”
She seemed shocked to see someone signing to her that didn’t seem like an interpreter or a health professional. (Kai, dressed in his holey jeans, baggy sweatshirt, his long hair a mess and his face unshaven certainly didn’t fit either role, especially sitting in his wheelchair.) Then she brightened marginally and nodded, beckoning him over.
Kai navigated through the crowded room, careful not to run over toes or bump knees until he got nearer to her. He offered a smile and hoped he didn’t look too ragged. “I heard you didn’t have any friends or family here, so I thought I’d drop by and say hello. I hope that’s OK.”
She looked him over and nodded. Then she indicated his wrist. “Are you a patient?”
Kai realized he was still wearing his hospital ID bracelet, and fingered it for a moment. He nodded. “I just got released. Ready to go home, but thought I’d see you first. I have a lung disease, like your son.”
She looked so sad, and Kai noticed her gaze had gone to the mask around his neck.
“I’m supposed to wear it to help me from getting sick, but it makes signing more complicated.”
“Would you like if I called some of the Deaf community? They could bring you some food and whatever else you might need. So you wouldn’t be alone. They could help you understand what’s going on with your son.”
Her eyes filled, and for a long moment, Kai thought she was going to tell him to go away. But instead she said, “But I’m not from here. Why would anyone help me?” Her signing was crude, much more visual and gestural than what Kai was used to, and she occasionally used signs that Kai assumed were home signs he had to figure out based on her body language, facial expression, and context. He wondered if her interpreters had had trouble understanding her, but realized it was possible that she spoke differently to them. Deaf signed very differently to other Deaf than they did to hearing people, even--and maybe especially--interpreters.
Maybe she used less home signs with them, for example, or less gestures. Home signs were signs that almost all Deaf people had in their vocabulary, signs they invented within their family or among their friends. Almost like slang, or when there wasn’t a sign for a particular commonly used word. Kai and Jon had some from when Kai was little; Kai still thought of a park as two fingers bent and rocked in the air to symbolize someone on a swing, whereas most Deaf fingerspelled the word. And Kai and David had their own private signs too, like their sign for nebulizer, since there was none, which looked a little like a gesture of the mouthpiece formed into a loose “N.”
Kai blinked. What kind of Deaf community did she come from? The community here welcomed everyone. They’d included him, after all, hadn’t they? “You’re Deaf. That’s all that matters.”
“My son and I are the only Deaf in our town.”
Kai could imagine what that had to feel like, at least on one level; David and he had been the only signers at CH, after all. “I’ll call them. OK? And you can trust Dr. Taylor. He’s a good doctor.”
She smiled faintly. “No doctor has ever signed to me.”
Kai couldn’t help being proud of Jon. “He has a Deaf brother. So you can trust him,” Kai said, deciding not to admit that he was the brother, since he didn’t need to break her fragile trust in Jon.
“Thank you,” Harriet said with a weary smile. Then her gaze shot up, over Kai’s shoulder, and she pointed.
Kai turned and saw Vicky, standing in the doorway. “That’s my ride. I have to go. You’ll be OK. Your son will be OK. Take care.” Kai waved and then made his way through the maze of knees and feet and chairs again to greet Vicky in the doorway.
You ready to go home? Vicky asked via a note she’d written on a small pad.
Kai’s eyes widened, and he glanced up at her.
“I know,” she said. “Jon told me. He’s very upset about it.”
Part of Kai was angry--it wasn’t Jon’s secret to share--but at the same time, how could he begrudge Jon for going to his girlfriend, the soon-to-be-mother of his child, when he needed support? Maybe if Kai could be more like Jon and tell Renee everything, he wouldn’t be so insecure about their future.
Kai took a moment to re-secure the mask on his face. Then he nodded. “I need to use one of the hospital’s TTYs first.”
Kai was exhausted. He’d barely been able to manage the transfer from his wheelchair to the passenger’s seat of Vicky’s sedan, and his face was pale and a little green, although he insisted he was fine, just tired, and thanked her for the ride. It seemed like Kai was reading from a script, and Vicky knew that she was far from his first choice, but she hoped maybe this was a sign that the chasm between them was narrowing, however slightly.
“How’s the baby?” Kai asked once they had pulled out of the JMH staff garage.
“I have my ultrasound tomorrow. I’m so nervous, but trying not to be. And . . . you have no idea what I’m saying,” Vicky realized as she babbled.
She stopped at a safe place just before exiting the hospital complex. “My ultrasound is tomorrow,” she said, speaking slowly and loudly, pointing to her belly that was just beginning to show.
Kai stared at her, his lids half mast, and finally nodded. “Ultrasound. Tomorrow. You’re worried?”
She nodded. She didn’t want to talk about Andrew, about her last pregnancy, so she didn’t say anything else.
“You’ll be fine. Your baby will be fine. I’m the damaged one, not Jon.”
“Kai,” she said, but his eyes had slid closed and he couldn’t hear her. She sighed and drove in silence, trying to be careful and not disturb him too much since he was likely still nauseous. He wasn’t sleeping, just keeping his eyes shut to try to control the side effects of his vertigo.
She got to the intersection where she could turn right to go to Jon and Kai’s apartment, or left to go to her house. She hesitated, glancing over at Kai, who, despite the stubble on his cheeks, looked so young. It was moments like these, like that time after Thanksgiving when she’d spoken to him in his sleep, that she could see how Jon could be so fiercely protective of Kai. He wasn’t innocent, and he wasn’t helpless, but there was something about him that made you want to take his pain away. All of it. And not for the first time, she wondered if she saw some of her stillborn son, Andrew, in him. Andrew, who would be twenty, almost twenty-one if he’d lived. Nearly Kai’s age.
She turned left.
Kai woke suddenly as he felt a rumble. He must have drifted off at some point. It took him a minute to get his bearings, like it did all too often now when he woke. He was in Vicky’s car. And they weren’t moving. But other than that . . .
Kai pushed himself up a little in the seat and looked around some more. Vicky’s garage? She was still sitting in the driver’s seat, as if she’d just pulled in. He must have felt the garage door closing. It was amazing how much more sensitive to vibrations he was now that his hearing had betrayed him. “I thought you were taking me home.” His nausea surged and he covered his mouth. Took a moment to swallow back the bile.
Vicky touched his arm to get his attention.
Kai pulled away violently, then immediately regretted it as he nearly threw up, the world spinning. He clamped his eyes shut. He wouldn’t be able to read her lips. Not now. And as pissed as he was that he felt like Jon had set him up, he didn’t have the energy to argue. “Don’t touch me. I’m going to try to make it to the bathroom before I hurl, but no promises. And I don’t appreciate my trust being violated.” Kai swallowed. Took a breath, then threw the door open and opened his eyes just long enough to grab his chair pieces, then closed them again, assembling it by touch. If he kept his eyes shut, he could hold back the nausea. Good thing the resident who’d treated him had given him a prescription for pills as well as an injectable form of the antiemetics, so he didn’t have to worry about throwing up the meds before they could work.
Once his chair was whole, he was forced to open his eyes so he could make the transfer. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope, and he found it hard to focus. He held his breath, stretched a hand out for the frame to find it with his confused vision, fighting the nausea and the dizziness. Then he heaved his body out of the car and into the cushion, relieved he made it, yanking his legs out and setting his feet on the footrest, wanting to hurry yet needing to pause. He had no idea where Vicky was, if she’d tried to talk to him or not, and he didn’t care. It was shitty of Jon and Vicky to think that by bringing him here he’d change his mind about moving in. Especially shitty since Jon knew how bad he was feeling, how he’d just barely managed to eat and hold onto that food enough to convince the resident to discharge him.
Kai pushed as hard as he could manage despite the dizziness, grateful Vicky’s garage was large and uncluttered, tearing the door open, moving past the washer dryer, glad the second door, which led to the rest of the house, wasn’t closed. Grateful he’d agreed to spend Christmas here when he first got out of the hospital so he knew exactly where the room Vicky'd renovated for him was, not far from the garage. He barely managed to stay in his chair, to push to the ensuite bathroom, to get the toilet lid up before he began vomiting powerfully, his muscles spasming over and over until his head ached, his nose was running, and he was certain his body was trying to eject his own stomach.
Kai didn’t even have the energy to take his medicine, or to try to push out to the bedroom, let alone make another transfer. He hoped this vertigo thing was temporary. If losing his hearing wasn’t enough--
Kai felt something jar his chair and he pushed against the toilet with one hand while the other used the grab bar on the wall to help pull himself up. His abdomen muscles screamed in protest, but he ignored them, and the fierce pain in his belly.
Unsurprisingly, it was Vicky. I’m sorry. Jon had nothing to do with this. It was my decision. Let me help you with your injection and then into bed, she said via a note.
Kai glared at her. Grabbed some toilet paper so he could wipe his nose and mouth. “I don’t need your help. And even if I did, you’re pregnant. I’m not letting you help me transfer.” Kai flushed the toilet and pushed to the sink so he could rinse his mouth. “I’m going to take my medicine because I have to. I’ll lie down because it will knock me out. But I’m texting my friend before I do and asking him to come pick me up as soon as he can. I hope you’ll at least give me the decency of privacy.”
Vicky looked suitably chastened, and for a moment, it seemed like she was going to say something, but then she perhaps remembered his hearing issues and changed her mind. Instead, she just nodded and disappeared out the door.
A few minutes later, when Kai re-entered the bedroom, he saw a small bowl on the bed, along with a note. He was tempted to ball it up and ignore it, but instead, he read it quickly, grateful that for once throwing up had actually helped him feel a little better.
I’m sorry. I brought you here because I thought you might be more comfortable. And Jon didn’t think you should be alone. He was worried you might fall because of the vertigo and get hurt, especially with how drowsy the antiemetic can make you. I left you this bowl in case you need to throw up again, and there’s some ginger ale on the nightstand, along with some alcohol swabs your brother has here for his injections, in case you don’t have any of your own.
I hope you feel better,
Kai sighed heavily. He wanted to still be mad at Vicky, but she was being nice. Maybe this hadn’t been a trick, and really her stupid way of trying to help. Kai pushed to the bed and managed to make the transfer after a few failed tries. He couldn’t wait to inject himself and slip into a drug-induced sleep.
“You shouldn’t have brought him here,” Jon said from the doorway of the room Vicky had remodeled for his brother. Inside, Kai lay asleep, though he was tossing and turning as much as his MLS would allow, obviously having nightmares.
“I know. I fucked up, OK? I’m sorry.”
Jon sighed and brought Vicky in close, hugging her and planting a kiss on the top of her head. “He doesn’t want this. And you can’t force Kai into anything. You’ll just alienate him further. He and I are already tenuous.”
“I know. I know. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“You’ll need to apologize to him. For real. In person. I’ll interpret for you if you want. I’m going to go wake him up and hopefully I can prevent him slipping into a panic when he doesn’t know where the fuck he is,” Jon said with a little more vitriol than he’d intended. He sighed. “I’m sorry. That was . . . you don’t deserve that--”
“I do. But thank you.” She reached up and pushed some of his hair off his forehead. “You’re not taking the meds Dr. Miller gave you, are you. You haven’t been sleeping.”
Jon didn’t deny it. “Not now, OK? You’ve never seen Kai when he wakes up, especially if he’s having a nightmare that’s so obvious from the outside.” Jon kissed her on the forehead to tell her he really wasn’t mad at her, not really, and entered the room.
Kai was whimpering, one arm braced on the bed as if poised to push off and help him move while the other kept going up to protect his face. His head kept rolling from one side to the other, and his skin was coated in a sheen of fresh sweat.
Jon knew the risk he was taking, waking Kai, but he also knew what could happen if he let his brother wake up alone. He put one hand on Kai’s shoulder and shook him firmly. “Wake up, Kai,” Jon said, not sure if Kai’s hearing was working well enough to hear his voice.
Kai let out a panicked sound and tried to roll away from Jon’s touch, shaking now.
“You’re safe. Wake up,” Jon tried again.
It took Jon several minutes, and Kai became more and more agitated, his breathing becoming increasingly rapid and shallow, before Kai finally woke with a start, his eyes flying open and scanning the room frantically until they met Jon’s. Kai clung to his brother, then, desperate and afraid.
“Where am I? Jon? I don’t know where I am. Where am I?” His gaze darted around the room again, then back to Jon. “No. No. This is another psych hospital. You put me back in the hospital. You promised you wouldn’t. Jon--” Kai was becoming frantic, barely breathing now.
“Shh. You’re OK. This isn’t a hospital. It’s Vicky’s house. Calm down.”
But Kai evidently couldn’t hear Jon. “No. Please. Please don’t leave me here. Please. Jon.”
Jon pushed Kai away gently so he could have his hands free, signing this time to reassure his brother. “This is Vicky’s house. Remember? You’re safe.”
Kai’s eyes were wide with terror, and he was still only taking one breath for every three he should have, but he stopped panicking so overtly.
“You need to breathe. Relax. You’re safe.” Jon led Kai through breathing exercises, a hand on Kai’s chest, or at least he tried to.
“No. You’re lying. This isn’t Vicky’s house. I don’t belong in Vicky’s house. Why are you lying to me?” Jon noticed Kai’s pupils were blown. Damn. This was going to make things worse. Fucking residents. Could they not read a chart?
Yes, during Kai’s hospital stay with his GI infection, the doctors had used a cocktail that included Ativan--a drug related to Valium and Xanax--because it worked well for nausea and was sedating. But Dr. Miller had put a flag in Kai’s chart that too much sedation could inhibit Kai’s conscious control and make dissociation more likely. Worse, since Kai’s fever, he often woke up confused, and the combination of the Ativan and other sedating medications in the cocktail he was given to control his nausea was probably exacerbating Kai’s current disorientation.
Kai was fighting Jon, and he wasn’t weak the way he had been when he was sick. Jon wouldn’t be able to hold him long, especially not without risk of personal injury. He had to get Kai calmed down. Soon. “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” Kai was shouting. “Let go!”
Jon was actually surprised Kai was screaming at him in English so eloquently. Normally when Kai was like this he wasn’t very intelligible. “Kai. You’re safe! You’re in Vicky’s house. The room she made for you.”
“I can’t hear right. Why can’t I hear? Jon? Jon, I’m scared. Please. They gave me something. I can’t hear. Please. Please don’t leave me here.” Kai’s thrashing became more frantic. “Please. Please. You promised. You promised.”
Jon tried signing to Kai again, but that wasn’t sinking in, and Jon was becoming less afraid that Kai would hurt him and more concerned that his brother was going to hurt himself. Jon hadn’t seen Kai like this in weeks, but then David was the one who dealt with Kai on a daily basis now that Jon was back at work full time. Jon didn’t dare involve Vicky in this and risk her or the baby, so Jon made a split-second decision.
Kai was still screaming. And Jon had found only one thing really calmed Kai down when he was agitated and not responding to words or signs. It was a risk, but one he was willing to take for his brother, especially since he’d begun to wheeze, his breathing getting worse. Jon shifted on the bed so he was angled just so beside Kai, and he grabbed him and pulled him with all his strength toward his own chest. Kai was frightened and fought Jon initially, but Jon tightened his hold on his brother and spoke directly into his ear so that hopefully Kai could hear him.
“You’re safe. You know I won’t let anything bad happen to you. You’re safe.”
It took a few minutes, but Kai finally stopped fighting Jon and relaxed into the tight hold, an embrace that was protective and not restraining although it was also intended to limit Kai’s movement until he could finally calm down.
“Breathe. Just breathe, little brother.” Jon had to remember not to whisper, to talk full volume even this close, and to keep his tone gentle, because even if Kai’s hearing was bad enough he couldn’t understand the words, he might be able to hear the way they were said.
Kai sobbed. “I’m scared. I don’t know where I am.” Something Kai had said almost every single time he’d woken up during the conscious part of his fevered hospital stay. The rest of the time, he was dissociating, or not even conscious enough for either thing to happen.
“I know. I know you’re scared. But you’re safe. I’m keeping you safe. Just breathe for me and everything will be OK.”
Kai was gasping, like he was having trouble breathing, but that had happened before, too, because of the panic telling his brain that he wasn’t getting enough air. Jon just had to hold him and guide him through each breath and he’d eventually come back to himself and be fine.
It took a long time. Jon wasn’t sure how long, but his arms were sore from holding his brother so securely by the time Kai finally fully relaxed, his breathing slow and even the way it should be. He started to pull away, and Jon let him go.
He was groggy, but back, when he spoke again. “Jon? I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Kai looked around, as if seeing the room for the first time--and in some ways, he was--and his face changed completely. “Oh no. Vicky! The baby! Please tell me I didn’t hurt them. Oh God, Jon.”
“Vicky is fine. Relax.”
Kai nodded, even though his breathing had already began to ratchet back up. He took a few deep breaths. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have taken so much medicine. I was just so nauseous. I needed to sleep so bad.”
“It’s OK. You’re OK. Vicky should have taken you home like she was supposed to.”
Kai nodded and slumped down onto the mattress, lying on his side. He didn’t bother fixing his legs, so Jon did for him. Kai watched Jon but didn’t reprimand him, letting out a long, exhausted sigh.
Jon smoothed Kai’s hair for awhile. “We should go home.”
Kai nodded tiredly, but it was clear he didn’t want to move, and despite the extra drugs, hadn’t gotten much rest. Sleep deprivation was another thing that made Kai more likely to dissociate or have the confusion of his nightmares leak into wakefulness. “I thought I texted David to come get me.”
“You did. But he was helping organize the Deaf community members visiting Harriet at the hospital, so he told me you needed someone, and here I am, just like I said I would be.”
Kai’s eyes grew sad. “This is why I can’t move in here. You understand that, right?”
Jon sighed. Smoothed Kai’s hair again. “No decisions yet, OK? You’re still recovering.”
Kai’s eyes grew glossy, but he tried to blink the tears away. “If I hurt Vicky--your baby--” Kai stopped himself.
“You didn’t. OK? Everyone is fine.”
“But if she had tried to wake me instead of you?” Kai’s eyes slid shut in defeat, and he wrapped his arms around himself, his shoulders hunched.
Jon’s own shoulders fell, wishing there was more he could do to help his brother, to fix things, to take away his frustration and despair and doubt. He understood why Kai wanted his independence; after all, Kai had always been stubborn and willful, and it was a point of pride for him not needing to rely on others. And Jon understood his fears, too. Kai really could be dangerous when he wasn’t himself, but Jon would rather have his brother nearby, where Jon could intervene if Kai needed him, like he had just now, than worry about Kai dealing with all of this all on his own. Jon had promised not to hover, but knowing that Kai had all but made up his mind about how their living situations would change made Jon’s stomach eat itself up with worry.
Kai was sitting on the couch in his own living room, slowly sipping some hot ginger tea Jon had made for him. His hearing was still out, but at least the vertigo had subsided, which Kai was grateful for, because he’d decided to take only his Zofran, which was totally non-sedating, instead of the meds the discharging doctor had given him. What had happened at Vicky’s freaked him out. He shouldn’t be that confused when he woke up, that violent, not this many weeks past Thanksgiving, and it made him unsettled and even more worried that he’d end up in a psychiatric hospital, kill or seriously injure someone he cared about, or both.
Jon touched Kai’s arm.
Kai flinched but then forced himself to relax to let Jon know he didn’t mind the touch, even if his body seemed to have other ideas. He raised his brows to ask what Jon wanted without needing to speak or lift his hands from the warm mug.
Except for the fact that he was still dangerous on top of crazy? Kai nodded.
Jon had that intense worried expression that seemed so natural on him, his gray eyes soft, his brow deeply furrowed and drawn together, a slight frown tipping his lips. “Vicky’s really sorry about what happened earlier.”
Kai couldn’t even muster up the energy to be mad at her. After all, she’d had good intentions, even if she’d gone about it all wrong, and Kai just couldn’t shake the horrible image his brain conjured up of her trying to wake him, him freaking out and throwing her across the room, of blood.
Hot water sloshed on Kai’s hand and a moment later, Jon was prying the mug out of Kai’s shaking grip.
“Hey,” Jon said, hesitantly laying a hand on Kai’s cheek. His eyes said that Kai would be OK. Jon said he could never hate Kai, that he loved him too much. But if Kai had killed Vicky? Or their baby? Could he ever possibly have forgiven Kai for that? “I think you should talk about this with Dr. Miller at your session tomorrow.”
Kai sighed. He was still trembling a little. What would Dr. Miller say, anyway? That “recovery was a process” and that they should do more memory work to get to the root of Kai’s nightmares, to hit the demon at the source? Kai pulled his legs up onto the couch, tucking them close to his chest, wrapping his arms around them and resting his chin on his knees. He was tired but afraid to go to bed. He wanted Jon to stay up with him, but he was already such a chickenshit Kai couldn’t bring himself to ask. He felt his eyes begin to burn and clenched them shut. Why couldn’t he just be better already? He’d never wanted anything more in his entire life. Not even new lungs.
Jon laid a hand on Kai’s back, between his shoulders, taking it away at first, when Kai instinctively flinched, but then tried again once Kai relaxed. He slowly smoothed his palm in a soothing gesture. Today--especially after the reason Kai had even been in the hospital in the first place--made Kai feel like all the progress of the last two months had gone up in smoke. Like it was Christmas all over again and he’d just gotten discharged, still nauseous, still crazy, still a risk to those around him.
Kai let his forehead hit his knees with a thud, feeling defeated.
Jon continued to try to give Kai his wordless support, and Kai loved his brother for it, but it didn’t change anything. Didn’t make Kai feel any better about himself.
They sat like that for a long time. Kai wasn’t even sure how long, except his muscles started to tighten up from holding himself in the tuck. It was evening, and although Kai had already taken his meds, he hadn’t stretched, and his body was reminding him, loudly.
“I’m so tired,” Kai said on a sigh, quiet enough he figured Jon probably wouldn’t have heard.
But Jon squeezed his shoulder, and when Kai was looking at him, he signed, “Is the dizziness OK? Need help getting in bed? We don’t have to swim tomorrow, either, if you’re not up for it.”
Kai’s brows furrowed, and for a moment, he wasn’t sure why Jon had replied like that. Then he realized Jon had thought he was saying he was physically tired. He was, but that wasn’t what he meant. Kai shook his head. “I’m tired of going around and around and around in circles and never getting anywhere,” he said in English because he didn’t want to shift positions, not yet.
Realization dawned on Jon’s face, and he got that worried look again. But there was sympathy, not pity, in his eyes. Like he could understand exactly how Kai was feeling.
“You’re tired too,” Kai said. It could have been an accusation, but instead, it came out weary, defeated. “Tired of always having to put your own life on hold so you can rescue your pathetic, sick little brother.”
Jon’s shoulders fell. He looked devastated. “Is that what you really think?”
Kai felt tears burning up, and he creased his brow to try to hold them off. “You should have let me die.” Kai could hardly believe he’d said that out loud. He’d never admitted to Jon how he really felt about his transplant experience, even if Kai was pretty sure Jon had his ideas.
Jon nudged Kai’s leg to get Kai to look back up.
Jon was a blur of tears, and Kai had to wipe his eyes on his sleeves and bite his lip, hard, to try to get himself together.
Jon’s face was a mask of that same worry, overlaid with regret, and something else, a look in his eye that suggested he wished he could make everything better for Kai, if only he had the power. The whole expression was one of Jon’s “big brother” looks, and Kai was forced to admit that as scornful as he was of Jon being hearing and not signing while they were apart, his face was actually shockingly expressive and conveyed a lot more without words than Kai had maybe ever given him credit for.
There was a breath of hesitation, like Jon was trying to figure out what to say, or maybe just how to sign it. “Please don’t say you wish you were dead. Please don’t ever say that. Not to me or anyone else, even yourself.” It was the kind of thing Kai would have expected Jon to scream at him, like when he’d freaked out the other night about the “I put the HOT in psychotic” T-shirt, but instead, his signs were smaller, softer, almost like a pleading whisper. Jon laid a hand on Kai’s shoulder and met his eyes, searching them--for what, Kai wasn’t sure. Maybe looking for a promise. Maybe hoping to figure out if Kai was about to go off the deep end and try to kill himself.
Kai took a shaky breath. He hated that it was only halfway through the first week of school and he was already a total, disastrous mess. His nose twitched. Kai wasn’t sure what to say. Of course he didn’t really want to be dead. He wanted to be with Renee. He wanted to finish school. He wanted to travel. Do all the things he’d always dreamed he’d never have the chance to do.
But at the same time, he knew that countless people’s lives would be so much better if he had died in December. Including, and maybe especially, Jon’s. Kai’s eyes spilled over again despite his best efforts, and soon the sobs that gripped him from time to time since Thanksgiving took hold, those violent bouts of crying that felt like there was something evil inside him his body was trying to expel.
Normally, especially with Kai’s hearing not working right, Jon would have reassured Kai with touch, like he had earlier. A hand on Kai’s shoulder or back, or he would have pulled Kai into a hug. As cold as Jon could come off to strangers, Kai knew that Jon was actually a very touchy-feely person. But instead, Kai felt the shift of the couch as Jon stood up. He was leaving. Not surprisingly. After all, he was probably even more tired of Kai’s breakdowns than Kai was, constantly having to try to pick up Kai’s scattered pieces and mold them back together into some sort of fractured whole.
But a few minutes later, Kai felt something nudge his shin. He looked up, sniffling, wiping his eyes on his sleeve and blinking to clear them. Jon was standing, holding out a little cardboard 3D triangle and a fork.
Kai’s eyebrows furrowed, but his only response from his brother was to encourage him, wordlessly, to take the offering. Keeping one arm securing his legs, Kai accepted the mysterious gift. The packaging was yellow-orange and had a picture of a slice of chocolate silk pie. A red emblem announced the pie was READY TO EAT! And a picture of a smiling kid seemed to suggest it was pretty good, too.
Kai hadn’t eaten anything remotely resembling dessert other than fruit since before his Thanksgiving freakout, since he hadn’t exactly been eating for a huge chunk of that time, and then the doctors had told him that white sugar and flour would exacerbate his anxiety. Kai looked up at Jon, confused, wordlessly asking why Jon had given him this.
Jon smiled slimly, and Kai realized Jon had his own pie and fork as he sank down across from Kai again. Kai watched as his brother tore open the package, and his eyebrows shot up. Jon was going to eat a piece too? Kai couldn’t remember ever seeing Jon eat anything with so much sugar in his entire life. Jon didn’t even eat ice cream. Except when he was stubborn and skipped meals, Jon was like the poster child for diabetes.
“Neither of us is supposed to eat this.”
Jon chuckled. He set his pie and fork down in front of him, since he wasn’t nearly as deft at signing single handedly as Kai. “I wanted to show you something you’d miss if you were . . . gone.” Although Jon used the sign for “dead,” he mouthed the English euphemism on his lips, an interesting cultural clash since most Deaf would have no idea what “gone” meant in this sense. “I’ve already taken a booster of insulin, and if your anxiety spikes, you can take some medicine. You’re home. We’re not going anywhere tonight. And I’m here. It’s OK.”
Kai stared at his own box, feeling the coolness of it, his mouth watering. When was the last time he even had pie? He couldn’t remember. Kai glanced up and saw Jon take a bite, and Kai’s willpower faltered. He tore open his own container, the smell of crust and chocolate, with a hint of the paper packaging and ink hitting his nose. His stomach growled; other than tea, he hadn’t kept anything down for long today, and he realized he was starving.
Hesitantly, Kai shifted the box to his other hand so he could hold his legs and eat at the same time. He picked up a bite with his fork and brought it to his lips, still a little uncertain, but then the scent of chocolate wafted up and he put the fork in his mouth. It wasn’t nearly as good as the Jonesville Diner’s pies, but it still tasted like the best thing Kai had ever had. He savored the texture of the chocolate silk on his tongue, letting it slowly melt away before swallowing. Then he smiled.
Jon had been picking at his own pie, watching Kai, and when he saw Kai eating, he smiled back. “You’ll be OK,” Jon said out loud, since his hands were occupied. Jon had such unwavering faith in Kai, and he remembered what Jon had told him when they’d agreed he should go into the psych hospital. "You’re the bravest person I know."
Kai didn’t feel brave, but if it meant living up to the person Jon thought he was, maybe he could try.
Continue to February 1, 2001 - Part I -------->