Tuesday, July 25, 2000

In/Exhale - November 24, 2000 - Part III

November 24, 2000 - Part III

Kai had been so worn down by the combination of drugs and psychological exhaustion that once Jon helped him into bed, he fell asleep before he’d even finished the albuterol treatment Jon had given him to ease his breathing, which was a little wheezy (presumably from a combination of tears, drugs, and too much lying still). Still, it was good to see his brother relatively peaceful.

Secure that Kai would be asleep for awhile, Jon went out to the kitchen to test his blood and call Vicky. Dr. Miller had explained her treatment plan and what Jon should expect, and though Jon was apologetic about interrupting her holiday (since she wanted to see Kai again in the morning), she simply laughed. “If I wanted to work Monday through Friday, 9-5, with no interruptions, I would have gone into derm,” she’d explained, knowing that Jon, as a critical-care doc, could certainly understand. Still, Jon had thanked her for working with Kai, and for being willing to take their calls if things got dicey. He’d also assured her he’d put Kai’s meds out of his reach, since anything taken in a high enough dose could be lethal.

God, he was tired.

“Here’s Jonny,” Vicky said jokingly when she answered, doing her best Ed McMahon impression. She knew he hated being called ‘Jonny’ almost as much as he hated ‘Jonathan,’ but a little teasing from her felt wonderful right now.

“Hey, Vic. Sorry I couldn’t call you sooner.” He’d planned to call her during Kai’s session with Dr. Miller, but had found himself engrossed in a book about adults who were abused as children. He’d intended to skim it initially for anything that might give him more insight into helping Kai, but had been surprised to see himself in some of the characteristics in the book. He’d never really seen his childhood with his parents as “abusive,” but both their parents were definitely absent in one way or another, and Jon had been forced to realize a lot of his personality--his nearly obsessive drive to succeed in school and work, his instinctive need to help others, his guilt when he failed--probably all tied back to the fact that he’d been taking care of himself and his mother years before Kai came along. It also forced him to realize, more than ever, that Vicky was the only person he’d ever truly let into his life. No wonder Jenny wouldn’t marry him.

“It’s all right. How’s Kai?”

Jon sighed. “Doing a little better today, but I’m not counting my chickens just yet.”

“Can I come over? My mom insisted I bring a bunch of food to give you, and I’m sure you’d prefer not having to worry about what you’re going to eat for at least a couple days. Plus, you left most of your insulin at my house, right?”

“That’s actually perfect. I need you to pick up a few things for me.”


The door had barely closed behind Vicky when Jon was pushing her against it, burying his tongue in her mouth, pressing against her, kissing her hungrily, desperately, as if he were drowning and she was air. She dropped the packages she’d been holding and wrapped her arms around him, smoothing her palms along his back and melting into the kiss, letting him take what he needed.

Finally, after several minutes, he pulled back, resting his forehead against hers, breathing heavily. He mumbled a few syllables several times, as if trying to speak and unable to find the words. Gently, she pushed against his chest to create enough space between them so she could see his eyes.

He had deep purple bags beneath each that seemed more pronounced since the last time she’d seen him, but what really struck her was how troubled he looked, like a war was going on behind his eyes.

She cradled his cheek, feeling a day’s worth of stubble. “Is Kai that bad?”

He laughed harshly, a short sound, almost a cough, a shade of a smile trying to push up the edges of his mouth. But then he shook his head, and a shadow crossed over his face, his breath hitching, saying nothing.

Vicky kissed his cheek, sliding her hand down to cup his neck. “It’s not your fault.”

Jon blinked, and she saw now his eyes were a little surprised, but glossy, as if tears were threatening to spill out at. “I . . .” But he couldn’t seem to speak now, either, shaking his head more intently, lowering it to hide his eyes.

“None of this is your fault,” Vicky repeated, more firmly, tugging him close and pulling him into a tight hug.

“This wouldn’t have happened to Kai if I had been there for him twelve years ago. If I hadn’t said those horrible things to him Tuesday.”

Vicky kissed his neck. “That’s not true, Jon. Kai isn’t so fragile that he can’t take a few angry words.”

Jon let out a long, harsh breath. She saw fear in his eyes now, like she hadn’t seen in a long time. “I . . .” He hesitated, shook his head again. “I shouldn’t have let you come over. I shouldn’t talk to you about this. It’s not my place.”
Vicky smoothed Jon’s cheek. “It’s all right.”
Jon crossed the room, sinking down into one of the dining chairs, angled so he could just see into his opened doorway. Vicky could barely make out a figure asleep in Jon’s bed, assuming it had to be Kai. It was strange for Kai to be in Jon’s room instead of his own, but she said nothing, pulling a chair up beside Jon instead, gripping his hands.
“Kai pretends that he’s fine, that nothing bothers him, but that’s so far from the truth,” Jon said in a pained voice. “He wanted to hurt himself,” Jon said, his eyes vacant. “Maybe even kill himself.” Jon swallowed hard. “If I hadn’t been around . . . he may have tried.”
Vicky worked her fingers into Jon’s hair. She knew Kai had been having some problems, but she hadn’t realized he was so depressed. “Why isn’t he in the hospital? Couldn’t they help him?”
“He’s afraid of being confined, being alone. I couldn’t do that to him.” Jon shook his head, pushed himself back to his feet, and leaned in his bedroom doorway, watching over his brother.
Vicky approached, standing beside him. Kai looked like he was out cold, heavily sedated, she suspected.
“He’s worried about losing me. When the baby comes.”
Vicky’s hand had been smoothing the small of Jon’s back, but the words made her still. “You told him?”
“Secrets are his thing, not mine. You know that, Vic. Besides--”
She leaned her head against his shoulder. “If anyone can keep a secret, it’s Kai.”
“You’re not mad?” Jon wrapped an arm around her, holding her close, though his eyes never moved from his vigil.
She sighed. “I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t love you all to myself,” she said with a faint chuckle, “but I don’t want to be a wedge between you two.”
Jon squeezed Vicky tightly. “I know he’s an adult, but . . . I don’t know if he can really live alone. Between his physical and his mental health . . .”
“You’d be worrying about him constantly,” Vicky finished for him.
Jon sighed heavily. “I’ve never seen him like this. So . . . broken down, like everything he’d been keeping shored up all these years has finally burst through. I’m so fucking scared, Vic. What if we got through all the transplant and MLS shit and I lose him to an overdose?”

Vicky’s heart broke to hear the anguish in Jon’s voice, so she gently tugged him, guiding him to turn subtly toward her. “These past few days have made me realize how wrong I was.”
Jon’s eyebrows furrowed; he looked panicked. “Vic--”
She held up a finger to his lips, shaking her head. “Wrong, making you promise you’d always put me and the baby first.” She sighed, glanced toward the bedroom. “If something happened to me, I’d have scores of relatives in line to help me. I’d have to use some of them to guard the door to keep the rest of them from assaulting me. Even when I lost . . . Andrew, even though some were hostile, I still had others who supported me. I always had somewhere to go.” She reached up and cradled Jon’s cheek. He leaned into her touch, his eyes falling half closed, but only for a moment so he wouldn’t keep Kai out of his sight too long. “Kai doesn’t have anyone else. And I know if you needed him, he’d be there for you in a heartbeat, no questions asked.” She tucked a few stray hairs behind his ear. “I love you. And part of what makes me love you so much is how much you care about other people. I wouldn’t want to change that, even if it means ‘plans’ is a word we have to put in perpetual quotation marks.” Vicky guided him into a kiss that was chaste but passionate.

“I love you,” Jon whispered. “I don’t know what I would have done without you all these years.”

Vicky smiled against his lips, but before she could say anything, she heard moaning, making them both turn their heads.

Kai was still sleeping, but obviously having nightmares, muttering and crying.

“We’ll talk later. I’ll make you a plate before I go,” Vicky said, squeezing Jon’s hand.
“Actually. . . . You brought the supplies and meds I asked you to pick up?”
Vicky nodded.
“Could you put in the IV cath? I trust you better than me not to mutilate him.” Jon frowned.
Vicky smiled faintly. “Sure.” Just before she turned to grab the materials she needed from where she’d left them by the front door, she added, “You know my house is a single story, right? And I have two extra bedrooms. One for the nursery, and . . .”

Jon’s attention jerked away from Kai for a moment to meet Vicky’s eyes. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“It’d take some modifications, especially to one of the bathrooms, but I have a cousin who’s a contractor, so it wouldn’t be too expensive.”

“Vicky?” Jon’s eyes glistened with hope, mixed, paradoxically, with uncertainty.

“It sounds like a recipe for a bad sitcom, I know, but . . .” She smiled. “Kai’s good with kids, right? And as much as we both work, it might be nice having someone to help us with the baby.”

Jon squeezed Vicky suddenly and so tightly she struggled to breathe, but it was a quick embrace, as he soon pushed her back, gripping her shoulders. “Are you sure?”

Vicky shrugged. “Two Taylors for the price of one? Three, if I count the baby? Maybe I should forget the sitcom and go straight to the screenplay.”
Jon blinked rapidly. “You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t know how I didn’t see it sooner.”

Vicky laughed. “It’s not entirely your fault. I held back for a long time.” She sighed, kissed his chest, before stepping back to meet his eyes. “Especially that last year before Kai’s transplant. . . . There were so many times you’d come to me in my office, needing support and encouragement . . . and I wanted to kiss you.”


Vicky nodded. “But I knew how much you needed a friend, someone to help you get through it all, especially if . . . well, if he hadn’t made it.” Vicky swallowed. “I didn’t want to risk destroying that friendship no matter how much I wanted to taste your lips against mine. I could wait, if that’s what you needed.”

For a moment, Jon’s eyes grew wide, glassy, and he blinked even more furiously than he had earlier. He pulled Vicky’s face close, kissing her forehead, then her nose, then her mouth, briefly but deeply. “I love you, Vicky. I don’t know if I could ever get tired of saying that.”


Kai’s return to consciousness felt like a diver slowly rising up through murky water. Floaty, disconnected, his first attempt to open his eyes revealing a blurry, confusing landscape. His chest felt strange, tight, like he needed to cough, and nausea swirled in his stomach. His brain still wouldn’t quite click on, so he pushed himself up with wobbling arms, the room swaying around him, bile rising in the back of his throat. He felt a sharp pain in one of his wrists, but he ignored it for now, as confusion and his stomach battled for his attention.

Upright, the urge to cough grew, so he forced himself, the coughs quickly taking over, becoming more intense, turning into dry heaves as his stomach joined the fray, desperate to empty. He heaved a few more times, but nothing came up, leaving him even more dizzy and sick than before. He held himself, bent over, swaying, not entirely sure where he was or why he felt the way he did, his mind functioning only enough to tell him to stay as still as possible and maybe the nausea would pass.

Even with his eyes closed, he felt like he was being buoyed by waves, and he wondered if he’d pass out again.


Vaguely, Kai heard his name, but he was so focused on just sitting still, on not throwing up, he had trouble focusing. Every time he tried to follow another thought, the nausea would surge and he’d have to abandon it.

“Kai, can you hear me?”

Go away, Kai thought vaguely as the urge to cough surged. He tried to resist, but finally had to give in, coughing, coughing, coughing, then dry heaving twice. His vision went sparkly.

Hands were pushing him down, and he tried to resist at first, but the nausea was so strong, his mind so muddled, he couldn’t fight it. The same hands rolled him onto his side. Wait. What? He tried to say something, but forming words was too complicated right now.

Kai struggled to lift his eyes to see, and saw a face. A man. Blond. Worried look. He was familiar. Kai’s limbs felt heavy.

Kai tried to lift a hand to him, as if to check to see if he were real, and something pulled in his wrist, making him hiss. Then he saw it, the IV line. Panic surged. What had he been drugged with? Where was he?

The man put a firm hand around Kai’s wrist, and Kai tried to pull away, but the drugs were making him weak, and after a few feeble attempts at struggling, he sagged into the bed.

“Shh, Kai. You’re all right. It’s just saline and glucose.”

Kai squinted, trying to focus his vision, but the man was just a blur. His head was spinning, so he shut his eyes again.

“You hardly ate yesterday, you didn’t eat today, and what you did eat, you threw up. I didn’t want your blood pressure or sugar to drop.”

Concentrating hard, he managed to understand what the man was saying, but it was like listening to a foreign language that he knew, but not well.

The man smoothed his forehead in a way that he found comforting despite not clearly comprehending where he was or what was going on. “How bad is your nausea? I can give you some Phenergan, but you’re still a little out of it from the benzodiazepines, so I’d prefer not to add another sedative if I don’t have to.”

Kai’s brow furrowed. That was a lot of words, and he heard them all, but he wasn’t entirely sure he could say what they all meant. He managed to bring his hand to his chin, ignoring the pull of the IV. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked with one sign.

He heard the man sigh. “The Xanax really knocked you out. You’ll be OK. Why don’t you try to sleep?”

Kai shook his head. The nausea had eased a little, but it still hovered, preventing him from riding the drugs back into oblivion. And at the same time, a wariness itched in his brain, warning him to fight through the fog. “Who are you?

Kai saw the man frown deeply. “Jon, Kai. Your brother.”

Kai shook his head. “MY BROTHER LEAVE. HE ABANDON ME,” he signed sloppily. “Are you a doctor?” Kai’s eyes focused a little better, and he could see more of the room. It looked like a bedroom, not a hospital room, but maybe he’d been sent to another institution? He struggled to remember, but his mind was impenetrable.

The man’s frown grew even more pronounced. “Kai, how old are you?”

Kai wagged his fist, thumb up. “TEN.”

The man sighed. Apparently, that was the wrong answer. But how else was he supposed to respond? Maybe this was another one of those head doctors. P-something. He’d seen quite a few of them, but mostly without interpreters, so he had to focus on their English, which was hard, and they didn’t understand his signing, which was harder. So they usually dismissed him as being stupid and simple. But this doctor seemed to understand him.

I’m confused.”

The man sighed again, went back to stroking Kai’s forehead, which felt so nice. “I think all the drugs have finally gotten to you.”

A flash of fear flared up, but Kai’s body would hardly respond. He vaguely remembered a doctor trying to put something in his nose, down his throat. Pain. “Are you the one who hurt me?

“No, Kai, no,” the man said, still smoothing Kai’s head. No one ever touched him like this. It felt nice. It reminded him of his brother, before, the way he’d do that when Kai was having trouble breathing, sleeping. Or when his pain was bad.

Kai felt his eyes welling up with tears that spilled out, and vaguely, part of his mind screamed that he wasn’t supposed to cry, that he needed to stop it, because he’d be punished, but he couldn’t.

“It’s all right, Kai. You’re safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Kai blinked, looked up again. The man still wasn’t in clear focus. “Dr. Fox?” That had to be who the man was. He was the only one who hadn’t hurt him, who had been kind to him, who had made the bad doctor who tried to put the tube in his nose go away. Who had known a little sign language when no one else did.

“No, it’s Jon. Your brother. It’s 2000, not 1988. Come on. Snap out of it.” The man, Dr. Fox?, was growing angry, which frightened Kai. When adults got angry, bad things happened. His words weren’t making any sense. His brother was gone. David and Kai had determined that already. Why was Dr. Fox being mean like this, trying to trick him?

Kai covered his face with one hand, a reflexive, defensive posture, feeling himself beginning to shake subtly.

But the man walked away, leaving Kai alone. Something wasn’t right, he knew it, deep in the back of his mind, but he couldn’t quite shake off the confusion. He touched his nose, again making sure there wasn’t a tube in it, feeling tired, but too nervous to sleep. He remembered, vaguely, Dr. Fox gave him a stuffed fox to play with and hold. He had leaned in and told Kai it was their secret, but that Kai could keep it. Since Kai had lost his parents and his brother, no one gave him anything. And the stuffed fox was so soft, and it had a little smile, and it made everything a little less scary.

The man--Dr. Fox?--came back, and Kai waved to get his attention. “Where’s my toy?

The man frowned, looking confused. He had a cup in one hand, but nothing else scary. Maybe he hadn’t understood Kai?

Please, can I have my toy back?

The man looked sad. Maybe he knew someone had taken the toy, and he didn’t have another one. Maybe he would be mad that Kai had lost it, even though Kai couldn’t remember losing it. Someone--one of the nurses, or maybe that mean doctor--must have taken it while he was sleeping.

I’m sorry,” Kai signed, tears leaking again, though he struggled to hold them back.

“It’s OK,” the man said, his voice friendly and soft, taking one of Kai’s hands gently in his. “Here.” He put something cold in Kai’s hand, closing his fingers on it, holding it there. Kai tried to pull away, but the man was stronger.

Kai let out a scared noise that in some part of his mind seemed wrong.

“Shh, Kai. It’s me, Jon. Your brother. You’re here, with me, in my room. You’re twenty-two, not ten. No one is going to hurt you. You’re safe.”

The ice was almost painfully cold, and as Kai focused on their hands, the cube already melting, his eyes seemed to focus better, something shifting in his brain. “Jon?”

Jon let out a long whooshing breath. “You back with us?”

Kai’s brows furrowed. Jon released his hand, which was wet and cold, and Kai realized his wrist hurt, and he lifted it, seeing an IV catheter taped to it, with a couple lines springing out from its ports. But this was definitely Jon’s room. He felt like he’d just woken up from a dream, but he couldn’t remember the details, and every time he grasped for them, they slipped away even more.

Kai blinked slowly, keeping his eyes closed for a few seconds each time, hoping that when he opened them, he’d feel less . . . weird. It didn’t work. Absently, because he felt like maybe it had been part of his dream somehow, he touched his nose, genuinely surprised he didn’t find a feeding tube coming out of it. He couldn’t quite seem to put anything together. A remote part of his brain told him he should be in pain, that he should have that feeding tube in his nose, that he should be scared, and part of him was scared, but. . . .

“Nothing makes sense,” Kai muttered. His voice didn’t sound right, either, his words slurred and barely intelligible.

“You’re confused from the drugs and low blood pressure,” Jon assured him, smoothing his forehead again. Kai really liked that. It was so comforting, and for a moment he could forget his confusion and uncertainty and just sink into that touch. “You’ll be OK.”

For several moments, Kai just lay there, not trying to think, just focusing on the feel of his brother’s hand against his skin, the sound of Jon’s words assuring him he was safe.

“You feel any better?” Jon asked after several minutes in which Kai may have dozed off and on.

“Yeah,” Kai said. His voice was rough, but not so slurred.

“Who’s Dr. Fox?”

Kai’s eyebrows dipped. “What?”

“You thought I was him.”

“When?” Kai tried to push himself up, but the dizziness swarmed him, and he fell back.

“Easy,” Jon soothed. “I think, with the disorientation from the drugs, it was like you were caught in another kind of flashback. You thought you were ten and I was Dr. Fox.”

Kai frowned. He’d never told anyone about him, ever. “Most doctors were cruel to me back then,” Kai admitted. “I was labeled ‘non-verbal,’ which you know is doctor-speak for ‘too retarded to comprehend anything.’”

“Kai . . .”

Kai sighed, grateful he was starting to feel more like himself, and as long as he lay still, the nausea and dizziness subsided. “Because I couldn’t speak, many doctors, and even nurses, treated me like I couldn’t understand what was happening, like I couldn’t feel pain.” Jon started smoothing his forehead again, and Kai let his eyes fall closed. “That was before Dr. J. Before even Dr. MacDonald. . . . After . . . that summer, I was in bad shape. I don’t remember it too well, but I was really malnourished and I had a lot of problems eating. . . .” Kai hesitated. Tried to recall how much he or Dr. Miller had told Jon, and decided to keep things vague. “So they decided to put in an NG tube. . . . But the first doctor who tried . . . he didn’t tell me what they were going to do. He didn’t give me any kind of local, and I guess I was in too bad a state to give me a general. . . .” Kai felt his sinuses prickling at the memory of how much that had hurt, how terrified he’d been, especially coming from his aunt and not fully understanding what had happened, convinced he had been really, really bad and was being punished.

“Jesus, Kai,” Jon said, squeezing Kai’s hand. “How could anyone do a procedure like that on a kid without trying to explain it or use any kind of anesthetic?” Kai could hear anger in his brother’s voice. “My fourth year of medical school, during one of my rotations, we had to practice inserting nasogastric tubes on each other. Those fucking hurt, especially if the patient isn’t cooperative. Or if you don’t lube it properly. Dammit, Kai. I’m sorry.”

Kai shook his head. “At first, I tried to be good, because I thought I was being punished and I’d make it worse.”


Kai frowned. “But my gag reflex kicked in, violently.” Kai cringed. “If you think one of those is bad going in, especially without any kind of anesthetic, it’s even worse when you throw it back up. Imagine the worst thing you’ve ever accidentally snorted out your nose while eating and magnify it times a thousand.” Kai opened his eyes and looked up at Jon, who had put a hand to his nose reflexively.

“You must have been terrified.”

Kai sighed. Nodded. “I couldn’t scream, but when he wanted to try again, I fought him as well as I could. He got annoyed enough he called for help, and that ended up being Dr. Fox.” Kai smiled faintly. “He was so kind to me, calming me down and insisting everything was all right. That I wasn’t bad.”

Kai closed his eyes, remembering. He couldn’t really recall what Dr. Fox looked like; it was like a dream, where some details stuck out while others remained hazy. He remembered a friendly smile, dirty-blond hair, and a deep voice that was soothing instead of frightening. Kai recalled Dr. Fox trying to see how much Kai understood, using props and cards with different colors to try to get Kai to tell him how bad his pain was. How he was patient and spoke slowly and clearly, but not in a patronizing way; rather, the rich timbre of his voice was calming, assuring Kai he wasn’t bad and he didn’t need to be scared, and that Dr. Fox would make it better.

“He kept calling me Joseph, and so I signed that my name was Kai, and . . . it turned out he knew the alphabet and a few signs. He realized that not only could I understand, but I could communicate.” Kai wiped his eyes, rubbing them with the side of his hand. “He gave me this little stuffed fox, and told me to hug it whenever I got scared, and it would take the scary away.” Kai squeezed his eyes to try to stop the tears that had started. “He made things better, if only a little. I guess he was a resident. I didn’t see him again after that hospital stay.” Kai took in a deep breath. “After what happened, I couldn’t be Joseph Taylor anymore.” Kai looked up at Jon through blurred vision, hoping his brother wouldn’t ask for more of an explanation. Kai was certain Jon didn’t know it was their aunt who had hurt him, and even though she was long dead, he didn’t like to add any more guilt to Jon’s shoulders if he could help it.

“So you changed your name to Fox. Because of him.”

Kai nodded.

Jon blew air out his nose, smoothing Kai’s hair. “What happened to the little stuffed toy? You were asking about it, earlier, when you were out of it.”

Kai was surprised to find his mouth dipping into a deeper frown, and fresh tears wanting to form. “One of the nurses took it. She said it was unsanitary and it was going to exacerbate my asthma. I think she actually literally said, ‘exacerbate,’ because she assumed I didn’t understand her anyway.” Kai sighed, felt his body relaxing, like telling Jon about Dr. Fox had lifted some burden he didn’t even know he’d been carrying, or maybe it was some kind of second wind from the sedatives in his blood. “I wouldn’t have been allowed to keep it at County House, anyway. We weren’t permitted personal possessions.” Kai yawned, stretched, felt the IV pull, and hissed. Nausea still hovered in his belly, and he rubbed his stomach absently.

“Still nauseous?”

Kai nodded, trying not to think about it; thinking about it always made it worse.

Kai felt Jon’s hands pull his pants down, wipe his skin on his hip, then a quick prick of a needle. “Phenergan. A low dose. It’ll help you feel better and let you rest.” Jon tucked the blankets back up, making Kai feel warm and secure.



“I’ve never told anyone about Dr. Fox. . . . Not even David. OK?”

Jon swept some of Kai’s hair off his face. “It’ll be our secret,” Jon said, and Kai could hear the faint smile in his voice.

Kai focused on the gentle sweep of his brother’s hand against his skin and hair, let the soft, deep timbre of his brother’s voice assuring him he was safe and that everything would be OK lull him back to sleep.

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