I was allowed to get out of bed as my ribs and head began to heal, and I spent much of the first day on my feet exploring the house. The first floor had a front room containing two comfortable chairs with a small table between them. The other rooms on that floor had been converted into two sickrooms, one of which I had occupied for the past three days, and Doctor Clark's office. There was the bathroom which was between the two sickrooms, and at the back of the house, there was a kitchen.
The fourth day, I felt strong enough to attempt the stairs, and, since Doctor Clark had given me permission to go anywhere in the house except his office, I decided to see what was on the second floor. The staircase split the house down the middle, and at the landing, the hallway wrapped around to the left and the right. I started to the left, which showed two doors. The first was a second bathroom, and the thought that Doctor Clark must be very rich indeed flitted through my brain. The second door opened onto a large bedroom. The room was modestly furnished with a bed in the middle of the room and a chest of drawers next to the only window. The bedspread and curtains were pale blue in color, and the walls were painted light green, with the carpet the same blue as the curtains. The room didn’t appear to belong to anyone, however, as there were no personal items anywhere in the room. I supposed that Doctor Clark used the room for guests. I closed the door and returned to the landing, where I continued toward the right-hand hallway. This hallway also had two doors, the first of which opened onto what I could only guess was the doctor's bedroom. It was decorated in a much darker style than the first bedroom. This room had a dark wood bed with a chest of drawers and a nightstand of the same wood. The curtains and bedspread were a rich brown, with a light tan carpet underfoot, and the walls were painted the same color as the carpet. Unlike the first bedroom, however, there were many books and papers covering the nightstand and what looked to be personal hygiene items on the dresser. I suddenly felt as if I was intruding on the doctor's privacy, and I quickly backed out and shut the door.
The last door opened onto a room that I had only dreamed about. As the door swung open, I beheld shelves and shelves of books. I was astounded; I had never before imagined that there were this many books in the world, much less all in one room. I noticed a reading chair in the middle of the room with a small table beside it. A reading lamp sat on the table, as well as a book with a marker sticking out from between the pages. My father read often, usually the newspaper, but occasionally it was a book borrowed from a neighbor. He never let me touch his things, though, so this was the first chance I had to find out what a book felt like. My steps brought me to the shelves, and I reverently brushed my fingers over the spines, some covered with leather, some with paper. I was still occupied in this way when the doctor appeared at the door. Years spent straining my ears for any sound of my father's approach to our cabin door had heightened my hearing so that I knew the doctor was coming long before he turned into the doorway. I stopped walking, and with my hand still on the books, looked at him.
“Well, Erik, I was not expecting you to be in here. Not too many boys your age would choose to spend their time in a library.” His face held a small smile, and this alone kept me from guiltily dropping my hand to my side.
“Yes, I have always dreamed of having books to read. My father thinks that reading is a useless thing for me to learn since I will never have any use for it.” My eyes traveled longingly back to the wall of books.
“Wait,” Doctor Clark said, as he stepped further into the room, “are you telling me that you can’t read? What about school? Didn’t they teach you there?”
“School?” At this, I did drop my hand and turned to fully face the doctor. “I have never been to school. Why would my parents want to subject other children to the horrors of my face? My father told me that the school wouldn’t have accepted me anyway, because the other parents would have insisted that I be banned to prevent me from causing nightmares for their children.”
I cringed and turned away at the sharpness in Doctor Clark's voice. Sudden resignation filled my mind as I realized that I had finally said something to make him hate me just as much as my father did. I knew that it had to have happened sooner or later, but I was slightly disappointed that it was sooner rather than later. My shoulders hunched, and my eyes squeezed shut as I waited for the blow to fall. They snapped open, however, when Doctor Clark gently laid his hand on my shoulder and turned me to face him. There was something in his eyes that I did not recognize, but it was not anger or disgust.
“No, Erik, no! I am so sorry! I did not mean to snap at you like that. I am not angry with you. I am angry with your father.” He softly took my shoulders and made me sit in the chair. I shrank back in the chair uncertainly when his hands left me, and he knelt down on the floor at my feet. “Erik, please stop pulling away from me. I promise you that I will never, never hurt you. Don’t you believe me?”
One small part of my mind was screaming at me that he was telling the truth, but years of beatings and insults from my father had eroded trust so that it was only a tiny flicker in my brain. Nevertheless, I tried my best to relax, and I clasped my hands together in my lap as I bravely met the doctor's gaze with my own. “Yes, sir,” I said, “I believe you,” though I was not completely sure that was the truth. Doctor Clark accepted it as such, though, and smiled.
“Good, good. Now, I want you to listen closely. I am going to tell you something that will be very hard for you to believe, but I want you to try, all right?”
The doctor took a deep breath and grasped my hand in both of his. “Erik, what your father told you about yourself was a lie. You are not ugly, you are not stupid, and you are not worthless. You are a beautiful boy who has been subjected to the worst of mankind's cruelty and hatred. I don’t know why this is so, but believe me when I say that your father's image of you is not true. What he has told you all your life is not true. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
My mind started spinning at the first sentence he said. A lie? That was not possible. My father wouldn’t lie to me, would he? Why would he say I was hideous and stupid if I wasn’t? None of it made any sense, but as Doctor Clark continued talking, I remembered the things my mother constantly said to me: “You are my son. You are my beautiful, talented, intelligent boy. You are my Erik.” Was she right all along? I always thought her words were those of a mother whose view of her child was distorted by love, but what if they were the real truth? The conflicting thoughts in my head were too much for me to handle, and I leaned my head back against the headrest of the chair and closed my eyes. Instantly, I felt Doctor Clark's hand on my cheek.
“Erik? Are you all right?”
I kept my eyes closed, but the answer still came shakily from my lips, “Yes, I think so. I just don’t know what to think about all this.” I opened my eyes and raised my head a little so that I could look at him. The anguish I was feeling must have been evident in my face, for he grasped my head in his hands and gently pulled me to his chest. I clung to his shirt as if it were a lifeline. My heart felt like it was being crushed, and it was becoming increasingly hard to breathe. “Why?” I managed to croak out. “Why would he say those things to me if they are not true?”
“Oh, Erik, I can't tell you that. I don't know why some people are cruel to others.” He pulled my head from his chest and looked deeply into my eyes. “Nurse Williams said that your mother told you she loved you, is that right?”
“Yes, sir, but that…”
“No buts, Erik. I want you to do your best to believe what your mother told you and to know that all that your father told you was a lie. Can you try to do that for me?”
“I'll try,” I said, releasing his shirt.
His hands dropped from my face, and he stood up, “That's good, Erik. Now, we should go downstairs so you can rest.”
He carefully helped me to stand and kept his hand around my shoulders as we walked out of the library and back to the examination room. I didn't remember much after that, but I did know that he helped me into bed and pulled the blanket up around me. I turned onto my side and faced the wall as he left the room quietly. Everything I had just heard was rushing around my brain, contradictory words crashing into one another and rebounding with such force that I couldn’t grasp any of them. Finally, I managed to hold onto one simple thought: my mother loved me. No matter how many times my father beat her or me for it, she never relinquished her love for me. But as soon as this comforting thought took place in the forefront of my mind, another quickly and ruthlessly shoved it out of the way. If my mother loved me so much, why did she leave me? Maybe my father was right after all, and she and Doctor Clark were the ones who were wrong.As I lay on the bed and began to drift off toward sleep, the burning behind my eyes began again, and again, the tears would not fall.