“Remember that time I stabbed you?”
A barking laugh issues from my lungs as involuntarily as a tortured scream might and I blush.
“Not the best way to start a conversation, Broski.” I say looking over my shoulder but no orderlies rush in to separate us.
We share a moment of silence as I take in the bruises on the left side of his face.
“You been stabbing people?” I ask and he knows it’s a joke. They’d never let me see him if he’d been violent.
“These?” He gestures at the patterns of subcutaneous healing. “Nah, just being annoying. Pissed someone off.”
His index fingers are curled and rubbing the backs of his thumbs even though the skin is raw and blistered. He shakes his head, hitting his forehead three times with his right hand without giving his thumbs a respite.
“No! Stop it.” He gestures at me with those contorted fingers. “Changing it. You’re changing the story. You remember.”
“It was a fork.” I try for a soothing voice but he glares and I nod. I’ve broken the rules. I’m trying to ‘handle’ him. My eyes drop to my shoes. “I remember.”
“I’ve been thinking about it.”
“Why?” I look up at his tortured face and want to touch him. I want to wrap him in my arms and sing away his nightmares the way I did when he was small.
“Why did I do that?” He stares me down but I’m a coward. I shrug.
“You know.” He stands so quickly that he upends his chair and it slides laboriously down the wall in the cramped space of the visiting room.
I stand too and take his hands, forcing my fingers over his mangled thumbs. Tears fall on our clasped hands and I’ve broken two more rules.
“I want to be me.” Now he is crying too. “I can almost do it. It was easier before but it keeps getting harder. I can’t control the things I do. I’m the stabber and not me. I’m the crazy guy shouting and screaming and angry. He’s not me and he’s taking over. I want to be me.”
I don’t know what to say. I never have. He’s my only constant and he’s slipping away.
“You are you.” I watch the tears pool and run in patterns across our hands.
He snorts. “Yeah, except when I’m not.”
“You’re the most important person in my life.” I finally look him in the eye. “You’re my whole world.”
“God, that’s sad.”
I wince and pull back.
“I’m sorry, sis.”
He squeezes my hands and pulls me close.
He used to sit on my lap as I recited poetry and soothed him to sleep but he’s far too big now. A towering gentle giant, except when he’s not. The other is so consumed with rage over what was done to him, he lashes out blindly.
Now I am the child, the tiny one being pet and comforted.
“It’ll be alright, sis.” He speaks softly into my hair. “I think I know how to fix this. I can stay me and save you.”
I cry harder because I don’t believe him.
The man in the pink scrubs is back with his clip board. “Hey!” He scowls at us and I almost fall in my haste to create the proper space.
I clasp my hands and Jason begins to rub his thumbs again as the orderly scolds us.
He turns to his door and I reach out and touch his shoulder. He takes my hand.
“There’s a lot more to this world than me.” He lets go and smiles. “You’re going to be great, sis.”
I frown and start to ask “At what?” but he’s already disappeared behind door number two.
That night I try to shake off the sadness that comes from saying goodbye again. I want to bring him home with me but I know I can’t handle the other him and he’d never forgive himself if he hurt me again.
The doorbell rings and I frown. No one visits me.
My heart trips at the sight of the officers. They come in and ask if there is anyone else around. They want me to call someone and the tears are threatening because I’ve heard this script. I shake my head and the tears fall. They exchange looks and begin their terrible work.
“So sorry to have to inform you…discovered his body…apparent suicide…”
“You’re wrong!” I shout when they finally stop speaking and I flee to the kitchen and my phone. I call the hospital and as I listen to the ring I suddenly wonder what I will say. I can’t ask if he’s dead. It’s so absurd they might make up a room for me. How do I ask?
“Greenwood Hospital. How can I help you?”
“My brother is a patient there and I just need to check on him.” The tears are choking me but I keep going. “Jason Porter. He’s on the fourth floor. Dr. Brent Miller is his doctor.”
“Uhhhh,” The hesitation causes my body to clench as though waiting for a physical blow. “I thought, I mean, the police said they would notify you-”
I scream and throw the phone across the room and follow it to the floor, just as shattered.
The officers have rushed in. They want to know who they can call. They won’t leave until I tell them.
“No one.” I answer at last through the sobs. “There’s no one.”
Every day I reach out a little farther. I force myself to smile and speak, building bridges to other souls. I heal. There is a world waiting for me and I have no more excuses.