Mark woke up with a pounding headache at almost noon and he heard the TV on in the living room. For a moment he had forgotten that Corey had spent the night. Then as he sat up in his bed alert at the sounds from outside of his bedroom, he remembered that Corey had stayed over.
He sat leaning on his headboard and looked down at his legs. He wore lounge pants which hung loosely on his legs. His feet were in socks and just laid there not moving even a toe. It didn’t matter how much he wanted to move his legs or feet and how much it was in his head, the signals just didn’t make it through his spinal cord anymore.
He did realize that he had apparently managed to pull on an incontinence brief before he had fallen asleep without cathing and due to the amounts of liquid in his system the briefs were swollen with urine. He touched his crotch with his hands to feel for moisture but everything seemed dry and had apparently stayed inside the briefs.
He pulled himself up on the bed some more. He was about to pull his pants off and wanted to get this done quickly so he could get into the bathroom. He kept glancing toward the door of his bedroom because he didn’t want Corey to walk in on him and see him on the bed in just the briefs.
His wheelchair was parked in its usual spot right next to the bed and he pushed himself up on his hands. He grabbed his right leg and pushed it over the edge of the bed, then did the same with the left leg. Both legs plopped over the side of the bed and his feet landed scrambled on the floor. Mark now pulled himself to the edge of the bed, scooting his butt as close as he could to the edge and he pulled his wheelchair closer. He then placed his left hand on the wheelchair seat and pushed his body further with his right hand in a fist on the bed. He sat for a moment to concentrate on the movement, swaying slightly with his head hanging and staring at the floor. Then with one quick push he propelled his body over into the wheelchair. He sat twisted for a moment and adjusted his seating, then pulled his feet onto the foot rest with his hands. With his hands on the push rims he then rolled into the bathroom.
He looked into the mirror for a moment and thought about the day before. Chiara was on his mind and he almost felt like everything that had happened the past few days had not even been real. In the mirror he saw his face looked tired, his eyes had dark shadows under them and his beard was getting thicker. He needed to shave. His hair was sticking out messy in all directions and his head under it was pounding.
Lethargically he pushed over toward the toilet and with some tugging and pulling he tore off the briefs on the sides and pulled them out from under his butt, balled them up and threw them into the small garbage can next to the sink cabinet. He washed his hands before he pulled out a catheter from the shelf. Preparing the self-lubricating catheter inside the package, he then tore open the wrapping and pulled out his flaccid penis. He let the catheter hang into the toilet and he inserted the other end into his urethra and moments later the urine was flowing through the tubing and into the toilet. He just sat there staring at the tubing in his left hand and leaning lazily with his right arm on the sink counter, his head resting on his hand.
It had been difficult for him to not be in control of his most personal urges anymore and every day he tried to ignore the reality of having to pee with the help of a catheter and not knowing when he would have a bowel movement. He had somewhat retained a rhythm with his bowel management and tried to get this done at least every other day.
Eventually he positioned himself onto the shower chair and made sure he sat securely before he turned on the water. He let it run for a while and tested with his hands for the warmth of it, making sure it was not too hot. The shower curtain was pulled and he let the water run over his body.
His thin legs lay scrambled in front of him and with his hands he moved them around like rag dolls. They were falling from side to side or sliding in the tub. There was not an ounce of life in them anymore and sometimes he almost felt bad for his legs as they had lost their life but were still part of his body and had to stay attached to a body that still needed to move around, being reminded constantly of the death that had occurred, the death of his legs and anything beneath his T-4 vertebra.
He sometimes imagined his legs as not wanting to be that way but there wasn’t anything he could do for them and they had to stay with him until he died even though they couldn’t do anything for him and were of no use to him anymore.
It was his way to cope sometimes, thinking of his legs as individual beings that really didn’t want to be that way but a stronger force had taken their life and he had to still make them feel okay with being attached to his otherwise still strong upper body.
He washed himself and his thoughts drifted all over the place, the first meeting with Chiara at the bar, the whole awkward situation then, his driving around looking for her, finally finding her, getting her to come home with him and now having lost her again.
Just at that moment he heard Corey right outside, “Mark, are you okay in there?”Mark moved the shower curtain, peeked around it and saw his friend stand in the door frame.
Corey added, “I heard the shower come on and figured I’d check on you.”
“I’m good, you?”
“I’m good too, I slept a couple of hours, actually not too bad on your couch.”
“Good, I’ll be out in a bit. Get yourself something to eat or whatever man.”
Mark finished up in the bathroom and soon joined Corey in the dining room. Corey sat at the table over a bowl of cereal with his eyes on his phone.
He looked up as Mark came rolling in, “Hey.”“Hey.”
Corey asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Got a headache.”
“Yeah, you had like five double shots of Crown.”
Mark shook his head, “Damn, thanks for not letting me get behind the wheel. I hope I didn’t fight you on it too much.”
Corey grinned, “No, you only talked to your car for like twenty minutes telling her she’ll be all right and you’ll be back to get her.”
Mark laughed and Corey joined in.
Corey then added, “We’ll get her after breakfast. I’ve to get back. I’ve to work this evening.”
Mark wheeled over to the kitchen and got his cereal bowl. Corey had the milk and the cereal on the table. With the bowl and a spoon in it on his lap he wheeled up to his spot at the table.
The two friends were eating for a few moments in silence until Corey looked up, “Are you all right man?”Mark finished a bite and looked at his friend, “Yeah.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
Corey nodded, “What are you going to do about her?”Mark shrugged his shoulders and pressed his lips together, then answered, “I don’t know.”
Corey didn’t say anything and Mark added, “I’ve no idea where she is and I’ve got no number, she didn’t have a cell phone and I don’t know where she lives. I know nothing about her really. I don’t even know her last name.”
Corey tried to think of anything to say about this but he really had no solution either.Mark sounded defeated, “She’s just gone now. Nothing I can do about it.”
Corey took a deep breath, “Maybe there’s still a way, who knows. I know the guys would be up for helping you find her. Maybe we can talk about it and try to figure out a way.”
Mark didn’t say anything and there was really nothing else to say about the situation with Chiara. They finished their breakfast and soon were on their way to the bar to pick up the Challenger.
Corey was surprised when all the sudden in the car Mark stated, “She told me she somehow was into the whole disability thing.”Corey looked over to Mark for a moment, “What do you mean?”
Mark swallowed, but kept his eyes out front, then explained, “She told me about her first love back when she was in High School. Apparently, they were in a car accident and he came out of it paraplegic and she told me all those things about how much she felt for him then when he was paralyzed. And she said from then on she knew she could only ever love a paraplegic guy again.”
Corey looked over at Mark again, “What? Why?”
Mark shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. She just said all this stuff and I guess…” He paused and then added, “I really don’t know. I guess she’s into it somehow.”
Corey was confused, “Like a…like a fetish or something?”
Mark shook his head, “No, I think it’s more than that. She basically indirectly told me that she loved me and that she had been waiting for a guy like me her whole life, a guy who’s in a chair.”
“What happened to the High School boyfriend?”
“He broke up with her when he was off in college. She said apparently there were other girls who wanted to be with a guy in a wheelchair.”
Corey still didn’t understand, “Other girls…I don’t get it.”
“Like she made it sound like there are women who are somehow into guys in wheelchairs or something and she’s one of them. Like guys who are disabled or whatever. I don’t know. She talked about how she was into the fact that I couldn’t walk and also how much more she felt for her boyfriend back then after he was paralyzed.”
“That’s strange though…I mean…like does she get off on it or something?”
Mark shrugged his shoulders and said softly, “I don’t get it either but when she said all that stuff it made me feel good in a way. And while she was with me, she seemed so focused on me and everything and she said other stuff about my being in the chair and all. It felt good you know. It’s like she knew everything about it and it didn’t bother her at all. It’s like I didn’t have to pretend I’m all that. Like I could just be myself.”
“Well, it sounds like it was a good thing for you. Did you actually do anything with her?”
Mark shook his head, “No, we kissed and stuff but I panicked before it could go further.”
“Why did you panic?”
Mark looked over at his friend somewhat frustrated at his ignorance and explained tense, “Dude, because I can’t get it up anymore. I can’t feel things down there.”Corey really didn’t know what to say and sighed, “I’m sorry. I know…but I guess I just don’t know all the way. Did you tell her?”
“Indirectly, but she seemed to know and she wouldn’t have even needed it that way. But before we took it any further, I panicked and so the moment was gone. It was still good though, we were close and we talked and it felt really good. I know it would have been okay for her in other ways, like not the common way. I just felt like we were really close and she made me feel like we were going to be together, like she would stay with me. We fell asleep and then I woke up and she was gone.”
At reciting the whole situation with Chiara, Mark felt his hands tremble and he also felt the pain about it all come up again.
Corey sighed, “I saw the note she left you. It seems like she really cares for you, man. But you saw what she wrote, she’s just scared for you and that something bad could happen.”Mark lowered his eyes.
Corey felt he had to say something else, “I really want to believe she loves you and that’s why she left.”
Mark laughed slightly sarcastic, “Yeah, that really helps.”
Corey didn’t know what else to say to make his friend feel better and he was glad when they got to the bar and the Challenger was still parked in the same spot.
Corey waited around for Mark to be in his car.He stood by the driver’s side, “What are you going to do now man?”
Mark shrugged his shoulders, “Probably go home again.”
Corey was still worried about Mark and leaned down some, looking at him in the car, “Hey, you promise me that if anything is up you let us know. We need to hook up with the guys and talk or drink or something. We’re here for you, you know that right?”
Mark nodded, “I know.”
“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”
Corey sounded seriously concerned and Mark wanted to ease his friend’s mind, “I won’t do anything stupid without asking you guys first.”
The friends smiled at each other and Mark added, “I mean it. I won’t do anything stupid. Don’t worry about me, okay.”
Corey took a deep breath and nodded, “Okay.”
They looked at each other for a moment and Corey added, “We’ll figure it all out together. We got you, man.”
The friends fist bumped and Mark thanked Corey once again and then Corey shut the door and Mark started his car.
It was Monday and Mark made his way through town and he really had no place to go and no place to be. He kept thinking about Chiara and wondered where she was and he felt like he was caught in some kind of dream or more of a nightmare.
He knew Corey was worried and he had told him that he wouldn’t do anything stupid but in reality, he felt down and like he was somehow drifting. Chiara’s appearance and disappearance had had so much impact on him and now that she was gone it had a left a gaping hole in his heart. It was a dull constant pain he felt and he tried his best to block it out but it lingered and it ate on him.
He drove aimlessly through town and found himself driving all the streets where he had looked for Chiara the weeks before. It was day time and there were no girls. On this Monday afternoon the businesses were open and in the alleys the gates and loading docks were open and being used, workers taking smoke breaks in the alley and looking at Mark curiously as he drove through with his Challenger.
Throughout the day his friends were texting him, wanting to make sure he was good and still trying to be supportive but even though Mark kept confirming that he was okay, he was all but okay. He just knew how to work his texts to make it sound like he was good, like he would get over it, like it wasn’t such a big deal after all, like he was in control.
He wasn’t feeling any of those things. He felt empty and lost and after checking on Ranger and making sure he had food in the evening, Mark got into his car again and drove out to the streets again. His Berretta was in the glove box and the only thing that circled around in his mind was Chiara. He drove through the streets, he looked into the girls faces and he asked a few if they had seen Chiara and at almost one in the morning without any trace of Chiara he finally made his way home. He eventually lay in his bed and tried to get some sleep.
The following days went by for Mark like he was in a daze and he felt like he was still in some kind of nightmare. Even when Patrick and Mitch came by on Tuesday evening after work he felt far away with his thoughts and tried his best to converse with his friends and make them believe that he was okay. Corey had to work in the evenings but kept checking on Mark throughout the day. His friends tried very much to be supportive but Mark didn’t say much to them about the stint with Chiara and only Corey knew the details of the encounter.
On Wednesday Mark had his monthly counseling appointment at the VA and even though he didn’t feel like going he showed up and he succeeded in fooling his counselor Phil making it seem like he was doing good. He didn’t tell Phil anything about Chiara.Mark was sitting in his TiLite ready to head on out and looked at Phil, “Yeah, everything is all right.”
Phil had an inkling though that something was going on with Mark and right before the session was over, he looked at him intensely and asked, “Mark, is everything all right?”
Phil had an inkling though that something was going on with Mark and right before the session was over, he looked at him intensely and asked, “Mark, is everything all right?”
Phil knew it wouldn’t work if he would keep pressing with questions about Mark’s well-being.
Instead he said, “You know you can call me anytime?”
Mark lowered his eyes and then looked up at Phil again, “Yes, I know.”
Phil emphasized again, “I mean it, anytime Mark!”
Mark nodded and pressed his lips together, then put his hands to his push rims, “Thanks.”
Phil got up as Mark started to push his rims and headed for the door.
At the door to his office Phil debated if he should say anything else but he really didn’t know. He was worried about Mark though and when he said Good Bye he looked after Mark rolling down the hallway and he hoped very much that Mark would actually call him if he needed help.
In the evenings Mark got into his Challenger and drove the streets where he had looked for Chiara before but he didn’t find any trace of her. The girls he asked either didn’t know her or didn’t say anything and every night he came home with less hope and more desperation.
On Friday he parked at the police station in Burien and got his wheelchair assembled next to his car, transferred into it and made his way into the station.
A female officer sat behind a desk and looked up as he wheeled in.She watched him approach and once Mark had reached her counter she smiled, “Good Morning, how can I help you?”
“Good Morning, I want to report a person missing.”
The officer looked at him curiously and asked, “Who is the missing person?”
The officer straightened her position, “Your girlfriend?”
Mark felt tense and like the officer didn’t take him all the way serious.
She now stood up and handed him a clip board, “Could you fill this out and let me know when you are done?”
Mark took the clip board with the papers and a pen attached to it, set it on his lap and wheeled over to the side.
The papers he had to fill out were for his personal information.
Once he was done, he wheeled back over to the officer and she took the clip board and glanced at it, “Okay Mark, give me a few moments and we’ll have an officer take you back and discuss further what to do.”Mark nodded and pushed his rims to get back over to the side again.
He waited for a few minutes, saw the female officer get up and disappear in the back and soon thereafter a male officer came out, “Mark Ross?”Mark looked up, “Yeah.”
The officer came over to him, “Hi Mark, I’m Officer Collins, I’ll assist you with filing a missing person report.”
Mark nodded and Officer Collins asked, “Are you able to follow me to my office in the back?”
"If there are no stairs or anything.”
“No, it’s just straight down the hallway.”
Mark followed Officer Collins and soon they reached an office with the door open. Another officer was inside the office sitting behind a desk. He looked up and greeted Mark with a smile.Officer Collins closed the door and gestured Mark to his desk, “So right here please.”
He pushed a chair in front of his desk to the side so Mark could wheel up.
He then took a seat behind his desk.
Mark swallowed and looked around the immediate area of Officer Collins’ desk. He was nervous and he felt his hands get sweaty.
Officer Collins had the papers Mark had filled out in front of him, “So, first off, nice to meet you Mark.”
Mark nodded but didn’t say anything. He felt tense at the situation.
Officer Collins stated, “I see you’re a veteran. Thank you very much for your service.”
Mark nodded again but didn’t have much to say about this statement, he never really did know what to reply when people said that. He felt saying “You’re welcome” was not appropriate and really he didn’t want to think about his service too much nowadays.
Officer Collins looked over the papers again and then up at Mark, “So tell me about the person you want to report missing.”Mark thought for a moment and then started, “It’s my girlfriend.”
He really had no idea how to even start about the whole situation.
Officer Collins smiled weakly, “So I do need some more information so we can file the report. It is right here and I would have to ask you some questions and fill this out accordingly.”
Mark nodded, “Okay, I understand.”
Officer Collins then turned to the form in front of him on his desk, “So, let me start with the basic information. Name and address of the person.”
Mark lowered his eyes and took a deep breath, then looked up at the officer, “Her name is Chiara Madison.”
“So last name is Madison.”
Mark shook his head now, “No, I don’t…I don’t know her last name.”Officer Collins looked up at Mark, “You said the person is your girlfriend, right?”
Mark nodded, “Yes.”
He felt how his body tensed up and his hands were shaking. At the realization what he did know and didn’t know about Chiara he all the sudden felt the desperation of his intention come up.
Officer Collins asked, “You don’t know the last name?”Mark shook his head, “No.”
“I don’t understand Mark. If this is your girlfriend…you don’t know her last name.”
Mark took deep breath, “No, I don’t know it.”
He realized the second officer in the room looked up and over at him and for a moment he met his eyes.
Officer Collins tried again, “How about the address?”
“I don’t know her address either. You can use mine.”
“Does she normally live with you?”
Officer Collins now sat up some and looked at Mark questioning, “Mark, ahem…I don’t understand. What can you tell us about Chiara?”
Mark now blurted out, “Forget about it. I shouldn’t have come.”
He knew that this wouldn’t go over well with the Officers and debated if he should tell Officer Collins the real situation.
Mark put his hands to his push rims, “You can just throw the papers away. Don’t worry about it.”
Officer Collins now sounded stern, “Mark, what is the situation? You came here wanting to file a missing person report for your girlfriend and now you want to forget about it?”
Mark lowered his eyes and took some quick breaths.
His voice trembled when he said, “Okay, she’s not really my girlfriend but I love her and I worry about her. I think she’s in danger and I need to find her.”
He swallowed at the explanation and was dreading the questions he would now get from the police.
Officer Collins stared at Mark and the other Officer in the room now listened attentively from his desk.
Officer Collins asked, “Mark, you need to explain this situation to me so I can help you. I’m not sure what’s going on and what you’re saying but if you need our help, we need to know what the real situation is.”
Mark hung his head and mumbled, “I don’t want her to get in trouble.”
Officer Collins sounded slightly annoyed, “Mark, would you please tell me what is going on? I can’t do anything for you if you don’t tell me.”
Mark now took another deep breath and looked up from under his bangs and started to tell Officer Collins the whole story about the night at the bar for his birthday until the morning he found the note on the counter in his kitchen. He only left out the confessions Chiara had given him about her interest in disability and about Aaron. He sat there, took some trembling breaths and swallowed when he felt he couldn’t talk anymore. The second Officer had now also turned his full attention to his colleague and Mark.
Mark finished with, “I’m worried about her and I just want to find her and keep her safe. I don’t know what to do and where to find her. I don’t want her to get punished for what she did, she doesn’t want to do it. He forces her to and I just…I just don’t know who to turn to so I came here. I think she’s in danger. I love her very much and I want to find her again.”
Officer Collins had listened quietly and knew that his colleague at the other desk had made notes on Mark’s statements.He was now somewhat stunned at Mark’s revelation and he could hear the fear and the desperation in Mark’s voice.
“Okay.” Officer Collins took a deep breath, “That’s a lot to process but you did the right thing to come here. We’re here to help you Mark. We’ll need to put this down on paper so we can start the process of finding Chiara. I really need you to give me as much information as you possibly have on her.”
Mark sat there hunched over and his head hung and he stared at his hands on his lap, nodding.Officer Collins explained, “So I need you to tell me a lot of this stuff again.”
Mark nodded without looking up and Officer Collins asked, “Do you think you are capable or do you want to come back tomorrow or some other time?”
“I want to do it now.” Mark felt exhausted and hopeless really but he wanted to get this done.
After two hours he was finally done and Officer Collins and Officer Mendoza who had been in the same room had taken down all the information from Mark and now informed him on their further action. They would run reports on possibly finding out where Trey resided and how to track him or any of his cohorts. They would also go out to the streets and ask questions. Officer Collins couldn’t promise Mark anything but did explain that they would keep him informed on any leads or anything they could find out. And they asked Mark to give them any additional information should he find out anything else.
Officer Collins stood in his office looking at a tired Mark, “We’ll try everything we can to help find her, okay. If there is anything you need to talk about or if you find out anything else, please let us know. I'll stay in touch with you and give you regular updates. If you should hear anything from Chiara, I want you to contact us right away.”
Mark left the police station with copies of the paperwork he had filled out and the statements he had given. He also had the information of the Officers and other important numbers and contact information to the police in case he needed it.
He sat in his car and drove out of the parking lot of the police station in Burien.
He felt completely drained at having had to tell the story of how he met Chiara and how everything had been and it made him realize how worried he was about her and how much he loved her and wanted her back in his life. He also fought with his conscience about if it had been the right thing to do. Worries about having put Chiara in a tough spot with what she had been doing and maybe getting her in trouble with the law was racing through his mind. But the longing to see her again and be able to talk to her, hold her, and hopefully be with her overpowered his fear that she could actually get charged for prostitution.
That Friday night his friends did not let him get off the hook and they showed up at his door around seven with Pizza and beer.
Mark was holding open the door as Mitch, Corey, and Patrick entered his apartment, laughing and greeting Mark. Mark had texted with them throughout the day and they had mentioned that they were going to come over because it was weekend. They didn’t know Mark had been to the police though.
Mitch and Patrick set the Pizza on the counter, Corey had a large case of Blue Moon beer and set it next to the Pizza boxes. The apartment quickly smelled like Pizza and Mark closed the door.The friends greeted him with bro hugs and fist bumps.
Corey looked at Mark, “How are you man?”
“I’m all right.”
Mitch was by the counter, “Mark, do you have plates or napkins for this Pizza?”
“You know where my stuff is, just get it from the cabinet and bring the paper towel roll over to the table.”
Mitch did know where plates were and also the bottle opener for the beer. The friends were soon gathered around the table with slices of Pizza in front of them and a beer bottle each.
Everyone knew about Chiara having left Mark and throughout the week they had been texting him, making sure he was all right but still worried about him.
Mitch started the difficult conversation, “Have you heard from her?”Mark shook his head but didn’t say anything.
Mitch added, “I’m sorry man.”
Mark then looked up and stated, “I went to the police today.”
The three friends stopped in their eating and stared at Mark.
He looked at all of them and Corey asked, “What do you mean? Like what did you do at the police?”
Mark then explained the whole situation and that he had filed a missing person report on Chiara. His friends were surprised that he had taken that step.
Corey asked, “So what are they going to do?”
Mark sighed, “They’ll look around, see if they can figure anything out on where she is or where the guy is with her. I’ve been driving around at night but I haven’t found a trace of her and the girls on the street don’t talk. I think they’re scared. It’s like she disappeared from the face of the earth.”
Patrick nodded, “I can see that the girls out there won’t talk. They’ve probably been ordered not to say a word or they would put themselves in danger with whoever makes them be out there. They possibly have been threatened by Chiara’s pimp.”
Mark nodded.Patrick sighed, “So, you still want to find her?”
Mark nodded again, “Yes, I need to get her away from him.”
Mitch then remarked, “But there’s nothing you can do really but wait or keep driving around looking for her.”
Mark nodded, “Yeah, that’s about it. I will keep driving around to look for her. I can’t just sit here and wait. I just can’t. I feel like I need to do something.”
Patrick asked, “Just try to think of what all you know about her? Maybe there’s something in there that can help or give you a clue.”
Mark shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know much about her at all but what I do know is that she should be with me.”
The friends became quiet for a few moments, eating Pizza and drinking their beer.
Even though his friends tried to distract him and cheer him up, there was not much they could do for Mark. He seemed preoccupied with his thoughts and he wasn’t very communicative. He drank and became even more quiet and even when they pulled out the game controllers to play a couple of rounds of a Video game he didn’t participate and just sat there in his wheelchair watching holding the beer bottle in his hand.
Since Chiara had left, the week had seemed like a blur to him. He felt like he wasn’t really present in his daily life. His thoughts were with her and even when he tried to not think about her, he did. He knew now that he would be occupied with finding Chiara for however long it would take. Every night he had gotten into his car and drove around the streets where girls may be, trying to find her or get any information from any of the girls. When he finally lay in his bed he barely slept and when he did, he dreamt and he woke up in cold sweat, his whole body shaking. Ranger seemed to be close by him more than usual and followed Mark around everywhere.
Mark could feel his state of mind deteriorating and he could feel how he was seemingly falling into a hole. Only with lots of will power he tried to keep himself occupied and stay positive but it was almost impossible. During the week he forced himself to go to the gym again but even there he felt like he had no energy really. His friends kept checking in with him, texting, calling, visiting and all of them could see how he was preoccupied and not really interested in anything.
Thanksgiving came and went. He spent it at Patrick’s place with all his friends. He drank a lot that night and couldn’t drive anymore, so he took an Uber home, picking his car up the next day.
The police didn’t call him either with anything and he felt that they really didn’t have time to worry about Chiara. They had too many more pressing issues to tend to with different crimes every day.
And Mark drifted through his every day life and all he could think of was Chiara and he hoped she was all right.