"I do it this way, Jer-ah-me?"
"Yeah, you put that right here, Sam," I point down to the indent I made in the dirt and smile when he pushes the bulb inside.
"Okay, Jer-ah-me?" He looks to me, squinting through his thick-lensed glasses with a questioning expression.
"Yep! Just like that. Good job."
Sam smiles, proud of his accomplishment, and shovels the dirt over the bulb he just planted with the spade, watching me do the same job when he's done and comparing it to his.
"It's gonna be pret-ee."
"Yeah, it is, buddy."
"I love you very much."
I smile for him, but can't say it back. Years of torment, being forced to declare my love for a man who controlled my every emotion has removed that ability. "Thanks, Sam."
"Will you always be my best friend, Jer-ah-me?"
I nod, managing a light smile. "Of course."
He smiles and goes back to his gardening. Sam loves three things. Disney. His sister. And me. It wasn't a conventional pairing, him and I. Sam wandered into my recreation room two months ago and sat down next to me. I was in tears, and he reached out and wiped them off my cheeks with his fingers, giving them a sniff followed by a sad expression.
"Wanna be best friends?" He asked me.
I couldn't resist him then. He wasn't like the rest.
Sam sticks by me even on the days I hide from the world and everyone in it. He finds me curled up in bed and climbs in beside me, wrapping his arms around me in a hug.
I do not have it in me to stop him.
My visitors are few and far between. Sam's camaraderie is a welcome distraction from all the shit creeping around in my head. He's lived here five years, and before meeting me, he had not spoken a word. Asking me to be his friend was a huge thing. If I said no, it would have destroyed him.
For once, I made the right call.
His doctor told me the story once I asked. A gang of teenagers cornered Sam one afternoon while he was walking around his neighborhood. They took him into the woods and beat him within an inch of his life. There was no reason for it, other than his vulnerability. His sister couldn't help him on her own, so Sam ended up here.
Since we met, he's become a chatterbox again. Sam likes to tell me everything on his mind, and sometimes, when he's about to doze off in my lap, I tell him some things on mine. He has Down's Syndrome, a condition I'm familiar with. I took part in a program during my initial medical residency that focused on special needs children and adults. I wanted to study the different conditions in order to perform more detailed research later on. Downs gives a childlike curiosity, making Sam non-threatening. It is the biggest reason I am able to let him close to me.
I have been here for a year, and Sam is the only person whom I have made a genuine connection with. My doctors would like me to branch out in group therapy and begin to talk about my issues and how they relate to everyone else's. I'm not there. The doctors force me to attend the sessions, but I refuse to interact.
No one pressures me.
I am sure they are warned about my temperament beforehand.
I have gruesome dreams in the dead of night as my medication wears off. Many images of my past float to the surface, my captivity, and the way Grant imprisoned and hid me away. I feel the bite of the handcuffs and the way the ball stretches my lips and makes me choke on my tongue. I hear the jangle of the long chains, and the creaking of the metal panel on its hinges as well as the penetration as he straddles me. The pulsing fear pounds in my stomach and ribs as Grant hands down the cane's relentless crack across my back.
Since my admission here, Grant has become unrecognizable both in dreams and reality. He is dark, calculating, and evil, not the person I love. No. That person will never return to me.
If you spend enough time in therapy, despite how hard you try to combat the truth, you learn to accept certain things. It was coming to terms with who Grant was, for me. Grant was not my lover or master. The agreement was not a real document and Jesus did not sit up in heaven all day waiting for me to make a mistake. Jesus is a hope, an idea of inspiration to millions, but in no way was He ever my dictator. Grant made all that up so I would obey him. I fell for it and performed unspeakable acts because of the lie. They are ones I cannot make up for and they will never be forgiven.
I live with that, the rapes, their tourture. The girls are with me in my dreams, screaming, begging me to stop, their gazes terrified, turning blank as I perform the actions dictated to me by Grant.
Sarah, Kennedy, Ashley, Taylor, Maya, Rebecca, Lauren, Brianne...
How could I do those things? Why didn't I stop myself and ask Grant to take my life instead? Was I scared of dying? Or was it that he would have found someone else and the work would have been done with or without me? I ask myself those questions daily. Dr. Clark tries to discuss them, the girls, but I back down each time he closes in on me. I cannot bring myself to relive those moments or discuss how I feel about them.
I have a child out in the world. It belongs to Melody, the last woman I raped. Despite how much time has passed in this place I cannot bring myself to process the way that makes me feel, and I do not discuss it, but I never have before.
Grant is simply my kidnapper now — the person who abused me every day until I learned to love him. Falling in love with Grant was a mechanism for defense, a way to survive. For all those years, it was the only way I could have. The emotions, as I made myself believe, were not real or raw. I was never in love with him, perhaps just the idea that he tended to my needs and kept me nourished, hydrated and clean. Dr. Clark tells me my acknowledgment of those things is progress. I do not see how. It kills me that I cannot remember Grant the way I used to. I cannot cherish him anymore.
He was the only real, consistent thing in my life for eight years. Now there is nothing left of that man I used to know.
That means there is nothing left of me.
I didn't sleep for weeks after those realizations. At times I would fly into a rage. I threw things and tried to attack the orderlies. Then they locked me away and upped my meds until they felt the dosages were enough to make me powerless to fight them.
I am no longer violent, no longer a threat, just numb and irritated most days. Angry at the world. The medication turns my brain foggy, causing me to be tired and withdrawn all day.
I sleep a ton and barely talk to my therapist anymore.
For the most part, therapists are bullshit. At first, I thought he was helping me. Now he only wants to feed me more substantial doses of medications, so I'll sleep most of the day away, presenting me with fake reassurances when I feel uneasy or afraid.
The truth is he does not know what to do for me. Not anymore. We have discussed things, what life may be like for me if I can never leave this place. There are ways for me to study or to enrich myself as a lifer. In a way, it will be like the metal box. I will ask for special things, and when possible, I will get them. Otherwise, I will just be a prisoner here, stuck behind these fences, waiting for the next command.
I will be lost. Forever alone. But others will be safe from me and that is most important.
Sam's sister, Kate, has arrived. I slink away from Sam and concentrate on the bulbs. Gardening eases my tension, helps me melt away when I start to feel insecure or frightened.
Right now, I am both.
Sam drops the spade and rushes over to her, throwing his arms around her slim waistline. Kate laughs and kisses him on the forehead before throwing a casual smile my way.
I look at the dirt and start digging my spade into it. "Hi," I whisper.
Two months ago, I would not speak to her at all, so I guess this is progress.
"How are you?"
I shrug. I cannot bring myself to look at her. I am afraid of emotions, that I might be able to shed a light and smile, or be personable for once. Nothing on this earth will allow me to hurt another person. Especially a woman. If Kate knows what is good for her, she will stay far away from me.
"Okay," I finally croak out.
"We planting things!" Sam exclaims. "Bootiful flowers, Kat—eee!"
"I see that," she laughs. "They're going to be so nice when they sprout, Sam. I can't wait to see them."
"Jer-ah-me says we grow veggies next time!"
"Oh cool, I like tomatoes. Jeremy, will you grow those?" She asks, seeming to force enthusiasm into her tone.
"Tomatoes are a fruit," I snap, harshly, my eyes drifting to her, squinting in a glare. "I don't have seeds for that plant. Just greens and cucumbers."
"You're right. Tomatoes are fruit, aren't they? I read that somewhere, Jeremy."
I give her a sarcastic smile. "Congratulations genius. I already knew that. I didn't have to read about it."
She sighs and some force seems to push a smile on her lips. "Well, I guess you're smarter than me."
"I know a lot of things," I tout, my tone dark, and condescending . "I've won all kinds of awards. I bet you haven't."
Kate nods her head, pointing her gaze at the ground for moments before she forces it back on me. "No. I can't say that I have."
"I have a Pulitzer," I brag, forcing my smile as I await her reaction.
Like it even matters anymore.
"Wow, that's impressive," she says casually.
"Yeah," I nod, attempting to maintain the sliver of confidence inside, but it falls away quickly. "I got it when I was twenty. By that time I had a PhD too. I was a doctor before, did you know that?"
Kate clears her throat and presses her lips together. "Yeah um--I knew that part."
"Good. Everyone needs to realize that I'm not some kind of fucking mental case." My voice trembles but I swallow back the emotions as I continue to stare at her.
"I never said that you are," Kate whispers, her expression almost pained, like I hurt her in some way.
That is what I seem to be good at these days, hurting people.
"Everyone needs a little help sometimes. That's all I'm saying," I grunt.
"You're right," she agrees. "That's why Sam is here."
Kate stares back at me, her eyes sad. Her lips part as if she would like to respond further, but then she doesn't. I frown. She doesn't care about my accomplishments, she only sees the person in white scrubs, serving a life sentence in this place.
Everyone is cautious around fragile Jeremy.
"I'm really smart," I continue after a moment, holding my head high so she will only see the confidence instead of how terrified I am. "Don't allow them to make you believe I'm a mental case just because I'm in here. Sometimes people have problems they can't control by themselves."
Her shoulders move in a shrug and a smile tugs at her lips. "I um--I wouldn't think that about you. I get it. Everyone has their own story."
My eyes glaze her up and down, attempting to read her internal reaction. "Don't judge me, Kate."
She shakes her head at me, the anger filling her expression now. "I'm not."
"Yes you are," I hiss, my teeth clenched as my lips form into a scowl. "You all do it. You just don't say anything."
Kate licks her lips and runs a hand through her long blonde waves. "Jesus--all right." Her hand falls at her side, slapping her thigh in frustration. "I can't do this with you right now."
A smile of sarcasm fills my lips and I snort a laugh at her. "Then don't. Just go."
"You ready to get some lunch, Sam?" Kate tears her gaze from mine and smiles for her brother, forgetting about me. "Dr. Powers says we can sign out."
"Happy Meal!" Sam shifts from foot to foot and claps his hands. "Chuck n' Cheese!"
"Sure, buddy," Kate smiles for him. "We'll have time for both."
Sam is one of the lucky ones. Kate comes weekly to visit him, and they get to leave here once a month for lunch and the arcade.
My sister has come three times since her wedding with her nervous husband in tow. He made things awkward and uncomfortable for me, so I did not talk at all during her visits. They haven't come back.
I guess she is busy.
I miss her.
My parents visited once for an hour, but couldn't seem to tolerate each other or my mood. Dad doesn't visit anymore; he calls every Saturday instead. Mom still comes, though, on the last day of each month.
They are still separated, and recently filed for divorce. Mom told me during her last visit. I blamed myself although Dr. Clark said it wasn't my fault, but I did not believe him. I still don't.
Andy hasn't made contact since that day with Doctor Malloy. At times, I ache for her. Or perhaps I long for the person she was before Grant stole me.
The meds curb those feelings so I won't become too desperate.
I do not go out once a month to eat lunch. No one has offered to take me, but suppose it is for the best. Mom refuses. I once found the courage to ask her, but then things became awkward, and she left early. Instead, I stay here and have Jell-o cut into smiles and stars on Fridays and every Sunday cheese pizza is served in a rectangular shape. Those are my delicacies, and they are insolent. Grant would never have allowed me so much sugar and carbohydrates.
Since being admitted here, I have gained some weight. The muscular physique Grant forced me to retain all those years is fading. I have not spent time in a weight room since my escape from the cabin. Here there is no incentive, no agreement that requires me to obey. My stomach no longer exhibits the rippled muscles of my abdomen. My chest and pecs are softer and saggier, the biceps in my upper arms are not as curved, and my calves are half the size they once were.
"Maybe Jeremy can come with us," Kate suggests to her brother. "Dr. Clark said it was okay."
I stare at her, and she stares right back at me. The idea of being in public terrifies me.
"No...no, I'm fine here," I say nervously, with a shake of my head.
"Jer-ah-me come!" Sam exclaims. His eyes are bright and hopeful behind the thick lenses of his glasses.
"I uh—" My gaze drifts to the ground as I shove my hands into my pants' pockets. "Not today, buddy."
"Sorry. I thought you'd want to get out of here for a while," Kate says quickly.
"No, you decided that I would want to," I snap at her. "No one ever asks me my opinion. They expect me to go along with their fucking plans."
As my heart bumps against my rib cage, sweat beads up on my brow. My emotions are flying off the handle and I know what could happen. I know what I am capable of doing. All I want is to get away from her, hide in my bed, far from everything that frightens me. Why does she persist and hang around so much when I obviously do not want to be bothered? It would be easier for her to take Sam and leave me be, but she will not do that. She becomes more outspoken each time we meet and tries to get me to interact with her.
I do not want to talk to anyone. Sam is different. He needs me and so I do my best with him, but that is all.
"Fine. I'm sorry," Kate sighs and slaps her hands at her sides. "Do you want to have lunch with us?"
I roll my eyes and scowl, crossing my arms protectively against my chest. "No."
"I was trying to be nice, you know," she explains, her eyes squinted at me in annoyance as her tongue parts her lips. "It's been a long time since someone has done something for you. I can tell."
"You don't know anything," I scoff, pointing my gaze at the ground so she won't see the glassiness in my eyes.
"I know that you've helped Sam more than anyone else could," she speaks up after a few moments. "I've wanted to thank you, but you're too stubborn to have an actual conversation with me."
My gaze shoots to hers and I glare, crossing my arms to my chest protectively. "I'm a grown man. Happy meals and arcades don't exactly stimulate my psyche. If you want to thank me, say it and go about your day, Kate."
She shakes her head. For seconds she goes misty-eyed. I do not understand.
"You've been through hell," she finally replies with a sniffle, rubbing her nose with the tips of her fingers. "They told me that your family barely comes to see you. That's gotta be hard—coping with everything by yourself."
"They see me enough," I mutter, barely meeting her gaze as I push my heel into the dirt.
"Not enough for someone who lived through eight years of captivity," she says, her voice sad as she looks at the ground.
"Oh, I get it," I flash a sarcastic smile. "You've watched the news reports. That makes you an expert on me?"
"That's not what I meant. I'm just stating facts."
I grab my gardening tools and march up to her, the resentment inside of me bubbling to the surface. The fact that Sam is standing next to her is insignificant. I am too angry to care.
"My family is busy. They have jobs, and my sister just got married," I tell her, darkly.
"Oh yeah?" She says, looking me directly in the eyes with hands on her hips, gaze determined and strong. "I'm here every weekend and didn't notice anyone come to sign you out so you could attend the wedding."
My lips tremble, and I press them together to hold back my tears. No. I did not get to go. I try not to let it affect me so much, but it still hurts like hell deep down.
"I wasn't in a good place, mentally," I defend. "That could have ruined things for Helen. I get why they didn't want me there."
She shrugs. "They're supposed to be your family, Jeremy. That means standing by you through all the bad shit, no matter what. Instead, they went off and had a big wedding for your sister and allowed you to rot in here. I wish you could realize how fucked up that is."
"I've put them through enough. You don't even--have a clue," I say, my voice shaking as my lips tremble. I swallow back the emotions so Kate won't see what an utter disaster I am inside.
Each time we see each other, I break down a bit more. Soon it will be impossible to hide my emotions from her.
I hate that I might be starting to trust her.
I don't trust people anymore.
Not since Andy.
"Yeah, well, maybe that's what you need," Kate says, her expression resilient, defiant. "Someone that doesn't know. For your information, I haven't been paying attention to the news. Not like the rest of America. I don't follow that tragic stuff, but it's hard to hide from what happened to you. I don't live in a cave, Jeremy."
"Congratulations," I sneer. "Go on. I don't need your fucking sympathy."
"You know, hiding and pushing everyone away isn't going to make the pain go away," she tells me. "It's only going to destroy you."
"That already happened," I whisper. "I have nothing left to give now."
She shakes her head. "I don't believe that. Not yet."
"Sam," she nods and motions to her brother, who is currently spinning in circles--one of his favorite games. "He's the proof that you've got a heart, Jeremy. I took him to countless doctors and shrinks after the attack. Nothing helped. Sam was terrified and combative, so the alternative was moving six hours away and admitting him here. Now he's getting better. That's because of you."
"I didn't do anything. Sam came to me," I say, my teeth clenched. "He's a pain in the ass half the time, always clinging to me--"
"Just stop," she interrupts. "You can talk that way to me, but you're not going to drag Sam into it. I mean, shit, how dare you?"
She is giving me the coldest gaze I have ever seen on her face.
Yeah, I feel like shit.
"I--I shouldn't have said that." I hang my head low. "I'm just--"
"Scared," she rasps.
"I guess so," I whisper, my emotions pinging inside my gut due to the confession. I have never admitted that to anyone, not even Dr. Clark. Why her? Why now?
"Well, you know what, Jeremy? You're not the only person in the world who had someone fuck with them. It sucks, yeah, I can't deny that, but what are you going to do? Spend the rest of your life in places like this?"
"Maybe. If I have to."
"That's bullshit," she seethes. "You're better than this, so stop feeling sorry for yourself and try for once! No one is going to do that for you!"
My eyes widen, and I let out a breath, but say nothing. Kate is so bold. I have no idea where she gets it. I wish I could be more like her. She takes her brother by the hand and guides him away. Sam looks over his shoulder, his face stained with tears, devastated about my argument with her, and that I have decided not to join in on his fun.
"Bye-bye, Jer-ah-me," he sobs.
The tears drip down my face. I can't hold them back anymore.
I've tolerated a lot in my lifetime, before and after my abduction. One thing I can't deal with, though, is Sam being upset. That hurt reaches deep into the depths of my soul where there's a person left.
She stops walking and glances back at me. "What now?"
"Look, I'll--I'll go, but I'm not getting a Happy Meal," I call out, hands on my hips. "I'm a vegetarian—so I'll get a salad."
Suddenly that million-dollar smile I've only seen on Kate Hall's face one other time reveals itself to me.
"Well, what are you waiting for, Jeremy? I can't stand here all day."
I shrug and follow behind them.