I was expecting a whole number of things other than what I found when I broke into the records room. I found his file easily and skimmed over it. All the medical stuff wasn’t really of any interest to me because it didn’t really tell me why he was in here. It told me what was wrong with him. He had some form of trauma induced social phobia and mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder, to put it simply. I dug deeper into his file determined to find out what that trauma was. I read a police report, a therapists report and a psychological evaluation from his psychiatrist. From just the words of a few cold hearted professionals I managed to piece together (whilst also assuming a lot of things) the last tragic six months of his life.
Turns out he had been befriended by two boys, or men, both in their early twenties, the eldest being 23, nine years older than Frank was at the time. The two boys gave him a sense of reprieve from his normal social outcast life. They took him under their wing and introduced him to a whirlwind world of drugs and violence. The sex, however, came later when they both raped him in the eldest boy’s car. Then, as though nothing had happened they sent him home, promising to see him the next day. The next morning when they saw him again, they did it again. Then they both took off; they had gotten what they wanted. Frank was too scared and ashamed to tell anyone because he believed it was his fault, as most rape victims do. He thought he couldn’t tell anyone because they wouldn’t believe him because he thought boys can’t be raped. He kept it inside for months where it festered. He became fanatical with the fact that he was ‘dirty’ and developed the need to wash all the time. It got worse and worse, until his parents began to notice. I felt a surge of hatred toward Frank’s parents. They must have been completely ignorant to not notice their son having multiple showers and that he was afraid to interact with other human beings. They confronted him and he had a complete breakdown. They, unintentionally, made him realise the full extent of what had happened.
He thought it was ridiculously ironic that the one thing his parents were completely against had occurred and he began laughing. His laughter soon morphed into an insane, hysterical laughter that creeped everyone out. He retreated from society, afraid that everyone was out to hurt him. Once in the hospital the laughter dissolved into an uncontrollable rage, and then into hysterical weeping. Everyone was afraid he had lost his mind and he was forced into therapy where they discovered he had been sexually assaulted. When the therapy proved pointless, considering his mental state, he was admitted into a minimum security mental institution. It was in here that they hoped he could begin to actually get better. All that and they weren’t actually sure of how suicidal he currently was and they didn’t want to risk anything. With parents so rich I thought they had taken the easy, coward’s way out by committing their son to a mental institution. But they were the kind of people that considered because they lived in such high society, it would be socially unacceptable to have a son who’d been raped and who’d had a mental breakdown. Hell, they even had to come to grips with the fact that their son had had sex (as unwilling as it was) with a man!
As I stacked his folder away I felt a real sick feeling develop in my stomach. The kid had a point – no one really thinks boys or men could be raped. I just couldn’t understand why he would want to talk to me. I understood why Ben thought Frank would be scared of me – I was close to the age of the two rapists. But I couldn’t push the feeling that there was something more too why he spoke to me this morning. I left the office and shut the door, unable to push the nauseous feeling from my stomach. Poor kid, now I knew why he had such sad eyes and why there was no love on his face. I was right too (actually, when am I not?) – his lips did tell of a tragedy.
I felt consumingly guilty when I saw Frank the next morning. I had slept badly; my thoughts were plagued with what had happened to Frank. I thought about it so much I almost forgot about the people who were after me. It seemed for once I had something else to stress over, instead of my usual problems.
During breakfast I sat, playing mindlessly with my food. I had cornflakes and spent the entire session prodding them with my spoon trying to make them stay under the surface. After the pitiful serving of milk had reduced my cornflakes to a mere yellow soggy mess I pulled my sketch pad back out. I was now more determined than ever to finish my picture of Frank. I had just started when Ben called my name and I reluctantly packed my book away and followed him to the weekly group therapy session they forced us all to attend. We pulled our uncomfortable plastic chairs into a circle and sat, watching each other carefully. Ben, I noticed, sat right next to Frank. I scored a seat directly opposite Frank. Our therapy leader was a shrink called Dr. Markman. She was nice but she never let up on asking us ‘how do you feel about that’?
“Welcome,” Markman said pleasantly, “to our newest group member, Frank.” There was a murmur of hellos that strongly reminded me of an alcoholic’s anonymous meeting. Markman decided to leave Frank alone for a while and began on Ray, asking him how he thought he had been over the last week.
I tuned out of Ray’s rant. I’d heard his last message already. Ray was convinced some higher being was sending him messages. He also took the liberty of repeating every message to me. But with Ray, you hear one message and you’ve heard them all. They were all the same really, just different wordings. I sat silently, staring unobviously at Frank who was in turn staring at Ray a look of mild distaste and incredulity on his face. He glanced at me but I flicked my gaze away before he could confirm that I really was staring at him.
We went around the circle and as it came to my turn I shook my head and pretended to become intensely interested in my fingernails. So, as usual, I was skipped and we were forced to endure Lisa’s emotional recount of the week. After she finished Markman jumped to Frank. He glanced up and shot her an imploring look.
“How was your first week, Frank?” she asked, looking too attentive for my liking. Frank shrugged non-committedly. “Come on,” she prompted.
“It was shit!” he snarled, shocking me. “I shouldn’t be here.”
Markman was surprised but also slightly pleased. Obviously, she was glad to be getting some emotional response from Frank. “Now, Frank.”
“Everyone is so weird. They actually have things wrong with them! I’m not sick. I’m fine. I want to get out of here. You need to tell my parents I’m fine!”
“Hey!” Ray cried. “You are too weird! You take, like, three showers a day, for hours at a time. You won’t touch anyone and no one’s allowed to touch you. And you wear makeup. That’s weird in itself!”
“I can’t help needing to shower!” Frank exploded, standing up. “You don’t know what it’s like. You can’t even begin to understand!” Frank sat back down heavily and hid his face in his hands.
I felt the nauseous feeling in my stomach increase tenfold and felt my heart begin to beat very wildly. As I stared at Frank I felt an overwhelming sensation flood my body. It seemed to run through my veins and caused tingling in my digits. The excess of blood made me feel slightly light-headed. But inside I felt this strange thing. The only way I could describe it was that it was like a strange wave of something cascading through my body. It was a feeling, an emotion, but I didn’t think I had ever felt it before. It was unusual, and I hated it when I didn’t know what was going on. The fact that it was occurring in my own body made me considerably more anxious.
“It’s okay, Frank, we can talk about it later, privately,” Markman said.
Frank surprised us all even more by starting to laugh. “You think we can just talk about it?” he said incredulously. “I can’t just talk about it and expect it to get better.” He turned to Ray. “You wanna know why I shower for hours all the time? Because I feel dirty. I am dirty!”
I didn’t like Frank speaking about himself like that. I wanted to slap him and tell him to stop speaking like that but I couldn’t. It was too much of a risk. I just couldn’t. The great wave inside of me was brewing to a dangerous level and was threatening to break.
“No matter how much I shower I still feel dirty! I can scrub my body until its red raw and let the water run over me for hours but nothing works. I’m so dirty. Inside and out. I can’t get clean!” Frank was becoming very hysterical now.
Markman was pondering. I, however, was stressing and felt close to a heart attack. This strange feeling engulfing my body was so foreign and it was sending unfamiliar thoughts into my head which were going straight to my tongue. I had to cover my mouth. Not because I was shocked but because I was scared of what I was going to blurt out.
“Shhh, Frank, its okay. We don’t have to talk about it here. Calm down, its okay.” Markman was trying to regain control of the situation.
“So dirty! And so ugly! I am ugly. What was I thinking? Who would ever want to hang out with a loser like me?”
Markman sat forward, intensely interested. “You’re feeling betrayed, Frank?”
Everyone else in the group was bewildered. They didn’t know why Frank felt dirty. But I did, and for once, I wished I was as ignorant as them. I wished I didn’t know. I so desperately wished I was as unaware as them.
“Yes, I feel fucking betrayed!” Frank screamed. “I was so fucking ugly in the first place and now I’m worse! No one will ever be able to love me. Don’t you see? I just want to get clean!”
My breathing was becoming impaired now. Frank was crouched on the floor, sobbing quietly. Ben was at a loss and for once, so was Markman. The great wave inside of me had swelled to a size of dangerous proportions. I uncrossed my legs and sat forward in my seat, sweat running down my back. I knew I shouldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it, but my heart was screaming at me, screaming louder than the protests in my head. The room was silent, bar Frank’s quiet sobbing. My palms were sweating and the room was becoming unbearably hot. My throat was constricting. I felt like I was trapped in a tiny room with a thousand bouncy balls that were making the room a source of frenzied activity. Except the tiny room was my head and the balls were words and thoughts and warnings. Half of the balls were telling – no, screaming at – me to shut the hell up and relax. They were telling me it wasn’t worth it. Discovery was a much worse fate than the negative thoughts of a kid I barely knew. But then again, the other half was begging me to open my mouth and say it. I leant forward realising that what I was about to do could potentially be my downfall. And that was scaring me shitless.
“I don’t think you’re ugly. I think you’re beautiful.”
Inside, the wave crashed. The words sounded better in my head than they did when I spoke them. And I seriously was regretting them. Not what I said. I believed completely what I said. I was just realising maybe it was a mistake to speak at all. There was a bang and a collective gasp echoed through the circle. Then the silence deepened to an eerie level. I glanced at Ben. He was on the ground. He had fallen off his chair in shock. That’s what the bang was. And, yes, I mean literally. Ben, literally, fell off his chair and was currently sitting on the floor staring at me with a look of complete and utter shock etched across his face. Markman was a little more dignified but I could tell she too was close to falling off her chair.
“Gerard?” she said in a hushed tone.
I was only vaguely aware of all this going on around me. My eyes and ears were on Frank. He was staring up at me too, but not in shock and he wasn’t staring at me as though I had sprouted a dinosaur head on my shoulder. He was staring up at me with sad eyes that, I noticed, sparkled a tiny little bit.
I suddenly didn’t regret the words anymore.
“Gerard?” The shock in her voice was undisguised.
I turned to face Markman. She probably had so many questions she was dying to ask. Those words, the ones I had spoken to Frank, were, after all, the first words I had ever spoken in therapy. That was the first time I had spoken over two years. I had broken my silence for Frank. Just because I already knew Frank was beautiful. And I knew that it was my responsibility, even under threat of discovery, to ensure that of all people, Frank had to be the main person who knew and understood that.