She always believed in three kinds of pain. Just three, nothing more.
The first kind was the easiest to describe: physical pain. The pain felt when your physical human body had been damaged or harmed in a clearly visible manner. Whether it be a scrape on the knee from falling off a tricycle after first learning how to ride, the piercing moans when recognizing the onset of appendicitis within your stomach, or being shot in the face for simply being in the wrong alley at the wrong time on a drunken night home, physical pain was the easiest to diagnose and to cope with.
Fiona’s second form of pain recognized as a nurse was a bit more problematic: emotional pain. She tended to see this in those visiting the hospital patients, not just the patients themselves after they realize what trauma they’ve been through. While most physical pain, if lucky and watched upon by the heavens above, healed over time, emotional pain was much more likely to linger in both one’s conscience and subconscious for the duration of life. That image of the car barreling towards you and your loved one just before her mortality was snatched forevermore, the sense of utter failure and isolation when you realize your paralysis is real and normal human motion will never again be in your grasp, the despair when the narcotic overdose that landed you in the ER has pushed your family completely out of your life – all of it lends itself directly into the category of emotional pain for its eternal scars on how you emote in the future.
The third and final type of pain Fiona denoted was the most difficult and troublesome of the three, as she could never exactly put it into words, even after the multitude of patients she’d tended to throughout her career. That is, until she herself was standing over her loved one, Rylan Jackson, as he lay asleep in his starkly white hospital-standard bed.
The devoted and visibly shaken girlfriend turned at the sound of her own name. A fellow nurse she didn’t know had arrived to check in on Rylan. Normally most guests would be asked to spend a few moments in the waiting room at this time, but there was no way in hell Fiona wasn’t going to milk her career privileges and stay by Rylan’s side.
This moment in her life was truly the third form of pain: the pain of the unknown.
Fiona, in a way, had made it one of her life’s mission to put into perspective the demon that was the Unknown. She figured once she had her answer, it would be easier to care for her patients and provide the best possible guidance and support. However, she was currently trapped in the Unknown’s tight embrace without having a single clue what was making her numb. All breath had been knocked out of her when she saw Rylan bleeding his life away. She was unsure if she would ever have clarity as to why.
If Rylan didn’t wake up, there would be no why. Because only Rylan knew why.
Suddenly overtaken by that sole word – Why? she kept taunting herself – Fiona slowly made her way to the uncomfortable florally patterned chair next to her boyfriend’s bed and stared at him. She ignored the nurse’s duties while the plague of “why”s pushed her deep into an angry place. A painful place.
You idiot. What the actual fuck, Rylan? What did you hate about your life so much that you couldn’t talk to me? Was I not enough for you? Did I push you to this place? Weren’t we always honest with each other? That day I made us late to your parents’ dinner because I thought you had gotten me pregnant…that day we promised to always tell each other the truth. I never wavered. We fucking promised! Look where the fuck you are now. Don’t you fucking dare do this to me. You’re not leaving me like this. I’ll bring you back just to strangle you myself, if I have to. This ends on my terms, you got that? I fucking love you too much to let this end on yours.
A single tear rolled out of each of Fi’s eyes as her anger transformed into confusion and devastation once more. The nurse, finished with checking the vitals he needed to, gave Fiona a brief nod of support before stepping out of the room.
Fiona pushed her chair closer to Rylan’s bedside and was about to take his hand in hers, when she decided against it.
She raced home for a quick shower, leaving Rylan in the care of their mutual friend Aaron. Fi had attempted to contact his father, but the nursing home said such news might send the elder man back into the psychotic break he had just been recovering from. Fiona and Rylan had known Aaron well for a while, ever since he was once their neighbor many years ago. He was her next best lifeline, with Rylan’s mother helplessly watching from her grave from the ground.
But she couldn’t worry about Aaron right now. She needed to get in and out of the house to return to Rylan’s side for when he awoke. Aaron had told her to take was much time as she needed, but the longer Fi was away from her best friend’s side, the more unfocused and dangerous the world became.
She tore into the bedroom, grabbing the first pair of underwear, the first T-shirt, the first pair of pants she saw before running into the bathroom and stripping her tragedy-tainted clothing. She threw them out the bathroom door as if contaminated and contagious. Slightly true: Whenever the image of Rylan’s slumped body near the tub popped into her head, the memory made her want to immediately vomit.
Fiona hesitated before throwing herself into the shower. Blood still remained all over the floor. His blood. Spilled blood. She gingerly took a moment to take a large step over the lava to get into the shower, however —
“Shit!” she howled as she lost her grip on the slippery tiled wall, forcing a foot to slide through Rylan’s lost fluid. Simultaneously disgusted and terrified of the gore, Fiona controlled her fall to land in the shower. She hit her head against the wall and landed with an echoing thud.
The shower remained off as Fiona remained in the tub, naked and alone, and cried out tears of failure.
In perfect ruin, Fiona clutched her utterly vulnerable body, hoping the feeling of holding herself would dilute the pain even if just for a moment. Sitting still, but in complete freefall. The emotional whiplash she’d experienced in the past six hours had depleted any fight left in her. It was all too much, too fast.
What signs had she missed? How did she not know anything was wrong with the one person she thought she knew better than anyone else? Did that make her a terrible human being? Was her love for Rylan not enough? How many questions could she keep asking before one fucking answer was thrust her way?
One final sob forced a realization. Fiona wasn’t going to get any answers brought to her. She was going to have to do the leg work herself to understand what was happening around her. There may not have been much fight left in her, but that didn’t matter. She was still expected to fight.
The loyal girlfriend wiped away the ugly amount of snot at the bottom of her nose before reaching for the shower dial. A quick, determined scrub with soap and five minutes later and Fiona was back out, fully clothed in something more fresh. She needed to pull herself together, if not for Rylan, for herself.
To ease the pain.
A new fearlessness and confidence washed over Aiden during his first week as a new resident of the Bay Area. He’d been to San Francisco plenty of times throughout his childhood, but the thought of starting fresh in a new city – at least for now – seemed to provide Aiden a constant stream of comfort, freedom, and happiness.
Happiness. Something he wasn’t necessarily the most used to feeling.
A large part of his new found attitude was due to his temporary living situation. Aiden’s admittedly sudden decision to sojourn in Shaky Town only succeeded because his old college acquaintance Tom Steele was millennial-prosperous enough to have a guest room in his apartment. Convenient for Aiden, perfect for Tom who needed to fill a void in his life post-breakup from his boyfriend who decided to start dating women again after being a homosexual for the better part of the past decade.
Ironically, Aiden and Tom weren’t close in school. They met freshmen year under not-so-ideal circumstances when they both realized they had been dating the same idiot. Two years of bickering and immature boy drama later, they entered senior year on a cautiously optimistic note, having put the past behind them. The post-grad years brought them closer, having run into each other multiple times when they visited the others’ city. Aiden learned to appreciate Tom’s desire to dramatize everything, and Tom learned to appreciate Aiden’s cynicism.
And it was their opposing personality quirks that each needed right now. Tom needed Aiden to support his notion that all men were garbage. Aiden needed Tom to tell him that Rylan’s issues were actually as insane as he believed. It all conformed into Aiden’s guest room mooching.
Sister Fran wasn’t pleased when she heard her of brother’s getaway plans. Voices raised between the two when Aiden first flat-out told her he was leaving. Little Chase wasn’t so thrilled either, throwing his stuffed stegosaurus at Aiden as he got in the car to drive away.
Since Aiden’s first attempt to end his life, she had kept him close at all times, always afraid he was going to run away and off himself in solitude. Her nursing job kept her on edge, having seen terrible tragedies happen to every type of person. She and her colleagues frequently mused on how many suicidal teenagers were admitted in the pediatric ward she worked in, which kept the memory of Aiden’s darkest moment forever fresh in her mind. However much Fran always worried about a relapse though, Aiden somehow knew he could never go back to that dark place again. He was scared of getting close to that dark place, but somehow he trusted himself to have more control. To understand his hindsight.
Aiden reassured his sister and nephew that he was going to be back. He didn’t use the word “soon,” because he didn’t know how much time he would need to empty his mind of Rylan and his clusterfuck of a life; but Aiden knew he’d come back home. He’d never be able to leave his sister behind. However, Fran still didn’t understand why he needed to leave in order to gain peace of mind. Her concern was the inspiration for his, for now, final blog post: “Hiatus”…
…Which Tom was currently reading as Aiden, fresh from a cold shower, walked into Tom’s overly modern living room.
“Dude,” Tom muttered. “Your readers literally adore you. You’re actually a Tumblr queen.”
Aiden snatched Tom’s iPad away. “Oh shut up. You know I don’t even know how to use Tumblr.”
Tom snatched it back. “That’s beside the point. You honestly wrote a piece about moving to the other homo city, and you get back thousands of comments about how genuine and relatable you are. How is that even real? If you had any vocal talent, you could be more internet famous than Troye Sivan.”
“Can you not with the comparisons? And if you actually read it, you’d know it was about more than moving here.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I didn’t say that.” Tom stood up to make some tea, clanking the teapot unnecessarily loudly as he filled it with water. “I just don’t understand why you share your feelings with the world about taking time to evaluate your life and get the response back that you do. Shit feels too private to me.”
Aiden scrolled through comments ranging from “You just convinced me to go to SF” to “Bro’s gotta get over himself,” before admitting, “It doesn’t feel too private – it is too private. But that’s why I write. I can articulate…or express…myself in ways I can’t with an in-person interaction. The thoughts in my head ring loud and clear, but I can’t verbalize it, only type it. And I never did this for the response, though now that there is one, I’ve felt a purpose I didn’t feel before. All I wanted was to see my thoughts on the page and understand myself. Now I can do good with it. I can help others.”
The couch crasher sighed. “What now?!”
“You think too much. I gotta get you laid.”
Giving a glance over to Tom, Aiden realized his friend was chugging his mug of tea. “…Did you even let the water boil?”
“Lukewarm is better.”
“You’re a disgusting human.”
Tom faked a horrified expression as Aiden returned to his room to throw on clothes appropriate for enjoying a night out in the city. Looking at himself in the mirror, Aiden forced himself not to pause to stare at his reflection. He even didn’t hesitate when glancing at his suicide scars like usual. He wanted one night to forget the bullshit, forget the past – and he was going to succeed whether Life liked it or not.
“Aid, what are you wearing tonight?” Tom yelled mid-tea slurp. “Better be something slutty.”
Aiden was half a second from responding when he saw his phone light up with a text from Fran. Happened to walk by – that cute guy from the suicide walk is in the ER for trying to take his life. So sad.
Tom appeared in the doorway, throwing a box of condoms at his friend who seemed frozen in place. “Yo, you gone mute?”
Another moment of genuine, panicked hesitation, and then –
“Pick a shirt for me to wear. Let’s get trashed.”
Something caught her eye before she left the house. Fiona turned to the small table beneath the Home Goods-purchased silver mirror by the door. Next to the handwoven bowl she had savored from her trip to Zimbabwe many years prior was a promotional card, one meant to provide, according to the overzealous neon font, free admission to a new gay bar on the Sunset Strip when it opened next weekend.
Fiona turned the card over in her fingers a couple times before placing it back on the table. It was funny, she wondered as she caught her reflection in the mirror, how Rylan was a much more outgoing, sociable person than she ever was. It was partially why she was so attracted to him in the first place; he could expand her world more than she could ever know. Though a world traveler, she relied on Rylan to keep her in tempo with the city and always fulfilled in life. His wide social circle of everyone from coworkers, to college friends, to the gay scene, to the Valley scene helped her with her introverted tendencies.
What made it so funny, though, was that it was not she who was lying in a hospital bed for attempting to take her own life. It was Rylan. The extrovert himself was damaged beyond sight, and besides angering, upsetting and confusing her, that fact was simply illogical.
One more glance at the bar pass card and Fiona stepped into the sunlight. She quickly texted Aaron she was on her way back to the hospital, misspelling multiple words as the illogic distracted her. As she got into the car and began to drive, Fiona suddenly understood that Rylan’s internal damage was a whole piece of him she didn’t know, rendering her boyfriend farther away emotionally than she had realized. Their relationship wasn’t what she thought it was. It all had to be reevaluated in the wake of Rylan’s actions.
As she finally approached the hospital after enduring typical Angeleno traffic, Fiona realized her relationship with Rylan would have to be reevaluated a third time in the wake of not just his actions, but his thoughts and truth. Nothing from here on out was going to be the same for them. Fiona maintained her composure though, sitting in the car for a minute after parking to stare at herself in the rear-view mirror. Her steely green eyes stared back at her. Whatever happens, she declared to herself, you are going to get answers. And you are going to be okay.
A hazy, beautiful light faded into view, as if his vision was a personal noir film. Where was it coming from? He couldn’t shift his view to anything else, his eyes stuck in place. The light eventually filled the scope of his sight, but nothing clarified…until a squeeze. Where? To the left. Farther south. Soft. Warm. Intimate. A second squeeze, and a gentle rub. Hands. Remember hands. A hand on his.
Clear reality slammed into his line of sight as his eyes took on a life of their own and snapped open. Bright whites everywhere, but still the warm hand.
His eyes trickled over to the left to make sense of the voice. Wasn’t female. Focused vision made clear a man was at his bedside. Shaggy, sandy hair. Clean face. Sharp blue eyes. Latin tattoo, Semper fi. His mind put the pieces together and popped an answer out.
“You weren’t supposed to pull this shit again,” Aaron murmured.
All he could manage out of his dry, crusted mouth was, “I’m sorry.” And then, almost as if on cue, he again succumbed to unconsciousness as Fiona appeared in the doorway.