He'd become a bit of a fatalist as of late.
No, that wasn't quite correct. He was not a bit of one but a fatalist through and through. He'd become resigned to his life and believed, without a shred of a doubt, he was powerless to change it.
Slowly he opened his eyes saw nothing had changed. He was still lying under the same gray ceiling and on the same decaying floor with only a dirty blanket covering him for warmth. Slowly he rose to his feet, stretching to alleviate some of the soreness that had settled into his muscles from sleeping on such an unforgiving surface. The planks beneath him creaked with warning as he started to move towards the window but he'd given up days ago worrying about the floor giving way under his feet. If it was going to give way it was simply random chance, and who was he to try to change that?
He looked through the cracked wood covering the missing panes of glass to find it was sunny once again. He rolled his eyes lightly remembering he didn't need to look out the window; he could have just looked up through the hole in the roof to see the sky above. He had the unfortunate experience his second night in the house of learning exactly where the leaks were located after waking up soaked from the rain. Luckily the spring had been unusually dry, or so the newspapers said, so rain wasn't usually an issue. He hated to think about how much worse the house would smell if it had standing water all the time.
He cautiously walked down an old flight of stairs into the basement, careful not to fall from the two missing treads at the middle and bottom. He then climbed up through the one window that was uncovered, the plywood meant to restrict entry long since torn away. At first it had been a tight fit, but this too had grown easier as he lost more weight with each passing week. He looked cautiously around to the front of the house, waiting for traffic to clear before walking down toward the road. Just as he was about to step on the sidewalk he saw a vehicle in the distance, causing him to duck behind the nearest locust tree. He stood hidden from view until the SUV emblazoned with the symbols of the local police department went cruising past. He had no particular reason to hide, but no particular reason to want to be noticed either.
After walking for minute or two he paused, looking back and admiring the house that he now called home. In its prime it must have been beautiful; crafted with red brick, arched windows and a fully screened-in porch. Now it was simply in a state of disrepair; screens long since torn away, windows covered up, the porch door hanging at an unnatural angle from its hinges. The entire property was emblazoned with warning signs against trespassing and unlawful occupancy, but that obviously hadn't stopped him or the others before him. He knew he wasn't the first to take up shelter in that house, mainly from the dirty curses and vulgar pictures cast upon the walls and the piles of hypodermic needles in most of the corners. He also found it somewhat ironic that the property bordered on the local psychiatric facility. He often wondered if that's where he should be, where he was meant to be, instead of wandering the streets homeless.
He continued walking, pondering his latest problem. Summer had arrived, if not officially then unofficially by the end of classes at the local university. The college kids were now gone, back to their plush beach houses or arranged internships or backpacking through Europe. The past few weeks he'd been able to bum things off the occasional student; now that task was becoming increasingly difficult.
Slowly he walked on, not in a terrible hurry to get anywhere because he really had no specific destination. No, he thought, he should stop lying to himself. It was a Monday morning and he did have a definite destination in mind. In the distance he could see the towering buildings of the medical complex. The first one, he had learned during his time in this strange city, was the medical student housing. The next tallest one was the dental school, and the rest belonged to the hospital proper.
As the sky grew even lighter there was an increase in the activity on the roads. People going to visit loved ones, ambulances coming and going, the early shift nurses reporting to work and overnight shift nurses leaving. He walked up the main traffic circle and stepped into the revolving door, quickly finding himself in a welcoming glass atrium. The hospital had a two-story lobby, done mostly in glass and light-colored wood. Straight in front of him was a large information desk, where four volunteers were sitting and directing people wherever they needed to go. Behind them was a hallway leading to a gift shop and the outpatient pharmacy. To his left and right were endless lines of chairs and loveseats, meant as a comfortable waiting area for those stuck in the hospital for hours on end. Also to his right was a large coffee cart, laden with pastries and drinks of just about any type imaginable.
He avoided eye contact with everyone, most especially the security guards stationed in non-descript places where they could watch everything. He slipped quietly into one of the chairs in the corner, as far away from the coffee cart as possible so he wouldn't be constantly reminded through the smells that he hadn't eaten since Friday afternoon. Flipping open his notebook, the only thing he carried with him, he started to write. It was something he'd been doing a lot lately.
Two pages later, he glanced up and saw her. She was just walking in for the day, bag and umbrella still in hand. He knew that she was going up to her office, but he also knew she'd be back. He never came here with the singular intention of seeing her, but they both knew it was a somewhat unspoken relationship they'd forged. His growing reliance on her terrified him, yet he just didn't know any other way to survive.
He bowed his head slightly lower, waiting for her to return.
She walked into the busy lobby of the hospital, slowly scanning the waiting areas for any sign of a familiar face. It was a Monday morning so she knew he'd be there, waiting but at the same time not waiting. She finally caught sight of him in the far corner, next to the walkway for the parking garage. She had to have walked right past him a few minutes prior and never noticed. The red baseball cap threw her off since he had never worn one before, even when his stitches were still in place. He must have picked it up somewhere during the weekend, a good thing given how unruly his hair was becoming.
She leaned against the wall for a few minutes, waiting to see if he'd notice her or if she'd have to initiate the contact. He was always hesitant with her and she didn't know if it was because she was a woman, or because of his situation, or for some reason she couldn't even begin to understand. Most likely it was the last choice, given how little they really knew about him. She closed her eyes for a minute, reflecting back on the first day she'd met him, lying in a bed on the fifth floor…
The call had come in around lunchtime, right as she was finishing up with her only client of the morning. She'd been looking forward to some time to catch up on paperwork, but also welcomed the excuse not to do any of it. She gladly took the information from their clinical coordinator, finding it highly unusual to receive a call for an inpatient consult. Usually their referrals would come only at discharge, and then they'd rarely receive return calls from the patients. She locked up her office and made her way over to the patient floors.
As she exited the elevator she smiled at the form she saw retreating slowly down the hallway. "McGee," she called out quietly, not wanting to disturb any of the patients that might be in hearing distance of her voice. He spun around and broke out into a broad smile, walking back toward her when he saw the source.
"Ziva, how are you?" he asked, pulling her in for a brief hug. "I haven't seen you in what, three days?"
"Hey, that's not my fault, you're the one that keeps pulling twenty-four hour shifts, with all your traipsing around and saving lives."
"Of course. Wouldn't have it any other way. What are you doing up here?"
"I got a call for a referral."
"Ah, that would be my patient. I didn't know you'd get it or I would have called you directly."
That explained a lot, she thought quietly to herself. Tim was very good at his chosen profession, almost to the point of being too thorough in his assessments and treatment recommendations. "What's the story?"
"Paramedics brought him in about two weeks ago. Someone walking along the lakeshore saw him lying on the rocks as if he'd just washed up on shore. He was unconscious, had multiple lacerations, a broken arm, and significant blood loss. Everything was treatable, but our biggest problem is he's a John Doe. He had no ID on him, and he has no recollection of who he is. Not a name, or an age, or where he lives. The police haven't been able to find him in their fingerprint or DNA databases; and there are no missing person's reports out for someone matching his description."
"Why do you need my help?"
"The head injury that caused his apparent amnesia has also affected his speech, so he hasn't been talking much. I thought maybe if we could get him talking more, and better, it would help him to remember. Thus enters my friend, the illustrious speech therapist."
She nodded slowly, thinking it over. "I'll see what I can do."
She walked into the room and cast her eyes upon the form sitting in the chair next to the window. He didn't look like someone who would have been just picked up off the street. Granted, he was a bit scruffy, having not shaved for a while and with his hair pointing in just about every direction imaginable, but he didn't look at all threatening. If anything, he looked lost. When she looked into his eyes, the bluest eyes she'd ever seen, it just helped to reinforce that first impression. He was a man without a home, without anything to guide him to where he belonged.
She kneeled down next to his chair. "My name is Ziva. I'm a speech therapist. Tim thought I might be able to help you."
He nodded silently, not saying a thing. She worked with him for a while, slowly gaining his trust and trying to restore what he previously had. At first he couldn't say much of anything clearly, but by the next morning he was already making progress although his stammering was still quite evident. Two days later Tim approached her once again when she was eating lunch, and she knew just from the look on his face he did not have good news. "Ziva, can we talk?"
"Sure. Sit down."
"No, not here," he said, trying to motion with his eyes to her dining companions. "My office? Fifteen minutes?"
She nodded silently, not quite sure she liked the tone of his voice. She quickly ate the rest of her salad, apologized to her colleagues, and walked upstairs to the third floor.
"What's up?" she asked as soon as the door clicked closed behind her.
"They're making me discharge him."
"What?" she yelled disbelievingly. "Can they do that?"
"They can, and they are. We still have no clue about his identity. If he were a "paying" customer I'm sure it would be different, but because he has no insurance that we know of and his injuries don't warrant keeping him here, they are forcing him out. You know this hospital runs above capacity most days, and we're desperate for the bed."
"But what is he going to do? Where is he going to go?"
"I don't know," he replied, shaking his head. "I've tried just about everywhere I know of to get him help, but they all have no interest as soon as they find out he's a John Doe. Even for the most basic of governmental support services, you need to have a Social Security Number. The only place I've found so far is the Open Door Mission, but even they will only take him for a limited amount of time."
She shook her head slightly, not wanting to remember the look on his face when they'd told him he had to leave. She didn't think she'd ever seen such loss and desperation. If it weren't for the fact she had a boyfriend who would be none too happy with her, she would have taken him right home with her; and Tim had said the same thing. She gave him her phone number in the hope he'd reach out to her, not realizing until a day later that he probably didn't have a way to call her even if he'd wanted. Three days after that she was just about to give up hope, figuring he was gone for good when she spied him sitting in the hospital lobby, bringing them to where they were today. An odd relationship, one that was a little bit speech therapist, a little bit psychotherapist, but mostly just two acquaintances meeting and sharing their lives together.
She opened her eyes again and saw that he hadn't moved. Walking to his side she sat down quietly, waiting for him to make the first move. He was writing furiously, and at first she thought he didn't notice her arrival. After a few more moments, however, she caught him looking at her out of the corner of his eye and realized he'd known she was there all along. Their faces both lit up with smiles as they silently acknowledged one another.
"Have you eaten?" she asked him softly, knowing the answer was no but he would never admit to it. He continued to sit in silence so she stood and walked over to the coffee cart, knowing he'd eventually follow behind. She watched him out of the corner of her eye, noticing he seemed to be taking interest in the scones on this particular morning.
"Two Grande Sumatras, black, and a blueberry scone," she requested of the barista. She received her order and handed one of the cups and the scone to her companion, smiling slightly as he thanked her with a silent nod. Tim said he did the same thing whenever he would take him for lunch. He would never ask for anything, but also would not decline food handed to him. She figured it was a pride thing for him, and just helped to reinforce their thinking he was not your average homeless person.
They walked together to the Silver Elevators and then rode to her clinical office on the fourth floor. "How are you doing?" she asked after they'd settled into her office chairs.
"B….b…..b….b" he struggled, then sighed deeply. "OK," he answered, giving up on the word he wanted to say for one that he could say.
She nodded while smiling sadly. "B's still giving you trouble?"
"Yea. N…not as b…b…b…bad though."
In the month she'd been working with him, she was impressed with the progress he had made. On certain things he could speak very clearly, but on others he would struggle to get the word formed. She'd surmised his problem was two-fold. There was the obvious stuttering; but there was also a more subtle issue of knowing a word, but not being able to get it out. She didn't think that he'd been born with a speech impediment; she believed wholeheartedly his problem was a result of his accident. Knowing that, she felt with enough work he'd be able to reverse the damage. Eventually.
"How's my f…f…favorite speech therapist t…today?" he finally continued with a slight smile. "D…did you have a g…good weekend?"
"Yes I did, actually. What about you? I see you got a new hat."
He reached up and felt the brim, almost as if he'd forgotten it was there. "I f…found a b…b…bus token on F…Friday night. I kept it until S…Saturday afternoon, not really k…knowing what I'd do with it. I got on and rode for a w…while, and eventually I saw the st…stadium. There was a g…game that night, so I hung around outside w…watching through the gates. After the g…game was over I r...realized I didn't really have anyway to get back h…here except by w…walking, so I started doing j…just that. B…b….before I'd even left the b…b…block, one of the players came r…running up to me and offered the hat. Said he'd seen me there all d…day, w…watching from the sidelines, and thought I m…might like it."
"You like baseball?"
"I love it. I d…didn't realize t…that until I was w…watching the game."
"Do you know your favorite team?"
He shook his head back and forth. "I've been trying to r…r…remember. Nothing's c…coming to me."
"Has the writing helped you at all?"
"I d…don't k…know. It's as if I'm p…p…putting things down on p…paper, but I don't understand them, even w…when I go back and r…read them. K…kind of like my dreams."
"You've had more dreams?"
He nodded his head hesitantly. "Last night. I d…dreamed I was in an apartment."
"I d…don't know. I d…don't think it w…was around here, at least n…not anywhere I've seen so far."
"I w…was up high. Looking out over a c…city."
He shrugged his shoulders, not answering. She wanted to keep him talking, since he seemed to get words flowing better the more he talked, but he appeared not to want to share anything more for the moment. They sat in silence for a while before he started talking again. "I was t…talking to this g…guy on the street c…corner yesterday about places to w…work. I'm going to have to get m…money, somehow. He told me the best p…places around here for w…working under the table this time of year would be out in the fields and the or…orchards of some of the neighboring c…counties, with the m…migrant workers. Only p…problem with that he said was I wouldn't be able to c…communicate with any of them. And t…then, that's when I learned…" he stopped, hesitating slightly.
"Learned what?" she prompted.
He sat back and smiled ever so hesitantly. "No se cual es mi nombre pero puedo hablar español perfectamente."
He watched as her eyes grew impossibly large. "Wow," she whispered. "Do you know anything else?"
"W…what do you m…mean anything e…else?"
"I mean is that the only sentence you know, or do you really know the language?"
"Je ne sais pas."
She laid her palms on the desk, using them to lift herself out of her chair and start pacing the room. "You do realize that was French? And you said both those sentences without any hesitation or stammering?"
He sat stunned for a moment then started to shake his head back and forth, eventually leaning over and cradling it in his hands. "H…h…how can I k…know two different languages, and not k…know my own name?"
Before she could answer they heard a knock at the door. "Come in," she yelled.
The knob turned to reveal Tim standing in the doorway, holding his own cup of coffee.
"Come in, sit," Ziva told him.
He gave her a quick hug before sitting in the other empty chair at the front of her desk. "I thought I might find you up here this morning. You, my friend, are due to get that cast off this week. Want to do it this morning?"
"S…s…sure," he answered, shrugging his shoulders. "It's n…not like I have anything else to do."
Ziva looked at him with mock hurt. "What? I'm suddenly not good enough for you?"
"I never said t…that," he said with a slightly annoyed tone.
Tim tried not to laugh out loud. "You really need to learn some sarcasm around us. She wasn't serious."
He looked down to his feet and tried to stop the flushing he could feel rising in his cheeks. He couldn't explain why their teasing it would make him feel that way; it was almost like he'd forgotten even the most basic of social cues, forgotten how to function in society. Trying to distract himself he wandered over to Ziva's bookshelf, running his fingers along the spines of the different volumes standing there. She watched with interest, trying to see what ones he might look a little more closely at, to see if it gave them any further clues. It gave her the idea for later in the week of perhaps taking him to the bookstore over lunch, to see what he would do in the presence of any subject he wanted.
His hand stopped moving as it hovered over a picture. It was of three people, two he recognized and one he did not. They were at a playground, despite looking like they were in their twenties, lined up on a tall slide. Tim was in the middle, with Ziva at the bottom and the person he didn't know at the top. "W…who's this?" he asked, picking up the frame off the shelf. He then realized he was likely getting far too personal with them. "I'm s…sorry. It's none of my b…b…business."
Tim looked over and grinned at the picture he'd picked up. "That's okay. That's me, Ziva and our friend Abby. We all went to graduate school together."
Standing silently he took in her features. Jet black hair, pigtails, pale skin, tattoos. Different than anyone he could recall seeing before, and intriguing in a way he couldn't understand. "She's absolutely beautiful," he whispered softly.
Ziva and Tim looked at one another intently, surprised to see him so interested in their friend. "I have to go," Tim finally said. "I'll see you in a little bit?"
He nodded in agreement. "Sounds g…good."
He was ever grateful to both of them for trying to help in whatever ways they could, even though he never really voiced it. He hoped they knew that, and figured they understood because they wouldn't be comfortable with his continuing to come around otherwise. He may have lost the ability to be aware of social cues, or so he thought, but he could definitely tell the feeling of not being wanted. After all, that was the most common thing he felt every day from the people he encountered, no matter where he was going to or coming from.
After he finished with Ziva he wandered over to Tim's office and they walked down to the orthopedic wing to take the cast off his arm. As soon as they finished Tim's pager whisked him away, but before leaving he said there was something waiting back in the offices if he wanted to go and get it. He walked back upstairs and the secretary gave him a backpack along with a note, a floor map, and a key. He read the note and smiled slightly, hoping that Tim would not be reprimanded for allowing an outsider to use the hospital facilities.
Following the map he walked down the hall and into a side corridor, using the key on a fairly non-descript door. He walked inside and flipped the lock back closed, turning on the 'occupied' sign and finally sitting down on a bench in the corner. The note told him that the hospital kept these private bathrooms for the doctors that worked long shifts and needed a place to refresh themselves before going back on the patient floors. Tim had thought he might like a place to take a proper shower, now that the cast was off and he didn't have to worry so much about it getting wet.
He leaned over and unzipped the backpack, taking stock of what be found inside. He quietly wondered how much of this was really from Tim and how much was really from Ziva. He didn't think a guy would normally have the foresight to pack travel-sized bottles of toiletries. As he dug further, he was more and more shocked by the things he encountered and how much they'd fit into that little space. Two pairs of jeans, two shirts, boxers. A new pair of Sketchers. More notebooks and a few pens.
He opened the front pocket to place the pens where they would not get lost, and that's when his jaw really hit the floor. One by one he pulled out gift cards…CVS…McDonalds…the local sub shop…Dunkin Donuts. Granted, not the best of places to eat but it was food, it was close to the hospital, and he wasn't going to complain. At the very bottom he found a gift certificate for the barbershop that was just up the road. He ran his hand through his silver hair that so desperately needed a trim. It was growing too long in some areas, yet growing in just enough to cover the formerly stitched areas in others.
He took his time in the shower, but then redressed as fast as he could while avoiding the mirrors that seemed to be hanging on every wall in the room. He went out of his way now to avoid mirrors, or even reflections of his image in regular glass. He couldn't look at himself without being overcome with such a sense of despair that it felt like it would be all-consuming…a hopelessness that would drag him down into a place from which he couldn't return.
After all, how could you look into your own eyes, day after day, and not know who you were?