November 25, 2000
Jon had tried, once again unsuccessfully, to get Kai to shower. It wasn’t even so much that the bathroom scared him (though, honestly, he’d still been avoiding it, not wanting to press his luck), just the weight of depression that had settled on Kai’s shoulders. He’d mostly slept through the night because of heavy sedation, which had left him trapped in an endless stream of nightmares, bits and pieces of memory merged with strange metaphor and visions of himself hurting, or even killing, Renee by mistake. When he’d finally been pulled out of sleep for his morning meds, it was as if he hadn’t slept at all, and he felt even worse about himself than he had after hanging up on Renee the night before.
Kai had then endured Jon’s lecture about how Kai was going to get serious cutaneous candidiasis (essentially, Athlete’s foot all over his skin because of his immunocompromised condition), which could turn systemic if he didn’t wash his body. After Kai’s continued apathy, even after threats that Jon would wash him himself failed to change anything, Jon had taken to stripping Kai and wiping his skin with an antimicrobial wash. Under normal circumstances, it probably would have been humiliating, but Kai was about 250 miles past Caring and heading straight toward Don’t Give A Shit at 100 mph.
“I’m not shaving you,” Jon had told him, and part of Kai had wondered if he could figure out a way to convince Jon to let him shave himself without watching him constantly. He used disposable safety razors, since it was more hygienic, but when they’d first moved into the apartment four years ago, Kai had fell into old habits of 12 years of institutional life and hidden things everywhere. Including a couple box cutter blades, one of which was taped to the back of the middle right drawer of his bathroom vanity. If Kai had a few minutes unsupervised, it’d be easy to pull the drawer out just enough to extract it.
Kai knew, in a dim part of his brain, that, like the glass shard the day before, even having the blade would be very bad idea, but he wanted it, desperately, like a junkie needing a fix. He didn’t want to kill himself with it. Not that he could do it right now since Jon had seized his meds and put them out of his reach, but there were a lot more efficient ways to commit suicide, in his opinion, than slitting one’s wrists. No, he just wanted to feel the pain, to bleed out some of his guilt and shame.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t worked that way, so now Kai sat on the couch in Dr. Miller’s office, sullen, unshaven, his stomach empty (he’d made an attempt to eat so Jon would leave him alone only to throw it up again almost immediately). Jon had left the IV cath in Kai’s wrist, which still hurt, and vaguely, Kai wondered if he was getting phlebitis, but he didn’t care. Jon had taped the cath well enough that Kai couldn’t pull it out without a lot of effort, but he could still press on it if he wanted to feel a little jolt of pain. Which he was doing right now. He’d been sitting there for at least five minutes, absently picking at the tape, just to give his fingers something to do.
“Kai, do you want to join us?” Dr. Miller asked.
Kai didn’t look up. He shrugged. “Why does it matter?”
“If you don’t talk to me, we can’t make any progress. Don’t you want to get better?”
Kai shook his head as he shrugged a single shoulder, abandoned his wrist because that pain wasn’t enough anymore. “I’m pretty sure I broke Renee’s heart last night, because I’m a selfish asshole.”
Dr. Miller didn’t say anything. One of her pointed silences where she was waiting for Kai to elaborate. But Kai didn’t feel like cooperating today. His head was throbbing from the Zofran, which had done little to quell his uneasy stomach, and really, he just couldn’t see the point to any of this. He absently massaged the side of his forehead with his thumb, pressing in and moving it in circles.
“What did you tell Renee last night?” Dr. Miller prompted after she realized Kai wasn’t going to say anything else.
“To stay away from me,” Kai said in a defeated voice, still working on his headache. Jon hadn’t given him that high a dose of benzos this morning, but it was still enough that his head felt heavy, in addition to the ache. He shifted on the couch so he could lazily drape his head on the back of it.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Kai scowled, but that made his headache worse, so he relaxed into a frown. “Did you see Jon’s face? I did that.” Kai met Dr. Miller’s eyes for the first time since the session started. “Renee is like, five foot, one-hundred pounds. I could seriously hurt her, and not just emotionally.” Kai sighed heavily, giving up on his headache. Maybe focusing on the throbbing just above his eye could distract him for now. “She’s better off without me anyway. Everyone is.”
Dr. Miller didn’t say anything immediately, but Kai could hear her pen scratching against the paper. He wondered why she bothered with him. Once it was clear Kai wasn’t going to say anything else, Dr. Miller spoke up. “You do realize that you’ve essentially done to Renee what Nikki did to you?”
Kai blinked at her, but remained quiet.
“I think you and Nikki were drawn to each other because you’re both very much alike. You both needed escape, you both didn’t think you could trust. And she decided it would be better to run than potentially submit you to emotional and physical harm while at the same time shielding herself from having to share too much of her past with you. That doesn’t sound familiar?”
Kai’s stomach knotted as he realized (as usual) Dr. Miller was right. When framed that way, Kai had done exactly the same thing as Nikki, minus the admission of love, though their last night together had pretty much cemented the sentiment, without words. “Fuck,” Kai said, finally, but it wasn’t angry. He felt some of his carefully crafted nonchalance, his cold, dispassionate, protective frame of mind chipping. “Dr. M, I . . .” Kai struggled to breathe. “I don’t know what to do. Yesterday . . . I hardly even know what was real and what wasn’t,” Kai admitted, letting his frustration and anguish seep into his voice. “I don’t know what to do.”
Dr. Miller shifted her weight, and she sighed, but it was a soft sound, not exasperated the way Kai would have expected, knowing how difficult he was. “That’s why you’re here, Kai. So I can help you learn how to deal with everything and get through this.”
Kai nodded, brought his legs up to his chest, holding them in a tuck.
“How much of these flashbacks and dreams do you remember?”
Kai shrugged, squeezing his legs to pull them tighter to his chest. “Bits and pieces.”
“Can you talk about any of it, or is that too difficult right now?”
Kai laid his head on his knees. He continued as if Dr. Miller hadn’t spoken. “Not just stuff with my aunt. All kinds of things. Like my brain’s been throwing up all sorts of memories, some of which I didn’t even know were there. Some of which I’m not even 100% sure are real.”
Crossing her legs, Dr. Miller asked, “What do you mean by that?”
Kai let his lids fall closed, focusing on the colors dancing behind them. “I was remembering stuff from when I was little little, before my parents died. Or from right before my transplant when I was really out of it. Or from the hospital after my time with my aunt. Some of that stuff I don’t think I could possibly remember.” Kai bit his lip hard, though not enough to draw blood, and forced himself to look at Dr. Miller sincerely. “When I hurt Jon yesterday, I didn’t . . . I thought . . .” Kai sighed. “I was picked on relentlessly in high school, especially my first couple years.”
Dr. Miller was writing, but still looking at Kai, nodding to signal he should continue.
“It wasn’t like that was the first time I’d ever been mocked. There were plenty of people at JSD who hated me because I was hearing, or teased me because of my crutches. Even at County House I was an outcast. But high school . . .” Kai shook his head. “Forget it.”
“Kai,” Dr. Miller said in her mildly reproachful tone. It managed to be firm without being mean, and she used it whenever she wasn’t going to let him get away with backtracking or weaseling out of something.
Kai’s headache was spreading along the bone from one side of his forehead to the other. “High school was really hard for me. I was just learning how to speak, I was separated from the language and the community I had known my whole life. And on top if it all, my MLS was flaring horrendously. The Mexitil made walking difficult, and gave me the worst and most consistent chronic nausea of my life.”
“That’s when you were flagged for having an eating disorder?”
Kai nodded. He’d mentioned it, in passing, at some point, when Dr. Miller had suggested that his stomach issues might be at least partially tied to his anxiety. “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified,” Kai said with a frown, as he fingerspelled the acronym to stir his memory, relating his previous diagnosis. “I’ve never liked eating, but not because I had some ridiculous notion that food was bad or anything. It’s just . . .” Kai shrugged. “Even when I’m not feeling sick, I guess that’s always in the back of my mind, and it’s hard to really like food when you’ve spent so much time throwing up.” He knew he wasn’t explaining it well.
“I think I understand,” Dr. Miller said. “Jon told me you haven’t been eating.”
Kai reflexively touched his nose, then his wrist, where the cath was. “I just . . . can’t. My stomach won’t settle. It’s easier empty.” His stomach gurgled angrily, painfully, as if to punctuate its disagreement.
“It’s easier, like it’s easier to stay drugged so you sleep through your problems?”
Kai shook his head. “Last night I was so heavily drugged I didn’t wake up, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a string of nightmares.” Kai covered his face with one hand, the other arm still hugging his legs. “I’m so fucked up. I attacked Jon because I thought . . . I thought he was this kid, Jeremy, from high school. He . . . we used to get into ‘altercations’ frequently,” Kai said, using air quotes, his voice dripping with scorn. “I don’t know what the fuck his problem was with me. Maybe because he really wasn’t that big a guy but he had this whole macho bullshit persona he was trying to express, so he picked on the kid that everyone could agree was a freak, and who he figured would never be able to fight back.”
Dr. Miller seemed really interested, since all of this wasn’t something Kai had ever really talked about with her before. “I’m guessing you did fight back.”
“Fuck yeah, I did,” Kai said. “I never was going to win, but I was ornery. I felt worse than shit most of the time, always exhausted from having to drag my crippled ass all over that huge school, and it was fucking annoying having to put up with Jeremy and his friends’ crap constantly. Do you know how many times they managed to steal the pins from my crutches during class? It got so bad the teachers had to start keeping them leaned against the wall near their desks during the period, which left me trapped. But at least I wasn’t falling and making myself look like even more of an asshat.” Kai was beginning to get angry, though it was a different anger than he’d been used to the past few months. This was more like a slow burn that radiated off him like a fever.
“So your aunt wasn’t the only one who manipulated your mobility?”
Kai sighed, which was more of a groan. His headache was a low, steady throb now, his stomach swirling. He suspected Dr. Miller was purposefully trying to lead him somewhere, and he really didn’t want to follow that breadcrumb trail, but the past couple days had made it painfully clear that he needed to figure something out, soon. “No,” he finally admitted through gritted teeth.
“Other than this Jeremy, who else may have done that?”
Kai picked at a loose string on his sweats, not wanting to answer, not liking how he could already feel the intense emotions bubbling up inside him like a geyser waiting to explode. “It happened at CH sometimes. Partially because I didn’t have my own wheelchair. . . .” Kai hesitated. Some of the orderlies had been real sadistic assholes, some of them more overtly abusive to the kids than others, and he didn’t want to remember. There were other memories he didn’t want to call up now, especially since he couldn’t trust his fucked up brain not to bring them to life before his eyes. Kai squeezed his lids shut to mimic the way it felt like his chest had caved in. “Becca . . .” He finally added, but he couldn’t finish the sentence, shaking his head.
Dr. Miller barely seemed to react, as if she’d been expecting both admissions. “Did you ever have any intrusive memories or overwhelming emotions any of those other times?”
Kai opened his eyes, narrowed them at the doctor. “What the fuck do you think?” he asked, familiar anger wonderfully surging to replace the self-loathing, fear, and despair that had started creeping up.
“No one. Not you. Not Jon. Not Nikki or Renee or David or anyone able bodied can understand what that’s like, all right? No, I didn’t start hallucinating like I have lately, but yeah, it really fucking got to me. Is that what you want to hear?” Kai felt that indescribable sensation, that churning deep inside him, that combustible, overpowering raw emotion that usually preceded freaking out, big time, but he didn’t fight it. Instead, he just rode it, because he had to get it out, had to make Dr. Miller comprehend what she could never truly understand. “That I can’t help thinking that if I had been able to walk like a normal fucking human being that my aunt wouldn’t have been able to lock me up? That maybe she wouldn’t have seen me as so . . . repulsive? Or at least that I could have stopped her?” Kai had more he knew he wanted to say, but he was shaking, almost vibrating, and his thoughts were racing so fast he couldn’t quite put them all together, let alone into words, and he just screamed in frustration, needing some kind of release and unable to find it.
Vaguely, he knew Dr. Miller was talking to him, trying to soothe him, but he was just lost. He was gone. He was pinned to that bank of lockers, the handles digging into his back, gasping, his shoulders aching from struggling to breathe and from the angle at which he was held, while Jeremy and his crew berated him and laughed when he tried to cuss them out in return.
I’m not worthless, I’m not helpless, I’m not a freak. Kai kept trying to tell himself these things, but it was difficult when he was helpless, when he was a freak, when he was worthless. When he realized that no one really gave a shit about him on this planet except maybe, in passing, David or Jake or Art or Jo. But none of them would really care if Jeremy killed him, either directly or indirectly. He would die and his body would be cremated and then thrown away, like garbage.
“Kai.” That voice didn’t fit--especially since none of the kids at school ever called him that, not without mocking the way he struggled to pronounce his own fucking name. How could he have ever known when he’d made it his legal first name how fucking hard that sliding A to I sound was to make?
Kai was waiting for the real punches to start, the ones that would steal his breath and make him hurl and prove him even more of a freak. The ones that he somehow knew would land him in the hospital. That would collapse his lung and break his ribs and leave him in excruciating pain for weeks.
Jeremy’s fist moved in slow motion toward Kai’s side, Kai squeezing his eyes shut to brace himself for the impact, for the searing pain of broken ribs. But suddenly something soft appeared in Kai’s hands--which didn’t make sense. Fluffy, smelling like artificial fur. How--? It was so jarring that Kai blinked several times, and when he opened his eyes again, the high school, the lockers, Jeremy and his gang had all melted away to Dr. Miller’s office, warm and inviting, and Dr. Miller, and Jon. He felt like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz.
“It happened again. Fuck,” Kai said as he came back to himself, realizing Jon had given him the stuffed fox. Kai was sitting on the couch, his legs spread out in front of him, his head reclined on the top of it, breathing heavily. Though part of him wanted to toss the toy, to not admit how much he liked the way it felt in his hands, how it brought up old memories, but not intrusively; instead, they warmed him from the inside, reminded him that not everyone was bad, not everyone mistreated him. That sometimes, even people who didn’t know him well could take a few minutes to make him feel better.
Dr. Miller and Jon were talking softly, though Kai wasn’t entirely sure if it was to him or to each other, because he was still not entirely in the present, his head swimming a little. He saw a hand waving at him, and followed the blur of fingers, his arms still cradling the stuffed toy under his neck, tucked under his chin.
Kai’s eyes wandered around the room again, picking out familiar details of Dr. Miller’s office, like her large mahogany desk, the spider plant near the window, the filing cabinets topped with books and mementos, the bookshelf filled with textbooks and self help books. Finally, he nodded, but a kernel of fear still coursed through his blood.
“Do you want me to stay with you, or go back to the waiting room?”
Both Jon and Dr. Miller seemed to be waiting, calmly, for him to answer.
“I’m getting worse,” Kai said flatly, surprised he wasn’t more panicky. Perhaps the Xanax from this morning, perhaps his body just couldn’t produce the stress chemicals in high doses anymore, his glands exhausted from the past couple days of overwork. “Will this keep happening?”
Dr. Miller sighed, signaled for Jon to sit since Kai hadn’t dismissed him. “There are techniques we can try that can help, but I can’t snap my fingers and make everything stop, Kai.”
Kai shook his head. “I know. I just . . . there’s no warning sometimes. One minute, I’m here, and the next . . .” Kai rolled his neck. He felt so weary. Even when he couldn’t trust anyone, including his own body, he always was able to master his mind, his emotions, his memories. And now he couldn’t even control that. “I can’t stay in my room forever, blasting metal, burning sage, watching a flashing light show while I chew on sour candy and cuddle a stuffed animal to try to keep myself grounded in reality.” Kai looked at Jon, who had avoided a full black eye, thankfully, though his cheek was deeply bruised and puffy. “I can’t trust I won’t attack someone. That I won’t hurt myself. Without even realizing what I’m doing.” He looked down at the little fox, who was smiling, and he felt a sharp ache in his chest. “I think . . .” He buried his face in the fur for a moment, inhaling the smell, trying to cling to a good memory, to hope, for once. “I think maybe I should go into the hospital.”
Jon let out an abbreviated gasp.
“I do think that’s the best course of action at the moment, Kai.”
“Just. Promise me . . .” He looked over at his wheelchair. “That I have my own chair for when I’m not . . .” Kai shuddered. “Restrained?”
Dr. Miller nodded. Kai suspected, though he didn’t really have any evidence, that Dr. Miller would have understood (as well as anyone walking could) why that was so important to him, even without his earlier admissions. “They won’t be happy about it, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Kai’s stomach cramped up as he looked from Jon to Dr. Miller and admitted, “I’ll . . . I’ll try to be cooperative, even if I have to do . . . group. I don’t . . . I don’t want this to be my life.”
Dr. Miller smiled, and that made his heart soar, because he could feel that she was proud of him, and as ridiculous as it was, that was important to him. “That’s really good, Kai. I know how difficult this is for you. You’ll have sessions with me daily, but you will also see other doctors, too. I’ll try to see if I can get people that I trust will be compatible with you, to make this as easy as possible. OK?”
Kai nodded, and looked to Jon, then back at Dr. Miller. “Will I get to see Jon?”
Dr. Miller sighed. “Probably not. It’ll depend on how long you’re there, and what your doctors and I think is best for your stability.” Kai noticed she didn’t say “recovery,” and it made him doubt himself.
“Do you think I’ll have to be there a long time? I . . .” Kai shivered. “I know I’m in no shape now to go to school anyway, but--”
“This isn’t like the movies. You won’t be there indefinitely. Most likely, considering how unstable you’ve become the past day, I’d guess a few days to a week. That’ll give time for the Celexa to work, for you to get away from any stressful situations that might be exacerbating your symptoms.”
Kai nodded, hugged the fox against his chest tightly. “I’m really scared,” he admitted, not bothering to deny or hide it, feeling that tension as an uncomfortable tingle in his body, like the acid that was gnawing at his stomach.
Jon moved until he was sitting beside Kai, pushing some of Kai’s hair out of his face affectionately and staring directly into his eyes. “Bravery is doing something you need to do even when you’re afraid,” Jon said. “You’re the bravest person I know. I’m proud of you, Kai. And I admire you so much.” Jon pulled Kai into a hug. “I love you. I never stopped. And I never will. OK?”
Kai nodded enthusiastically against his brother’s neck as tears began to blur his vision, squeezing Jon back tightly. “I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please . . . tell Re I’m sorry, too, and I’ll talk to her when I’m out of the hospital.”
Jon didn’t let go. “I’ll pick her up this afternoon and sit down with her. I’ll explain the situation as best I can without giving too much away. All right?”
Kai let the sobbing take him, not fighting it this time, clutching Jon desperately as if he were his lifeline, grateful for the secure way his brother held him back.
“You’ll be OK,” Jon soothed. “You’ll get through this. And I’ll come visit you as soon as I can. I promise.” Jon pulled back, holding Kai’s shoulders and kissing his forehead. “You’re not alone, Kai. Never forget that.”
Even though Renee knew Jon, not Kai, was picking her up, she couldn’t help the hopeful flutter than sprang up in her chest when she saw a blond head above the sea of faces. It felt crushing as she wove her way through the departing passengers and eager family members all struggling to crowd into the limited space to stay out of the cold. Jon was reclined against the wall, his hands shoved into the pockets of his wool coat, and despite the facial resemblance, otherwise looking absolutely nothing like Kai, so much it was a shock. She noticed the bruise on his cheek, which looked incredibly painful, wondering if Jon would explain it at some point.
He nodded at her, struggling and failing at a faint smile, before turning and silently leading her out into the cold parking lot. It became pretty obvious that Jon wasn’t going to attempt to speak over the harsh wind, which ate through her jeans and nipped at her skin. Again, part of her half hoped to find Kai waiting for them in the car, a wave of disappointment washing over her when they walked through the handicapped spots toward the back of the lot, where Jon had parked.
Again, without a word, Jon unlocked the car and climbed in, so she followed, sinking into the passenger seat, which was pushed as far back as possible. Her heart ached as she adjusted it, realizing Kai was probably the last one to sit there, and though Jon didn’t seem like he was going to speak any time soon, Renee couldn’t help saying something.
“What happened to Kai?” Jon had only said that Kai was in the hospital, and probably would be for a week, that Jon would pick her up and explain as well as he could. So Renee had spent the last day worrying and wondering, still puzzling over that final telephone call and unable to reconcile her mind and heart.
Jon sighed as he pulled out of the parking lot. “Is your roommate home yet?”
The nonsequitur caught her off guard. “Uh, she shouldn’t be home until tomorrow.”
“Good,” Jon said with a nod as he maneuvered onto the highway. “We’ll talk at your place.”
After several more minutes passed, Renee realized Jon wasn’t going to say anything else, so she shifted in her seat and forced herself to focus on the scenery, trying desperately not to cry.
“Coffee?” Renee asked, gesturing with the carafe.
Jon stared at it for a long moment as he mechanically stripped out of his coat before finally nodding. He seemed tired, distracted, but he was so strikingly unlike his brother in so many ways that she couldn’t read him. It was awkward and disconcerting, because every time she caught him in her peripheral vision, she’d expect to turn and see golden hair and bright blue eyes, strong arms leaning on crutches and a lopsided smile. Instead, she saw a far lankier, narrower frame, arms folded on his chest, gray eyes distant and wheaten hair sticking up at odd angles from where he repeatedly carded his fingers through it.
“How do you take it? The milk’s spoiled, but I have some Coffee-Mate.” Renee asked, and it took several repetitions before Jon finally responded.
“Uh, just black, thank you.” He’d gone back to leaning against the wall, pulling his fingers through his hair over and over in what was evidently a nervous habit.
Renee hurriedly prepared each cup, adding coffee before the machine had even fully finished, drips hissing on the hotplate. “Let’s sit,” she said, offering Jon his mug.
He nodded and walked toward the couches, long strides that took him there quickly, though he hesitated to sit until Renee had curled up in her favorite spot, elbow supported by the armrest as she cradled her mug in her hands.
Jon gulped the coffee, seemingly unperturbed by how hot it was, finishing most of it in a few swallows before setting it aside and taking a seat diagonal to her. “Before I begin, I want to make it clear that Kai asked me to pick you up and to talk to you, so I am doing this as a favor to him. That said, I’m only going to tell you enough so that you can understand what Kai’s going through right now. You can ask me questions, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer them.” Jon paused only long enough to see that Renee was listening, before continuing. “Some of what I say, and especially in light of the last call you had with Kai, might upset you, or make you angry, but I ask that you let me fully explain before you let your emotions take over and stop you from listening to me.”
It felt strange to hear Jon speak so much after the long silence of the drive. “All right,” she said, not sure what else to say to that. Her gut was churning, and she found she couldn’t really stomach the coffee, especially without milk, so she mostly held it for the warmth, to give her something to focus on. Her mind could only come up with the worst possible scenarios--after all, Kai had warned her he could get very sick at any time--though she tried to take a few steadying breaths and keep herself receptive to whatever Jon was about to tell her.
Jon pushed his fingers through his hair and sighed, as if trying to work out how to begin. “You know our parents died when Kai was six, and you know he grew up in an institution.”
Renee nodded. “County House. I went with him on Halloween.”
Jon smoothed his hair down, speaking slowly. “And you know Kai, you know he tries to act like nothing bothers him, like he doesn’t feel pain, physical or emotional.”
Renee remembered the afternoon when she’d finally found out about Kai’s transplant, how incredibly difficult it had been for him to talk about it. She also remembered their Hamlet movie night, how he had obviously been in a lot of pain but had denied it vehemently, insisting it wasn’t a big deal. How many times he tried to take back something he’d said or hide by passing it off as a joke, or by making fun of himself. Over the past few weeks, he’d gotten better at being open with her, but those behaviors were so ingrained, it would take time. Time she had been willing to give him.
“I can’t go into specifics, but Kai went through things as a kid that . . .” Jon seemed to be struggling to find a way to explain, perhaps while still remaining vague. He sighed heavily, reached for his mug and downed the rest of his coffee in one gulp. “Do you know what PTSD is?”
Renee blinked, partially distracted by her ingrained manners wanting to ask if he needed a refill, but she forced herself to focus. “Uh. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, right? Isn’t that the thing that like, soldiers get and stuff?”
Jon traced his finger around the lip of his mug, focusing on it instead of her. “Yes. Sometimes, when someone goes through a traumatic experience, they sequester the memories and the feelings associated with it so they can survive. But this means the individual never actually dealt with his problems. They’re still there, in some ways worse than if they’d been tackled originally.” Jon raised his eyes to finally meet Renee’s, and it struck her that, as different as they were from Kai’s bright blue, the pale gray was disturbingly beautiful, yet sad, like a dead tree covered in fresh snow. “Think of it like cleaning your room, but instead of actually tackling the mess, you simply stuff everything into the closet. As long as you ignore the closet, you can pretend you’re fine. But if something makes that door open even a crack, suddenly all that crap falls on you and can completely, totally bury you.”
Renee had been surprised by Jon’s attempt to use an analogy to explain; from the little contact she’d had with him, and everything Kai had told her about him, she’d expected some kind of science robot who forgot that not everyone knew medical terminology. “Thanks for explaining it like that,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee. “That makes sense.” She took a deep breath. “So are you saying that’s what’s wrong with Kai? He had this closet and something opened it and he got buried?”
Jon nodded. “Kai’s been having major anxiety problems for the past few months, but it wasn’t something he was ready to tell you about. He . . . well, you know Kai. He worried if you knew about that, you’d think less of him. Maybe even not want to be with him anymore.”
“I would never. That’s not--” Renee instantly started to defend herself, but Jon held up a hand, shaking his head.
“I’m just trying to get you to understand why he kept it from you.”
Renee sighed, set her mug aside and curled up tighter on the couch. She’d noticed Kai occasionally got tense, distracted, and he’d been a surprising mess about their midterm, but he really was amazingly good at hiding. It made her angry at herself, that she hadn’t picked up more that something was bothering him, but then she remembered how good Kai was at concealing emotions. “Did he keep it from you, too?”
Jon nodded. “At first, yes. He probably would have let it go even longer if things hadn’t worked out differently. And even then, I only found out some of the details a few days ago. Again, out of necessity, more than anything.”
“So . . . what does this mean? Why . . . why is he in the hospital?”
Jon absentmindedly touched his cheek.
Renee’s thoughts began to race, and she struggled not to freak out. After all, Jon had warned her that she might get upset prematurely. Some of Kai’s words from his last phone call surfaced. “You know I’d never hurt you intentionally. . . . It’s safer if you stay away from me.” “He hit you?”
Jon’s shoulders slumped, maybe in embarrassment, maybe in defeat, she couldn’t tell, because he’d dipped his head to mask his face. “Kai hasn’t been well the past few days. Not entirely himself,” Jon said, looking up with a wince as if knowing that was an understatement, but unwilling to say more. “He decided it was best for everyone if he went into the hospital for the week.”
“But he did hit you,” Renee repeated, not making it a question this time, unable to prevent the shiver of fear coursing through her body. She’d trusted Kai, despite how strong he was, how much larger he was than her, and a little voice in her head couldn’t help screaming that he could have hurt her the other night. Just like Jude. What if he had?
Jon seemed to see the emotions clearly on Renee’s face. “I asked you not to get upset.” But he sighed wearily. He pulled his fingers through his hair again, over and over. “Kai cares about you, and the last thing he would ever want to do is harm you in any way. That phone call--it’s partially my fault; I thought hearing your voice would help him, and I pushed him into it--he just wanted to protect you.” Jon pulled at the strands of hair, clearly frustrated. He hesitated a long moment, pushing himself to his feet and pacing restlessly in a tight loop between the couch and coffee table, his hand constantly in his hair, as if he were debating something internally.
Just when Renee was about say something, Jon stopped suddenly, looked at her directly, his eyes sincere, though still troubled. One foot tapped the floor, as if he were impatient, before finally sinking back down into the couch. He let out a long sigh through pursed lips, looked up at the ceiling before finally deciding to speak again. “That’s all Kai wanted me to tell you, but . . . I’m going to go a little beyond that because I think it’s something you deserve to know, so you can make your own mind up about the whole situation.”
When Renee realized Jon was waiting for some response from her, she nodded. “Thank you,” she said in a small voice.
Jon inhaled deeply through his nose, looking worried, as if he were contemplating changing his mind. After several more uncomfortable minutes, he continued, “Kai has been having a lot of intrusive memories--think of them like particularly vivid nightmares, only he’s awake when they happen. And he hasn’t always been able to distinguish between those and reality.” Jon winced again, and when he looked up, she saw in his eyes something familiar, like he was expecting Renee to immediately reject Kai after this revelation. “He hit me because he didn’t know it was me. He was scared and lost and he lashed out reflexively to try to protect himself. . . . But that’s why he decided to go into the hospital. So he can get himself back under control, because he spent most of yesterday night terrified by the possibility of hurting you.”
Renee felt tears welling up, and she struggled to blink them away. “Will he be OK?” She wanted to ask, “Will I ever be safe with him?,” but she held that back.
Jon nodded. “In time, yes. He’s already been in therapy for several months, but this isn’t something that can be fixed overnight, especially since Kai’s spent most of the last sixteen years suppressing his emotions and memories.”
Despite her worry and fear, Renee asked, “Will I be able to see him?”
Jon shook his head. “While he’s an inpatient? Probably not. And part of the reason I’m here is to make you understand that if Kai keeps his distance from you for a while, it’s largely because he doesn’t trust himself, and though I know he misses you, he doesn’t want to risk hurting you.”
Renee nodded as a few tears dotted her cheek. “Tell him to just get better for me, OK? And that I don’t care about anything. I just care about him. And I miss him, and I want to see him as soon as he’s ready. OK?”
Jon smiled faintly, and when he did, she could see more of the resemblance. “Kai cares about you. More than anyone else since I’ve known him as an adult. Whatever happens, remember that, please?” Jon’s gray eyes looked particularly sad for a moment as he let his words sink in. “You may not believe this, but you’re good for him. I haven’t seen him happy the way he’s been lately . . .” Jon shook his head. “Since before our parents died. I’m not trying to pressure you, because I know this is a lot to take in, and I have no idea how Kai . . . I don’t know what things’ll be like when he’s discharged. But he really needs friends right now, people he can trust will be there for him.” Jon dipped his head and just breathed for several minutes, as if he were trying to compose himself. “You have my number, but I’ll keep you up to date if anything changes.” Jon pushed his way to his feet. “Thank you for the coffee.”
Renee stood and wrapped her arms around Jon in a quick, grateful hug. Though he was equally tall as Kai, his body felt entirely different; soft yet bony, not the hard, lean muscle she was used to. “Thank you for telling me everything, so I’m not worrying or thinking he was breaking up with me, or . . . you know,” she said, leaving out “feeling betrayed.”
Jon patted her back awkwardly, clearly uncertain what to do, before finally stepping back. His face twitched in another attempt at a smile, and he carded his hair one more time before grabbing his coat and heading to the door.
Before he could pull it open to leave, Renee rushed up, stopping him. She tilted her head to look up at him, needing to meet his eyes so he could see the sincerity in hers. “Can you give him a message for me? When you see him?”
A subtle frown pulled at Jon’s lips, but he nodded.
“Tell him . . .” Renee sucked in a huge breath as her heart and mind raced. “Tell him I’ll wait for him.” Tell him I love him, she thought, but held it back; it wasn’t the kind of thing she wanted him to hear second hand. “I’ll wait. As long as he needs.”
The door closed with a final click that caused a cold sweat to break out all over Kai’s body. Then the lights dimmed. Not pure blackness, but close, definitely darker than any other hospital room he was used to. Thankfully, Dr. Miller had insisted Kai only be restrained if absolutely necessary, though his hands had been slipped into these padded mitts to keep him from hurting himself. The mitts kept his hands open and separated his fingers, taking away his ability to grip anything and any dexterity he might have, but he could still use his hands to shift his body in the bed, so it didn’t completely strip his freedom of movement.
He had managed to push himself onto his side, albeit rather awkwardly, since he couldn’t grip his legs, just kind of shove them into place by pushing against them. But he at least managed to moderately curl his legs up and face the door, which didn’t do much to ease the terror, but made him feel a little better.
The IV cath in his wrist had been removed and replaced with a CVC in his neck, through which a slow, steady drip of something sedating flowed. Enough that it kept him from going full panic right now, despite the fact that everything about his current situation was triggering his phobias: the dark, the closed door, being separated from his wheelchair, being alone. . . . That was something else he hadn’t expected. The psych ward was so, so quiet compared to the rest of the hospital. Eerily quiet. Perhaps the rooms were soundproofed. Whatever the case, the quiet might have been enough to keep Kai awake if it weren’t for the drugs. Still, the dosage wasn’t enough to immediately knock him out, and he wondered how long he’d lie there, trembling, his stomach knotting, trying not to be terrified and failing desperately.
In addition to the cath, he’d also gotten a nasogastric feeding tube, the same kind he’d kept feeling imaginary sensations of the day before, flashing back to his hospital stay when he was ten, and he kept wrinkling his nose as if to prove it was really there and not another hallucination. It was annoying and unpleasant, but a requirement of his admission, he’d been informed, and part of Kai was grateful for it, because it meant he wouldn’t be forced to eat, at least for a few days. The overnight feeding, plus the IV, plus the fact that even Kai didn’t trust himself not to lose it was the reason for the mitts, which were awkward and uncomfortable but better than full restraints. They were strapped securely to his wrists, but not locked, and Kai knew if he were desperate enough, he could probably use his teeth to loosen the double layer of velcro and belts enough to pull a hand out. And they were padded on the palm side, to minimize any kind of blunt-force injury he might attempt to do with them, but again, Kai knew if he were agitated enough, lost in a memory, nothing short of fully restraining his upper body could stop him from hurting himself or someone else.
And that terrified him.
The darkness, the isolation, the quiet all weighed heavily on Kai, suffocating him as he struggled to take slow, even breaths, to focus on the rough sheets beneath him, on the fabric of the mitts beneath and between his fingers, on the silence, all as ways to keep himself grounded, to try not to panic or find himself suddenly in that horrible bathroom. As tears trailed from Kai’s eyes, his heart thundering in his chest, his body trembling, he wondered if maybe he’d made a mistake.
End Season 2.
Continue to Season Three, Episode One: Flashback: May 19, 1994 ---------->