I stayed in the hospital too much. At least this time I got some sympathy for it. Even Gian didn’t have that permanent scowl on his face that he did when I overdosed or cut myself. He actually came by a lot to make sure I was comfortable and getting rehab, and he could get pretty angry at the nurses. I even got legal updates about Gene, but I didn’t want to hear anything about him.
They made sure to tell me everything anyways. If I couldn’t remember what happened, then Gian pieced together what he heard from Gene’s kids and police reports. I was attacked, dry-humped, and then thrown through a window.
And Gene’s daughter still saved me.
The hospital was usually boring and lonely too. The only people that used to visit me were Andrea, Anthony, and Gian and Elena. They all had lives of their own too, so I was alone a lot. I slept and smelled bleach and had to think about why no one would visit me. I even figured it out a few times.
I was born broken…
…or just born stupid.
But even without a lot of them, this stay was a lot different.
I woke up to a visitor every single morning. It wasn’t always the same one either. Whether it was Gian or Ashley or Elle, they were always smiling and happy to see me and brought me things to help. I liked balloons and snacks and Ashley’s dad referring me to his physical therapy program. And they meant it by being there with me. No one felt like they were only doing this because they pitied me.
Well, Joseph Savoie might have. But he was healing well and I liked to see that.
There were still a lot of moments where I was alone. Usually that would have been fine but I was in a delicate state. There were nurses and doctors and physical therapists, but there wasn’t anyone to connect with. They expected me to talk about Gene, but as much as he hurt me, I should have expected him to hurt me. I was supposed to be waking up in the middle of the night and crying over the trauma, but even if I did it never was about Gene.
I didn’t just dream about that date Andrea and I had. He liked to appear in my dreams randomly, which always happened even before this. But I didn’t give him a hug or a kiss anymore. I would swat him away and demand to be left alone. I was being a bigger bitch than I was after Jacob died and now I didn’t have a good reason.
I was scared to ask them about the dreams I was having instead, where everyone else seemed evil. They gave me a counselor anyways, but I didn’t know what Dr. Chowdhury would think about him. Also, he just said that the fear was normal after what happened to me.
It wasn’t my normal though. I was fearing the men who kept me safe from Gene.
Andrea did for many years.
And Axel…I should have appreciated his work more.
“I think you can walk to the cafeteria today. I’ll get the both of us a coffee~”
But instead of dwelling on that, I had to learn how to walk again. It was really hard with my spine. They only found one fracture but everything else hurt a lot too, and I spent my first few days in bed because I hated the thought of leaving it. The goal was to get me home without a walker, and I wouldn’t miss it.
I was walking better, but still in pain and full of doubts that I didn’t know how to talk about. And I had to use the elevator to get to the cafeteria. Somehow this felt like it was miles long.
Then I saw who was at the end of the hall, and my heart couldn’t stop.
Kari was the best visitor I ever had for any hospital stay. She even quit her job for me…or because she was forced out of the Cosavo building’s security desk. I knew it made her mad like everything else that happened, but she was like a warm and gentle radiator of happiness and love around me.
She made me feel like I could be as happy and warm as she was too. And now I couldn’t stop dreaming about her for some reason.
I hoped that she would continue to be that after I got discharged.
I wasn’t ready to talk about hard emotions with Kari, even though I needed to. They would step over her hard emotions too. But still none of them were about Gene. If anything I was angry that he made me feel so empty and numb while in the hospital. I was nothing without my emotions or lashing out at nurses.
But maybe that was how I was supposed to heal too. After all, therapy was for me to stop being a raging bitch to everyone.
“…I don’t feel like I should about your dad,” I said.
“That’s fine…like…you have two more therapists than I do,” said Kari. “I know you can work with them.”
“Do you think I should nurture my inner child?” I asked.
“Well…I don’t know much about that theory!” she said. “You can’t trust a history major with that kind of stuff, and I don’t know everything you’ve been through anyways but it sounds bad–”
“Yeah…but I think our friendship will work.”
“It will. You need to talk to your therapist…you know, your regular one.” Kari took my hands and my whole body relaxed. “And I’m still gonna be here, even if you’re doing bad.”
“I have a lot to talk about with her, then.”
Dr. Chowdhury could prepare me for talking about it with Kari too. She was eager to give advice without knowing what I needed advice about, or if she’d be helpful. But then I had a lot of other concerns. How much did she know about me or want to know? I remembered when Axel didn’t know much about my past either. He just happened to find sad girls with secrets to be the hottest girls. He got off to me being a mystery. Kari cared about me in another way.
I guess I had to put all my interpersonal effectiveness therapy to the test, or bug Dr. Chowdhury for more of it. She liked to focus on the basics instead and was still really strict with my “homework”. Even after I tried to talk about the past with my baby, she wanted that to be a one-time thing. Focus only on the present, Thu, because your present behavior is still appalling.
Now it was clear to me that it went even deeper than me being sad that people were dead. It was going to be deeper than being sad over Gene almost raping me on his patio.
I sounded like I wanted to be a baby again instead. Or some kind of young person. I wanted to have fun and explore myself and become a person that I never got to be! Dr. Chowdhury had to hear about all the lists of things I never did that I came up with while napping. Riding a bike, shaving off all my hair, traveling alone, and exploring my sexuality.
I fell asleep in my hospital-issues wheelchair one morning and hoped that I would have a dream about teenage rebellion. I still felt seventeen or eighteen in my dreams a lot anyways. Gene didn’t make me scared of the world at all. I wanted to stay in a dirty bar past my curfew or go swimming without a lifeguard. Not doing those things didn’t keep me safe either.
Instead I was in Andrea’s bedroom again. I wore his sweater and I had my thin legs that I missed and didn’t miss at the same time. He hugged me around the neck in a sort of chokehold. Eyeliner bled down my face again.
“Why?” I whispered. “I wasted so much time trying to have a family with you and being your princess. I need Kari now.”
“Princess, you said that was what you wanted. You wanted me to give you a family and keep you safe and comfortable,” he said. His voice was gentle again, just how I liked it. “Remember all the good times we had, what I saved you from…”
“…but you used me. You used me to attack your kids and I did it! Now it just makes everyone miserable. I almost died having our dead babies and I didn’t even know what sex was when you wanted it–”
“As if I could be blamed for you being stupid.” He turned me around and squeezed my face until my cheeks felt like they were going to pop. He never did that to me in real life but he admitted to doing it to Leah, enough to leave a bruise. She did awful things like prioritize her children first and criticize him. “I thought you were grateful for me saving you from being poor or gangbanged or sold to another retarded Viet husband like your cha. Isn’t that enough of a free choice, Thu?”
“No, it isn’t! You didn’t help me at all!” It was a dream, I could push him off me. “You just wanted a child bride and you found a way to convince me that I’d like it. You took advantage of an abused kid!”
“Well that just reminds me of you and Anthony,” he said.
That was different, he wanted to help us…
“You let her sleep for twenty hours a day, so I can talk to her for one.” Dr. Chowdhury finally found my hospital room. I liked her better than the hospital’s counselors. I wished that she was nicer to the nurse, though. He was a cool guy.
Dr. Chowdhury pulled up a chair. “Are you feeling any better?” she asked me.
“No, I don’t get IV pain meds anymore,” I said.
“So, I’ll be blunt: you were raped, and I want to know how it’s affected your progress.”
“I wouldn’t really call it that,” I said. “I know I can, but he didn’t get inside me. I don’t even think about it a lot. His daughter visits me every day and we don’t talk about it.”
“We talked about him before though, about how he was a toxic force in your life and why you kept coming back to him. Clearly you know how destructive it was now–”
“Fuck me for wanting my job back, okay?” I yelled. It hurt to yell and I could rupture my lung again if I did. “He’s awful, but he’s not my problem! It’s living in the shadow of my gross pedo husband!”
“Did…did you finally say it?” Dr. Chowdhury covered her face with her hands. I guess she was scared to bring it up as everyone else was.
“I did…I know I’m supposed to think of Gene as the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it won’t change my life. Andrea did, and I don’t know how to get my life back. I’m still stuck in the past but now on what could have been. I’m not getting any better.”
“I’m not the biggest fan of the theory to nurse your inner child,” she said. Like that bitch could read my mind! “It’s often done poorly and gets in the way of healing like an adult, and living in society like an adult.”
“It probably does, but now there’s so much I want to do just to spite him. I want to cut my hair and get a tattoo and get fat and touch myself to the thought of other people!”
“That’s fine, I guess. But you can’t be a teenager forever. You’re almost 30 and your father explicitly said that you need to learn how to function as an adult.”
“Whatever.” I still hadn’t brought up Kari. I didn’t even know if I was supposed to think about her like that. I didn’t make too many independent thoughts about people at all. I sided with men who wanted me and the men they were friends with, and it wasn’t really for lust. They gave me money or work or safety or comfort…
…Kari was so different and I dreamed about her differently too. I was drawn to her like a magnet and in love with every move she made. And best of all, she wasn’t trying to lure me in to fill a hole in her life. She may not have liked me that way at all.
She filled me with yearning like I did that for creepy men. Every time she hugged me and held me close, I wanted to be even closer. Every time she spoke, I listened and was captivated. I couldn’t think straight once I embraced her soft curves or smelled her shampoo. She was the sweetest person I had ever met and I wanted to protect her and be protected by her. Being Gene’s daughter didn’t matter. Everything good about him went into making her.
I could forget the past and start over, and she could be my first kiss, my first love, the woman I lost my virginity to…
…but I didn’t know if that meant I was falling in love with her. It couldn’t be.
“How do you know if you’re in love with someone?” I asked Dr. Chowdhury.
“I’m not answering that right now! There’s no room for romance in your life yet, because–”
“Hey, listen, Dr. C, we really can’t get another physical therapy slot for her,” said the male nurse. “We’ll take her off your hands now.”
“Very well, we can catch up after you’re discharged,” she said to me.
“Would you look at this, I finally can walk better than you.” Elena was slow and old but she didn’t need to use a cane to walk or get up. I did until my spine healed more.
She came to pick me up from the hospital when not even Kari did. It made me wonder why she was even in my nightmares. I loved Elena. She was infinitely better than my own mother. Even when we disagreed, she knew her limits with how much she could control me. She babied me and doted on me like I was one of her young great-grandchildren but sometimes she also felt like she treated me the most like an adult. She stopped Gian from acting too much like Gian.
And she fed and walked Pickles while I was in the hospital, which I was worried about.
“I’m not proud of it…I wanna sleep in my own bed again. These ones give me nightmares,” I said.
“I’m glad this hasn’t changed you much,” said Elena. I didn’t want to tell her about the nightmares, then. “Gian and I were worried that you would return home as a shell of yourself.”
“No…I’m about as full as I can be, whatever that means.”
“Wonderful, piccolina. Mr. Hayes can go to hell, but remember to keep Andrea in your heart. It’s what will keep you afloat.”