Thirteen. The word rings in his ears and scuttles his brain. Thirteen years upon this planet, eight years of school, of socializing with peers and adults–parents. Next year he’ll be fourteen, he’ll be switching to high school, and he’ll be alone.
His family is moving, picking up the pieces of their lives and tossing them into a jet-plane, uprooting themselves and replanting in new soil, fertile soil, unknown soil.
It scares him, the unknown. He’s still a child, now a teenager, and his mind is still wrapping itself around the intricacies of life, much less the idiosyncrasies of chance. He likes sure things, certain things, things he can touch and feel and hold. Things he can predict.
He does not like the images.
They come to him when he is alone, and so he hates to be alone. He clings to his parents. He shares their bed every night and cries in his sleep. They have tried everything they can think of, from warm milk to professional counseling, but nothing has borne fruit. He continues to sob and mewl, to claw at the sheets until one parent or the other pats his head, strokes his shoulder, makes physical contact and reminds his body that he is not alone. He stops, then, and sleeps peacefully, until the next time he forgets where he is and cries out again.
He is thirteen. His curfew has been extended, somewhat. He enjoys the extra hour of television. It is the first time he has seen the late night talk shows. He laughs–genuine laughter–and his parents look at each other, hopeful. He falls asleep between them on the couch and they smile nervously. His father lifts him up, careful not to wake him, rocks his growing frame slightly as he carries his son up the steps and into his room, lays him on his own bed, all but untouched for years, and folds the covers over him. His mother gives him a kiss on the cheek and he paws at it with the comforter, shifts slightly and resumes the slow, regular breathing of peaceful rest. Nervous smiles gain strength; his parents slink quietly from his room and to their own. They get into bed and pray, silently, for a peaceful night. An anxious thirty minutes passes without interruption. Satisfied, both mother and father drift off to sleep, alone.
They awaken at four-fifteen in the morning to the sound of screaming- a high-pitched wail from the bathroom. Both throw on their robes and rush into the hallway, turn the corner into the bathroom and catch their breaths.
Blood runs to the floor from shredded skin, pink from mixing with soap and soiled water. The antiseptic stench of bleach coats their nostrils and the scrape of metal on rent skin echoes in their ears. It takes his father to restrain him, to tear the steel wool from his hand, to hold a towel to his elbow. He continues to cry, to scream, to carry on even with his parents present, father holding him and mother tending to his wound. The ambulance arrives in timely fashion, five minutes after the call, and he is sedated, loaded in on a gurney and rushed to the hospital.
The wound is mostly shallow, but broad. It will heal on its own, for the most part, but there are small, deep rips within the bared patch of soft under-flesh. They will require surgery, however minor. Stitches, sedation to ensure he doesn’t move the arm and bend the joint, reopen the wounds.
The doctor pulls the parents aside, questions them as to the nature of the wounds. Self-inflicted, they ring warning bells all through the doctor’s mind. He digs deeper, refers them to a professional associate, someone with psychiatric experience in another ward of the hospital. The boy’s parents look at each other, share an uneasy glance, but follow the doctor’s directions down the hall, into the madhouse.