Dean wakes up in the infirmary. Again.
Looking around the room bleary-eyed, it takes him a moment to get his bearings. Other than a guy snoring in a bed across the room, he sees that he is alone. He can also see that there’s an orderly standing in the hallway. Gingerly, Dean moves his blanket and checks out the damage. The cuts on his leg aren’t too bad, he’s had a lot worse. His ribs, however, really hurt and his eye feels puffy. He grimaces as he touches it gently, yeah that’s gonna be a nice look...
‘Damn orderly,’ he thinks to himself as he shifts to carefully pull himself upright. ‘Didn’t need to use so much force, I was gonna give him the stupid blade… just as soon as I was finished.’ Dean had stolen a broken razor blade and was in the process of cutting new lines on his upper thigh; the orderly was determined to take the broken piece from him. When Dean didn’t immediately hand it over, the orderly grabbed his arm and out of nowhere two more orderlies tackled him to the ground. ‘That shit hurt more than any cut I ever made,’ he thinks bitterly. The people who say they want to help always end up hurting him the most. He hisses as he presses on his left side over the bruising on his ribs. Fighting the dizziness and a pounding head, he closes his eyes, feeling the slow slide into darkness come over him. With the darkness, however, comes the monsters.
Dean has been in and out of places like this most of his life. He doesn’t really remember life outside the system anymore. He was only four years old when his house burned down and his childhood all but ended.
He tries unsuccessfully to push the images away.
# # #
“Dean! Run! Get out the front door, NOW!” Daddy was yelling and Dean was scared because Daddy had never yelled at him like that before. The smoke was filling the upstairs rooms. Mommy pushed him toward the stairs and made sure he got to the front door, but then she went back upstairs to get baby Sammy. Daddy was yelling from upstairs for Dean to get outside to the yard.
Dean was crying as he ran out into the front yard, the neighbors had come out and the nice lady from next door grabbed him as soon as he was off the porch. Looking back toward the house, Dean could see the flames through the upstairs windows. There was a loud boom and the windows of the house all shattered as the flames shot out. Dean cried watching the front door, frantically struggling against the arms that held him tight. He watched, unblinking, waiting for his Mommy and Daddy to come out. They should be coming out with little Sammy any second now. Any second now…
Dean cried as more neighbors appeared from their houses one by one to watch his house burn. He cried as he fell asleep in the arms of a fireman. Dean cried when the fireman gently told him that the rest of his family had never made it out of the house.
Standing next to the grumpy, court-ordered child service agent, Dean didn’t cry. He felt like he was moving in wet cement, he had never slept away from home before. He didn’t like this room, it smelled like dirty socks and the weird old man who was always at the bus stop. All the adults around him were discussing things like foster care and possibilities of adoption and so many other words Dean didn’t understand. Dean didn’t like that his pajamas still smelled like smoke. He wanted his mommy.
# # #
The nurse touches Dean’s arm startling him out of his thoughts. “Good morning Dean.” She is smiling down at him sweetly but her eyes are sad. “How are you feeling this morning?”
Dean stares at her. His mouth feels like it is full of cotton and he doesn’t feel like he could talk even if he wanted to.
“Well, these older marks look like they are healing just fine,” she says soothingly as she surveys the small marks on his forearms. “I’m going to need to move this blanket to check your leg now.” Dean doesn’t fight her, but he doesn’t help her, either, “These are mostly okay… Although that one looks like it hurts. That razorblade went really deep, didn’t it?”
He rolls his eyes at her, ‘Well, duh’. He was just about to cut a line when the orderlies had tackled him, forcing the blade so deep into his thigh they had to have a doctor remove it. The overreaction resulted in a significantly larger wound.
“Dean…,” the nurse gently speaks, “...if you’d just stop stealing razors and utensils they’d probably lighten up and even let you eat lunch with some of your friends now and then instead of constantly being attended by an orderly…”
Dean stares at the woman like she is the crazy one, ‘Friends? What fucking friends?’ He doesn’t socialize with any of the other patients, play stupid board games or even watch ridiculous daytime TV with them. He favors sitting by the window in the day room, staring out towards the huge garden in front of the Center with the trees that line the long, curved driveway leading to a freedom that Dean somehow never seems to find in life.
The nurse is still talking. Incessantly talking. So much noise that his ears feel hot with a buzzing is gradually growing louder. Too loud for Dean to concentrate on the thought and tranquility of his relatively ‘happy’ place. ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP!’ he wants to scream at the nurse but the words are stuck in his brain. He shakes his head trying to rattle the words out… it never works… some days are just like that. Some days his voice just doesn’t work. Doesn’t WANT to work. It seems to be more days than not lately, ever since he was brought to the Center a few months ago.
The nurse, assuming that Dean is gesturing to her encouragingly, begins to excitedly engage him in further conversation. ‘...Great,’ he thinks.
FINALLY, the nurse finishes her examination, which included taking samples for a full blood and urine test. ‘I’m not a fuckin’ addict!’ Dean thinks ‘I only get to take the shit you quacks give me, not that it helps at fuckin all.’
Even as she tidies up, preparing to leave, she is talking continuously. Dean rolls away from the irritating woman and pretends to go back to sleep. He is possibly the furthest from tired he’s ever been but it is easier to ignore the constant noise this way. Dean closes his eyes tightly and allows himself to imagine being... well... not being here. Not him. Not broken. And not alone.
# # #
He was hiding under the big wooden desk, curled as small as a seven-year-old could possibly get (and he could make himself very small). The latest in a long line of state-issued child service agents was scolding him for biting another child.
“I only bit him ‘cuz he took my matchbox car and put me in a headlock!” A frustrated young Dean yelled at the adult.
“Young man, you know that biting is against the rules!” Adults only ever cared about the stupid rules.
“Takin’ my toy and puttin’ me in a headlock ain’t against none of your rules?!” he yelled again from his hiding place.
The woman tsked at him and sighed heavily. “Those toys are not yours. All the toys belong to the daycare and all the children here must share the toys. You need to remember the rules.”
Dean fought back the tears burning his eyes. He had nothing. Even the clothes on his back were donated, used and worn by the time he got them. Suddenly, a large hand grabbed his ankle. The assistant jerked Dean by the leg and dragged him out from under the desk. “OOWWW!!” Dean screamed, kicking at the arm attached to the large hand.
“Shut it you little shit!” The fat, ogre-like man huffed at Dean “That’s what you get for making me get you out from under there.”
Dean wanted to bite him too, but aside from already being in trouble for biting, the way the man was twisting Dean’s arm kept him turned away from him, making it hard for Dean to land a good bite. “Fatass,” Dean mumbled.
# # #
Dean wakes with a jerk and sits straight up in bed, a pain shooting through his chest. ‘Oh right, bruised ribs,’ he remembers.
He looks up in time to see the nurse and two orderlies arriving at his bedside. “Time for you to head on back to the day room. The doctor wants you to be careful of your ribs for the next few days,” the nurse informs him, as if he had any choice in the matter.
Sitting in the day room watching the gardener tidy the edges of the driveway, Dean tries to picture himself walking, NO, driving away from this place. He imagines himself speeding down that long, curved driveway to... to somewhere else. Anywhere else. Where though? Canada? Naw too cold. Mexico? Maybe, but they talk Mexican down there and he only remembers a few words from when he was a kid. That wouldn’t be too helpful…. Wait, is it called even called Mexican?’ Why is he always so confused these days? The meds. It has to be the meds they give him here. Those damn pills leave him feeling sleepy, confused and forgetful.
Glancing over at the nearby bookshelf for inspiration, Dean let his thoughts tumble as his eyes slide absently over the titles. ‘Well, we talk English like England, ‘cuz American ain’t a language, so it makes sense that Mexicans talk Mexican, right? Germans talk German and Russians talk Russian.’ Yeah, he remembers that from school. But he still doesn’t know how to talk Mexican, so maybe going to Mexico isn’t a good idea. ‘Maybe Montana or Utah, they have horses and cowboys there too, just like Texas.’
Lost in the thought of horses, Dean grabs a marker off the table and scans the room for a piece of paper. Shrugging to himself in resignation, he starts drawing a stick-figure horse on his forearm, grinning at his funny little horse. He is filled with a sudden flutter of happiness as he remembers The Ranch and his adventures with the horses.
Dean is jerked up from his chair and held against the wall before he even notices that the two orderlies have rushed across the room. The linebacker-like man holds Dean against the wall as the other orderly roughly pulls Dean’s arm towards himself at an awkward angle to check him over.
“What the hell, Man?” Scolds the shorter, thinner orderly. “Why the hell are you scribbling all over your damn arm with a marker? I thought you were cutting yourself again. What is this? You practicing for the next time or something?” He sneers derisively. “You freaks really piss me off. Can’t even kill yourself without fucking it up. You can’t do anything right.”
Linebacker snarls at Dean and pats the side of his face roughly, giving him one last shove into the wall before letting go and stalking away.
Dean slumps to the floor, ‘I - I wasn’t… I never…” Dean can’t even finish his thought; the buzzing in his ears is too loud, his heart pounding, barely able to catch his breath. Shakily, he crawls under the table and wraps his arms around his legs, leaning his forehead against his knees. For a grown man of six feet tall he can still make himself quite small when he wants to. He doesn’t make another sound. He squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself to disappear.
# # #
“Look at this loser!” Laughed the red-haired boy who had taken Dean’s backpack and was currently shaking it in his face. “Feels empty. Check if there’s anything good.” He said as he tossed the bag over Dean’s head to his pimple-faced friend.
Pimples dumped it out into the dirt. “What the hell dude. Nothing in here but a worn-out pencil and a stupid ratty notebook. What’s wrong with you kid?” Red and Pimples start shoving Dean back and forth between them, laughing and calling him names.
“Tomorrow, you better have something good for us. You hear me?” Red taunted, she shoved Dean hard. Pimples tripped him causing him to fall hard onto the sidewalk, scraping the palms of his hands.
Dean crawled off the sidewalk into the dirt to gather his things. Pimples kicked him in the ribs causing him to fall over onto his side, hard. “Ha ha! The little baby’s rollin’ around in the dirt! Crawl baby, crawl!” Pimples teased Dean while Red laughed and kicked a clump of grass towards Dean’s face.
‘Fuck you’ Dean thought to himself, knowing better than to talk back to the bullies, ‘I mowed four lawns to earn the money to buy this stuff. Bet your precious mommy and daddy bought your stupid fancy stuff.’
Another new school, another new foster house; this was the third time he’d moved this year, always the new kid. Dean didn’t call them foster families anymore. Family was supposed to mean something... it meant belonging. He’d given up on belonging a long time ago, and the only Home he’d ever truly know burned to the ground.
Dean took a detour to the boys’ bathroom on his way to class. After making sure he was alone, he slipped into a stall and locked the door. Sniffing back the tears, he wiped the dirt off his backpack, unzipped a small pocket, and dug out a single razor blade from its hiding place in the lining. Pulling up his t-shirt, Dean surveyed his chest and rubbed his hand across the hash marks and other scars that cover his torso, pressing the tender area on his right side where he’d been kicked. Dean placed the razor blade against his lower left rib and slid it across slowly. Methodically. Hissing in a breath as the blood began to trickle down his side, Dean made another line just below the first. Then one more. Always three. Three felt right somehow.
He leaned back against the toilet, closing his eyes and steadying his breathing he felt the blood dripping slowly down his side. The fingers of his right hand were sticky as he gripped the blade tightly. He felt calm. His breathing started to regulate and there were no more tears threatening to fall. Just the feel of the blood cooling and drying on his side and fingers as he concentrated on the sting, letting it ground him. Dean's eyes snapped open when he heard some boys coming into the bathroom. He dabbed hurriedly at his side with some toilet paper and flushed it down the toilet. He knew that his t-shirt would stick to the still bleeding cuts. It’s why he always wore an undershirt. He can rinse it out when he gets to the house tonight. Straightening his clothes, he peeked through the opening to try to see which boys had come in, relieved when he realized wasn’t Red or Pimples. Dean stepped out from the stall and washed his hands, ignoring the other boys’ as they discussed an end of year party happening at the house of some baseball MPV or something. The water burned the scrapes on his palms as he washed away the blood and dirt.
Dean made it to class just before the bell. The teacher waited until everybody was seated to maximize his embarrassment by announcing him as the new student and introducing him to the class. Dean stared at his shoes, steadfastly ignoring the inquisitive looks of the other students. ‘Damn, my lace is about to break, maybe I can find some string…’
“Dean,” The teacher repeated, interrupting his thoughts. She looked at him like she might have been talking to him for a while.
‘Whoops,’ Dean grimaced and looked at the teacher then out to the class.
“Dean, will you please take a seat now?” the teacher repeated.
Dean surveyed the room ‘Great. Red and Pimples would be in my class,’ he thought angrily. He made his way over to the only empty seat in the classroom. To continue his run of bad luck, it’s right in front of Red. ‘Fifth grade is going to be so much fun at this school,’ he thought, as he sighed out loud. At least this is his last semester.’ Sitting in his seat and sliding his backpack under his desk, he felt a pain shoot through his ribs where he had been kicked and felt his t-shirt pull the newly forming scabs on his side.
# # #
“Dean,” the stern voice of the scary head nurse brings him back to the here and now. “I’ve told you three times to get out from under that table. If you don’t move on your own I’ll have to ask the orderly to move you again. It’s time for dinner and you know the rules, everyone must attend dinner in the dining hall.”
Dean slowly crawls out of his hiding place. He hates the dining hall. It’s too loud and smells weird. He knows the rules, though. If he doesn’t eat dinner, he gets force fed with a tube and that shit sucks. Dean shuffles along between two orderlies. He notices that the taller, thinner guy has red hair and acne scars. He decides to watch the lines on the tile floor as they make their way towards the dining hall.