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A Lack of Color

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Tyler was alone.

The world had screwed him over, and now he was alone.

Thanks to one dark night, and a cruel, sadistic man, Tyler was alone.

He remembered that night clearly.

It was the last clear memory in his mind, anything that happened after too insignificant for his mind to process. As much as he tried to shut it out, as hard as he tried to forget, he remembered that night.

He had been asleep, in his room that he shared with his brother, and his parents were downstairs in the living room. The movie they were watching was so loud that they didn’t hear the window shatter. The next thing they knew there was a man standing in front of them with a gun. And then a bang. And then another. There were screams, then silence, then sirens.

Now his parents were gone.

 

It hadn’t really hit him yet, the severity of his situation.

He had always been bright for his age, but even a nine year old reading at the college level would have a hard time wrapping their head around being completely and utterly alone in the world.

They’re grandparents were either too old or too upset to take care of them properly.

His siblings were younger and cute, and less damaged, and found families.

So he had moved from foster family to group home to shelter at least once a week every week for the past month, and the lack of stability was starting to get to him. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t sleeping, he wasn’t talking.

All he did was stare at the wall and think.

The other kids he lived with thought he was deaf, or mute, or maybe both. What nine year old boy just sat and stared, completely still, completely silent, for hours on end? They laughed at him, taunted him, some even hit him or kicked him to try to get a reaction out of him, but he just stared at the wall, silent.

He didn’t think about anything in particular. It was like watching a poorly made home video where some of the clips had been erased. Flashes of memories from when he was younger and his parents were alive. Flashes of memories of playing with his brother. Jumping on trampolines, trick-or-treating, learning to play basketball.

But they were only memories.

Tyler was alone.

 

On his tenth birthday he was placed for long term housing at a orphanage in Columbus. It was an old building that wasn’t very well insulated. The beds were made of black metal that had been twisted into the shape of a frame, the mattresses were hard and cold. There was no hot water, no heating in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer. The rooms were cramped, holding at least ten other boys, all older than him.

The other kids were mean. When they got bored they would shove him down to the ground and kick him until he was bleeding out his mouth, but he didn’t care. He was numb. He was numb to it all. His ribs were bruised, maybe even broken, but he didn’t feel anymore pain than he had the day he lost them , so he just kept staring at the wall.

The woman who ran the orphanage had at first tried to convince Tyler to eat, sleep, move, to do something -- but he usually didn’t. Every couple days he would eat a small piece of bread under the threat of being hospitalized, which was the only thing that seemed to scare him these days. He drank when forced, and only ever got up to use the restroom.

He refused to sleep.

The dark meant the demons would come out. The flashes of happy memories would end and be replaced with flashes of that night.

He would rather suffer the exhaustion than have to face them.

But sometimes his body won, and he fell into a heavy sleep, only to wake up drenched in sweat, screaming, and the older boys yelling at him to shut up.

The lady pushed him, or at least tried to. She did her research and found that he had been some sort of child prodigy at his old school, and she wanted to take advantage of that. She figured that if she was able to get him in back school and keep him on track than maybe he would become incredibly successful and she could coin off of him. She would bring him books and sit down next him and try to force his attention off the wall, onto the pages.

It didn’t work.

Eventually she tried to physically make him do it. She would push him down, beating him with a wooden cane over and over again. She would yell at him, calling him stupid and worthless. She would beat him and cream at him until she realized it had no impact.

He didn’t scream.

He didn’t cry.

Tyler was numb.

 

One day, he wasn’t sure how, not that he gave it much thought, the lady was caught and arrested for child abuse. Apparently he wasn’t the only one she hit, not that Tyler would have known, or cared, anyway.

The police stormed the place, moving all the other kids into vans and sending them away. They took pictures, bagged evidence. Some officers tried to talk to him, get him to leave with the rest of the residents, but he couldn’t move. He just sat and stared at the wall.

Eventually, a woman came up to where he was seated atop one of the many cots, staring at the wall. She came into his visual field and he noticed she wasn’t in uniform, so she probably wasn’t a police officer. She tried to talk to him.

“Hello, Tyler, I’m detective Johnson.” Her voice was soft and gentle, but Tyler barely registered it. He heard her, but he wasn’t listening. “Your going to be coming with me, okay?” He didn’t respond. He just sat still and stared at the wall.

“Is the kid retarded or something?” He heard another voice, this one deeper, that of a man.

“No. He’s brilliant, actually. I’m suspecting PTSD.” The woman responded. “And don’t use the word retarded, okay?”

“Yes ma'am.” The voice was louder now, closer. “But he’s fifteen. He was transferred here when he was ten. The woman said he hasn’t moved from this spot since he got here. That’s more than just PTSD.”

There was silence.

“I know.” The woman sounded almost upset. “I just hope we can help him.”

“Let’s get him into the car, take him to the hospital.”

“Yeah, okay.” He heard feet shuffling against the old wooden floor and then felt cautious, strong arms wrapping around his skinny body, lifting him off the cot. He didn’t fight. He just squeezed his eyes shut, not wanting to see any evidence of this life. He only wanted the happy memories.

The good times.

He heard the sound of a door opening, the deadly silence of the empty orphanage suddenly interrupted with loud sirens, people yelling, children talking among one another, cars moving. He willed his arms to move so he could cover his ears with his nads but his muscles didn’t respond. Instead, he just squeezed his eyes tighter and willed for the rest of the world to just disappear. He then heard the sound of a car door being opened. The arms that had carried him out gently lowered him down, and he felt a surface underneath him. He sat up against the backrest and drew his legs up against his chest, burying his face in his knees. The door was shut.

And there was silence.

Tyler didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until a shuddering sigh escaped him. He tried to regain control of his breathing. He hadn’t been keeping track of how long it had been since he was moved into the orphanage, but he didn’t know it had been five years. He thought it was days. It had felt like days. He slowly opened his eyes. He was in a car. A police car, by the looks of it. The material of the seat was hard and uncomfortable. He looked out the window where he saw the other kids being rounded up into vans and several emergency vehicles. There are a lot of men in uniforms around, collecting evidence and getting statements.

He flinches when he hears the car to driver’s seat opening and then shut again. He quickly closes his eyes, putting his face back in his knees.

“Hello, Tyler.” It’s the same woman as earlier, the one with the soft voice. “It’s detective Johnson again. I’m going to bring you to the hospital.” He feels the engine rumble underneath him and feels the car slowly start rolling.

After a little while, the engine shuts off and he hears the door open. He hears indistinct voices and before he knows it he’s being lifted out of the car. The air is fresh and he tries to breath it in, but fails- his breaths still short and shaky. There is the quiet sound of traffic and a some indistinct voices but other than it is silent peaceful.

Until the automatic doors open.

Inside the hospital it is crowded. Doctors are yelling orders, people are screaming in pain, some are crying. Nurses run across the room, back and forth, looking for their patients and retrieving supplies.

The man carrying him takes him straight through the crowded area and through a quieter hallway and into a private room. Detective Johnson, accompanied by an older man with greying hair and beer belly wearing a white coat, follow them in. The man who carried him, who appears to be a nurse, is dismissed and shuts the door behind them.

“Tyler, my name is Dr. Trevell and I will be your doctor during your stay here.” Silence. “We will be running some tests and when we get the results we will set up a treatment plan as we see fit.” Silence. “You will be put on a strict eating and drinking regiment effective immediately to help with the dehydration and the malnutrition.” More silence. A sigh. “Okay, Tyler. I’ll check on you again tomorrow. A nurse will be in shortly to take blood and prep you for some scans.” The door opens and shuts again as the doctor leaves, but the woman stays, sitting in a chair pulled up next to the bed. Tyler refuses to lie on the bed, refuses to put himself in such a vulnerable position, and is still sitting with his legs drawn up, trying to make himself as small as he possibly can.

“We want to help you, Tyler. But you have to tell us how. How can we help you?” Her voice is soft and he almost considers answering. You could bring back my parents.

He almost considered answering.

Almost.

 

The days at the hospital passed by no faster than those at the orphanage. Sooner or later the doctors realised that he wasn’t going to eat voluntarily, so they shoved a tube up his nose to force him to. They had an IV in his arm for fluids.

His physical exam showed broken and bruised ribs, malnutrition, and dehydration. There were also fresher gashes and raw, open wounds from the past few weeks, as the other children and the woman became increasingly impatient with him. His skin was a light shade of purple from the bruises that covered his body. Other than that, he was fine. Physically.

His brain scans, however, were difficult to read. There was normal activity, but his responses to external stimuli were low. The neuro surgeon decided there was nothing physically wrong with him, but there was definitely something wrong with the kid.

So they sent him to the psychiatric unit.

His psychiatrist, Dr. Ken, smelled like soap and had a quiet personality. He was careful with Tyler, speaking to him gently, encouraging him to talk and participate in other forms of therapy, such as art or music.

After realizing he wasn’t going to answer his questions or otherwise communicate, the doctor would sit with him for what seemed like hours on end, just observing. It was almost like he was waiting for him to crack, but Tyler didn’t.

He just sat and stared at the wall, but the flashes of happy memories were replaced with flashes of that night. Usually he would be able to keep it all in, but when the darkness fell at night, he would break down in fear. The man who killed his parents would come visit his dreams, torturing his sleep.

The first time it happened, he thought he was screaming internally, but he realized it was external as well when nurses and doctors stormed his room, trying to calm him down, but they couldn’t.

They resorted to pumping him full of sedatives.

And so yet again, he was numb.

 

The detective also tried really hard to communicate with him, but Tyler felt as though he couldn’t speak even if he wanted to. She was persistent, and visited everyday. Each visit would start with her asking him a series of questions, giving him the opportunity to answer is he wanted to. When she realized he had no intention of speaking, she talked at him. Usually she would just tell him some pointless, meaningless, story from her day. An encounter with her niece, a phone call with an old friend. A story about a bad driver on the highway, something funny her colleague did.

One day, however, it was different.

It was the fifteenth day of his stay in the psych ward, and he could tell the doctors were starting to get restless and wanted to see a change.

The detective walked in, holding the same cup of takeaway coffee she had every morning, and sat at the same chair she did every morning, and smile the same condescending but concerned smile that painted her face every morning.

But it wasn’t just any morning.

“Hi, Tyler. How are you this morning?”

Silence.

“There was a lot of traffic to get here.”

Silence.

“Your almost old enough to get a license, I think.”

Silence.

“I get to drive a police car, one of the perks of being a detective.”

Silence.

“Speaking of my job, I wanted to talk to you about a case I worked on about six years ago.”

Silence.

“It was a home invasion double homicide. Parents killed, children left alive.”

Tyler’s heart beats faster, but he stays silent.

“The victims were Kelly and Chris Joseph, parents of Tyler, Zack, Jay, and Madison, who were left alive.”

Tyler squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to cry, and hugged his knees tighter to his chest. His breath was shaky and fast and his heart pounded against his ribs as though it was trying to break out of his chest.

“The killer, Brent Ford, admitted to the crime. He broke the window, climbed into the house, and walked into the living room. That’s where he came across Kelly and Chris Joseph.”

Tyler was breathing so fast you would be surprised he was getting any air in at all.

“First he fired at Chris, shooting him straight through the heart. He was dead in seconds.”

Shut up, shut up. Pleading in his head as he rocked back and forth, tears streaming down his face.

“Then he grabbed Kelly and shot her in the head, execution style.”

“SHUT UP!” Tyler screamed, his voice raw from the lack of use, sending a shooting, burning pain down his throat. He hadn’t spoken in years.

Next thing he knows there are arms around him. He fights and tries to pull away but he can’t. So he gives in. He lets himself be touched, the warmth of the arms only making him sob harder. It was all to real. After years of being numb, he gave in. He let himself feel. He let himself feel the way his breathing stopped making his lungs burn. He let himself feel the way his heart felt as though it was being crushed by weight. But he also let himself feel the hands running through his hair and running up and down his arms and let himself feel the desire to not be so alone in this world.

Oh how he didn’t want to be alone anymore.