Monday, July 24, 2000

Previously On... In/Exhale: Season Two

Season Two was quite a packed roller coaster ride! While I will, of course, do my best to catch everyone up as to what happened in the past season during Season Three, I recommend you read (or re-read) it to refresh your memory. The full season is still available on the site or you can download it in ebook form on my website.

Previously, on In/Exhale . . .

Season Two includes two flashbacks that show how Jon and Kai reunited. Jon has returned to Jonesville to finish his pulmonary fellowship and decides it’s time to finally find Kai’s death certificate (since he believes Kai died shortly after they were separated). Vicky, whom he’s only recently met, decides to help him in his search, which comes up empty, although he does learn that their sister Sara died when she was eleven. Not ready to give up yet, Jon convinces Vicky to search the pulmonary patient files to see if she can help track Kai down. About a week later, she still hasn’t uncovered anything until Jon lets Kai’s name slip (“Kai” instead of his original legal first name, “Joseph”) and that’s when it clicks. Vicky can see the resemblance and admits she’s seen Kai when he’s come in for his appointments, always looking so sad. With her help, Jon tracks Kai down at County House, where Kai is morosely contemplating how hopeless his life will be once he ages out in a week, with nowhere to live and no job. Frankie, a boy who’s latched onto Kai, informs Kai he has a visitor, and since Kai doesn’t usually have visitors, he’s intrigued. Shocked when he recognizes Jon because of their similarities.
Through an interpreter, Kai unleashes his anger on Jon for being abandoned and forgotten for the twelve years they were separated. Jon is a little hurt but determined to make up for their lost time, promising Kai whatever he wants, including a car, his own room, a wheelchair, and help getting into school or finding a job. Kai is skeptical, but eventually begins to lower his guard when he can’t see any ulterior motive, especially since he doesn’t have a lot of options. A week later, Jon arrives to pick Kai up, horrified how Kai has no clothes (and the ones he’s wearing are in terrible shape) and how underweight his brother is. Over the course of the day, Jon orders Kai a new wheelchair and some crutches, buys him lunch and clothes, and slowly starts to chip away at the walls Kai has built up around himself.

Season Two proper begins with Renee pulling Kai out of his shell. Because of her influence, Kai finds himself reconnecting with the Jonesville Deaf community, including reuniting with his childhood best friend and County House roommate, David O’Donnell. At first, everything seems to be going great for our heroes: though Kai is conflicted about his relationship with Nikki and his blooming romance with Renee, he decides he needs to follow his heart and cut things off with Nikki. Kai finally tells Renee about his transplant and lung disease, leaving an essay he’d written as makeup work out for her to find. Although Renee is hurt at first, since she told Kai about her own secrets (she was raped by her previous boyfriend, Jude), she quickly accepts it being Kai’s way, and their connection deepens.
Meanwhile, Jon and Vicky continue to pursue their own relationship despite Jon working horrid hours to make up for the time he took off while Kai was in the hospital during his MLS flareup. Vicky begins behaving strangely, though, and Jon can’t figure out why until she drops the bombshell: she’s pregnant.
Kai and Renee become increasingly comfortable with each other, and the night before Renee leaves for Thanksgiving break, Kai invites her over so she can see him walking with his crutches for the first time since he hurt his leg during his MLS attack. It’s the first time Renee has ever seen him with the crutches, and he’s concerned how she’ll react, but it’s perfect. Other than a brief run-in from some former high school bullies, Kai and Renee have a great night, taking some photo booth pictures together. When they return to Renee’s house, she begs Kai to spend the night. He’s not sure if she’s ready for a sleepover. She insists, and they have sex for the first time--though not quite all the way, not yet--and then again, in the morning. Kai even sings for her, at Renee’s request, which isn’t something he normally does. But, after all, he confessed, “I’d do anything for you, Re.”
On the way to the airport, Kai admits that Thanksgiving is a very difficult holiday for him, that it was always very hard when he was growing up, and though Renee offers to change her plans and stay for him, he won’t allow it. He insists he’ll be fine, though neither one of them is so certain.
Later that day, the storm begins to brew.
Kai meets his brother at the pool, their first attempt to be simply “brothers” instead of the more father/son relationship that they’ve had in the past, and as they’re leaving, Jon blurts out the secret he’s kept within him for a couple weeks: Vicky’s pregnant. Initially, Kai seems to take the news fine, but the combination of eating at the diner, which has so many bad memories, and the idea that Jon becoming a “real” father will change everything hits Kai hard. He has a major panic attack in the diner, his first completely in public, and though Jon is great about it, it’s only the beginning.
A few days later, Jon goes before the transplant committee again to plead his case for FS patients, begging them to reconsider their stance that prohibits said patients from even being considered for transplant. Although Jon’s presentation is well researched and persuasive, Dr. Johnsen throws a wrench in the spokes when he reveals that evidence suggests Kai has not been cured.
Devastated by the fact that the committee will bar patients like Martin Gomez from transplants, and the revelation that Kai nearly died two months previously and Jon had no idea make Jon snap. Jon attacks Johnsen after the meeting, furious at the betrayal, at all the lives that won’t be saved, but most of all, at knowing that Kai was rushed in by ambulance, that he’d needed support to breathe, and yet Jon had never been called. Kai had never told him.
Although Johnsen could have had Jon officially suspended, or even fired for his outburst, he instead lectures Jon on distance and objectivity and demands Jon take a week off to get his head on straight again.
Meanwhile, Kai is at David’s house, approving and testing the accommodations David made to his house for Kai’s wheelchair. He hasn’t quite gotten the door to the master bath right but he leaves it for now, and the two friends sit on his couch eating pizza and talking. Kai has been trying to convince David to break into the deceased patients records room at JMH and steal his mother’s files, but David is reluctant. With Megan in the picture, he can’t risk getting caught, and besides, the past is better left there.
They’re still arguing when someone arrives at the door. David goes to answer and is overtaken by an enraged Jon, who leaps on Kai, screaming at him. The two wrestle and fight, and in his anger, Jon says a lot of hateful and hurtful things to Kai. “Stop being so self-absorbed” being one, but the worst is perhaps when Jon says he’s moving out immediately.
Jon storms out before Kai can get back in his chair and catch him, but Kai has not handled the situation well, despite insisting he’s fine. David is worried about his friend, and tries to make him stay, but Kai won’t have it. He goes home, and when he sees Jon has taken all his insulin with him--proof that he was serious about moving out--something inside Kai breaks. He thinks of cutting, but decides that’d be too “self-absorbed” so he finds some alcohol Jon had stashed in the kitchen and spends the next couple of days drunk.
Kai wakes up Thanksgiving morning hungover, still depressed, but he gets a call from Renee that cheers him up a bit, then a text from David begging Kai to go with him to Walmart so he can escape his fiancee’s family for a little while. At Walmart, Kai runs into Nikki, which is like a slap in the face, stirring up conflicting feelings because although he’s still angry with her, he’s also still attracted to her. Kai’s emotions get out of control and he has a mini breakdown outside the bathroom in which he tells David the truth of his relationship with Nikki--how they’d meant to keep it just fuck buddies but she left him a Dear John letter while he was in the hospital, totally fucking with him.
Meanwhile, Jon and Vicky have gone to spend Thanksgiving with her enormous family, and Jon is quickly overwhelmed by Vicky’s authoritative mother (who’s sure to quiz Jon on his commitment to Catholicism) and her seven siblings. However, Vicky’s youngest sister Veronica (aka Roni) spirits Jon away to a relatively private, quiet space, where they talk and drink beer together. Vicky soon joins them and Roni admits she knows Vicky’s secret--that she’s pregnant--something the family can’t know about because they wouldn’t approve to say the least. Vicky breaks down into tears, shocking Jon, who has never seen her cry before, and she confesses that she got pregnant when she was sixteen and was forced to marry the boy who impregnated her. Worse, she went into early labor and the baby died shortly after birth. A boy she called Andrew. Vicky confesses how a large portion of her family scorned her or blamed her for the baby’s death (because of the circumstances of his conception, out of wedlock), and that it took years for her to put her life back together after that.
Jon is shocked by this revelation but supportive, determined to stand by her even if her family won’t: “I will always fight for you. Even if it’s against a hundred angry Catholic relatives.”
Meanwhile, Renee is in New Orleans, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet her grandparents and her brothers, and see how while Renee is close with her younger brother Luc, an artistic boy of fifteen who looks a lot like her, complete with build and hair. Neither of them get along with JP, a macho jerk who is still friends with Jude, the man who forced Renee when they were dating, since no one but Renee’s grandparents, her roommate, and Kai know the truth about Jude.
Back in Jonesville, Kai is struggling through the “Deafie Stray Thanksgiving,” Megan (David’s fiancee) put together, collecting people from the Deaf community who didn’t have anywhere else to celebrate. Kai’s still not OK, emotionally, from the mix of his situation with Jon, running into Nikki, and just his general anxiety and depression, but he soldiers on, keeping up his mask as best he can, even through dinner, forcing himself to eat to be polite.
However, it finally gets to be too much and Kai excuses himself to use David’s bathroom, where he throws up but still doesn’t feel better, desperately searching for something to cut to relieve the torrent of negative emotions in his brain, but doesn’t find anything. Then, the door (which David had never managed to get quite right) shuts, and like a switch goes off in his brain, Kai is suddenly propelled into a kind of waking dream, convinced he’s ten again and his aunt has locked him in the bathroom. Panic takes hold, and Kai’s only thought is to escape, throwing himself at the door in a desperate attempt to pry it open.
David, worried Kai hasn’t returned to the table, brings Megan along to investigate. When it sounds like Kai has stopped breathing, they pull the door open to find him passed out on the floor, but otherwise OK. Despite what happened the other day, David urges Megan to call Jon, praying that Kai will be all right.
Jon arrives, still annoyed with Kai but also worried. However, when he does a quick exam, he realizes that Kai had to have had a panic attack and hyperventilated himself into unconsciousness. He wakes Kai up with an improvised smelling salt, and Kai soon admits that what happened was like a nightmare, only he was awake. After shooing Megan out of the room, Jon calls Dr. Miller, who assures them that what Kai experienced was a flashback due to his PTSD, and tells him a little about the woman who abused Kai as a child, how she locked him in the bathroom routinely, and how he once had an asthma attack and believed he’d die there, alone and scared in the dark. She suggests Jon keep him sedated with Valium, and Jon takes Kai home.
Things don’t go well. Kai has another flashback, freaking Jon out, forcing him to consult Dr. Miller again and dose Kai with even more sedative, since Jon’s convinced Kai will see hospitalization as a betrayal.
Later, stoned from the drugs, Kai admits things to Jon he normally never would have, like the fact that he’s contemplated suicide before, or how he would do it, or how he feels guilty about Martin not having the opportunity for a transplant.
That night, Jon has Kai sleep in his bed so he can better supervise him.
Meanwhile, David has given into Kai’s request and snuck into the hospital in search of Kai’s mother Ann’s medical records. Curiously, he doesn’t find them with the rest of the deceased patients, as expected, but instead finds them in a locked file cabinet in Jon’s office.
During the night, Kai wakes up needing to pee, but he can’t find his wheelchair, forcing him to transfer to the floor and drag himself to his room in search of a bottle, not an easy feat since he’s not at full strength from the sedatives. The situation ends up pushing him into more than one flashback, one of which is as major as the one he experienced at David’s house, leaving him hiding under the bed, fearing his aunt is going to hurt him.
Jon wakes up to Kai’s scream but can’t find his brother anywhere. He’s terrified Kai has hurt himself, and finally figures out Kai is sandwiched under the bed. He won’t respond to Jon’s English, so Jon has to use sign language to finally coax Kai out of his flashback and help pull him out from under the bed. However, Kai feels humiliated and disgusting and doesn’t want to let Jon touch him. It kills Jon to see Kai looking so broken. He gives Kai some more medicine and they go back to bed.
The next morning, Kai is withdrawn until he accidentally breaks the coffee carafe and loses it. Jon’s hovering because he’s nervous, and Kai’s feeling helpless and frustrated, believing that he ruins everything, including Jon’s life. He also commands Jon never to take his wheelchair away from him because his aunt made a habit of seizing his crutches or braces as a way to control him.
During his emergency session with Dr. Miller, Kai admits his despair, feeling that he can’t get better and that he’ll inevitably hurt himself, one way or another. Dr. Miller tries to reassure him that flashbacks are normal for someone with PTSD and can even be a sign of progress. She also thinks his tumultuous relationships with Becca and Nikki, and having each of them unexpectedly reappear in his life, could have been triggers for him, since one of his biggest fears is abandonment, and both of those women did just that to him. Finally, she gets to the heart of the matter: that Kai’s real fear is that he’s losing control of the one part of himself he could always trust. He couldn’t control his body, but he always had his mind, and now he doesn’t even have that. And it makes him wonder what’s left of “himself.”
Kai admits that, silly and sentimental as it may be, he could see himself spending “forever” with Renee, but that he’s convinced she’ll realize she deserves better, or that he’ll ruin things between them, which Dr. Miller warns could be a self-fulling prophecy. She treats him with some Xanax to help calm him down, and suggests he begin taking it on a temporary basis since it works well for him, as long as he’ll let Jon control his medications to prevent overdose. Before he goes, she tries a couple therapeutic exercises with him, including one called “the Circle of Forgiveness” in which Kai tries to visualize forgiving those that have hurt him and also being forgiven by those he’s hurt. Kai isn’t able to see his aunt or forgive himself, but she encourages him to practice and work toward both of those things.
Back home, while Kai is sleeping due to drugs, Vicky stops by with food and supplies. She’s shocked by how worried Jon is, and he confesses how afraid of losing Kai he is. She admits she was wrong in trying to come between them, and even offers to remodel her house in case Kai wants to move in once the baby comes.
Kai wakes up later, and partially because of the drugs, hallucinates that he’s ten again and mistakes Jon for a doctor from his childhood, Dr. Fox. Later, when he snaps back to himself (thanks to some ice), he explains how doctors and nurses often treated him poorly because he was mute and disabled, assuming he was simple, and how bad his health was after his “vacation” with his aunt. Dr. Fox was nice to him, and gentle, and even knew a little ASL, and gave Kai a stuffed fox so he wouldn’t be so afraid. Kai couldn’t stand having the same last name as his abuser, so he changed it not long after to Fox, in memory of the one person who treated him kindly. It’s a secret Kai has never told anyone.
David drops by to tell Kai he got the files he wanted and to remind his friend that he’s always there for him. Not long after, Kai starts to freak out, and despite Jon’s attempts to reassure him, Kai flashes back again, lashing out in fear. When he snaps back to himself, he realizes he struck Jon hard enough to potentially cause a black eye.
After more drugs, Kai awakes later to strange sounds, smells, and more, thanks to Jon (via Vicky). Jon got advice from Dr. Miller on ways to keep Kai grounded, to keep him from flashing back, and stimulating his senses as a way to solidify the present is one way to do it. He also convinces Kai to start an antidepressant that Dr. Miller recommended to control his anxiety and depression, Celexa. Lastly, Jon presents Kai with a small stuffed fox like the one he’d told Jon Dr. Fox had given him as a child, and encourages Kai to call Renee, since he hasn’t spoken to her since the morning of Thanksgiving day.
Renee is practicing making beignets with her grandmother so she can learn how to make them for Kai (since she’s not at all a chef) when Kai calls. She knows something’s off about him--not only does he sound incredibly sad, but he’s also extremely cryptic, talking about how she won’t be able to see him for awhile when she comes home and that maybe it’ll be safer for her if she stays away from him. Heartbroken after the call because she’s convinced Kai is breaking up with her, her grandmother reassures her. She’s seen the photobooth photos they took together, and she knows Kai loves her. Renee is further consoled when she tells her grandmother the truth about Kai’s health and finds nothing but acceptance, something she won’t get from her parents.
The next day, Kai sees Dr. Miller again for another emergency session, feeling extremely depressed and hopeless. He admits how he was bullied severely in high school, how the Mexitil he took for two years to help with his MLS made him dizzy and affected his balance and appetite, how he was diagnosed with an eating disorder, and how generally miserable a time it was for him, but how he still fought back as much as he could. Dr. Miller gets him to admit that his aunt wasn’t the only one who manipulated his mobility, and Kai snaps, saying no one able bodied can understand what that feels like. He ends up pushed into another flashback, and when he comes out of it, he realizes he should probably be hospitalized. He admits how afraid that makes him, but Jon insists he’s the bravest person he knows, and promises he’ll pick up Renee and explain the basics of what happened so she won’t wonder where Kai is or why he can’t talk to her. Dr. Miller helps further assuage Kai’s fears by assuring him he’ll have his wheelchair and he won’t likely be an inpatient for longer than a week.
Jon picks Renee up from the airport and they go back to her place where they can talk. Jon explains that Kai has PTSD, that what he’s going through now is a lot like cheating when you clean your room--you stuff everything into the closet, and you’re fine, supposedly, but once that closet opens, you’re buried. Jon also admits that Kai has been having flashbacks, and that’s the main reason Kai decided to go into the hospital. The last thing Kai would ever want to do is hurt her. Renee tells Jon to tell Kai that she’ll wait for him as long as it takes. Inwardly, Renee has also realized she loves Kai, but she decides to wait to tell him herself.
The season ends with Kai alone in his far-too quiet psych hospital room, everything about the situation triggering his phobias, wondering if he’s made a mistake.

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