I woke up slowly and was aware of an increasing pressure in my bladder. I gingerly sat up, wincing once more at the pain in my head and ribs. The bell Doctor Clark left for me was sitting on the table, and I rang it desperately. When Nurse Williams walked in, I was squirming underneath the covers, making it evident what I needed.
Trying to hide the smile that I could see was threatening to cross her face, the nurse walked to my bed. “Yes, Erik, how may I help you?”
I could feel a hot blush rise from my neck to cover my face, but I put the bell down on the table and tried to tell her what I needed. “I…” my throat felt dry, and I cleared it. “I need to…”
Nurse Williams looked at me for a short moment and then nodded as if she had just understood what I was trying to say. “Do you need to relieve yourself?”
If possible, my blush deepened even more. “Y-Yes, ma'am,” I stuttered, turning my eyes away from her.
She let out a little laugh at my embarrassment. “It's all right, Erik. It's a perfectly normal need, especially after that breakfast you ate.” She walked to my bed and put my left arm around her shoulder. “Now, stand up slowly. If your head starts hurting too much, let me knew. I can always get you a bedpan.”
“What's a bedpan?” I asked.
“A pan that you can use to relieve yourself without getting out of bed.”
My face twisted into a grimace of disgust at that thought. “I think I can make it,” I commented dryly.
The nurse laughed again and gently helped me to my feet. She looked at my face and probably saw me wince again, but as I stood there, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t pass out. She led me into the hallway, and I was perplexed when we did not head outside, but rather, slowly walked to the next room. When the nurse opened the door, she asked, “Do you need any help?”
I was still confused, but the blush returned to my face, and I quickly said, “No, thank you, I'll be fine.”
“All right, then. Doctor Clark does not want you to bathe by yourself, but I will bring some clean clothes for you to change into when you are done. I will help you back to bed, and then we'll see if you need help changing, all right?”
“Yes, ma'am,” I replied. She helped me into the room and made sure that I could stand by myself before closing the door behind her.
I looked around the room for a moment, amazed. The room contained a white tub with clawed feet, a basin attached to the wall, and a white bowl with a brown cover. I lifted the cover and saw that it had a hole not unlike our outhouse at home, but it had water in it. I was unclear if this was where I did my business, but I sat down and hoped that it was. As I relieved myself, I thought back to the events of the night before. It was not that I was surprised at what had happened, for my father was never gentle with me, but he had never been quite as out-of-control before. My memories did not include a time where he beat me into unconsciousness.
As I finished, the realization hit me that I didn’t know what to do next. In an outhouse, the process of relieving yourself was very simple. I looked at the contraption for a moment, and then noticed a lever on a box above it. I raised my hand to pull the lever, and I managed to do it before the pain in my ribs forced me to drop my hand. Even so, I was completely fascinated when there was a rush of sound and the water disappeared down the bowl, taking my waste with it. I immediately noticed the lack of smell after the job was done. The smell was the worst thing about an outhouse, and after having used this indoor one, I definitely never wanted to go back to the old way of doing these things.
I had seen myself very few times in my life. We had no mirrors in our cabin, and though I tried to avoid looking into the one here, I couldn’t resist. The image that confronted me was even more disgusting than I expected, for in addition to my normally hideous face, there was a large, white bandage covering my left temple and cheek and most of my left eye. I tried to raise my hand to touch the bandage, but the pain in my ribs prevented me from bringing it any higher than my shoulder. I slowly lowered it, gave my reflection one last glare, and turned to the door.
“Nurse Williams? I'm done.”
The door opened, and the nurse came in.
“Did you wash your hands?”
I frowned. “No, ma'am.”
She guided me to the basin and stood as if waiting for something. When I only looked at her, she reached around me and turned a handle. My eyes widened as water flowed from a spout next to the handle. I returned my gaze to her, and she frowned.
“You didn’t have indoor plumbing at your house, did you, Erik?”
“No, ma'am.” I looked at the basin, fascinated by the flowing water even as I was embarrassed to admit this. I quickly realized that the doctor must have much more money than my family did to have such a luxury in his house, and it made me feel even more stupid than usual to know that there was much here that I would never understand.
“Well, here,” the nurse said, placing a cake of soap in my hands. “Wash your hands, and I’ll help you back to bed.”
I did as she said, and then she turned the handle once again to make the water stop. She helped me back down the hallway, and we entered the room I had been sleeping in. On the bed was a neat pile of clothes. As she helped me sit down, she asked, “So, do you think you can change by yourself, or do you want me to help you?”
I remembered the pain in my ribs when I tried to raise my hand in the bathroom, but I definitely did not want her to see any part of me not normally covered by clothing. Subjecting her to the horrors of my face was bad enough; I didn’t want to make her faint at the sight of the rest of me. Even though I was not entirely confident about it, I answered, “I think I can manage, thank you.”
“Good, but you ring the bell if you have any problems, understand?”
“Yes, ma'am, I understand,” I responded.
“Let me knew when you are done, and I will be back to give you your medicine,” she continued, and with that, she left the room.
I picked up the pile of clothes on the bed and saw that it included numerous items I had never worn before. I had never owned underwear or socks or shoes. All I had on at the moment was a dirty linen shirt and brown canvas pants. I slowly began removing them, starting with my shirt. Fortunately, it buttoned down the front, so I did not have to raise my arms above my head. I couldn’t twist to pull it off of my arms, so I just let it slide off of my arms onto the bed behind me. When I had the shirt off, I undid the buttons on my pants and slowly stood so that I could take them off. I only stood long enough to pull them down past my seat, and then resumed my position on the bed. I just kicked them off and let them drop on the floor.
It took much more effort to undress than I had expected, and I was getting very tired. I knew I couldn’t very well call the nurse in, however, as I was stark naked, so I began redressing myself in the clean clothes. I took the underwear first and slipped it over my feet. Next came the pants, and I steeled myself against the pain in order to bend over and pull them both up to my waist before fastening the pants. It was obvious that there was no way I would be able to put on the undershirt, so I attempted to just put on the shirt. I managed to get one arm into a sleeve, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t twist my body to get the other sleeve without feeling like I was going to pass out from the pain. After a few attempts, I realized it was useless, and at least I had my pants on, so, with one arm still in a sleeve, I reluctantly took the bell and rang it.
Nurse Williams immediately entered the room and walked over to me. She stopped suddenly, however, and raised her hands to her mouth. There was a hiss as she sharply inhaled through her teeth. I dropped my head in shame, my gaze settling somewhere near my feet. I knew I should not have called her; the view of my horrific body was too much for even a nurse to stomach.
“Erik,” she managed to say, as tears welled up in her eyes, “what did he do to you?”
My stupidity was proven yet again, for I had no idea what she was talking about. She already knew about my face, so that couldn’t have been it. I looked at her and noticed that she was staring at my chest. I brought my gaze to the same place, but did not see anything that could have prompted such a reaction. She must have meant the marks on me; most of my body was covered in a grotesque pattern of black, green, and yellow splotches—my ribs, my chest, my stomach, my arms, my legs, and I assumed my back, though I couldn’t see it. I vaguely noticed that there was a very large, very dark patch over my left ribs that hadn’t been there the previous morning, but new marks appeared on a regular basis, so I just looked back at Nurse Williams.
“What?” I questioned. “This is just how I look. I know my body is horrifying to look at, but it is just this way.”
“No, Erik,” she said, anger becoming evident in her voice, although the tears did not disappear. She came over to the bed and sat down on the edge next to me, removing the shirt I had attempted to put on. She slowly raised a hand to my chest and gently touched it. “There is nothing normal about this. Do you not realize that these are bruises? These were caused by someone hitting you.” Her fingers drifted over the marks, and then she turned me to look at my back.
I heard her gasp in horror, but my mind was reeling as memories of my father's fists and feet plowing into me flooded my brain. I couldn’t remember a time when he wasn't hitting me or kicking me. I never knew that the flaws on my body were a result of that, however. It seemed that they had always been there, and he would use them as further proof that I was hideous and undeserving of pity or compassion. Was it true that he caused them? It didn’t seem like that was possible. As I tried to wrestle with this new idea, I suddenly felt very lightheaded, and I began to fall forward.
Nurse Williams caught me and laid me back down on the bed. “It's all right, Erik,” she soothed. “We’ll take care of you. No one will ever hurt you again.”
I was feeling better just from lying down, and I was very tired. I turned my head toward the nurse. I knew I was stupid, but nothing was making sense. Maybe it was just because of the concussion, but I didn’t understand anything that was happening. “Why are you doing this? I don’t deserve this kindness.”
“Of course you do,” she responded. “Every human being deserves kindness,” and I noticed that the tears that were threatening to fall from her eyes earlier had finally done so.I tried to correct her misinformation and tell her that I was not worthy of her tears, but I couldn’t seem to stay awake. The sound of her gathering up the clothes around me drifted into my mind as sleep came to claim me once again.