Ride for Life: Chapter 4

That’s right. I’m moving at the speed of growing grass. In this chapter, we learn about Kid’s past and why he is the way he is. Here goes, chapter 4 of Ride for Life

The Club’s double door entrance hissed open by itself. As his eyes adjusted to their surroundings, he noticed a similar color scheme as where he met Mr. Birmingham several hours, and half a dozen missed calls, earlier. The walls appeared sterile, the floor was a cold gray tile. Smells contradicting those seemingly sterile walls stung his nose. He assumed the scent came from a collection of any number of other clientele who might bathe only slightly more frequently than John had. Somehow though, the combination of it all mixed with some distant harsh chemicals did not make Kid’s stomach quiver like their car ride had.
People looking bored or asleep or even dead lined the corridor to a desk sitting far ahead of them. Relative quiet filled his ears, making them ring with anticipation of any oncoming sound. Sound that felt fixed just out of hearing range.
To any average person off the street, people like this lining a corridor brought images of natural disaster aftermaths. Kid knew this. Just such a thought played out in his own head during his first internship.
***
Growing up in a rural town, he tried to find a college far enough away to “see the world” as he put it then. Familial obligations and that certain sense of comfort coming with staying close to his roots, not to mention his lack of adequate funding, kept him closer to where his family tree had sprouted and floundered.
Before his internship, he never stepped foot inside the local hospital. Not only was it a twenty minute drive out of town, but he feared all clinics. Teetering at the top of a pyramid of feared institutions, he steered clear of hospitals at every chance. He held no negative memories of hospitals and himself. The same could not be said for his parents. And his mother reminded him constantly of his wanting to steer clear of hospitals of all sorts.
Stories chiseled into his very being of his father’s constant incarceration and his mother’s occasional overdose of whatever lay around the house kept him on a path of least clinical resistance.  The few times his father was home long enough to speak, he screamed about not having money for medical bills that piled high in the mailbox.
Only bad things inside them, his mother told him. Stay away, she said. Don’t do the same shit your father did and you won’t end up locked away like he is, she said. She still said it.
His college instructors warned him of the side effects of entering internships in places where people needed the help his training enabled him to provide. They explained that many find out in their first visit to their predetermined internship whether or not they truly have what it takes to be a social worker. You have to see things the average person never bears witness to, they said. You meet people living in abject poverty, the likes of which are unknown to anyone capable of getting into college. Many live in places one would not expect to find living creatures. They eat things that defy sanitary and edibility. Depending on your eventual line of work, you might meet people who redefine the very essence of humanity, both in the people you meet and serve and those that you never meet that put those you serve in their current life station.
Most told him, in one form or another, that a certain part of him will die when he enters that world. Every possible emotion and all his millions of nerve endings will struggle for familiarity and regularity. They said he probably would not sleep well for some time. He might even quit school.
“There’s a reason our field has a high turnover rate,” one instructor said. “And it doesn’t just have to do with low pay.”
White knuckled, he entered the local hospital pediatrics ward. His mentor walked ahead of him.
His first experience did something he never anticipated, something his instructors never warned of. Rather than getting ill or crying as all his peers later told him happened to them, he tore into two pieces like someone tearing a page out of a book. He felt as though he stood beside himself, watching a bony young man walking down the hall of rooms and closed doors. No fear. No emotion.
The part of him left holding all the emotion stood nearby. He briefly looked to his right expecting to see him looking into his own eyes. Nothing but wall. In his mind he folded his emotional half up like a dangling ribbon and placed it in his back pocket. There were times and places for everything, he figured. However, today was not that day.
One might assume his experience akin to a Zen moment. No thoughts drilled through his mind. Tears stayed locked away in their respective ducts. However, his moment did not include anything spiritual or uplifting. Then again, he could not pinpoint exactly the feelings that failed to rush through him in that moment and every moment thereafter.
A woman sat swaying back and forth with an infant bundled in her arms just outside a closed door. Deep circles ebbed from her eyes much as those of his own mother’s did every time she was fresh out of rehab attempting to mend burnt bridges. Then his mentor and his body stopped at another closed door.
He stood several steps back watching his mentor tell his body of the fragility of the case they were about to walk into.
“If you need to,” she said, “you can leave without excusing yourself.”
He watched as his body nodded.
“You OK?”
His body nodded slowly.
“Very well then. Once we go in, you have to do eveything I say. Don’t hesitate. Don’t ask questions. Just do it.”
His body did not react.
“I don’t expect any problems. But just in case.” She pointed toward the closed door with her thumb. “I happen to know the father in this case. Well, I know his file. We’ve never met. Which might work to my advantage. Are you ready?”
Another nod reverberated from his vacant body.
She opened the door. All three walked in.
Two men stood an arm’s length from the door they walked through. The physician wore the usual white overcoat he expected. The other man looked as though he came out from under a car not an hour prior. Instinctively, Kid’s eyes shot over to a woman sitting in a far corner. It confused him at first that she sat so far away from what he assumed was her son laying in bed, ignored and unconscious.
A pang shot through his chest when he recognized the woman’s look. A blank stare cut off with sporadic jerking every time her boyfriend or husband raised his voice or cocked his fist. He witnessed the same glazed appearance intermittent with deer in headlights flight response jolting through his mother’s face. As her eyes connected with Kid’s, she averted her gaze to an empty part of the room. He assumed she figured out why he and his mentor were there. Too busy yelling, the mechanic did not seem notice them enter.
“I thought you said you’d have this room clear,” his mentor said softly, “before we arrived.”
“Yes,” the physician started, “well, as you can see…”
“Who the fuck are you people?” Not waiting for a response, “This son of a bitch thinks I beat my son,” he barked. Thrusting his finger with such fervor at the physician’s face, everyone but the unconscious boy and Kid’s soulless body flinched.
“Nobody accused you of anything, sir,” his mentor interjected with a calming voice.
“Bullshit. That’s not what this towel-headed mother fucker said.”
Kid’s body watched the irate man closely. Pangs in his chest came with memories of his own father acting just as out of line. A lack of twitching in his facial muscles and relatively steady hands let him know the man was still some time away from lashing out on anyone physically. As long as no one provoked him further. Realizing this gave Kid time to peer at the physician. Little more than an eyebrow cocked, a sense of intrigue smothered the shots of electricity inside his ribcage.
He’s done this before, he thought.
“What are these two asses here for?”
Without hesitation the physician lied, “They’re just here to check your son’s vitals.”
Kid held back urges to show surprise. This too was a trait he picked up from childhood. A matter of survival. If you looked surprised or showed emotion suggesting discomfort toward the gorilla in the room, you got the gorilla. Or at least his belt. Sooner, at least. If, or when, he got the belt, the harder he wailed and screamed, the more satisfaction the gorilla received from the beating. Which meant he stopped sooner.
“Bull. Where’s their nurse’s uniforms? Where’s the real nurse?”
“She’s on-call elsewhere. These two are interns. They don’t wear scrubs so we can know who we have to watch over and who we don’t.”
As if by instinct, Kid’s mentor glided past the irate man to the unconscious boy’s bedside. His body followed close behind his mentor. Already certain their patient was in terrible condition, he did not look at him. Instead, he kept his eyes on his mentor who pretended, quite convincingly Kid recalled, checking vitals on all the machine’s she accessed.
“No need to check his I.V. I’ve called a Code Grey. The floor nurse will be in momentarily to take care of that.”
Though his eyes remained on his mentor pretending to check the boy’s vitals, Kid’s eyes never fully pulled away from the angry man now standing to his left. Now out of sight sat the boy’s trembling mother. One of the first rules to dealing with a violent person is to keep them in your line of sight. Secondarily, do not let that same person know you are abiding by Rule One. Following the first rule kept you aware of your surroundings. The second kept you from instigating the beast in your periphery. The second kept your surroundings from entering the foreground.
Not sure what played out between his mentor and the physician, but certain he need not act unnecessarily, Kid did not speak. He noticed his mentor’s gaze take in the remnants of the child in the bed though her face still pointed toward the numerous beeping machines keeping the boy alive. Then he realized only his eyes watched the still screaming man in the room’s center.
Through his periphery, Kid saw the man take a large step faster than expected toward the cowering woman. Without hesitation, as done so often before, Kid responded in kind, taking a step back. Now there stood a barrier protecting the woman. If only a modest one. Fear inched up his shins that the man noticed the reason for the sudden move. He did not.
Kid kept facing the wall of machines with assumed purpose, but the man remained well within sight. So much attention was placed on the angry father that the wall of machines blacked out entirely in a reverse tunnel vision. It was a trick he acquired. He thought everyone could do it. One end of the dark circle advanced on the angry man. From the other side, Kid watched the pouting woman for signs of serious escalation from her abuser, the man. Signs only she and her son would know. Since her son lay beside them in a coma, Kid relied on the woman. He might not know the man’s specific escalation markers, but he did recognize others’ responses to those signature movements.
She did what he feared she might do. With another step from her husband and a comment he heard but did not focus in on, her face flickered. The best trained microexpression expert might have missed the minute shudder. They would shrug it off as a nervous tick or symptoms of withdrawal. Both of which were likely also true.
Kid’s body took another step back, placing himself directly between aggressor and target. He could no longer hide the meaning behind his actions. No longer needing any information from the cowering woman, his body turned facing the man to his left.
With his emotions folded neatly in his pocket, he stood stoic staring at the man. The man’s face resonated with rage. He did not know why, but Kid stared straight into the man’s eyes. His eyes were glossed over with alcohol. That was when he saw the fist cocked and loaded in his periphery. Out of habit he did not flinch. Flinching only lead to further, and harder, punches. Pain was inevitable. But the number of punches was never chiseled in marble. The veracity of the punches was the one thing the victim could control, if they knew what to look for.
As it fired, another reached around the man and threw him to the floor. Kid stood confused, but did not show it. His gaze continued past where the angry man stood moments ago to a wall filled with charts. Physicians do not tackle aggressive patients, or in this case, aggressive family of patients. He looked down, his emotions still tucked away.
The two bodies holding down the man were not wearing white coats. Before fully grasping what took place, the man was cuffed and dragged out of the room. Kid could hear the woman crying now with no loud screaming to smother her voice.
“I’m impressed you understood my Code Grey reference,” the physician’s thick urban accent making it hard for Kid to understand. Or it could have been the adrenaline still coursing through his veins clouding his hearing. Then the nausea and weak knees he knew so well congealed. He sat down on the same ledge as the sobbing woman, making certain not to brush against her. She was already over-sensitive to unwanted or unexpected touching.
He could tell the physician and his mentor were speaking to each other. What they said remained a mystery. At this moment, he did not care either. He was too concerned with pushing down the bile eating its way through his esophagus. His stomach felt as if mercury was being stirred with some massive wooden spoon. He rubbed his sweating palms on the new slacks he purchased for his internship.
What a first day, he thought.
As the mixing in his stomach and the shaking in his hands slowed, he heard the woman beside him muttering. He turned his attention her way. Still he could not look directly at her.
“He didn’t mean to.” Her whisper barely audible.
“Never does,” he said without forethought. Her whimpers flooded into outright wailing. He hoped her breakdown was on account of her realizing what just happened and not what she just heard. But he knew better. Then he felt something brush against his legs.
Looking up, “Come on,” the mentor said, “We’re done here.”
Instinctively, he reached out to give the sobbing woman a hug. His body ached for it. Not for itself. That was the urges of the half of him hidden in his pocket. No, his body needed to help this defenseless woman. It needed to help his mother. However, he pulled back realizing it was not appropriate.
***
“Those were some pretty impressive moves back there,” his mentor said softly as they walked back through the pediatrics ward. He did not respond.
“I’d ask how you read him so well. But I’m afraid that’s nothing I care to know.”
Tears pleaded to escape. His whole face quivered as he refused to allow them such satisfaction. The half of him neatly folded in his pocket fluttered around demanding attention. He refused.
She must have noticed. Her voice cracked as she spoke.
“Everyone gets into this line of work for the same reason.”
They rode the elevator down in silence.
“Might not be the same plot. But the story is always consistent.”
More silence as they approached her car. They both closed their respective doors. He only wanted to go to sleep. His legs and face tingled, but they were not his legs. They belonged to someone sitting inside his body. He poked his leg with his finger. He could not tell if he could feel the poke or not.
“That doesn’t mean most who enter this profession don’t turn and run after a day like today. No one will think less of you if you don’t come back tomorrow.”
He let his mouth sit open for some time without speaking. Then, as they pulled up to his car in front of his mentor’s office he added, “His next son will.”

“So true. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

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