At the hospital, Chiara and Mark had been able to wash and take showers with the help of a CNA when things had not been easy. They both had had regular assistance and had managed okay.
It was the first morning by themselves at the new apartment and Chiara woke up before Mark. He was still sleeping next to her. Chiara sat up quietly and looked around the bedroom. The blanket had slipped off Mark somewhat and she caught a glimpse of his lower body. He was wearing lose shorts and his skinny left leg was sticking out from under blanket. His leg was completely still and his foot lay limp with his toes pointing forward. She moved her eyes up to his face and for a few moments she watched him sleep. She was so glad to finally be home with Mark and her heart beat fast as she watched him sleep next to her.
She really wanted to take a shower but it was going to be slightly complicated to get into the shower and try not get the cast on her leg wet. She grabbed her crutches and then slid her legs over the side of the bed. She sat there for a moment looking down at her painted toes. She was glad she had only broken her right leg and ankle, not both legs. Quietly and carefully she made it into the bathroom and used the toilet, with her casted leg sticking straight out. On the shelf she now spotted the shower soaps she had bought at the mall with Mark back in September. It seemed like it was years ago when they had one day of carefree happiness, a feeling she didn’t know how to deal with at the time and quickly had to put a stop to the next day with leaving Mark again. She never wanted to be without him again.
As she stood up, she grabbed one of the bottles and set it onto the shelf in the shower tub. She saw Mark had shampoo, shower gel, shaving items, and even a mirror in the shower. He had everything he needed in there. She would have to try to shower by sitting on the shower chair and keep her right leg from getting wet. They had told her in the hospital she would get the cast off in about two weeks or so. She couldn’t wait.
At the hospital Mark had already mentioned to Chiara that he could possibly hire a caregiver once they were at home, but Chiara had been very reluctant to have someone help her once she was out of the hospital. She had insisted she could take care of herself. And now she stood in the bathroom pondering what the best way was for her to take a shower.
She scanned the position of the shower chair and it probably would work if she would keep her leg out of the tub or behind the shower curtain. Her red hair was hanging lose all the way down to her waist but the day before she had washed her hair at the hospital one last time with the help of her CNA Tara.
Now she remembered that the hair clip she had used at the hospital was in the bag with her few belongings. The bags were in the living room on the couch.
On her crutches she made her way out of the bathroom and to the living room where she found the bag with her things in it. She grabbed it and hooked it to the crutch handle making her way back to the bedroom somewhat off balance with the bag hanging on the crutch handle.
Mark was awake and was holding himself propped up on his elbows looking at her sleepily when she limped into the bedroom.
“Chiara, hey.”“Good morning.”
Glancing at the bag dangling from her crutch he asked, “What are you doing?”
Chiara sighed, “I needed to get the hair clip to put up my hair before I take a shower. It’s somewhere in the bag.”
She sounded somewhat frustrated and Mark demanded softly, “Come over here.”
Wearily Chiara made her way over to the bed and let herself down on the edge of it with an exhausted sigh. Mark pulled himself up further and was now sitting up with his back curved and holding himself up with his hands.
“How are you going to do all of that? Like the shower and all. Maybe I can help you.”
Chiara had her eyes down, “I’ll figure it out. You don’t have to help me.”
Chiara had her eyes down, “I’ll figure it out. You don’t have to help me.”
Mark could hear the tension in her voice.
“I probably should help you. I know it’s difficult with the cast and all.”Chiara repeated tensely, “I’ll figure it out Mark. Don’t worry about it.”
Mark was somewhat surprised about her tone of voice.
He attempted to explain, “If I call the VA, I’m sure I can get a caregiver to come here. I’ll make it like it is for me but they can help you too. I’m sure I could get someone for a little while, at least for the mornings or something. I had a pretty cool guy before when I was sick. He was a good dude; his name is Olli and he’s a CNA. Maybe I can request him to come here.”
Chiara’s eyes shot up at Mark and she repeated tensely, “Mark, I told you I’ll figure it out.”Mark touched her arm softly, “Chiara, hey, what’s up?”
She looked away.
Mark tried to explain, “I mean I get it, if you want to figure it out on your own but I’m also worried about you with your leg and all. Even though you’re probably right, I can’t help too good but I don’t want you to hurt yourself or fall or anything. I can try to help you as good as possible. The bathroom is all right with the shower chair and all that but I know it’s not easy when you can’t use your legs right. Just don’t want to see you fall and get hurt. That’s why maybe I could get a caregiver to help.”
Chiara was frustrated but also concerned about managing on her own now.She felt her hands tremble and clarified tensely, “I just don’t want some random guy to touch me.”
At the hospital she had specifically asked for female CNA’s every time.
Mark swallowed and said, “We can try to get a female caregiver if that’s what you want. Olli was good though when he was with me and I didn’t feel weird or anything but if it bothers you, I can try to get a female. I didn’t think you would have a such big problem with a male CNA helping you though.”
Chiara’s eyes shot at Mark and he realized what he had just said had been wrong.He saw now that Chiara was trembling and her eyes were shiny.
Mark touched her arm gently, “Chiara, I’m really sorry. I can try to get a girl to be your caregiver if that’s what you want. I don’t know why I said what I said. I’m an idiot.”He put his hand on her shoulder and felt the trembling of her body, “I’m really sorry.”
She then looked him straight in the eyes and said with a trembling voice, “You know Mark…I’ve been with hundreds of guys who took advantage of me and only used me for their selfish needs. The whole deal about our body being our temple means nothing to me. My temple has been invaded and taken over by hundreds of men who didn’t care about me or my body. I’ve been grabbed, groped, raped, fucked, and beaten by men and I’ve also been raped over and over with just their words. Maybe this explains my apprehension for a male caregiver or really any other men coming close to me.”
A tear dripped from her eye.
Mark shifted and tried to move closer to her. He hung his head, bit his lips, and thought about her words for a moment, realizing that his comment had scratched on Chiara’s psychological wounds. He put his hands by his side again feeling unsteady and holding himself up.
Chiara now moved away from him some and he said, “Chiara, please. I’m sorry, I didn’t think. I know you had only female CNA’s at the hospital and I was ignorant to not think about this better. You’ll have a female caregiver if that’s what you want. I’ll make sure. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Chiara now explained softly, “After Aaron I haven’t trusted any man ever again. He was the only guy in my life I fully trusted and then never again did I trust any man, not Trey, not any of the guys who paid for sex. Mark, you’re the first man I fully trust again and whom I feel I can be vulnerable without getting taken advantage of. Except for you I don’t want any other men come close to me or touch me ever again.”
Mark nodded more to himself because Chiara didn’t turn around and kept her eyes away from him.
“I understand and you can trust me completely. I would never do anything to hurt you and I am really sorry about my words. I would say you can just slap me for my stupidity. Please forgive me.”
She now moved her eyes to him and Mark saw tears slowly run over her cheeks.
“Mark, I’ve been so scared so many times, so ashamed, and have been made to feel like I was merely an object. And it was always men who did these things to me. I know you’re not like that and I’m sure the caregiver you had is a great person but I know it messed me up to live this kind of life for so long. I feel safe with you and I love you. I haven’t felt as safe as I feel with you in a long time. I forgive you and I know you didn’t mean it but I hope you understand.”
Mark shuffled toward her and took Chiara’s hand in his, losing his balance momentarily.
He looked at her with his blue eyes, “Chiara, I do understand. Again, I’m sorry. You’re safe with me and I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Another tear dripped from her eye and he reached his hand over to her face and wiped the tear away, “I love you and no one will hurt you ever again. And if they do, I will fuck them up. I told you that before, you’re with me now and no other dude will ever touch you again.”
He kept his eyes on her longing for an approving look from her. He would never suggest anything like he had again. And if Chiara wanted a female caregiver, then that’s what he would get her.
He stroked his hand over her cheek and repeated softly, “I love you Chiara. I won’t let anything happen to you.”Chiara now moved closer to him, “I love you Mark.”
Her red hair hung loosely over her shoulders down to her waist and her face was smooth and pale just with a few freckles on her nose and cheeks. Her lips were of a soft pink and her green eyes were sad as she scanned Mark’s face.
He smiled at her, “Can I tell you something?”
Chiara now looked at him curious and nodded.
Mark started, “The first time I actually was able to get up after my injury and get in the shower was an incredible feeling. And guess what, I had all female caregivers the whole time while I was at Walter Reed in DC and the VA here in Seattle. I was so embarrassed about my broken body and how helpless I was, but I didn’t have a choice in that and ultimately, I was really just glad someone was there helping me with everything, washing myself, wash my hair, help me on the toilet, and everything else. It really sucked to be depending on having people help me with all those things.”
Chiara had kept her eyes on him, “It must have been difficult.”
He nodded and laughed softly, “It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. And I felt pretty shitty with those women doing all those things for me. Some of them were young and I probably traumatized them forever in never ever wanting to be with a paraplegic dude.”
A weak smile came over Chiara’s face and he smiled at her.She asked softly, “How long were you actually in the hospital?”
Mark thought for a few moments and now moved her hair over her shoulder, “About ten months. Two of those in ICU and just lying there, then still lying flat on my back for another two months and finally I was allowed to sit up somewhat. It was all a long process. And the whole time, female CNA’s helped me with stuff. It was so embarrassing for me to let these women see me the way I was.”
Chiara had her eyes on Mark’s face. He was still sitting there on the bed, holding himself in a sitting position and was swaying slightly.She now moved closer to him and they looked at each other.
Mark smiled at her and asked softly, “So do you want me to call the VA and see if we can get someone to come here and help you?”
Chiara shook her head, “No, I’ll try to manage. I think I’ll be all right and it should work with the shower and the way your bathroom is set up.”Mark remarked softly, “Our bathroom.”
She met his flickering blue eyes scanning her face and then saw how his arms were slightly shaking from holding himself up the whole time.
She nodded and lowered her eyes and Mark repeated softly, “It’s our bathroom and we both live here now.”He then took a deep breath and actually let himself fall back onto the bed.
Chiara was alarmed momentarily, “Mark!”
He smiled, “I’m okay, just my arms were getting weak holding myself up.”
Chiara now moved up onto the bed and leaned down over him. Mark wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her to him and they looked at each other for a moment.
Mark then said softly, “I love you and I’ll help you as best as I can if you need help. But I also know you’re a strong woman.”Chiara took a breath, “I don’t feel like a strong woman.”
Mark ran his fingers down the side of her face, “You are a strong woman.”
“And you’re a strong man.”
Mark laughed, “I don’t know, I definitely don’t feel like it lately.”
Chiara nodded and smiled, “And together we are super strong.”
They laughed together and fell into a kiss holding each other close.
Before Chiara got into the shower Mark made it into the bathroom and emptied his bladder. Chiara was looking through the bag from Mark’s previous neighbors. She had all the items dumped on the bed and she found a longer skirt and a blouse she was going to wear.
Mark came wheeling out of the bathroom and over to the bed looking at all the things on the bed, “This is the stuff I got for you from Lori and her girls?”“Yes, it’ll be okay for a little bit. There are a couple of outfits I can wear. Of course, when they donated these things, I had two legs still. Right now, I’m limited to shorts and long skirts.”
“You still have two legs. And we can go shopping for clothes sometime.”
Chiara wasn’t really ready to go out into the world yet. She had been secluded for so long that the thoughts of actually having to go to a mall or any kind of store made her nervous.
She didn’t really know what had become of her regular clothes she had had in Trey’s and her apartment. But she also didn’t want to go back there and find out. She never wanted to see anything that reminded her of Trey.
Chiara sighed, “It’ll do for now.”Mark looked over into the closet and mentioned, “Well, you still have some shoes in there.”
Chiara glanced over to the closet and saw the shoes she had picked out back in September, “Yeah, I’ll be all right.”
She had bought a pair of flats and ankle boots at the Payless Shoes and she had bought a pair of Nikes at the Footlocker.From the hospital she had brought Flip Flops but had only been able to wear one of them for the longest time.
Mark pushed his rims and wheeled over into the closet and looked around in it. He found what he was looking for in the corner, a pair of black thigh high boots, the ones Chiara had had on her feet when he had picked her up that night long ago.
He picked one up and held it in his hands and was startled when Chiara appeared behind him, “You can throw those away.”Mark glanced up at her and nodded, “I figured that’s what you would want.”
Mark saw the clothes she had worn that night not far from the boots on a shelf and Chiara saw them at the same time, “Or yet, burn it all.”
He nodded again, “Or that.”
Chiara then said, “Well, I’ll try to get into the shower now.”
Mark dropped the boot to the floor again and spun his wheelchair around again following Chiara out of the closet.
He asked once more, “So you think you’re going to be all right?”“Yes, I think so. I’ll figure it out.”
He watched her disappear in the bathroom and close the door behind herself.He listened and made sure she didn’t lock it so in case she needed him, he could get in. Soon he heard the water on and he hoped Chiara would be okay.
He wheeled out to the living room and looked around, thinking about how this apartment was very similar to his old one. He sat there for a moment and his thoughts travelled to the night when he had come home from visiting Chiara at the hospital and how Trey and his three helpers had come into the apartment.
His head was hurting slightly like it did almost every day and he looked around. He missed Ranger meowing and sneaking around his legs and thought of him for a moment. It hurt to think about the cat and how it had been killed. Mark swallowed the knot in his throat and bit his lips, looking around the apartment. His heart felt heavy thinking about that night.
All this time in the hospital he had been trying his best to push the trauma of the attack aside and since he had been mostly occupied in the hospital or had people around him all the time, he had not really had time to think about it too much. It had crossed his mind many times but he did everything to not think about it all that much. They had tried to get him to talk about it and a counselor had come to him several times checking on him but Mark had not talked about any of it.
The curtains were drawn still and the apartment was only faintly lit up from a thin strip of light coming in from in between the curtain panels. Mark heard the refrigerator hum softly and looked over into the kitchen where the numbers on the microwave and the stove were lit up in green.He heard the shower run in the master bathroom and thought about Chiara in there.
He had his hands folded in his lap and sat hunched over staring at the floor and then looking around in the apartment again, remembering how they had attacked him. He knew he could have died that night and at that time he had believed that was what was going to happen.
He had felt strength and life leave his body that night. He remembered how he had thought about Chiara while he had had been lying in the tub in the bathroom falling in and out of consciousness and he didn’t think he would ever see her again.
A little bit he had been content with the thoughts of dying and he had touched Ranger’s dead body next to him and had actually thought how he would see him again if he would die. And he had thought about how he would have seen his mom again and how he would have seen his fellow soldiers who had died that night in Afghanistan. And he had been ready to die really. And the thoughts of dying had been good, because the pain he had felt had been unbearable and he had wanted to be released from it.
Mark sat there in the dim living room and his head hung as he thought about the night of the attack. His hands trembled in his lap and he was lost in thoughts.He didn’t know how long he was sitting there and all the sudden Chiara pulled him out of his thoughts when she appeared in the living room. His body was shaking slightly and all his nerves were vibrating through him where he could feel it, a sign of his brain trying to sort out all the signals.
He had not heard her coming and her voice startled him, “Mark?”
He cleared his throat, swallowing the knot again, and sat up some, looking around to Chiara.She saw the shiny trails on his face but he quickly wiped over his face.
She came closer, “Mark, are you all right?”
He nodded and put his hands to his push rims and spun his wheelchair around, “You managed okay in there?”
Chiara knew he was trying to divert her attention from him and she nodded with her eyes on him, “Yes, I managed.”
He nodded again nervously, “Good, I’ll go in there then.”
He already pushed his rims toward the hallway.
“Mark, do you need me in there with you?”She could only see him shake his head, “I think I got it.”
Chiara didn’t reply and she looked around the apartment. She made her way to the curtains and pulled them open, letting sunlight in, brightening the apartment. She knew Mark had been lost in thoughts and she had not missed the moist trails on his face but she had decided to not ask him anything.
In the kitchen she looked through the refrigerator again and into the cabinets, trying to see what kind of breakfast foods were available. She wasn’t all the way hungry but she had to eat something so she could take her medications. She also knew Mark had to take all his medications.
She looked into the freezer drawer of the refrigerator and found various items including waffles and pancakes.She got busy on the Keurig coffee machine and started brewing a mug of coffee for herself. When it was done, she set the mug on the breakfast bar and limped around to the bar stool and sat on it, drinking from her coffee.
She had no phone or nothing and so she just sat there and looked around herself. She again thought about how Mark had been sitting there and she knew he had had a moment before she had come in. There were things he didn’t talk about with her really and some of those things were his feelings pertaining to the attack that night. She knew he had it on his mind and she also knew that at the hospital they had offered counseling to both of them but neither of them had taken the opportunity.
Mark managed in the bathroom by himself and he eventually came wheeling out to the living room again. Chiara still sat there with her coffee mug and had just been looking through some advertisements that had been with all of Mark’s mail on the counter.
She spun herself around on the bar stood and looked over at him.He smiled at her and she felt her heart beat quick.
“Did you eat anything yet?”Chiara shook her head, “No, I wanted to wait for you.”
He nodded, “Okay, let’s see what it’ll be.”
He wheeled into the kitchen and started looking through all the compartments like Chiara had done.
She suggested, “I saw waffles in the freezer. Maybe that.”Mark looked through the freezer and he pulled out two packs of frozen spinach and held it up, “What the hell is this?”
Chiara looked over the breakfast bar and smiled, “Looks like spinach.”
Mark laughed, “Yeah, like who had that idea? Like I eat spinach every day had no Mark Ross said ever.”
Chiara laughed, “Well, I do know it makes like super big muscles and causes an unbelievable bout of strength has said every Popeye ever.”
They both laughed and Mark dropped the two packages of spinach into the freezer drawer again but then pulled out the frozen waffles, “So are these going to be it then?”
Chiara nodded, “I’m okay with that.”
Soon they both sat at the dining table eating breakfast and having coffee.
Chiara then asked carefully, “Were you okay a while ago?”
Mark bit into his waffle and looked up at her chewing.She kept her eyes on him and added, “Like when I came in here after the shower?”
Mark swallowed his bite and nodded, “I’m good.”
Chiara smiled weakly, “Would you tell me if you weren’t?”
Mark nodded again, “I would.”
Now Chiara put her hand on his hand, “I love you Mark.”
“And I love you.”
They finished eating and Mark then announced, “I think I want to get with my other girl today.”Chiara tilted her hand and drew her brows into a curious expression.
Mark smiled, “My car.”
Chiara laughed, “You want to drive today?”
“Just a little. You want to?”
Chiara nodded, “I’d love to.”
After breakfast Mark called the veterinary office of Dr. Atkins and was told by the office assistant that he could come by that afternoon and meet with Dr. Atkins and pick up Ranger’s remains. Mark was somewhat nervous about this but was also glad he could get this done.