From the day Mark had his wheelchair back, there was not one moment anymore when he stayed in his bed. He got into his wheelchair every chance he had and no one and nothing could stop him.His Neurologist was somewhat concerned with all the strenuous activity but even he couldn’t stop him and just told him to take it easy and if he didn’t feel good not to overdo it.
Mark didn’t venture out too much. He usually wheeled out into the hallway and up and down it some but that was about as far as he went. The urine bag was attached to his wheelchair and the IV pole had to be pushed with him.
He handled maneuvering his wheelchair well but he quickly complained about the Foley catheter and kept asking to have it taken out so he could cath himself again. The doctor was reviewing this and it was decided to keep the Foley in for now because Mark couldn’t always remember timelines and would possibly forget to cath. He finally was switched to oral medications though and didn’t have any IV’s attached to him anymore, allowing him more freedom in his wheelchair.
Chiara was usually next to him in her hospital wheelchair. Since Mark wanted to get into his wheelchair all the time, she didn’t really use crutches when she visited him because she wasn’t able to walk too far and too long on only the crutches.
Mark was still somewhat quiet and if Chiara didn’t say anything or didn’t ask him any questions he didn’t really say much. He remembered her every day and he always told her that he loved her but sometimes he seemed distant and Chiara had to keep reminding herself that he didn’t do this on purpose but that he couldn’t help it. Sometimes Chiara just looked at him and she was sad to see him like this. Trey had inflicted such severe trauma on Mark that he would always have to deal with the consequences for the rest of his life. He had still been adjusting to his life being paraplegic and in addition to that he now was fighting and trying his hardest to keep it together in dealing with the brain injury.
It was the last week in February and Mark’s sister Miriam was boarding a plane in Connecticut to fly out to Seattle and finally come and see him.
Chiara and Mark were parked with their wheelchairs in the commons area on the ninth floor. They sat there looking out the window and down to the busy streets. Chiara had stayed in contact with Miriam the whole time and she knew that Miriam was on her way.
Mark was holding her hand and he was quietly staring down at the traffic when Chiara started, “Mark, I have to tell you something.”He looked up and his blue eyes were questioning and suspicious, “What is it?”
Chiara softly asked, “Mark, do you still remember your family, like your parents and siblings?”
He lowered his eyes and seemed to concentrate for a few seconds, then looked back up at her, “I know my mom is dead, my dad lives somewhere else and I used to have a sister.”Chiara nervously licked her lips, “You still have a sister but you’re right, your mom has passed away. I actually don’t know where your dad lives. The last thing you told me was that he had moved away, down South somewhere.”
Mark then stated dryly, “I’m not sure where he lives.”
Chiara now nodded, “Okay. So, yes, you still have a sister.”
Mark looked out the window and then said softly, “Her name was Miriam.”
Wondering why he kept referring to Miriam in the past Chiara emphasized on the present tense, “Yes, her name is Miriam. Do you remember her?”“I don’t remember what she looks like. I think she has kids and has a husband, but they don’t live here.”
“No, she lives on the East Coast, in Connecticut. The last time you saw her was when you were at Walter Reed Medical Center after you got back from Afghanistan with your injuries.”
Mark looked at Chiara, “So about three years ago?”
“Yes, about that long ago.”
“Why has it been that long?”
Chiara lowered her eyes, “There were some issues between you both.”
Mark seemed to recollect, “She was angry that I joined the Military and left her behind with our sick mom. She said I deserved to get blown up.”Chiara moistened her lips again, “Yes, something like that. Would you like to see your sister again?”
Mark now shrugged his shoulders.Chiara stated carefully, “What if I told you she’s on her way here to see you?”
His eyes quickly moved over to Chiara, “Why?”
“She heard about everything that happened, the police called her right after they had found you. She was listed in your contacts as next of kin. She then called the police and they referred her here and I talked to her. She was very scared and worried about you but she wanted to come and see you right away. This was when you were still in a coma in ICU. Now that you’re here and she has everything sorted out with her family, she’s coming over here. She wants to reconcile with you. She cried on the phone and she said she missed you very much.”
Mark was now visibly breathing quicker and his mouth was open as he had listened to Chiara.He now said, “So you’ve been talking to her without my knowledge?”
Chiara was worried that he would hold this against her and she nodded and answered softly, “Yes.”
“Did you tell her how messed up I am?”
Chiara swallowed, “What do you mean? I did tell her about how you were doing and everything. She wanted to know and she can’t wait to see you again.”
“Well, I guess she’ll be happy that on top of my SCI, not only is my back and are my legs fucked up but also my head.” He sounded bitter.
Chiara grabbed his hand and squeezed it, “It’s not like that. She was worried sick about you, just like everyone else Mark. She loves you, and she wants to make things right.”
Mark bit his lips and when he looked up at Chiara, she saw his eyes were shiny.“Mark, she wants to be in your life again and she wants you in her life again. Please give her a chance.”
He hung his head and mumbled, “I don’t even know what my sister looks like and I don’t remember us as kids.”
Chiara quickly replied, “She’ll help you remember, it’ll be a good thing. She seems like a very nice person from what I have heard from her in our communications. She loves you Mark.”
Mark swallowed and said softly, “I feel so tired.”“Then let’s go to your room and get you back in bed.”
Mark shook his head, he sounded frustrated, “Not like that tired. A different tired, my mind and…I’m…”
He stopped and Chiara realized something else was going on with him.
She pushed her wheelchair closer to him and pulled his hand to her lap, “Mark, what is it?”
He pulled his hand away from hers again and now hung his head resting it on his hands with his elbows on his thighs.Hunched over he was holding his head and he mumbled, “My head feels so heavy and tired.”
Chiara put her hand on his bony knee, “So let’s go to your bed.”
“I don’t want to go to bed. I want to wake up. I feel like I’m always sleeping and everyone always wants me in bed.”
Chiara heard frustration in his words but she didn’t know what to say.Mark still held his head with his hands, “I want to get out of here. This place is keeping me tired.”
Chiara tried to think of what to say, “Hopefully soon we’ll get to go home baby.”
He didn’t look up but asked, “Where’s home?”
This question wasn’t all the way unjustified because they still didn’t have another apartment. Mark’s old apartment still had his belongings in it but had been closed off due to the investigation and Chiara knew they wouldn’t be able to move back into this apartment, not only because of the state it was in but because of what had happened in the apartment.
Chiara decided at that moment she needed to maybe talk to Officer Collins and see if he could help them. Also, possibly Mark’s friends or the VA could help. They needed to find another accessible apartment.
Mark now looked up and his eyes were glistening when he said, “I’m so sorry about all of this, about the way I am now.”Chiara now felt tears quickly come up in her eyes and she softly ran her hand over his shoulder, “Babe, you don’t have to apologize for anything.”
She barely brought the words over her lips because her heart was hurting for Mark.
His voice trembled, “I didn’t want to be like this. I want…I want my head…I want my brain to work again. I’m trying…”He swallowed and some tears ran out of his eyes when he continued, “I’m really trying…to be…strong. I’m so tired though…my head hurts…it hurts all the time.”
Chiara’s tears ran over her cheeks and dripped down into her long red hair as she watched Mark hang his head again and hold it with his hands, staring down at the floor in front of him.
She softly touched his arm, “You should lay down.”Mark’s voice was shaky when he mumbled tensely, “I don’t want to lay down.”
His breaths were coming quicker and more tense.
She kept her hand on his arm, “Mark, I’m here for you. We’ll make it. Remember how you always said that things will be all right.”
Chiara knew that Mark was struggling and would most likely suffer with the post traumatic effects of his brain injury for the rest of his life. He said his head hurt all the time and the Neurologist had told them about this.
Mark had been adjusted with his already existing prescriptions of pain medications and anti-depressives. In addition, they had put him on anti-seizure medications and were still watching how he was tolerating the medications. Agitation and mood swings would be a consequence of the TBI and he would forever deal with memory loss and cognitive issues.
Mark now sat up and Chiara couldn’t react quick enough when he put his hands to the push rims and quickly spun his wheelchair around and just took off. She could only say his name and watch him roll away. He was fast in pushing his rims and she couldn’t even get her hand on her push rims quick enough to get the bulky hospital wheelchair moving.
She finally got her wheelchair in motion and followed Mark. She saw him already at the end of the hallway.
A nurse was coming down the hallway and when she saw Chiara crying, she stopped, “Chiara, what’s going on? Are you all right?”Chiara and Mark were known on the unit and Chiara explained, ”Mark…he just…I think he’s having a break down. He just…he just took off. We were in the commons…please try to get…to him. I’m not sure what’s going on with him. He seemed upset and…I don’t think he is feeling good.”
The words just tumbled out of her and the nurse said, “Chiara, it’s all right. I’ll check on him.”
The nurse looked down the hallway and saw Mark disappear around the far end.She said, “Just stay here Chiara. We’ll take care of Mark.”
Chiara debated if mentioning his sister had stirred up things, and now she felt bad about having told him but either way Miriam was on her way. He would have to face her and they would hopefully figure it out.
Two nurses found Mark on the floor in his room. His wheelchair was toppled over sideways. Mark was just in the process of pulling himself up on the bed and was somewhat holding on to the mattress. His legs were scrambled and were twitching with spasms. He was gasping and breathing quickly as he apparently tried to get up on the bed.
In his outburst he had yanked out the Foley catheter, the bag had come detached from his wheelchair and was on the floor. Urine was leaking out from the tubing onto the floor. In the process of pulling himself up, Mark had pulled the sheets off the bed and the pillow was on the floor.
One of the nurses set up his wheelchair and moved it away from the urine running out from the tubing.
As the nurses were trying to help Mark get up, he was fighting them and kept telling them to leave him alone. They tried to calm him down but he was in such a frustrated state that nothing could calm him down. He was screaming at the two nurses and one of them called a Code Grey, referring to a combative patient.
Meanwhile Chiara was outside his room and she heard Mark yell at them not to touch him. She was still crying thinking it was her fault for having told him about his sister.A nurse was with her and tried to console her but inside she heard Mark scream at the nurses. Security arrived and rushed into the room.
The two security guards helped put Mark into bed and as he was lashing out to the staff and the security guards, they had to restrain him and one of the nurses gave him an injection with a sedative. Apparently, Mark had suffered from a panic attack, resulting in anxiety and anger, something he couldn’t control and triggered most likely because of the brain injury.
Chiara was told to let Mark rest and a nurse escorted her to her room on the sixth floor. She worried so much about him and couldn’t wait when she was finally allowed to go back up there.It was evening when Chiara finally made it up to Mark’s room again. This time she was on crutches and she carefully limped into the room.
Mark lay in the bed with his eyes closed. He was covered up with fresh sheets and a blanket, a fresh clean pillow was under his head. His TiLite was right next to his bed and the room was cleaned up again. His face and hair looked moist but he was still and breathing softly.
Chiara stood next to his bed, “Mark, baby?”He slowly opened his eyes and he focused on Chiara.
“Mark, baby. It’s me.”
He said softly, “Chiara.”
She was always relieved when he said her name, “Yes, it’s me.”
A lonely tear ran out of the corner of his eye, “I’m sorry.”
She stroked his bangs from his forehead, “Don’t worry.”
Almost whispering he said, “I don’t know why...”
“It’s not your fault. How are you feeling right now?”
His voice was weak, “My head is pounding with pain.”
Mark swallowed and with his eyes on Chiara he said with a scratchy voice, “He did succeed.”Chiara knew exactly who he was talking about and she shook her head, “No, he didn’t.”
Another tear ran out of Mark’s eye, “He did, he broke me all the way.”
Chiara softly shook her head, holding on to the crutches, “He didn’t break you. You’re alive and you’re here with me. Mark, you’re so much stronger than he ever was.”
Chiara then sat down on the edge of the bed and set her crutches next to her. Softly she stroked her hand through Mark’s hair, scanning his face.
He kept his shiny blue eyes on her, thinking about how he could be strong for Chiara when he felt so very weak at the moment.
Chiara adjusted her position on the bed and sat so she could look at Mark better. He was still groggy with the sedative and barely held his eyes open.
He didn’t say anything and Chiara ran her fingers over his arm and chest, just watching him.
When dinner was brought in, she moved out of the way some but Mark was barely able to sit up and eat a few bites. She helped him with his dinner but he wasn’t very hungry. After dinner Chiara pushed the bedside table to the side and Mark watched her silently as she adjusted herself on his bed again.
He was more alert now, “Why don’t you lay next to me?”Chiara hadn’t laid in Mark’s hospital bed before and was somewhat surprised.
He seemed to sense her hesitation and whispered, “Please.”
Chiara lowered her eyes and then looked back up at him, confirming softly, “Are you sure?”
Mark now pushed himself over some and she saw how his expression turned pain stricken but he gave her some room, “There’s nothing else I’m more certain about right now.”
She now pushed herself up some more and pulled her legs up on the bed as Mark held his arm out for her. He watched her closely as she scrambled onto the bed. It was slightly difficult with her right leg still in a thick bandage and held at a slight angle at the knee.
Chiara then still hesitant nestled herself into Mark’s arm and he pulled her closer. She hadn’t been that close to him in a long time but now it felt so good.
Mark said, “Pull the sheets up so you can get under there.”
Chiara got under the blanket with him and her left leg touched his leg under the blanket. She only wore shorts and her naked skin grazed his hospital pants covered leg. A shiver ran through her as she felt his lifeless leg next to hers. Her whole body felt a charge really as she lay so close to him. She smelled his scent, a mixture of the clean hospital laundered sheets and the generic hospital soap Mark used to wash his body. She most likely smelled just the same. His body was warm and she felt the heat radiate into her. She turned her face toward him and looked up at him from the safe spot in his arm.
He had lost muscle tone over the last couple of weeks and his arms were not as muscular as she remembered them from when he had come to see her in Portland in the hospital. Now his body was still recovering from the trauma he had been through and with that it had reserved all energy for the important things as in healing his brain and body, not necessarily to keep his arms strong and muscular. Still the tendons of his arms were visible and the remnants of his toned arms and upper body were still noticeable, just not as prominent as before. Chiara let her eyes wander over his chest covered with the tattoos. She saw it rise up and down as he was breathing softly and when she looked down to his hollow belly, only a minor bulge showed evidence of a small para belly he had acquired over the past years from mostly being in the sitting position in his wheelchair.
Mark let his hand run over Chiara’s shoulder and felt her soft skin under his fingertips. He smelled her hair right next to his face and it tickled on his chest. She felt so good next to him. She wore only a tank top and a bra underneath covering the perfect mounds shaping her breasts. Her slender hand was running over his chest and it made him tremble as she let her fingers circle around his nipples.
He couldn’t help his breathing quicken slightly.
Chiara didn’t miss the increase of his chest moving up and down in a faster pace. She shifted and pushed herself up enough so she could look at Mark face to face. Their eyes met.His blue eyes looked tired and sad as he scanned her face with her hair falling into it. Chiara kept her green eyes on him and she softly ran her fingers through his tousled dark blonde hair and over his cheek to his neck.
Mark opened his mouth like he wanted to say something but he didn’t.
She wanted so much to throw her leg over his still legs but her right leg wrapped in the bandages prevented closeness in that way. She could only rub her left leg to his under the sheets and she felt a distant tingle in her lower regions.
She now softly said, “Mark, I love you so much.”His eyes flickered and he replied, “I love you too.”
Chiara smiled, “I can’t wait to be with you like this all the time.”
Just when she was about to move closer to kiss him, he said, “Chiara?”
“Yes?”Mark moved his eyes from hers, “I’m so sorry about earlier. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
His eyes now travelled over her face, “Sometimes I feel lost and like I’m just a shadow of…a shadow of how I used to be. I’m so ready to get out of here. I want us to be together finally. I want to be with you…out there.”She stroked her fingers over his cheek, “I can’t wait to be out there with you. It’ll be so amazing.”
Mark swallowed, “I know I’m not all the way well but I’m really trying to be good. And when we’re out there again I’ll try my best to be…to be the man you need me to be.”
“You’re already exactly the man I need Mark. Don’t worry about anything. Things will be all right. We got this. I’m here for you just like you were there for me when I needed you.”
Mark swallowed and remarked, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I wanted to be there for you and I wanted to help you get away…get away from the life you had. Sometimes I feel…”
He stopped and took a deep breath, “Sometimes I feel like I caused so much more bad stuff to happen.”
Chiara let her eyes scan over his face and said softly, “You did help me get away from the horrible life I had. It wasn’t ever going to be an easy task. I knew that from the start, that’s why I didn’t want you to come out to the streets anymore. That’s why I ran away from you because I knew that it was going to be bad and very dangerous if I would stay. I was so very worried about something happening, something bad. I just knew that the price we would have to pay to be together would be high and I was so scared that I could lose you over this. I was really scared for our lives Mark. I couldn’t have kept on if I would have lost you. But you did save me from the life I had and you risked your life and everything to help me and that’s why I will never leave your side anymore. I love you so much and we’ll never be apart again.”
Mark’s eyes were on her face and he said softly, “I love you and I couldn’t have kept on if I would have lost you. But I…I’m still worried.”“About what?”
“About the way I am and how things are going to be for us.”
“Mark, we’ll figure it out together and I’ll be with you all the way, always.”
Mark smiled shyly and nodded, “Thank you.”
Chiara laughed softly with tears in her eyes, “You don’t have to thank me, Mark. I love you and that’s all there is to it.”
“I love you Chiara Madison.”
Chiara felt her heart skip a beat at hearing Mark say her name.
She whispered, “You remembered my full name.”
He smiled, “I’m surprised too.”
Now they both fell into a soft laughter and Chiara said, “I love you so much.”
She then leaned closer to him and gently let her lips touch his lips. Mark wrapped his arms around Chiara and pulled her all the way to him. They were connected to each other in a tender kiss, something they had not experienced in a long time. Chiara felt her body tremble at being so close to Mark. She couldn’t wait to be with him like this all the time.
Their kiss lasted for a few moments and eventually they unlocked their lips and Chiara nestled herself into Mark’s arm again. They were quiet and just enjoyed being close for a little while longer.
Mark eventually asked, “So my sister is really coming?”
“Yes, she’ll arrive in the early morning. She can’t wait to see you. She loves you Mark.”
Mark wasn’t convinced all the way but he didn’t protest his sister coming.
Chiara tried to make him feel better about it, “I think it will be good for you both.”
"I'm looking forward to meet your sister."
Mark didn’t say anything to that. Instead he pulled Chiara closer to him again.
Chiara stayed with Mark for another hour and eventually he was tired enough that he couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore. It was another side effect of the brain injury; he was tired a lot and fatigue was going to be an ongoing issue. He apologized to Chiara for falling asleep but she assured him again that there was nothing he needed to apologize for. She eventually stood on the side of his bed and leaned down one more time to kiss him Good Night.
His eyes stayed on her for a moment, “I love you Chiara.”She smiled at him, “I love you. Sleep now and I’ll be back tomorrow morning.”
That night when Chiara lay in her bed her mind was racing once again at how they would manage but she loved Mark so much and she would never leave his side again. She needed to be there for him and she knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Mark had saved her from a life of abuse, pain, shame and many years of exploitation. She owed it to him to be by his side forever and she didn’t want anything else than to be there for him in any way he needed her. And even when he didn’t say anything and when she could sense how his brain was in overdrive trying to cope with everything, she would just be there for him and hold his hand through it all and she would always love him.