When I awoke, the room was dark. I had no idea how long I had been asleep this time, but it was morning the last time I was awake. I sat up in bed, noticing that the pain in my both my head and ribs had lessened somewhat. As I reached for the bell, I saw that I was still only wearing the pants I put on earlier. My upper body was tightly wrapped in bandages, and the idea that the doctor saw what was under them brought a flush of shame to my cheeks.
I rang the bell, and a few moments later, Doctor Clark came into the room, flicking a switch on the wall as he came. I was astonished as light flooded the room, and I started to ask about it, but I saw that anger was evident in the doctor’s downturned mouth, furrowed brow, and clenched jaw as he pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down.
First, he again looked into my eyes with his instrument and then he gently lifted the bandages on my head to inspect the wounds underneath. Then he directed his attention to my upper body. He gently touched the bandages and watched my face. The pain in my ribs was still there, but it was manageable, so there was no visible reaction from me. This seemed to puzzle the doctor, but he did not comment. As a matter of fact, he hadn't said one word since entering the room, and I began to worry that I had done something to anger him. His gentle hands seemed to dispute that idea, but I could tell he was very angry about something.
“Doctor Clark?” I ventured tentatively. “Are you mad at me?”
I flinched and turned away when his eyes snapped to mine, but he grasped my chin and turned my face toward him. Compassion had almost replaced the anger in his eyes as he looked at me, but not entirely.
“No, Erik,” he said, “I am not mad at you. You never need to fear me, do you understand? I will never hurt you, and I will make sure no one ever hurts you again.”
“I understand,” I said, but doubt still clambered for a spot in my mind. “Why are you angry, then?”
He dropped his hand to his lap and sighed heavily. “I am angry at your father,” he stated. “I am angry that he was allowed to do such things to you and your mother with no one intervening. I am angry at myself for not knowing what was going on in my own town. Yes, Erik, I am angry, but not at you. None of this is your fault.”
His words began to penetrate the doubt in my mind, and for the first time in my life, I felt like someone other than my mother cared about me. As I pondered what he said, I felt him take my hand in his.
“Erik,” he started, making me look at him once again, “I have something to tell you.” He stopped, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to speak. “It is going to be very hard for you to hear.”
At these words, dread began to fill my soul. The way he said it, I knew it was bad news, and the way he was stalling, I was fairly sure it was very bad news.
“What is it?” I asked, though I was not entirely sure I really wanted to know.
He sighed again and looked straight into my eyes. “Your father and mother have disappeared,” he said slowly, watching for my response.
“Disappeared?” I asked. “What do you mean by disappeared?”
“I mean that I went to your house earlier today, and they were gone. The house was empty, and there was no sign of either of them. I went to a few of your neighbors, but no one saw them leave. There was no indication at all to show where they went.”
This was not what I had expected to hear. I was not sure what I had expected, but definitely not this. My mother was gone. I didn’t care at all that my father was gone, but I didn’t know what I was going to do without my mother. She was the only person in my life who had ever loved me. She was the only person that I loved. I looked at Doctor Clark with fear and confusion, and I slowly shook my head.
“That's not possible, Doctor,” I blurted. “My mother would never leave me. She wouldn’t do that! Why would she leave? She…she loves me!” My voice got louder and shriller as my tirade continued, but I couldn’t seem to control it.
Doctor Clark sat on the bed, and his arm went around my shoulders. He drew my head to his chest, and he whispered, “Shh, Erik, everything will be all right. We will figure something out, don’t worry.”
My breathing accelerated to the point where my ribs were throbbing again, but I couldn’t stop the heaving of my chest. I felt a burning behind my eyes, but the tears would not fall. I learned early on in life that tears only made my father more angry, so I had not cried since I was a very little boy, and, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t cry now.
I didn’t know how long we sat like that—Doctor Clark holding me, and me trying not to hyperventilate. It seemed like hours passed before the doctor released me and sat me back up against the pillows. He seemed surprised that my eyes were dry, but he did not comment on it.
“What is going to happen to me now, sir?” The thought that I was alone was terrifying.
“I'm not sure, Erik. I’ll have to consult with the sheriff to find out what our next move should be.”
At the mention of the sheriff, my stomach clenched with fear, and I quickly swallowed a few times in an attempt to keep calm. My father always warned me that if the sheriff was ever involved in our lives, I would be taken away and locked up away from people so that no one would ever have to look at my hideousness again. Despite my efforts to show no reaction, however, I could feel my hands begin to shake, and sweat beaded on my forehead. Doctor Clark was a very observant man, and no matter how hard I tried to hide it, he saw my terror.
“What's the matter, Erik?” He took my hand and patted it tenderly. Misunderstanding the reason for my alarm, he continued, “Don’t be afraid; your father can’t hurt you anymore.”
I let the error remain, for I did not have the strength or desire to explain to this wonderful man that he was wasting his kindness on one such as me. I decided to simply let him do as he must, and I resigned myself to the consequences of his actions. I thought that if I must be locked away from the world, then so be it, for without my mother and her tender, albeit misguided, nightly words of compassion and love, I had nothing to live for, anyway.I slipped my hand out of Doctor Clark's and slowly rolled onto my side so that my back faced him. I heard him softly sigh and then he pulled the blanket up over me, resting his hand lightly on my shoulder for a brief moment. I closed my eyes as he walked to the door. I greatly hoped for sleep to come and chase away the reality of my situation, but it did not fulfill that hope until many more hours had passed.