Helping Mickey Ch. 01bywakingDown©
Mickey stood on the balcony, snow piling on his shoulders, the slight breeze tugging slightly at his t-shirt. Susan saw him out there as she came out of the bathroom. She knew he liked to stand out there and watch the cars below, but she didn't know he liked it enough to do so barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt and nothing else in twenty-five degree weather. She started forward to bring him inside, but paused when she saw the lift and fall of his shoulders. She was pretty sure he was crying. She walked over quietly, and leaned against the frame of the glass door, just watching. His feet were bright red, his arms pale, and what she could see of his ears and the side of his face, red and pale up there as well. She tried to figure out how long he might have been standing out there. The closest she could figure was between five and fifteen minutes. Not long, but long enough in that kind of cold to start being harmful.
She slid the door open and called his name. When he didn't respond she reached out and tugged on his sleeve. He turned slowly and she saw the tears frozen on his cheeks, his lips almost blue, his eyes red rimmed and sunken in an otherwise ashen face, his ears bright red.
"Come inside. It's too cold out there." She said simply, her brow furrowed with concern.
"It's always cold." He replied as he stepped inside. She shut the door and brushed the snow from his hair and shoulders. He stood just inside the door, head down, and shook. Susan put a hand to his back and gently guided him to the couch and sat him down. She went to get him some dry clothes, trying to keep her own tears in check as she did. She gathered pants and a long sleeve shirt and socks, all the while cursing whatever fate had left her brother this shocked and empty shell. She entered the living room and saw that he had not moved. This was normal. She had seen him sit without moving for periods up to ten hours. His head was down, but his tears had stopped. He asked him to change his clothes and he did. He moved slowly, as he always did. She tossed his wet clothes into the hamper and joined him on the couch. She sat with her head on his shoulder, holding his hand like she usually did, like she always had when they were kids. The TV was on some Christmas special, the volume down, as some inner city kid was learning the true meaning of Christmas from an old man while whisking magically between scenes of different families being happy and perfectly functional.
"Cold. Cold outside. Cold inside. Ice and iron skies." He muttered.
"No. Warm inside." She answered gently, thinking for the thousandth time that responding to these blank statements may help and may do nothing, that she certainly didn't know. The doctors said that it was good, that it would help his brain heal by stimulation cognitive function, but that didn't keep the feeling of trying to talk to a haunted Magic 8-Ball at bay.
She felt his hand tighten on hers for a moment. She took that as a good sign, as she usually did. That was something the old Mickey had done often, answering with those squeezes instead of words. She responded in kind, a few squeezes with different pauses in between. They had once been able to communicate in this fashion, when they were little. Over time, it seemed that the intuitive grasp of the meaning of each sequence faded, but they had been able to convey simple emotions and feelings this way until the attack.
"White hallway." He whispered. One of the many phrases that he repeated that she did not understand the meaning of.
"What hallway?" She asked, looking up to his face. On his right side, she had a clear view of the scar that climbed his temple, dragging a hairless line across the side of his head.
"Not what. White." He answered. This was as close to an answer as he would give, but she asked most of the time, hoping the doctors were right about stimulating his mind.
She slumped her head back down on his shoulder when he remained silent. She let her mind wander. She ran the night over and over in her mind. What she could have done differently. What he could have done differently. Why it had to happen at all. He had survived three tours in the Middle East in four years of service on the Marines. At the end of his first contract, he had been denied re-enlistment because of a torn ligament in his knee from playing football with his Company one weekend. He had come home and gotten a good job as a district manager for a large shipping company, living in a home he was renting, paying off a new car, and generally being pretty successful in life. He talked to her almost every day, same with their mother. They all got together at mom's place for Christmas and thanksgiving. She had been living in this apartment, working in an office building as an accounts manager for a credit union, good hours, and great pay. Then last year, it all went to hell.
She had met Mickey at a café in town for an afternoon of shopping for mom's birthday. They had walked through the various stores, talking and laughing. It had been a wonderful day, until the evening. As he was walking her back to the parking structure where her car was, they passed a small alley. A hand shot out and grabbed her arm, tight as a vice. She was thrown against the brick wall as the man hissed a demand for her purse. Her head smacked the brick pretty hard, and she saw stars. Mickey didn't hesitate. He lunged at the man, arms out. The man swung the small metal club in his other hand, hitting Mickey in the temple. She heard the crunch of his skull fracturing. She screamed and pushed forward, tripping over the dropped shopping bags, and fell into the attacker more than anything. She was shoved aside. She saw Mickey stumble to his feet as she fell. His eyes were pointing in two different directions. The man swung the club again, smashing his shoulder. When Mickey took another step towards the man, he reached behind his back and pulled out the gun.
Mickey grabbed for it, but his hands were slow and clumsy. The man shot him, point blank, in the middle of his forehead. Mickey dropped. They man took off then, running down the alley. He still hadn't been caught. The police and ambulance arrived quickly.
At the hospital Susan and her mother had sat in the waiting room for twelve hours through the first round of surgeries. When the doctor came out, they feared the worst. He told them not to hope too much. Most of his skull had to be replaced with titanium plates. He told them that the club had sent fractures throughout half of his skull, and that the forty caliber slug had shattered that and fractured most of the rest. The bullet had passed through the small gap between the hemispheres of his brain, but had done plenty of damage in doing so. He described the effect like the wake from a boat on the water. The water being his brain, being thrown against the broken shell of his skull, the boat being a 165 grain bullet travelling at around 1150 feet per second. He called it Hydrostatic shock. He told them that Mickey was in a chemically induced coma, and that many more operations were in his immediate future if he lived. The doctor called it a miracle that he was alive at all.
Throughout the next three months, Mickey had several surgeries, and was only awake a total of twenty minutes, during which he did not even open his eyes. When the coma was ended, Susan and mom were right there, waiting for him in his room. The doctor had warned them that the brain damage was extensive, and to not expect anything like the 'Old Michael' to be there.
Mickey slowly opened his right eye, moving only his eyelid and eyeball, and looked around. Susan had taken one hand, their mother the other. Mickey rolled his eye slowly back and forth between them. His jaw creaked open and he said his first words. They did not know it, but these words would be heard from him often, and remain a puzzle.
"White. Hallway." He rasped, that one eye rolling in its socket.
Their mother burst into tears. Susan just smiled, happy that he was able to say anything.
Their mother did not take his condition well. She fell into a deep depression. In the four months between then and his release, she had visited him often, but her outlook was bleak. In an attempt to brighten her a bit, their aunt had taken her on a road trip along the coast. Two days before they were to return, an eighteen wheel truck had crossed the yellow line, the driver asleep. Their mother and aunt didn't have a chance. They died upon impact, their small rented sedan shredded and smashed by the truck.
Susan and Mickey were the only remaining relatives, and inherited both estates. It paid the medical bills, and left enough that they would not have to worry about working for quite a few years. But Susan didn't care about the money or property. She had lost her family. Nearly all of it. All she had left now was this fraction of her brother, a piece of her twin. She would not let herself succumb to depression the way her mother did, though she could understand why her mother did. She resolved to remain strong for her brother. She would not let his injuries keep her from caring for him. She had him released into her care, and moved him into her apartment. She sold the two homes from their inheritance and invested the proceeds in low risk stocks for the future. She oversaw his physical therapy, working closely with his doctors, learning all that she could about how to care for him. He recovered to a state of semi-self-capability rather quickly, given his injuries. He quickly learned how to dress, bathe, feed himself, and such. His communication was still pretty muddled. He understood most things, but when he tried to speak, it was all jumbled and confused. Susan could see in his eyes when he spoke to her that he was trying very hard figure out how to reach her again. She had helped him learn how to walk and manipulate things in his environment again, but she seemed unable to help him relearn how to think.
Now he seemed to be hitting a plateau, unable to continue his recovery. She had railed at the doctors to give her some kind of insight on how to continue his healing, but after MRIs, CAT scans, and countless other batteries of test and procedures, they had sat her down and told her that they simply did not have the knowledge of the brain and it's workings to overcome this kind of extensive damage. So she had resigned herself to where they were now. He still went to the doctors regularly to monitor his progress, but they were basically only capable of ensuring that he was not regressing and that he did not have any new complications.
Around ten, Susan took his hands and pulled him to his feet.
"Time for bed, Mick." She said, guiding him to the hallway.
"Sleep. A cold here." He answered.
"Sleep, yes, but not cold." She replied, guiding him to the bedroom that used to be her studio. She got him to take off his shirt and made sure he was settled before turning off the light.
"Love you, Mick." She said softly from the doorway.
"Love too." He answered, as he had when they were kids.
She woke up to a heavy thud around one and went to the hall. She snapped on the light to find Mickey crouched at the opening to the living area. He was pressed up against the wall, peering around the corner. She walked up slowly, unsure of what was going on. This was something new.
"Mickey?" She asked softly, not wanting to startle him.
"Corporal Miller is down. SAF from the east, second floor, right side. Looks like AKs. Get on the horn and get Black Snake informed. We're gonna open fire while Fire team two rushes from the North." He rattled off, clear and confident, his back still to her.
"Mickey? It's me, Susan." She said her voice a little louder this time.
His head whipped around, his neck popping loudly as it did. His usually mostly blank face was a mask of concentration and intensity.
"I don't give a fuck what you think Haskel! We attack or we get pinned down! Now get fucking going!" He roared. He spun around again and went around the corner. His body, which had moved like it was mired in molasses for so long, now full of fast, fluid grace. She gasped at his words, unsure what was going on, a flashback, a lucid dream, an actuated seizure or what. She simply knew that it terrified her. He was speaking as clearly as he had before the attack; something she did not think was possible anymore. He was moving like he used to, with a coordination and efficiency of movement that made him so capable during football games and such. She followed him around the corner, her eyes streaming, and found him standing, leaning against the wall. His head a lowered, his arms hung limply. His face was the way it was for a few months after waking up from the coma; eyes wide, lips open, jaw clenched, making a kind of rictus grin that had disturbed her deeply when he looked at her with it. She saw that now he was trembling as well. Her heart fell as she took this to be a kind of relapse, or regression.
She slowly put her hand out, reaching for his arm, scared of him for the first time in her life. Her fingers had just grazed the skin of his forearm when his other hand snapped closed over her wrist. His arm moved lightning fast. His grip was gentle, almost no pressure, but it was firm. His head swiveled slowly over to her, his eyes locking on hers.
"All gone now. All gone. White hallway." He said softly, his mouth relaxing, losing the grin. She started to think that what she had seen as the grin from before might be concentration, as he struggled to speak, seeming to fight to choose his words.
"Sleep. No more here. No more." He whispered, straightening up from the wall and turning to her. "Susan." It was the first time he had said her name since the attack, and it hit her like a lead weight. Her heart leapt up into her throat and she gasped.
"Yes, Mickey, yes. Susan. Yes." She said breathlessly, her face breaking into a wide smile as her tears started anew. She wrapped her arms around him and held him tight, her face resting on his chest, crying and smiling. She felt his arms slowly wrap around her as he hugged her back.
"Coming home." He said evenly.
"Yes. You're coming home now, home to me." She answered.
She called the doctor in the morning, as soon as his office was open and explained what happened, and was told to bring him in for testing. She had not slept since waking to the sound of him in the hall, but had gotten him back into his bed, and had watched as he slept. She took him in, and spoke to the doctor as the MRI machine hummed in the next room. The doctor said that this kind of jump in cognitive function was possible, but happened rarely, and to be aware that it could cease at any time. She took that in, but held onto hope that it would last. After a slew of tests, many of which that would take days to fully process for results, she brought him home again. He seemed much more aware, much more there, than he had since waking up. He spoke in terms that almost seemed normal at times, instead of the broken abstract way that had become his usual.
Back at the apartment, she asked if he wanted something to eat.
"Chicken. Small. Bit. Little." He struggled.
"Small chicken? Egg? Do you mean egg?" She asked, watching him carefully.
"Yes. Egg." He said, speaking carefully, his eyes never leaving hers. This was an immense improvement, and she fought to keep from crying, not wanting to upset him, fearful that any little thing may break this streak of higher functioning.
"Okay, Mickey. Eggs it is." She answered, going to the kitchen.
"Eggs." He said quietly, still struggling a bit.
They ate in silence, her studying his every movement, not quite daring to believe that he was moving faster and steadier than he had been. He was not dropping egg or potato from his fork, though, so he was definitely showing more fine motor control than the past year. When he was finished, he did not simply go still and stare at the center of the table, either. She thought he would, but when she stood to gather his plate, his hands went to the edge of the plate and he slowly stood, holding it flat and without a tremor. She simply stood and watched, wondering if he knew what to do from there. He was frozen moment before turning to the kitchen and slowly walking. He set the plate on the stove, but she wasn't worried about that, she was simply delighted to see him going in the right direction. Perhaps the plateau was simply a slow point in his healing, a small stall. She certainly hoped it was. She went to where he stood, frowning down at the stove. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his back.
"Close. You're coming home, and you're so close." She said, her voice hitching a bit.
"Coming home. Come Suzie dear," He began. She stopped breathing at that, hopeful that he would continue, that he would speak the line that he had said so many times since he had first heard the song in high school. When he finally stilled, remaining silent, she kept her hopes up for next time, happy with the progress he had made already.
She took him to the living room, ready to begin their daily physical therapy. He did many of the exercises without her needing to coach him through the motions, so that was still normal, but he was doing them with more confidence, and more dexterity. She watched him as he stretched and moved, his body seeming to loosen up from the stiff robotic movements that had been normal. She found herself in a state of near tears throughout the day, constantly elated by this massive improvement.
She sat after they were done and watched him change into clean clothes, wondering at it. Such improvement from something that should have killed him. She dumped the clothes into the hamper and turned around find him standing directly behind her. She jumped a little, startled. She had not heard him walk up, like she usually could. His stiff legged walking led to clumping footfalls. Now, he was here without a sound. She smiled and put a hand on his chest, her breathing slowing again.
"You scared the hell out of me Mick." She said, her voice a little shaky.
"Let's take a walk, just out there upon the beach." He whispered slowly, his face straining.
Her legs buckled and she barely caught herself before his hands came out and held her hips, steadying her. He had finished the sentence, the line from the song that he had said so often. She put her hands over his and looked up into his eyes, tears coming from her own.
"That's right Mick, that's just right." She said.
She was wary of another episode that night, and lay awake, wondering if he would rise. Around midnight, he did. She heard his door creak open, and she rose silently. She peeked out the door and saw him glide up the hall silently. She was amazed by his grace and stealth. This must be what he was like in the Marines, moving from cover to cover during his combat time. She could see this eerie, silent, fast shadow dart to the end of the hall where he dropped and froze, without a sound, becoming just another still shadow in front of the bathroom door. She stepped out, and called his name quietly. He did not respond, so she began walking slowly towards him, saying his name quietly. She did not even have time to gasp when his crouched form exploded out at her. She felt his hand close over mouth, turning her head to the side as his other arm grabbed her wrist. She was spun around, pressed against the wall, her arm twisted behind her back. She could feel his breath on her cheek. He was breathing heavily, nearly growling.
"Where are the others? Where are your friends? Where?" He asked, his voice a low hiss.
She was in shock. This was the man who had pulled her braids when they were in elementary school, the one who punched out Bill Wendell for pinching her but freshman year of high school, the one who helped her with her math homework and who she helped with his English homework, the one who sang a line of an old rock song to her to cheer her up. Now here he was, with her arm locked and hurting, her mouth covered and her neck bent, asking where her friends were. She tried to say his name, but his hand was like a plate of iron over her mouth. When she tried again, he let her speak a little, parting his fingers a hair.