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Hope, Need & Fear

Chapter 1: Everything is Wrong


"… and for next week you need to read Romeo & Juliet. We’ll be going over this and there will be a quiz. Be sure …"

Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah. I can’t believe we’re getting stupid Shakespeare after just two days back to school. What the hell does this teacher think we are anyhow? This is seventh grade; come on! Most of the people in this class barely know how to read! If Mom finds out about this I’ll get some stupid lecture about ‘Shakespeare’s brilliance’ or some other crap about what she would expect me to know about that play if she were teaching it - like I’m ready to learn something that she’d teach at college – not likely. I’ll be lucky if I can stand reading a few pages before I get completely sick of it. What’s it matter anyhow? Nobody expects me to get better than a C in this class anyways, especially my parents. I think they finally gave up believing that I was going to be some super brain just because they’re both college professors.


Finally, the end of school for the week - even if it was just two days. What’s with this stupid two-days-to-start-school thing anyhow? Why not just let us start the school year on a Monday and do a full week rather than two stupid days? I don’t understand. It’s probably just some evil plan to steal two more days from summer vacation. But I guess I shouldn’t complain. At least it gets me out of the house, and I was about going crazy sitting around with nothing to do anymore.

I guess I’d better get my stuff together and leave or Mr. Daniels will try to talk with me if I’m the last person in the classroom. I really don’t want to go out into that mob in the hallway, but I guess it’s better than telling the teacher "how my summer was." Well, Mr. Daniels, my summer sucked ‘cause I was all alone and practically starving to death since my parents don’t even think to buy food since they’re never around. Okay, so I wouldn’t really say that – but what exactly could I say anyhow?

I sling my backpack over my shoulder and move out, head down as always so that I don’t make eye contact with anybody, looking just ahead of my feet enough so I don’t trip or run into somebody. I stopped making eye contact a long time ago. If people see me looking, it must seem like an invitation to rag on me or beat me up, ‘cause that’s all that ever happens. With my head hanging down and a mess of curls falling over most of my face, nobody seems to see me most of the time, and I can usually just quietly blend in and wander past. I can only hope that today will go that smoothly.

"Oooff!!" I drop my backpack as I’m slammed into the lockers. I didn’t even see that one coming. Somebody just threw all their weight against me and I bounced right off of them. Maybe it was an accident? I lift my head just enough to look through my curtain of curly hair and see what’s happening.

"Stay out of my way, She-man, you little pussy. I’ve got football practice today, so I don’t got time to really pound you now," Tom Fix growls at me with a glare. Then, smiling in an evil way he adds, "But I’ll make time soon. Just you wait, bitch." He turns around and walks off with a shared laugh among his jock buddies, probably working out some ugly plan so that they can all share in my torture throughout the year.

Tom has picked on me for years. I’ve never been very smart, and I’ve always struggled in school, and some kids make fun of me because of it. Not only are my grades pretty bad, but I always used to end up looking like a fool when a teacher called on me for an answer that I always stuttered out wrong. Tom wasn’t the only one to make fun of me, but he was one of the only ones to beat me up for being a ‘dope’ way back in third and fourth grade. The last couple of years have been worse from Tom and everybody else because they’ve all been growing while I haven’t. I’m still just a scrawny, short little kid with no muscles, and absolutely everybody is nearly a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier than me – even the girls.

The name everybody has taunted me with since first grade is obviously still going to haunt me, too, even though I have finally started Junior High School. ‘She-man.’ God, how I hate that name. Can I help it if my name is Sherman? What the hell were my parents thinking anyhow? The teasing started on my first day of school way back then, and it never seemed to stop. Most people in this situation would just try to go by their middle name, right? Well, Ulysses never stuck. Nobody could seem to find a way to warp it like they had Sherman, but they seemed to love teasing me with ‘She-man’ so much that they wouldn’t let it drop. Kids with normal parents get normal names, but I get names from history and ancient myths – names that are just stupid to any kids my age. With all of the abuse I’ve been getting lately, my name should be the least of my concerns today.

I grab my backpack and quietly try to wander down the hall out of school, but everybody has obviously seen what’s happened. Among all the rest of the noise and conversations in the hall I can hear sing-song calls of "Sheee-mannn, Sheee-mann" and a few snickers of laughter. Two days and already I’m the joke of the school. This has to be a new record, even for me. Their taunts really hurt me because they just emphasize that this is going to be another year alone with no friends and a lot of abuse.

I used to have friends a few years ago, back when all I got was just a lot of teasing. They didn’t really care how I did in school, and they just wanted somebody to play with. But once the bullying started I lost pretty much everybody. I don’t suppose I blame them. I mean, who wants to get beat up a couple times a week just because they’re hanging out with me when I get beat up?

Damn my shoulder hurts! I really hit that locker hard. That pounding feeling in my head and the pressure on my eyes means I’m about to cry, but I push it back. I will not cry in school. That’s all I need to make the teasing even worse than it is now. Just a few more steps and I finally reach the main doors and shuffle out into the overcast day.

I should try to get my mind off of this. Maybe a quick walk downtown to the comic shop to get something mindless for the afternoon at home. Yeah, that’ll do.

Even though that scuffle in the halls lasted just a minute, it seems like most of the kids are long gone now that I’m outside and free from that hellhole. I keep hanging my head in case anyone is still around. I shove my hands in the pockets of my old jeans and trudge along the sidewalk past the police station, shops, and restaurants that lead me from school towards the center of downtown and the comic book store just a few blocks away. I am just about to make it to the comic shop, when I hear some curses and a few "Oooff!" sounds from down an alley I just passed. I know those sounds too well from experience – somebody’s getting beaten up.

Having already had a reminder just a few minutes ago about how much I can get hurt, I’m thinking, Just keep going and don’t get yourself into something worse than you’ve already had today. But something makes me stop and turn around. Curiosity? Concern? Stupidity? I don’t know. Just something inside me tells me I need to see what’s going on.

Walking back a few yards down the sidewalk, I turn into the alley and look ahead, my eyes adjusting to the dimmed light filtering in. Mid-way down the alley I can make out three guys pounding on a figure on the ground. The figure, a man I think, is half-lying, half-crouching in a muddy puddle while kicks and punches sail into him from every side. The three thugs throwing the punches are much bigger than me, but they just seem old enough to be in high school. The high school is only a block away from my school and lets out at the same time, so these guys probably came downtown after school just like me. They’re really beating the shit out of this guy, though, and I don’t get it. Beating other school kids seems to happen all of the time, but I’ve never seen anybody get beat up downtown. Hell, even I don’t get beat up downtown. It’s just too visible. And this guy on the ground ain’t no school kid – he’s too big.

Big or not, he’s hurting. The "Oooffs!" have turned to "Ohh!"s and "Aahh!"s that are drawn out and filled with pain. There’s no telling how long the beating has been going on, but I know from experience that you can’t take kicks for long and not be seriously hurt. He’s obviously trying to ball up his body to protect himself, but with attackers on all three sides he’s pretty much screwed. And they aren’t letting up a bit. In fact, they seem to just be kicking and hitting harder, making little grunts of effort each time they land a kick or punch.

I’m scared to death watching this guy get beaten because it feels almost like I’m watching myself being kicked and hurt. I can feel my whole body shaking and my legs getting wobbly, and I want with everything in me just to run away, but I surprise myself and stutter out with a gust of all the air inside me, "St-st-Stop!"

They pause for a moment and turn to look down the alley at me as I continue with the last air from my lungs, and softly moan out, "You’re k-k-killing him."

To me that old cliché about "Time standing still" isn’t so much a cliché - it's a simple fact of reality. It’s happened to me before when I’m terrified, and it’s happening again now as I watch them stand stiffly in place watching me. I know that now’s the time to run, but my level of fear has reached some kind of trauma level, and I can’t seem to move my body at all. I’m screaming inside my head without making any real sound when one of them smiles at me and starts laughing.

"Ha, ha … you’re k-k-killing him! … ha, ha, ha!" he says, putting a lilt into his voice and overemphasizing my stutter. His pals burst into laughter and point at me while my fear grows deeper. I finally recognize him now that he’s facing me. That’s Steve Fix, the older brother of my worst personal tormentor, Tom.

The man they’ve been beating, left alone for a moment, tries to push himself off the ground and onto his knees, but the effort is obviously very painful as he moans and clutches his side. Steve, seemingly the leader of this attack, diverts his attention back to his victim and throws a sweeping kick into the man’s chest, knocking him over and causing a loud cry of pain. Turning his attention back to me, Steve smiles again.

"Get lost She-man, or I’ll have to spoil my little bro’s fun and beat you to a pulp myself."

Leaving sounds good to me, but I just can’t seem to move right now. This momentary hesitation is unfortunately not lost on Steve, and the smile leaves his face.

"Fine. I’m more than happy to draw out beating this asshole to death," Steve emphasizes with another kick to the man on the ground. "It won’t take long to crush your scrawny body anyhow."

He and his buddies turn toward me, a sadistically gleeful expression on each of their faces as they begin to move in my direction. The terror in my mind seems like it will make me pass out, and I still can’t stop shaking or make my legs move to get me out of there. I’m just about to scream when I see the guy on the ground grab Steve’s ankles and yank, causing Steve to fall off balance and land hard on the ground.

Hoarse and filled with pain, the voice of the man on the ground cries out, "Run!!"

I’m still stuck in place, now partly due to the shock of this recent change of events. I see Steve kick down straight into the man’s face. Steve’s buddies, seeing his fall, turn back to their earlier victim and resume kicking him viciously. As Steve gets up and joins his buddies I see the face of the man on the ground, full of fear and pain. He locks eyes with me and winces as another kick sinks deep into his gut.

"Go!" he calls out without much volume, almost pleading.

I look at his face once more and, although he looks nothing like me, I see myself. The fear that has hung around me is still there, and I am shaking like a leaf in the wind, but my legs are working now and I’m running and running. I run back past the restaurants and shops, one block, two blocks, three blocks. I run back past the Police Station and I stop with a start.

It strikes me hard, without warning, just like Tom throwing me into those lockers today. Not a physical blow – a mental one. It hits me that I was just saved from the worst beating in my life by a man who is very possibly being kicked to death without anyone to help him. No one to help him. Just like me. But he helped me.

I look around, coming back from my thoughts, and see the Police Station right in front of me. I run in and fly up the few steps, across the lobby to a desk where a uniformed policeman sits, seemingly unaffected by my entrance.

"Slow down, kid. You’ll knock somebody over," he says gruffly.

"I … I need h-help!" I say in a strained cry as I can feel tears coming on again.

I quickly try to calm down and put my thoughts together as the officer looks at me without much more interest and replies, "What kind of help?"

I think through everything again in my mind, spitting out what happened in a hopefully intelligible manner, "A-Alley … th-th-three g-guys … b-beating … guy’s h-hurt … need’s help … Help! … H-hurry!"

The officer at the desk stays as dispassionate as before, pauses a moment, then says, "You’d better not be lyin’, kid." He looks to a side door where two policemen have just entered and waves them over.

"Hendriks, Peters, this kid says some guy’s getting’ beat up in an alley. Take care of it," he says with an air that suggests he’s happy I’m not his problem anymore.

The taller of the men, Hendriks clearly inscribed on his nameplate, looks seriously at me with a sense of urgency. "Where at, son?"

"Off M-Main Street. C-c-couple blocks. Hurry!" I say as I grab the hand he’s put on my shoulder. I start running toward the door, dragging his hand in mine as I go. He’s not moving as fast as I want as we head out of the building, but he’s coming quickly.

"Go ahead, kid. Run to where you saw it, and we’ll be right behind you," he says as we get to the sidewalk. I tear off back to the alley, the fear in me still growing, not just for me anymore but also for the man. I glance behind me as I run, making sure the cops are keeping up, and skid to a halt as I reach the alley.

The groans of pain are gone, but Steve and his friends are still throwing everything they’ve got into heavy kicks into the abused form at their feet. They’ve gone back to cursing abuses at the man as they kick, obviously tired of simply causing physical pain. My Airwalks make a scuffing sound as I slide to a stop, and the three thugs look to the sound, seeing me at the end of the alley. Smiles quickly spread across their faces as they decide on a new playtoy, but the smiles fall off almost as quickly as they appeared. All three turn and run as I look to my side and see the police have just caught up.

"Police Officer! Halt in the name of the law!" the shorter officer says. He’s got his hand by his gun, but it’s a useless threat by this time; it only took a few seconds for all three guys to clear the end of the alley. The officer races off after Steve and his goons while Officer Hendriks quickly moves to the man in the middle of the alley.

I feel stuck at the end of the alley again, frozen in place by fear, but not fear for myself at all anymore. I watch as Officer Hendriks crouches down beside the man on the ground, leaning his head down near the man’s face and then grabbing his wrist, checking for breathing and a pulse I guess from what I’ve seen on tv. Hendriks grabs what looks like a walkie-talkie from his belt and calls into it.

"This is Officer Hendriks, we need an ambulance in the alley off Main by Franklin’s; over."

The walkie-talkie spews out some static, then, "Roger, Hendriks. Dispatch has your call. What is your situation?"

"We have a man down, mid 20’s, multiple contusions, possible broken bones, possible broken nose, possible concussion. He’s unconscious right now. Peters is in pursuit of three assailants, late teens. Pursuit is on foot; over."

"Roger, Hendriks," the walkie-talkie calls back, "Do you need backup?"

"No. It's under control; over."

"Roger, Hendriks."

I realize as this conversation ends that I’ve slowly been moving forward, still shaking and not really taking all of this in. I’ve been drawing closer to Hendriks and the man on the ground, and I finally get to within a few feet of them as the sirens echo down the alley from the ambulance at the street. Paramedics race down the alley with a backboard and supplies while I look down on the still form on the ground.

He is older, but not as old as I would have thought earlier. He might even go to college here in town, I think idly. He is somewhat stocky, but the swelling in his face and arms makes it hard to be sure how much of that is normal. Blood covers much of his face, pouring from his nose and cuts in his lips and mouth. Here and there around his body are patches of blood from cuts, and his hands look swollen and filthy. Dirt and grime cling to his clothes and body where he has been rolled around in the alley.

The paramedics check his vital signs and look for broken bones. Officer Hendriks, backing out of their way, sees me staring and stands in front of me, blocking my view. I look up as he places a hand on my shoulder and says, "Let’s let them do their job."


It has been four hours since Officer Hendriks pulled me back to the station. Everything has been going on around me, but it’s been like I’ve been seeing everything from a distance. I keep trying to pay attention, but my mind just keeps playing everything over and over again in my head. At this point I’ve finally stopped seeing the attack in the alley endlessly repeating itself, but now I’m replaying everything in my head that’s happened since then. It’s weird – it’s almost like I wasn’t even there, just seeing it from a distance. But I know I was there. I was involved whether I wanted to be or not.

I didn’t want to leave the alley while the paramedics were still working, but Hendriks didn’t give me a choice. He was pretty decent for a cop, but he wasn’t about to take any shit from me either. We waited a while for his partner, Peters, to return and tell us that Steve and his buddies had gotten away, and then both men wanted to take a statement from me and write up their reports.

I don’t know quite what was going on in my brain, because normally I would have done whatever I could to get out of there as quickly as possible and with as little conversation as possible, but I couldn’t shake this feeling of needing to know that the guy from the alley was alright. So when Hendriks and Peters insisted on my statement, I insisted right back that they drive me to the hospital and I would tell them everything once we got there. They were patient at first, explaining that I could go later if I wanted and then telling me that I wouldn’t be allowed to see the guy anyway since I wasn’t family and I was too young. Eventually they just got pissed off at me and told me just to answer their damn questions. By that time I was scared of the cops I was with, but I didn’t back down. I don’t know when I grew a backbone, because I’ve never stood up for what I wanted before, really, but I wasn’t about to change my mind at that point. Finally Peters just got fed up.

"Look Mark," he said to Hendriks, the tension obvious in his voice, "let’s just take the brat to the hospital so we can get this report done. I am not staying here past my shift." With a grudging acknowledgement from Hendriks, we were off in a patrol car.

My statement was pretty straightforward since I didn’t know much, but having Steve’s name seemed to make both cops happy. They left me after they were done, and I decided I was going to have to figure some way to scam my way into this guy’s room if I was going to see him. The first big problem would have been finding out who he was, but that had been solved by arguing so long with Hendriks and Peters at the Police Station. While they kept trying to get me to make a statement, I was able to glance at the report on their desk and see the name of the victim: Simon Porter.

"Knowledge is power," my father had once told me. Fat lot of good knowledge has ever done me before, but in this case he was finally right about something. Knowing this guy’s name was going to give me a few chances I would have missed if I had to ask around to find out who he was.

I hadn’t been sure what good it was going to do me when I saw the guy’s name or when I insisted on coming here, but now I have to figure out what to do. I want to just go right to his room, but I know I’ll get stopped. The cops hadn’t told me anything new when they said the thing about me being too young and not being family – I had been kept out of my grandma’s hospital room while she died even though they knew it would be the last chance I had to see her alive. Just ‘cause I’m too young I don’t get to say goodbye. What kind of shit’s that?

I sure hope this guy won’t die … he just can’t die. I have to see him somehow. I don’t know why, but I just do. At least the cops are out of my way. They headed for the cafeteria as soon as they finished their report and left me in here in the lobby.

The lobby in this place is sort of small, just like the whole hospital, but then again how big of a place do they need in a small town like this? I get out of the chair I’ve been sitting in and look around. There’s this seating area, of course, and a gift shop, some restrooms with some phones, and a receptionist’s desk by the hall to the elevators.

Maybe I can … no, that would never work … but … well, hell, I don’t have a lot of options here. I’ll call the receptionist from the pay phone, get the room number, and sneak into his room. Then I can stutter out a "hello" as security drags me away and throws me out. Like I said, it’ll never work. But I can’t think of anything else to do, so I guess I might as well try.

I wander past the receptionist’s desk and pick up a business card. I head over to the bathroom, duck in, then slip back out to the phones, hoping nobody’s paying any attention to me. I drop a few coins in the phone and dial the number on the card to call directly to the receptionist.

"Hello, Memorial Hospital, how may I direct your call?" she speaks cheerfully.

"H-h-h-hello," I say, trying to keep my voice as steady as possible, "You ha-ha-have a p-patient … S-simon P-p-porter. Can you t-t-tell me his roo-room number?" So much for my steady voice.

"Are you a family member, young man" she asks cheerily, seemingly unfazed by my stuttering, "I can only release that information in person to a family member, but I can connect you with his room if you would like. My computer shows that he’s been moved from recovery to a standard room. He might not be awake, but I could ring if you’d like." She seems like she’s trying to be nice, but she’s not helping me any if I can’t get that room number.

"M-miss," I reply in my most respectful voice, "I he-helped the p-p-police save him. I w-want to send f-f-f-flowers and a g-get well c-c-card. P-please?" I finished in a pleading tone.

"Well, young man," she tells me, "I suppose that I can let you know under the circumstances. Mr. Porter is in room 402 East. Be sure they put his full name and room number on the flowers or they’ll never get to him." She pauses a moment, then continues pleasantly, "Good job young man."

Damn. That was almost too easy. "Th-th-thank you, ma-mame."

"I’m glad I could help, young man. Goodnight."

Goodnight? I hang up the phone and look at my watch and realize it’s already after seven. Damn. Now what do I do?

I glance down at the business card that I’ve been flexing in my hand between my outstretched fingers and see that the card not only lists the phone number for the receptionist but the visiting hours as well. Visiting hours end at seven-thirty. If I can wait for another hour and then sneak around, I might do better. Hopefully nobody will be watching things very closely by that time. I remember from being in this hospital myself a few times that the staff seems to just disappear after visiting hours end. They may claim to want to let patients rest, but they must just screw around or something, ‘cause I could never get a nurse when I’d push the call-button after visiting hours. Well, maybe not never, but it did seem to take forever. I can only hope they leave the rooms alone now as much as they used to.

I still have to pass a half-hour to an hour before I can ‘make my appearance,’ so I guess I’ll head to the cafeteria to grab a bite since I haven’t eaten since lunch. Heck, I may get more to eat here than I would have at home. I’d better move – my stomach’s grumbling something fierce.

I walk across the lobby to the stairs; this way I can avoid passing the receptionist to get to the elevators. The cafeteria is in the basement, so I scramble down one flight of steps and almost dash through the door when it occurs to me that I’ve forgotten the cops. They had come down for coffee (and doughnuts as well, no doubt) after they finished with me, and they still had to take a statement from this Simon Porter guy. They could screw up everything.

I cautiously pull open the door and look into the hall. Nobody’s around, so I move out and toward the cafeteria, keeping close to the wall. The hall just sort of opens up into the cafeteria further down the hall, and I look around the corner when I get there. Nobody. Damn, this place is dead. At least the cops are gone.

Hospital food is pretty gross, but how can you go wrong with a Pepsi, some chips, and a hot dog? Even a hospital can’t really screw that up! The food hits the spot, too. All this worry and activity has made me very hungry.

It occurs to me while I’m eating that I am not acting at all like myself. Why am I taking all of these risks for this guy? What’s it matter if I see him? It’s really weird.

I still have that image in the back of my mind of that guy … Simon … looking up at me from the alley and then seeing myself there. Is that what I’m going to be like in ten years? Getting beat up by high school kids in an alley? It can’t be like that. It has to change by the time I get out of high school. Ugh!

I have to stop thinking about stuff like this though. Visiting hours just ended a few minutes ago, and I need to find a place to hide. I know! I head over to the cafeteria restrooms and lock myself in a stall, sitting cross-legged on the toilet so no one can see my feet.

The whole ugly day keeps playing over again in my head, and somehow by the next time I look at my watch it’s a quarter past eight. I am just completely spacing out today.

I head to the stairs that lead to the East wing, listening for anybody walking around corners that might catch me. Once in the stairwell, I head up to the fourth floor. Fortunately, nobody seems to be around. Up on the fourth floor, I crack the stairwell door and peek out. Where the hell is everybody? I move into the hall and see that a nurse is at the main station, facing away from me as she types into a computer. I don’t see anybody else. I start creeping towards the desk, having to pass it to get to room 402, according to the room number signs on the wall.

I’m shaking a bit again, and my head’s throbbing some. I’m actually terrified of getting caught, but I just don’t feel like I can turn back now. Once I get past the nurse’s station, I find the room quite quickly and realize as I walk to the door that the loud argument I’ve been hearing since I passed the nurse is actually coming from this room.

"… yes, sir, I understand, and I’m sorry. You do have a right to your privacy, but this is a criminal investigation. It’s normal procedure to find out why someone is being assaulted." I recognize the argumentative voice right away. It’s Officer Peters.

"Look," a strained and hoarse yet angry voice rebukes, "I don’t want to press charges." The voice breaks off into coughing for a moment. "Just leave me alone and let me try to forget this day ever happened –"

"I can’t do that, sir. We can’t just let these punks get away with this. You could have been killed."

I strain my ears to hear the reply, sure I’m missing something, but there’s just this long pause. After a while I hear Hendriks say, "Let’s go."

"What?!" Peters is not pleased. "We can’t – "

"Let’s just go." Hendriks repeats. "He’s not going to say anything; he doesn’t want to press charges; our shift ended a half-hour ago; and he should be resting by now. We’re lucky we weren’t thrown out of here an hour ago by security after the way you told off that nurse when she said visiting hours were over. We can’t do anything more here. Let’s just go."

"But – "

"Let’s go." Hendriks is using a more commanding tone now. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Porter. We hope you’ll be feeling better soon."

Shit! I have to hide! I look around quickly and dash into an open supply room a couple of doors away. I don’t think Hendriks or Peters saw me, but I’m just going to hide in here for a little bit longer to be sure.

I don’t understand why this … Simon … isn’t going to press charges. It doesn’t make any sense. Much as I have grown to dislike Peters in the few hours I’ve known him, I have to say he was right – those guys would have killed Simon if they hadn’t been stopped. I wonder if Simon will tell me why if I ask.

I crawl along the floor up to the doorway and peer out. Nobody’s in the hall, and I crane my neck out a bit further to look fully down the hall both ways. All clear. I make my way across the hall to room 402. The door is closed. I’m still shaking, and I tense my muscles and relax them to try to calm down, but that just doesn’t do anything at all. Well, it’s now or never.

I open the door quietly and step inside, the door swinging shut behind me. I raise my gaze to look at him through my curly bangs. There he is lying on the bed, a bunch of tubes running out of his arms, bandages on his arms and face, and the skin around the bandages is black and purple in more places than it is the normal flesh color. His eyes are shut - squeezed shut. It’s like he’s trying to block out everything in the world from his sight. I’m not sure how to approach him now, worried that he won’t recognize me or he’ll be mad at me bothering him. I’m thinking what to say when I hear it. A soft whining – no, a whimpering. He’s crying. No tears, no sobs, but that’s it – the scrunched up eyes, the whimpering …

I’m stuck for a minute. This guy is old enough to be my older brother. I never expected someone that old to cry. I’m not sure whether I’m doing something wrong or not, but I move forward and put my hand on his shoulder. I can’t look him in the eyes, but I raise my head enough to see him on the bed.

"Don’t cry." I state simply and quietly.

He jumps at my touch, opens his eyes to stare at me, and pauses for a moment. He smiles weakly and makes a gurgly little laugh and then wipes his eyes and nose with the back of his hand.

"Thank you," he says in almost a whisper. "Thank you for saving me." He pauses for a moment, maybe waiting for me to say something. After a minute he asks, "Do you do things like this all the time?"

I sure don’t! Hell, I can barely look at people! As I’m standing here with him watching me, I get very nervous again. I shake my head in answer to his question, but I can’t say anything. Jesus, what am I doing here? What the hell has happened today? This is all just too insane. I can feel myself getting more nervous and upset, and I just feel more trapped and afraid. It feels like I’m not getting enough air, and I keep taking more breaths, but I keep feeling like I’m running out of oxygen. My head is pounding and I feel light-headed, and the fear and nervousness are like a heavy blanket being draped over me. I can see my vision blurring strangely as I feel my hands being gripped tightly by two large hands.

"Listen to me! Stop it! Focus!" I hear Simon speaking forcefully. "Breathe deeply and just think about breathing! One big breath, keep pulling it in! … Okay, now exhale. There, now breathe deep again, just one big breath." I can hear his tone calming down, calming me down. "That’s it. Exhale. … Okay. One more deep breath."

I can feel my vision clear and my head stop pounding. I feel like I have enough air again. Damn, I feel tired, though. I look up to see Simon holding my hands and looking at me, smiling but concerned.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

I nod my head. That was weird. "What j-just h-h-h-happened?" I asked.

"You had a panic attack. At least that’s what it looked like to me. I have them sometimes. You started hyperventilating, and you were probably on your way to blacking out. Has that ever happened before?" I shake my head, no. "Well, let’s hope this is the only time. I’ll bet you’ve had a pretty upsetting day thanks to me, so it’s probably to be expected. You’ve been riding on adrenaline all day since you found me, haven’t you? And you finally just crashed, right?"

It all seems to make sense to me. Sure. I nod my head.

We keep looking at each other for a little while. I have no idea what’s going on in his head, but I’m lost now. I still feel like I want to be here, but I have no idea why I’m here or what to say. I mean, he looks like he’ll be okay. I’ve done my good deed for the day, right? Shouldn’t I just move on back to my empty little life? Hmmm. That thought stops me.

I don’t know if that’s it or not, but as upsetting as this whole thing has been, this has not been my normal sucky little life. I saved a guy’s life … well, maybe … at least I saved him from a worse beating. And what about the hiding to get in here? That was major! And I even stood up to those cops! Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

"I’m sorry gentlemen, but visiting hours are over," a nurse calls gruffly from behind me. I almost jump through the ceiling, but Simon’s still holding onto my hands.

"Nurse, can you just give us five more minutes to say goodnight?" Simon asks in a pleading voice.

"Sure. But just five more minutes. You need your rest," she scowls, and with a spin she turns and walks out the door.

"Look, umm, … Sherman? … Is that it? I think that’s what the police said your name was …" Simon says, wondering if he has my name right. I nod. "Look, Sherman, we’ve only got a minute. You will never have any idea how much you did for me today. I don’t really know how, but I want to thank you somehow. I just don’t have any idea what to do." He seems to be deep in thought, and I feel sort of lost in my thoughts, too, but I make a quick choice.

"Here," I say as I put my backpack on his bed and open it. "T-take this." I pull out my CD-Walkman and a few CD’s I’ve had with me. "They d-don’t have real c-c-cable in here, and all y-you’ll be able to w-w-watch on t-tv t-t-tomorrow are re-re-religious programs and n-news."

He’s looking at me sort of funny before he says, "I can’t do that. How would I get it back to you? You’ve already done too much already."

"P-please," I say. "It m-means a l-l-lot to me. You’ve d-done a l-lot for me, too." A confused expression crosses his face. "J-just trust me," I tell him. "I n-need to d-do this. I’ll g-get it back somehow." I smile at him as I finish, and he smiles back.

He grabs my hands in each of his own one more time and squeezes. I feel warmth from his hands and his smile. I even feel warm inside. It’s an almost unfamiliar feeling, but I remember it somehow. This is what it used to feel like to have friends.


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Hope, Need & Fear: Chapter 1, by Paul Cales, © September 2001