New York Stories

Recovery and Renewal

A Long Short Story about Tragedy and Hope, by Altimexis

Posted December 27, 2023


A short vacation leads me to remember a time I’d thought I put behind me…

Saturday, July 8, 2023

“Where the Hell is he, Kyle?” my boyfriend asked as we both scanned the circular drive in front of Washington’s Union Station. We’d just taken an early morning Acela Express train from New York's Penn Station, down to Washington, D.C.

“I don’t know, Freck,” I responded. “He said he’d meet us right out front.”

“There he is!” Freck shouted. It took me a moment to spot Seth, but he saw us and started waving his arms wildly above his unruly mop of golden curls. We headed off in his direction.

“Hey, Freck. Hey, Kyle,” Seth called out as we approached. The back of the car swung up as if by magic, and Seth grabbed Freck’s suitcase, and then mine, and slid them inside. We handed him our backpacks, and he stuffed them in as well, into the trunk or whatever it is they call the storage area in an SUV. Finally, the back of the car swung back down and shut itself automatically.

“Would it be easier for you to sit up front, Kyle?” Seth asked me.

“Nah, I’ll sit in back with Freck,” I replied. “I don’t really need the cane anymore, but Freck worries that I’ll trip and fall without it, so I walk with it to humor him.”

“You’ll be glad you have it when we go to Glacier,” Seth responded. “Hiking trails aren’t exactly level, and there are lots of tree roots and other obstacles to trip you up.”

Freck walked around and opened the door to the left back seat, and so I got in on the right side, which was right in front of me.

“Nice wheels,” Freck said as Seth got behind the wheel and started the car. “Is this the NX?”

“Yeah,” Seth replied. “Dad needed something upscale, but he didn’t want to get something ostentatious like a Mercedes or a BMW. It also had to be an environmentally green car. I tried to talk him into an electric or at least a plug-in hybrid, but a congressman needs to be able to hop in and go, whether the battery’s charged or not. And apartments with charging stations are a rarity in the District. He also needed the flexibility of an SUV, which pretty much meant getting a Lexus.”

“But isn’t it made in Japan?” Freck asked. “Isn’t that a problem with the voters?”

Laughing, Seth answered, “Perhaps if it were made in China but in our district, the constituents could care less. Half the folks on Wall Street think of Lexus as an economy brand and the rest don’t own cars. The NX gets top marks in Consumer Reports, but as you probably noticed, it doesn’t have much space for cargo.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” Freck responded. “It’s gonna be a challenge fitting everything in for a cross-country camping trip.”

“Pack the way you did for this trip, and we’ll be fine,” Seth said, and then he asked, “How are you doing, Kyle? Is it comfortable back there?”

“Seth, come on,” I answered with perhaps more than a bit of irritation in my voice. “Other than a mild limp, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. I’ve fully recovered from my brain injury, and like I said, the cane’s more to reassure you guys. I just finished my junior year in astrophysics at MIT, and you were at our double bar mitzvah last week. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Sorry I asked,” Seth responded with a little less energy.

In a much softer voice, I replied, “I’m sorry I made such a big deal of it. It’s just a bit of a sore point for me. People see the limp and the cane, and they treat me like a cripple.”

“I’m really sorry, Kyle. I won’t do it again. I promise,” Seth said.

“It’s so weird to see you driving,” Freck interjected as Seth pulled into traffic.

“Yeah, getting my driver’s license wasn’t that high on my to-do list, but it does make things easier in cities that don’t have adequate mass transit. Washington might have the Metro and an extensive bus network, but it doesn’t have the density of a place like New York. You can’t pick up groceries nearby and carry them home in your folding cart, so unless you eat out every night, you really need a car just for routine errands.

“And let’s face it, a driver’s license is the de facto standard for proof of identity these days. You just about hafta have one to board a plane, and a license can take the place of a passport for entering Canada. Ashe and I had to pay extra for that, but it’s worth it. And being able to drive has other advantages, such as being able to pick up my best friends at Union Station to take them to their hotel, so they don’t have to put their lives in the hands of a taxi driver or an Uber.”

“Given the statistics for accident rates among eighteen-year-old drivers, I’m not sure you’re much of an improvement,” Freck quipped.

“You said you wanted to be dropped off in Annapolis, so you could walk to your hotel from there?” came Seth’s rejoinder. Annapolis was the capitol of Maryland and the location of the Naval Academy. It was also a good hour away by car.

“Did Asher get his license too?” Freck asked.

“Of course,” Seth replied. “We need to have at least two drivers, in case one of us gets sick or something. With you being sixteen and Kyle being only fourteen, neither of you can get a license in New York, much less help with the driving. Besides, it was Asher’s dumb idea to go to Glacier National Park this year in the first place. I understand why he thought Glacier should be our first priority.

“What neither of us realized is that eighteen-year-olds can’t rent cars except in New York and Michigan. If we could, we’d have flown to Bozeman or Kalispell, or maybe to Spokane, and rented a car there. I’m just glad Dad’s letting me borrow his car for a couple of weeks.”

“But Montana’s most of the way across the country,” I pointed out. “How long is it gonna take to get there from New York?”

“Not accounting for construction and other unexpected delays, it’ll take about 34 hours of driving. Realistically, that’s three-and-a-half days each way at ten hours per day, just to get there.”

“So an entire week is gonna be taken up by driving there and back,” I realized aloud.

“But think of it this way: you’ll get to see a hell of a lot of America along the way,” Seth noted. “We coulda flown out there and taken a tour, but the last thing I think any of us wanted was to travel with a busload of octogenarians.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that. “We did look into hiring a private guide, but they aren’t cheap and the tour operators are booked into next year.”

“What about backpacking?” Freck asked. “Didn’t you say we might hafta do that?”

“That was before I knew you needed a backcountry permit for backpacking, and those are sold out for the rest of the year. Besides which, we probably should have some experience with hiking and camping before we do anything like that. Speaking of which, we need to try out all the camping gear before we leave. I don’t want to find there’s something missing when we set up camp, or that the sleeping bags aren’t tall enough for you, Kyle.”

“With the two of ours zipped together, I’m sure there’ll be enough room for both Ky and me,” Freck answered. I could feel myself blush.

“I’m just glad we were able to reserve a spot in one of the campgrounds,” Seth added. Yeah, we were gonna go camping, not that that was our first choice. We were still waitlisted for lodging, both inside and outside of the park, but it seemed that everyone was making up for vacation plans that had been ditched during the pandemic. Hell, we even had to make a reservation, just to enter the park by car.

“It’s gonna be crowded… and not just in our tent,” I exclaimed as I blushed even more deeply.

“The Cape would’ve been a lot closer,” Freck pointed out.

“And unless it’s wiped out by a hurricane or flooded by sea level rise, Cape Cod will be there to be seen, decades from now,” Seth countered. “There are no glaciers melting away in Massachusetts – and here we are, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel,” Seth said as he pulled into a circular driveway and came to a stop.

“This looks expensive,” I exclaimed. “I hadn’t realized we were staying at such a fancy place.”

“It’s the weekend after the Fourth and it was a last-minute reservation, so there really wasn’t much else available,” Freck explained. “It turns out my mom has a corporate account. She reserved a room for us at the corporate rate, which is way less than the published rate.” Then speaking in a radio announcer’s voice, Freck said, “The Ritz-Carlton’s known for elegant, understated accommodations and exceptional service.”

“My dad likes to stay at Ritz-Carlton hotels, but only if it’s on someone else’s dime,” Seth chimed in with a laugh. “He says it used to be better, though, before Marriott bought the chain.”

By then a bellhop was approaching with a cart, so we exited the car and Seth popped the trunk, or whatever it’s called in an SUV.

“A motorized lift back?” Freck asked.

“It’s standard on most models, and it sure comes in handy when you’re bogged down with luggage or with groceries.”

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the bellhop began. “Could I arrange for the valet to park your car?”

“Actually, it’s only my friends who are staying,” Seth replied.

“You should have a reservation under San Angelo,” Freck told the bellhop. “If not, it’ll be under Sophia Lawrence.” I couldn’t help but notice how the bellhop’s eyebrows raised upon hearing Freck’s mother’s name.

Checking his tablet, the bellhop said, “Mr. Francis San Angelo, I have you upgraded to a Premiere King guest room with a garden view at no additional charge. Your room is ready for early check-in, as requested.”

“Listen guys,” Seth interrupted, “I know you musta gotten up before dawn, so if you wanna take a nap first, maybe we can meet up for lunch and then do some sightseeing on foot.”

“I think we both slept on the train, most of the way down here,” I replied as Freck nodded his head.

“What I really feel like is going for a swim,” Freck said to which I also nodded my head in agreement. “You do have a pool, right?” he asked the bellhop.

“A pool, and a full fitness center,” he answered.

“Would two hours be enough time?” Seth asked.

“That’d be perfect,” Freck answered. “Why don’t we meet in the lobby at 12:30?”

“See you then,” Seth answered.

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We’d scarcely been sitting for a minute when Seth breezed into the lobby and walked right up to us. He was noticeably sweaty in his polo shirt and khakis. Freck and I were more sensibly dressed in tank tops and shorts, with baseball caps to keep the sun out of our eyes. The prediction was for a very hot and humid week but with no rain.

“You guys ready?” Seth asked.

“We’re ready, but are we gonna need to wear better clothes?” I asked as we stood up.

“Not at all,” Seth answered. “I’m so used to dressing preppy when I’m not in a suit and tie, ’cause I’m on The Hill all the time, but today we’re doin’ the tourist thing, and it’s definitely an outdoor day. I just hope you applied sunscreen.” We both nodded.

As we walked out of the lobby and headed right, Seth continued, “This is a great location, right near Georgetown and George Washington University. You’re close to Dupont Circle, and for what it’s worth, the White House. It’s an easy walk to the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall. By the way, are you guys hungry?” Seth asked.

“We’re starved,” I replied.

“There are a lot of cafés nearby, and with this being Saturday, they shouldn’t be overrun by students catching a bite between classes,” Seth went on. “There’s a better than average deli on F street that has humongous sandwiches at a reasonable price, and it’s right on the way to the Lincoln Memorial.”

“Sounds good to me,” Freck responded.

Spotting a street sign showing we were on Pennsylvania Avenue, I asked, “You’re taking us to lunch at the White House?”

“Certainly,” Seth replied. “Last time I saw the President, I asked him if I could bring my best friends over for a visit, and he said that he and the missus would be delighted to have us over for lunch.”

“Very funny, guys,” Freck said with a laugh.

We turned onto 20th Street and passed by the GWU Museum and the law school, and turned right on F Street and entered an attractive storefront for a place called Carvings, which had an impressive sandwich menu. Freck ordered the Spicy Turkey Avocado Sub, Seth got the Tuna Melt Wrap, and I had the Mushroom Melt. We all ordered ice tea to go with our sandwiches, but it was way too sweet for my tastes. Because of the heat and humidity and low customer count, we grabbed an inside table.

“I have to warn you that we’re gonna do a lot of walking today,” Seth said as we unwrapped our sandwiches. “For a lot of things, you can get there faster by taking the Metro. To see all of the monuments, there’s really no shortcut to walking – unless you rent a bike —”

“It’s been a while, but I bet I could ride a bike now without running into anything or anyone or falling off,” I interrupted.

“That’s well and good, but good luck with finding one,” Seth explained. “There are rental kiosks all over the district, but this is the peak tourist season. It’s more common than not to find there’s not a single bike available. If you guys are up to it, we’ll just walk, but be warned, we’re gonna walk miles today.”

Seth was looking right at me and so I replied, “I’m used to walking miles at MIT and all over Boston. I’m good now. I can walk as much as we need to. The cane’ll barely slow me down.”

“Very well, then,” Seth responded. “We didn’t have much of a chance to talk during your bar mitzvahs, but how was your first year at MIT? I guess you’re both seniors now.”

“Ky is for sure,” Freck answered. “I’m not exactly sure what I am, though. Mine’s a combined program involving both architecture and civil engineering. I have two years to go, and then I hope to enter the PhD program.”

“As do I, but in astrophysics,” I added.

“I never realized how much campus life would be a part of the college experience,” Freck continued. “Don’t get me wrong, Kyle and I made the right choice when we decided to defer going to MIT for two years. However, the last year has had a profound effect on us. We’re not the same guys we were when we celebrated our high school graduations together last year.”

“What d’ya mean?” Seth asked.

“What I mean is that it’s different when you live on campus. Like you, we took college-level courses for dual credit throughout high school. It’s not just about independence either,” Freck continued. “I mean, I’ve been on my own, practically since my sisters were born. Bein’ independent didn’t make me responsible – not that my parents were responsible either,” he added with a laugh.

“My dad was the CEO of one of the largest brokerages in the world and was supposedly a financial genius, which I’d argue is debatable. Although he died from COVID, he was found with lines of coke nearby. I picked up my regular pot and alcohol use from watching him.

“My mother was a successful fashion designer, and yet she nearly died from a serious eating disorder. It wasn’t until she took charge of her life, got the help she needed and took responsibility for raising her kids that she became someone I could be proud of.

“And then there’s my story. I don’t know how I managed to do so well in school when I was always wasted. Five years ago I got so high on the Fourth of July that I thought I could fly. I nearly jumped to my death and would’ve, had it not been for a stranger who grabbed my ankle. Even after Kyle’s dads rescued me, I went off the deep end in Paris. It wasn’t until I accepted personal responsibility and got the counseling I needed that I got past my so-called upbringing.”

“But what does any of that have to do with living on campus?” Seth asked.

“At MIT there’s a real sense of community. We became active in Hillel and attended Friday evening services every week, followed by Shabbat dinner. We also went to the Saturday morning services, followed by brunch. At first we went just to prepare for our bar mitzvahs.

“We’ve made good friends at Hillel, and the services and meals with them were something we looked forward to. Kyle and I have talked about it, and we plan to keep going every week in the fall.”

“But how is that different from going to services at home?” Seth asked.

“The synagogue my family belongs to is within walking distance of our house,” I responded. “Every week there’s a different crowd of people – relatives of the bar mitzvah boy or the bat mitzvah girl – and they’re total strangers. Yes, the synagogue has Temple Teens and B’nai Brith Youth. There are teen-led Shabbat services every week in the small chapel. There’s a lot going on for teenagers, but there’s a world of difference between kids in high school and kids in college. I may be fourteen but I have nothing in common with kids who just finished middle school.”

“Yeah, it’s called facial hair,” Seth interrupted, for which I gave him the finger.

“It’s not about religion,” Freck added. “After all, Ky’s an atheist and I’m an agnostic. Hell, I was raised nominally as a Catholic. Now that I’ve learned about my Jewish roots and become a bar mitzvah, I’ve come to realize that being Jewish in America is about more than religion. There’s a history that spans thousands of years. We have a unique cultural identity. It’s a community within the community of students at MIT.”

“Freck and I go swimming every day,” I chimed in, “which makes us part of the athletic community of all things. Of course swimming is a big deal for Freck, but it’s really helped me to regain my strength and coordination. Freck has even been approached about joining the swim team, but there was no way he had the time for it while we were preparing for our bar mitzvahs.”

“Do you think you’ll go out for the swim team next year, Freck?” Seth asked.

“I’ve thought about it,” he admitted, “but I don’t need to swim to support an athletic scholarship the way a lot of the team members do. I’m there for the academics and would only join because I enjoy the competition and if it didn’t interfere with my studies.”

“Wow!” Seth exclaimed. “That almost sounds mature.”

“I am mature,” Freck agreed. “Like I said, I’m not the same kid I was a year ago.”

“I’m not either,” Seth countered, “yet I still live in the same apartment – the one you helped to redesign.” I smiled at the memory. Seth’s parents had had a top-floor apartment with a huge terrace, but it only had one bedroom and one bathroom. Then the apartment behind theirs became available and Freck came up with a plan to combine them. That was how he came to realize his true calling was as an architect.

“Asher and I have lived in that apartment for the past four years,” Seth continued. “For the last year, he’s been going to NYU and I’ve been commuting to classes at Columbia. We have different schedules, and of course Asher spends a lot of time workin’ at the Ragin’ Cajun, yet nothing much has changed. We still go to movies, off-Broadway shows and museums together. Asher has the friends he’s made at NYU and I have the friends I’ve made at Columbia. Since our old friend Clarke and I have many classes in common, we often get together for lunch with our new friends. How is that different from how you live your lives in Boston?”

“Boston isn’t New York,” Freck replied, “True, there are world class museums and an outstanding symphony. There’s also the renowned Boston Pops. There’s a lot of history everywhere you go. However, the Citizens Bank Opera House doesn’t hold a candle to the Met, but none of that’s what I’m talking about. At MIT, there’s a sense of campus life that transcends one’s background, no matter where you grew up.”

“Now that you mention it, I’ve noticed that kids who grew up in the suburbs have a hard time adjusting to city life,” Seth related. “Perhaps it’s because they only know what their parents allowed them to see. Those of us who grew up in big cities like New York are much better prepared for college. We don’t even have to think about what’s around us – it’s instinctive. We know how to coexist with all the crazies out there.”

“We see that in the kids at MIT,” I agreed. “Hell, some of them are from small rural towns. You can see it on their faces, how they feel like they’re in over their heads for the first semester or two. I think the suburban kids have it the worst. At least the rural kids know how to be independent but not the kids who grew up in the ’burbs. Like you said, their lives were always scripted by their parents, their teachers and their peers.”

“Isn’t campus life more about discovering things like drinking, drugs and sex, regardless of where you came from?” Seth asked. “Not that I’ll admit to any of those, other than the last one,” he added with a smile.

“What’s different about campus life is that no one knows about your past,” Freck chimed in. “You have the opportunity to create a brand new existence – to reinvent yourself. Sure, discovering new vices may be part of it, but only a small part. Everyone starts with a blank slate and can choose who they want to be – not who their parents or their peers wanted them to be.”

“What about your internship, Seth?” I asked. “You’re spending the whole summer in Washington, living on your own. Maybe you get together with the other interns after hours. Is that a bit like the campus life Freck is talking about?”

Laughing, Seth replied, “You have to remember that I’m living with my dad. It’s not at all like living in a dorm with all of the other interns. The irony is that while they’re all tripping all over each other to impress the representatives, I’m actually getting to know the people in power. Part of that’s because I am the son of a congressman, I’m sure. I’d like to think a good part of it is because I’m not kissing ass.

“You have to take time to get to know the staffers, ’cause they’re the ones who schedule appointments and make arrangements for the representatives. Yet the interns treat the staffers like they were little better than the people who vacuum the floors. I like talking to those people too, though, ’cause they have some of the most interesting stories to tell.”

“That’s what’ll make you a great politician some day,” Freck chimed in. “It’s because you listen to people and treat them with respect, regardless of who they are.”

“I got that from my father,” Seth related.

“Do you know Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?” I asked.

Laughing again, Seth replied, “I’ve known her since 2021. We met on the morning of January 6, just before the insurrection. Even though my dad helped save her skin, she doesn’t like it that he’s become one of the more prominent centrists in the Democratic Party. He’s on MSNBC way more often than she is. And then there’s the way I disparaged her naïve progressivism.”

“Naïve progressivism?” I asked.

“It’s an attitude that every problem can be fixed by throwing other people’s money at it,” Seth explained. “The Green New Deal, is a good example of that. It’s well-intentioned, but it covers everything but the kitchen sink without explaining how to pay for it. Guaranteeing the right to affordable housing should be a given, but you still need a tax base if you want to have teachers, fire fighters and police.

“Naïve progressives think it’s the government’s responsibility to provide more housing, but they’re the first to squawk about the higher taxes needed to build anything. In the end, they put the onus on the developers to include affordable units in every new apartment building.”

“But isn’t that what they did at Essex Crossing?” I asked. “Half of the apartments are supposed to be affordable.”

“That depends on how you define affordable,” Seth went on. “If you make less than $30k a year, or $34k for a couple, you can rent a studio at 180 Broome Street for $560 a month. There were hundreds of applicants for just three studio apartments that rent for that. Another 37 so-called affordable studios rent for between $900 and $2150 a month. The annual income limits for those range as high as $140k. The story’s much the same for the one, two and three bedroom apartments, with rents for all but a few being totally out of reach for those that need housing the most.

“There are forty tiny market-rate studio apartments in that building. They’re identical to the so-called affordable ones. Even so, plenty of young professionals are willing to pay $4k a month to live in one because it’s in Manhattan. Developers need market rate apartments to pay back their costs. The rest of us need the tax revenues they generate to fund services for those in market-rate and affordable units alike.”

“Why are so few of the apartments set aside for the poor?” I asked. “Why don’t they just build more apartments and set more of them aside for low-income tenants?”

“The developers aren’t gonna foot the bill for that out of the kindness of their hearts. They need to cover their costs. Their investors demand to earn a decent return. That’s why they favor building luxury apartments over middle- and low-income housing. It doesn’t matter if an apartment rents for five hundred or five thousand dollars; the cost of building and maintaining it is the same. City, state and federal governments would hafta kick in larger subsidies. That would require raising taxes or cutting other programs.”

“And you have a better idea?” Freck asked.

“Of course!” Seth responded, “at least when it comes to housing the city’s homeless. With the influx of migrants, we’re spending billions renting luxury hotel rooms to house them. Tourists are the lifeblood of the city. They’re a major part of our economy. Yet with so many hotel rooms being used for the homeless, we’re turning tourists away! The mayor can complain all he wants but his hands are tied by court decree. The right to shelter is enshrined in the New York State constitution That’s why so many migrants have come to New York.

“The word has gotten out that if they come here, they’ll have a place to stay, food, schooling and healthcare for their kids, and a fast track to employment. Then they complain when the city runs out of space. Some have even refused to go to the temporary tents the city set up on Randall’s Island. Those on the right say the migrants are ungrateful. They say the right to shelter doesn’t mean a right to housing. Those on the left say a tent is no place for children. At least we don’t have tents lining our sidewalks the way they do in San Francisco.

“Then there’s the homeless that have been displaced by the migrants. Before they can even qualify for housing, they hafta get treatment for mental illness and drug addiction. It’s no wonder so many of them don’t want to get involved with anything the city has to offer.”

“No one wants to live next to a homeless shelter, much less a homeless shelter with drug addicts,” I pointed out.

“But the homeless will never overcome their mental illness or drug addiction unless they have more than a place to stay. They need a place to live,” Seth countered. “Thanks to the pandemic, there’s a glut of vacant office space. Although we need more housing, most offices aren’t suitable for conversion to apartments. There's too much space in the interior and not enough windows.

“There’s also the need for schools, libraries, stores and other services that aren’t usually found around office buildings. We need to find a way to combine affordable housing and community services in buildings that would otherwise be vacant.

“What my dad and I wanna do is convert empty office buildings into modern-day flophouses. People need a private place of their own where they can secure their belongings and feel safe. They need a place where they can sleep without worrying that a crazy person in the next bed’ll attack them during the night.

Our plan is to provide in-house services to every resident. There’d be free food and nutrition counseling. There’d be social workers to get them the help they need. Everyone would have access to medical, mental health and addiction services. For families, there’d be schools and play areas. There’d also be adult education with English language classes and vocational training. Everyone who qualifies could get a GED.

“Progressives will say our model sets a dangerous precedent. They’ll say were creating substandard housing for the homeless. What would you call it, then, when we use hotel rooms, tents and public shelters? Is it better for them to live in cardboard boxes under bridges? Is it better to institutionalize the mentally ill? Are addicts better cared for in prison? Is it better to do nothing and let them sleep on the streets?

“You can’t end homelessness with housing alone. You can’t house migrants in tent cities. Access to services is critical for both the homeless and migrants to get back on their feet. Treating housing, immigration, employment, mental health and drug addition separately, isn’t just naïve – it’s barbaric.”

With obvious bitterness in his voice, Freck responded, “My dad didn’t want to spend any money on the homeless. As far has he was concerned, it was their fault they were homeless, and they didn’t deserve our help. Starting a foundation to help the homeless was my mom’s way of getting back at him.

“You should talk to my mom,” Freck went on. “Not only might she be interested in supporting your ideas, but I bet she’d love to hire you outta law school to handle her foundation’s legal work. It could be a real stepping stone to a career in politics.”

“That’s an insanely great idea,” Seth responded. “I’d have never thought of working in the private nonprofit sector, but it has real possibilities…”

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Thursday, July 13, 2023

The sound of both of our phone alarms going off was a rude awakening to the start of a new day. At first I was a bit disoriented. I was in bed with my boyfriend, but the mattress was so much more comfortable than anything I’d ever slept on. It caressed my body, making me feel like I was floating on a cloud. The pillow was also much better than anything I was used to. The moment I started to stir, however, every muscle in my body and every joint screamed out in pain.

Not to be outdone, Freck literally did scream out, “Fuck, everything hurts!”

Having survived a severe brain injury at the hands of one of New York’s finest, I was well acquainted with pain. I saw no reason to announce it to the world, but as I swung my legs over the side of the bed, it was hard to ignore. Slowly, the fog lifted from my brain and I remembered we were in Washington. We’d spent Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday sightseeing with Seth. We saw all of the monuments on and around the National Mall.

The Lincoln Memorial was huge and the view of the reflecting pool from there was outstanding. We saw the Vietnam, Korean War, and World War II Veterans Memorials. I’d never heard of the Constitution Gardens and the Signers Memorial before, but it was cool. It made me think that a certain ex-president should visit it sometime. The Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials were much newer than the others, but no less inspiring. I liked it that they showed FDR in a wheelchair. It had meaning to me, now that I’d experienced a disability.

It took forever to walk around the Tidal Basin. It was worth it to see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Yes, Jefferson was a slave holder and so was Washington. They were men of their times. However, both men played an important part in making America the great nation it is today. There were a bunch of smaller memorials and monuments too. The Albert Einstein Memorial was outside the National Academy of Sciences, which has a beautiful atrium.

We took the Metro to Arlington Cemetery and saw The Arlington House and Robert E. Lee Memorial. I wasn’t sure why an insurrectionist leader was worthy of a memorial, even if it had been his plantation house. We saw the John F. Kennedy gravesite, the Ruth Bader Ginsberg gravesite, the Tomb of Remembrance and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, not to mention a host of other memorials.

On Monday and Tuesday, while Seth was at work, Freck and I visited the Smithsonian Institute. We went to the Air and Space Museum, which was incredibly cool. We visited the Museum of the American Indian, which was way better than the one in New York. We saw the Museum of African Art, the Sackler and Freer Galleries of Asian Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and the Castle. That was a hell of a lot to see in such a short time!

We had yet to visit the Smithsonian’s American History and Natural History museums. Those we’d see on another day. We didn’t want to miss the Holocaust Memorial Museum either. The vast collections of the National Gallery of Art would take an entire day by themselves. So far, it had been a whirlwind of intense sightseeing. We’d walked for several miles each day. As much as we were used to walking all over MIT, our muscles just weren’t used to so much walking.

“How come you’re not complaining?” Freck asked. “Aren’t you in pain too?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I replied, “but after all I went through in my rehab, this is nothing in comparison.”

“That kinda puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?” Freck commented, and then added, “Let’s put on our speedos and go for a swim to start the day. We can sit in the Jacuzzi for a bit to soothe the aches and pains and then swim around to loosen up our muscles.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea,” I agreed.

Donning our speedos, T-shirts and flip-flops, we headed to the elevators and then the pool. A half-hour later, we returned to our room, where breakfast was already waiting for us outside our door. We’d taken advantage of the hotel’s online breakfast room service menu and placed an order the night before. Today, we had oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon and whole wheat toast, with orange juice and coffee. We showered, I shaved, and then we got dressed for the day.

We were scheduled to take a VIP tour of the Capitol and so we needed to dress up in suits and ties. We coulda dressed more casually as a lot of tourists do, but Seth had promised us lunch in the House Members Dining Room, which had a strict dress code. In the afternoon, we were scheduled for a VIP tour of the White House.

Freck and I would’ve taken the Metro from Foggy Bottom-GWU to the Capitol South station, but dressed up as we were, we thought it best to take a limo. When we asked the concierge to arrange for an Uber or Lift, she told us the hotel offered free limo service. If only we’d known about it before! It was available on a first come, first served basis. We had no trouble getting a ride to the Capitol Visitors’ Center and it only cost us the ten-dollar tip Freck gave the driver.

We entered the Capitol Visitors’ Center and found Seth was already waiting for us inside, dressed as we were in a suit and tie. “Hey, we didn’t expect to see you until lunch,” Freck said as we approached our best friend.

“One of the things we interns do is provide VIP tours for our representative’s constituents,” Seth explained. “My dad volunteered me to be your tour guide.”

“I’m sure that’s a major hardship for you,” I quipped and we all laughed.

“We need to sign you in at the House appointment desk and to clear you with Security, and to get you your ID badges,” Seth explained.

When we checked in at the House appointment desk however, however, the security agent said, “I have full clearance for Mr. San Angelo, but there’s a hold on Mr. Goldstein.”

“What d’ya mean there’s a hold on me?” I asked.

“Something about assaulting a police officer,” the agent replied. “I’m afraid I can’t allow you to enter until the investigation’s complete.”

“You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me,” I exclaimed under my breath.

“Sir, Mr. Goldstein and Mr. San Angelo were at a Black Lives Matter protest, shortly after the death of George Floyd,” Seth explained. “They were trying to meet up with my husband and me. We’d been separated and found ourselves on opposite sides of a police barricade. My husband and I ended up being arrested, but the charges were dropped after an overnight stay in lockup. That was three years ago, when I was fifteen. Kyle was only eleven at the time.”

“Kyle has no memory of the day, but I was right there next to him,” Freck chimed in. “In no way did he assault a police officer. His only crime was that his head was in the way of a police baton. The blow nearly killed him. He had an epidural hematoma and underwent emergency surgery, followed by months of rehabilitation. Even now, three years later, he still walks with a cane.”

“But he was arrested in late July of 2023, two months after the death of George Floyd,” the agent related.

“And the charges were dropped!” I practically shouted.

“Not according to the Manhattan DA’s office,” the agent countered. “You were never cleared and the request for the VIP tour came too late for us to investigate the matter.”

The exchange of words with the security agent was all it took for memories to come flooding back to me. I could hear the agent, Freck and Seth continuing to talk, but their voices faded into the background. My mind was thrown back to a time I’d thought I long ago put behind me…

<> <> <>

Mid-June, 2020

I felt like I was floating but other than that, I had no idea where I was or even who I was. There was no day or night, up or down or left or right. I was vaguely aware of people around me. There were indistinct voices and the occasional touch as I felt myself shifted a bit from side-to-side. I felt no hunger or thirst. I just existed, but for how long, I’d no idea.

At some point the voices became words, and although they were still indistinct, I could make out a few of them. One word I heard often was Kyle, but I had no idea what it meant. Then there were other words that had more meaning – words like turn, clean, warm, feel and blanket. At first they had no meaning to me, but eventually I could understand some of them and even recognize when the words were strung together in sentences. There was also the word, Freck, that seemed to have special meaning. I recognized that it was very important to me, but I didn’t understand why.

There was also a haziness around me. Sometimes it was light and sometimes dark, but it was never more than a haziness. Eventually I could make out shadows, and then I started to recognize faces and people who kept appearing in front of me. Something wasn’t quite right about them, and only later did I realize that I couldn’t see their mouths, as they always wore masks.

Slowly I began to focus and things became clearer to me. Faces didn’t just appear and disappear in front of me; I could follow them around as they moved. I also began to recognize different voices, and could understand more of what they said. I came to realize that Kyle referred to me; it was my name. I could take small sips of water and milkshakes, and eventually puréed food. I could also feel when my bladder was full, but I couldn’t control it, and I could feel my bowels moving and became very embarrassed when the nurses cleaned me up.

There was a loud machine that made a sound like Darth Vader, and I felt my chest moving up and down whenever the machine made that sound. The thought of Darth Vader, however, brought back memories that were buried. Darth Vader was from Star Wars and I remembered that my boyfriend loved Star Wars. I had a boyfriend, and his name was Freck. Freck was my boyfriend, and slowly other pieces of the puzzle of my life began to fall into place.

One of the men who came to see me every day was my dad, and the other man who came to see me, whom the nurses referred to as my doctor, was my other dad, Ken. I wondered why Freck never came to see me, but then I wondered why I was here in the first place. Did something happen to me? Was I in the hospital? Did whatever happened to me also happen to Freck? Was he even alive? I wanted to ask these things, but I couldn’t talk. Something in my throat was preventing it.

I started remembering more and more as the nurses began getting me up and sitting in a chair next to my bed. They started feeding me real food – mostly soft things at first, and then hamburgers, chicken and pizza and the like. They changed something on the machine that made the Darth Vader noise, and it stopped making the noise, letting me breathe on my own. It only made the noise when I forgot to breathe and at night. I was beginning to control my bladder and bowels and they let me use a plastic urinal and a bed pan instead of a diaper. Eventually, they let me use a commode at the side of the bed.

The biggest change was that they changed something in my neck and I could breathe around whatever was in my throat, and I could start to talk. At first I sounded like a croaking frog, but eventually my voice came back. Even so, the words wouldn’t come at first; I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t get my lips and tongue to move the way I wanted them to. Some words were easier than others and I said, “fuck” a lot, but the nurses didn’t seem to like that much. Getting anything across was very difficult.

Even so, I was able to convey that I had questions and wanted answers. I was able to get it across that I wanted to know what had happened to me. I found out that I’d been hit on the head and nearly been killed, and that a neurosurgeon had to remove part of my skull and remove a massive blood clot. The part of the skull that had been removed had been frozen and would be replaced eventually, but not for months.

Finally, I was able to convey that I wanted to know about Freck. What had happened to him? I needed to know. They told me that he’d been hit on the head too, but his injury was minor. He was in the same hospital and would be ready to go home soon. I wondered why he hadn’t come to visit me like my dads had, but for some reason, they wouldn’t let him. Well if he wasn’t allowed to visit me, then I was gonna go see him.

It was a few days later before I could get someone to take me to his room, however. By then, I could breathe fully on my own and no longer needed the ventilator – what I used to think of as the Darth Vader machine. I was improving rapidly and could even put a name on the difficulties I was having moving my arms and legs and speaking – apraxia. It was a word I’d encountered in my studies in school. I also started doing mathematic derivations in my head, just to pass the time.

My nurse got me into a wheelchair and wheeled me through the labyrinthine maze that was the hospital. Finally, he knocked on a wooden door and Freck called out, “Come in!” I was excited, just hearing the sound of my boyfriend’s voice. The nurse rolled me inside and I could see Freck, sitting up in bed.

When Freck looked up and saw me, he jumped up and started to run toward me, but he was only wearing a hospital gown like the one I was wearing, and the bottom of his gown flew up with his motion, exposing his torso and everything below. I couldn’t help but smile and although I couldn’t get my mouth to say the words I wanted to say, I was able to give him a ‘thumbs-up’ with my left hand.

Freck said, “Oh my god, Kyle, you got a haircut,” as he sat down in a chair right across from me. It was then that I remembered that I used to have very long hair that reached almost down to my butt, and I realized they probably had to cut it all off to operate on my skull.

I had so many questions, but speaking was still very difficult. I started to say, “I… I —” but I just couldn’t say anything that made sense. Finally, I managed to croak out, “H…how… how l…l…long?”

“How long have we been in the hospital?” Freck asked. How’d he know what I was trying to say?

“Y…y…y…yeah,” I replied.

“Actually, I’ve lost track of the date,” Freck answered. “It’s late June, I think. Maybe Monday or Tuesday —”

“It’s Tuesday, June twenty-third,” my nurse answered from behind me. “Sunday was Father’s Day, and a week from Saturday, it will be the Fourth of July.”

The last thing I remembered, it was May, so I asked, “A m…m…month?

“Not quite,” Freck responded.

Then worrying what might have happened to my boyfriend, I asked, “Are y…y…you okay?”

“The guy who hit you also hit me on the top of the head,” Freck answered, “but I only got a concussion. It wasn’t a bad one. I shoulda gone home right away, but I think they kept me because they were afraid of what I’d do, with my history of tryin’ to fly from the Battery Park garage and runnin’ away in Paris and all.”

I suddenly remembered how my boyfriend had nearly killed himself twice before, and I guess he saw the panic on my face and he quickly added, “I’d never do anything like that now, though. For one thing, my head’s in a much better place these days and for another, I know you’re gonna need me more than ever now.”

“W…w…wh…what happened?” I asked.

“Do you remember anything about what happened to you?” He asked and I shook my head ‘no’ in response. “We were at a protest,” he began, and suddenly I remembered, although I still didn’t remember being injured. “There was a black man in Minneapolis, George Floyd, who was strangled by the police on Memorial Day.”

“L…l…lynched w…with a n…n…knee,” I remembered.

“Yes, exactly,” Freck confirmed, and then he went on to fill me in on what had happened, but then he remembered, “There were bystanders who captured your encounter with the police on their phones.” Freck got out his laptop and setting it up so I could watch the videos.

There were two videos, which we watched in quick succession and it was startling, the way the police officer in riot gear hit me forcefully on the head. It was obvious to me that he had intended to hit my outstretched arm, but I’d been shoved sideways at the last second, causing the baton to land on the left side of my head instead.

When I saw that Freck had also been hit on the head, I shouted, “You were hurt too!” Wow, that came out without any hesitation at all.

“Yeah, but it was only a mild concussion,” Freck replied. “I was a little dizzy and I’m still a little unsteady on my feet, but I’m told that could last a few months. The main thing is there was no lasting damage… and I’ve been way more worried about you.”

We continued to talk for a bit, and then Dad walked into the room along with Ken. Seeing me there, he said, “Oh my God, Kyle, look at you! We went to see you in Intensive Care and they told us you were here with Freck. How are you doing, Buddy?”

Rolling my eyes at being called ‘Buddy’, I replied, “C…c…cogni…ni…t…tivel…ly, I th…think I’m int…tact. I’m v…v…very ap…p…praxic th…though. Th…thank G…god I’m n…not a…ph…ph…phasic. I c…can s…still derive th…the F…f…fourier T…t…transf…f…form of a t…triangle w…wave in m…my head. I can inv…vert a f…f…fourth order t…tensor t…too. Even if I’m s…stuck l…l…like th…this, I’m in b…bet…ter sh…shape th…than Steph…ph…phen H…Hawk…k…king was.

“Th…the p…p…progn…nosis f…f…for f…f…full rec…cov…very is exc…cel…lent, I th…th…think. B…b…but it m…may t…t…take a w…while t…to g…grow m…my hair b…back.” I was very pleased with myself for being able to make a joke.

We bantered back and forth for a good long while as Ken, who was acting as my doctor as well as my other dad, explained what would happen next. I hadn’t realized it before, but taking care of kids with brain injuries was a good part of what he did for a living. He explained that I’d be moving into Freck’s hospital room, with Freck staying in the adjacent bedroom in what was a family suite.

When I was ready, I’d need to go into an inpatient pediatric brain injury rehab program and unfortunately, the best place nearby wasn’t even in New York. It was the Kennedy-Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins, down in Baltimore.

<> <> <>

Thursday, July 13, 2023

“Yes, Mr. Bragg, I understand the oversight,” the agent said as he hung up the phone. I must’ve really zoned out, ’cause now Seth’s dad was with us and there were two federal agents at the House appointment desk. Turning to me, the second agent said, “I apologize for the misunderstanding, Mr. Goldstein, but it was the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan that failed to update their records. That sort of thing’s not uncommon when there’s a change in leadership. If you’ll be patient, we’ll have your security clearance and your ID badge ready in five.”

“If you don’t need me, I’ll head back to the House floor,” Seth’s dad said.

“Thanks for coming so quickly, Dad,” Seth replied and then his father headed into the Capitol.

Once Freck and I had our ID badges, Seth started our tour by saying, “There’s a nice theater here with a video on the history and workings of the Capitol and Congress. You probably already know most of what’s in the video. What you don’t, I’ll fill in. There’s also an exhibit hall that you can visit later if you wish.

“As you know, the Continental Congress met in what we now call Independence Hall. After declaring our independence, Philadelphia served as the capital of the United States by default. In 1783, an angry mob converged on Congress, demanding to be paid for serving in the Revolutionary War. Having no money with which to pay them, Congress fled to Princeton. The need for a permanent seat for the new government was obvious. Agreeing on where to put it was another matter.”

As we walked further in to the Visitor Center, Seth continued, “Not only did we need a new capital, but we needed a new constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation, we were little more than thirteen independent states. The new government lacked the power to tax. It couldn’t raise a standing army. It could pass laws, but lacked any power to enforce them.

“It was those shortcomings that led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. James Madison is credited with writing most of the original text of the Constitution. He proposed that the capital not be in any one state. Thus, it was resolved in Article I, Section 8, that there would be a new district established for a permanent seat of government.

You both saw the musical Hamilton. As depicted, the choice for the location of the capital resulted from a compromise. People like Jefferson wanted the states to control their own finances. You don’t need to imagine what that might have been like; consider how Greece nearly brought down the Euro. Hamilton wanted to consolidate all state debts into a unified federal treasury. The only way to get that was to agree to locate the capital in the South.

“The location of the capital was left to George Washington, who chose a lovely setting on the banks of the Potomac, where it merged with the Anacostia River. It included the town of Georgetown and he insisted that it include Alexandria. It turns out his family owned significant property holdings there. He didn’t exactly object to the city being named after him, either. So much for the myths of his honesty or his modesty.

“Maryland and Virginia both passed resolutions ceding territory for the new District of Columbia. A survey team was named to set out the boundary markers. Washington appointed Pierre Charles L’Enfant to come up with a plan for the new city. We can blame him for all of the traffic circles and diagonal streets that are so confusing to tourists.

“You’re probably wondering why Alexandria is no longer part of the District. Alexandria was a major hub for the slave trade. Neither the abolitionists in Congress nor the slave traders wanted to have anything to do with each other and so Alexandria was ceded back to Virginia in 1846.

“Construction of the Capitol Building began in 1793, during Washington’s second term, but its progress was slowed up by Congress, which failed to come up with the funds for its completion. It was just as well, ’cause the Brits torched the place during the War of 1812. In a way, they did us a favor. The Capitol was rebuilt with marble, which had since been discovered further up the Potomac.”

We walked past the visitors’ entrance to the House Gallery. Instead, we went through a long tunnel and up a flight of stairs. Seth explained the historic background of everything we saw. We started with the Hall of Columns, under the floor of the House of Representatives. We passed the House Members’ Dining Room and entered a round chamber known as The Crypt. It might have looked like a crypt but no one was actually buried there. There where concentric rings of columns that supported the heavy floor of the Capitol Rotunda.

We walked through the lower floor of the Small Senate Rotunda and entered the Old Supreme Court Chamber. It was the original place where the Supreme Court held its deliberations. I’d no idea that the Supreme Court didn’t have its own building until well into the twentieth century.

As we were about to pass by the Senate Members’ Dining Room, we very nearly collided with two men who were exiting at the same time. I was startled to see they were Senators Schumer and Booker, two of the most important politicians in Washington. Senator Schumer was about to apologize, when he looked up and recognized my best friend. “Seth,” he began, “will you be seeing your father within the next hour?”

“I’ll make it a point to find him, Senator Schumer,” Seth responded.

“Good. Please tell him that if he’d be willing to accept an eligibility cap of buildings completed before 2010, I can get Senator Sinema’s support and we can pass the legislation. Otherwise, I don’t have the votes. However, there won’t be enough time if he doesn’t get it through the House by Monday. Can you tell him that?”

“I’ll get right on it, Senator,” Seth replied as he whipped out his smartphone and added, “Better still, I’ll text him right now.” Looking up, he said, “He asked if you could get Sinema to agree to 2015, and of course he’ll need to run it by Marcia – I think he means Secretary Fudge —”

“I know who he means,” Senator Schumer replied. “Tell him I’ll get back to him on 2015, but 2012 might be more realistic.”

Tapping on his phone, Seth replied, “Done, but I fear the real battle will be on the house side. The right doesn’t care about the homeless and wants to limit immigration. The left wants open borders and cheap housing for all. Neither side’s willing to compromise on practical solutions. Nor will they deal with the small issue of providing services without the funding needed to pay for them.”

“Seth, I know this is your baby, but as you’ll find, sometimes it takes multiple tries to get good legislation passed. Obamacare’s a perfect example of that.”

“Yes, I know, Senator Schumer, but we need more housing right now,” Seth replied, and then he added, “by the way, these are my best friends from back home. You might already be familiar with Francis San Angelo —”

“Frank San Angelo’s son?”

“For what that was worth,” Freck replied.

“He wasn’t one of my favorite people, but then he made more enemies than friends. Since his death, you’ve certainly been making a point of trying to make amends for the way he came by his money,” the senator responded. “You were, what? Only thirteen when you gave that press conference exonerating your boyfriend? You’re, what, sixteen now?”

“Yes sir,” Freck responded. He was visibly astounded that the senator actually knew who he was.

“I don’t know if you’re still together with your boyfriend, but how’s he doing?”

“I’m doing quite well, actually,” I responded. “I still use a cane when I walk outdoors.” Then with a laugh, I added, “My handwriting’s even worse than it was before the injury. Freck – I mean, Francis and I just finished our junior years at MIT.”

“Good God, you’ve certainly grown,” the senator responded.

“They just went through their double bar mitzvah last week,” Seth related. “They had to postpone it due to COVID, and then it was pushed back while Kyle was in rehab.”

“Mazel tov,” Senator Schumer replied as he shook both Freck’s and my hands. “If you’ll excuse us, Senator Booker and I have some important business to attend to, but let me know when you’re back in town and perhaps I can arrange something a bit more extensive than the VIP tour.”

“Will do,” Freck replied.

As the two senators departed, Seth said, “Well that was unexpected.”

“I’m curious as to why Senator Schumer didn’t just text your dad himself?” I asked.

“The senator’s notorious for shunning smartphones,” Seth explained. “He has a flip phone and refuses to get anything more elaborate.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at that.

“Let’s go see what the Senate’s up to,” Seth said as we headed further into the Senate Wing. We took an elevator up to the third floor. “By the way, we’re gonna be checked when we attempt to enter the gallery. Guests can only enter with a timed ticket. I can enter with a limited number of guests and my badge.” Sure enough, we were stopped and checked at the one open entrance to the gallery. We made our way down to some open seats near the front. It didn’t take long to realize that Senator Johnson of Ohio was speaking. He was going on and on about the Biden crime family and the President’s so-called corruption. We only stayed a few minutes before Seth motioned for us to leave.

Once outside of the gallery, Seth said, “As you can see, not a lot happens on the Senate floor. Senator Johnson was using the time allotted to him for debate on a simple resolution, to pad his MAGA credentials. Instead, of addressing the bill in question, he chose to give an irrelevant rant that had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, the Democrats have been known to do it, too. They’re pandering to their base and filling the Congressional Record with useless garbage. It’s even worse in the House.

“Most of the work of Congress actually takes place in these committee rooms, behind closed doors,” Seth went on. We walked around the gallery corridor. Then we went down a large staircase to the second floor. “Some of the most important people in the Senate have offices down here. There are also offices for people you’ve probably never heard of. For example, here we have the offices of the Chief Clerk, the Bill Clerk and the Journal Clerk.

“The wings and a new Dome were added to the original Capitol building in the mid-nineteenth century. I’m sure you noticed the ornate murals on the walls and ceilings in the Senate wing. The Superintendent of Construction was Montgomery Meigs. He hired the Italian painter Constantino Brumidi to paint them using flourishes similar to those seen in the Vatican.

“Brumidi painted murals in the ovals above the doors as well as several prominent scenes. He also painted the murals we’ll be seeing in the Capitol Rotunda, and the beautiful fresco, The Apotheosis of Washington, in the Capitol dome itself. Some members of Congress, however, felt the design of the interior shouldn’t be left to just one man.

“In 1859, Congress voted to set up an art commission to approve all of the fine art in the Capitol. A number of the murals were completed much later. Some of the artists remain unknown to this day. There’s a mural of the Wright brothers’ airplane, and a mural of the moon landing in 1969. Many ovals remain blank, awaiting commission. The Brumidi Corridors are one of the most visited aspects of the Capitol.”

Next, we visited the President’s room and the Senate reception hall. We saw the Senate Majority Leader’s office and the Vice-President’s Capitol office. Seth led us into the old Senate Chamber, which was directly above the Old Supreme Court Chamber. Both had been preserved in their original form. We then entered the beautiful upper floor of the Small Senate Rotunda. It had a circular columned balcony, a large dome overhead and a huge cut glass chandelier.

As we entered the Capitol Rotunda, Seth continued, “The old Capitol Dome began right at what is now the base of the colonnade. The original Capitol building was much smaller than it is today. It ended just beyond the original Senate Chamber on the north side. On the south side, it ended just past the original House Chamber, which is now the famed Statuary Hall. We’ll be seeing it shortly.

“The American Congress was expanding as was the nation. People were moving westward and taking land from the indigenous tribes. They believed it was rightfully theirs for the taking.”

“Just don’t try teaching that in Florida,” I quipped. “After all, how would the ‘Indians’ ever have been able to operate our casinos if we hadn’t brought them electricity?”

“Yes, when my good friend, Ben Franklin, discovered electricity,” Freck began in an exaggerated voice, “my first thought was that it would be electricity that would unite this great nation of ours. So I spoke to my good friend, Tom Jefferson. He brokered a deal with France to buy Louisiana, and then he sent our diplomats to meet with the leaders of the Indian tribes. I was one of them. I met with the great leaders and I said, ‘Let us build a vast power grid to unite this great land. Let us unite the red man and the white man alike.’ But the Indian tribes killed our diplomats. I narrowly escaped with my own life. They just didn’t see how a lightning rod on every tee-pee could provide limitless power.

“So I led our vast armies and we removed the red man from our land. We pushed them further and further west. We killed the vermin who wouldn’t leave. We built great canals and steam ships and river boats to carry people and goods to the west. Then we built steam locomotives and great railroads. We strung telegraph wires across the continent, giving us instant communication. Thanks to my presidency, we insured that the white man would reign supreme over this land. We banished the red man and kept the black man enslaved for all time. Yes, we brought electricity to this great nation of ours. Being as forgiving as we are, however, we allowed the red man to return to run our casinos.”

When Freck finished, some people who’d wandered into the Rotunda and heard his little speech actually applauded. Freck took a bow.

“Who was that supposed to be?” a woman asked. Another bystander answered, “At first I thought it was Lincoln, but Lincoln didn’t know Ben Franklin nor Thomas Jefferson, and he certainly didn’t favor slavery.”

“Lincoln didn’t favor slavery, but he didn’t favor equality of black and brown men with white men, let alone women,” an African American woman said. “My guess would be Andrew Jackson, even though electrification didn’t happen until more than thirty years after his death.”

“Good guess,” Freck responded.

“Congresswoman Underwood,” Seth began as he approached the woman, “If I could introduce myself, I’m —”

“Seth Moore, Frank Moore’s son, I presume?” she asked as she read Seth’s name badge.

“Actually, it’s Seth Whitmore, ’cause my husband and I combined our names,” Seth answered as he shook her hand. “I’ve been tryin’ to get the name corrected on my name badge. I’m told that might take longer than my internship lasts,” he added with a laugh, “In any case, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“You as well, Seth,” the congresswoman replied. “I presume you’re interning for your father?”

“It’s quite an opportunity, but it comes with a lot of responsibility,” Seth responded. “Most people assume the only reason I’m here is because of my father. I’d like to think I could have gotten the internship on my own.”

“Seth, after what you and your father did during the insurrection, no one would ever question your right to be here, regardless of whether or not your father was a congressman,” She replied. “I hear you just finished your first year at Columbia.”

“My first year, but as a sophomore, thanks to AP credit,” Seth replied. “By the way, these are my two best friends, Francis San Anglo and Kyle Goldstein. Don’t be deceived by their youth; they both just finished their junior years at MIT.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Congresswoman Underwood,” Freck said as he shook her hand. “As I recall, you represent a district near Chicago?”

“The far western exurbs,” she replied. “It’s actually quite rural. My district includes Joliet and Wheaton, and I live in Naperville.”

“I understand that you’re a nurse, a graduate of the University of Michigan. You went to graduate school at Johns Hopkins,” Freck continued. “That’s a rather unconventional background for Congress, but then you worked at HHS under Obama and helped implement the Affordable Care Act. Your focus is on maternal health and the horrible disparities women of color face in that regard.”

“Are you a resident of my district?” the congresswoman asked.

“Hardly,” I responded. “My boyfriend and I live in New York City and we both went to Stuyvesant High School, which is how we met Seth.”

“Francis is sixteen and Kyle is fourteen, and there isn’t much of anything they read that they don’t remember,” Seth explained. “Francis is fluent in dozens of languages. Kyle has been taking advanced math courses since before he entered high school. By the way, you heard correctly when Kyle referred to Francis as his boyfriend. They’ve been a couple for more than four years.”

“You were only ten when the two of you got together?” The congresswoman asked.

“I was only nine and Freck — I mean Francis, was only eleven, although we turned ten and twelve just days after we met,” I explained. “However, I came out when I was only eight, and suspected it long before then. It was actually Seth and his husband that got us together in the first place.”

“That’s quite a story,” the congresswoman responded. “Seth, I think I heard that your mother’s a doctor. Is that right?”

“She’s an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering,” Seth replied.

“That must be tough on your parents, having a commuter relationship like that.”

“They’ve had a lot of practice over the years. My mom hopes to get a position at the National Cancer Institute,” Seth related, which was news to me. “They might then get an apartment on the Red Line, perhaps by Rock Creek Park. She’d have a reverse commute to the NIH campus in Bethesda. Of course that’s contingent on my dad being re-elected, which is far from certain. The redistricting is still being litigated and it’s possible his district won’t even exist in 2024.”

“That would really be a shame,” the congresswoman replied. “It was nice meeting you, but I’m late for a committee meeting. Good luck to you all.”

As she took off, Seth went on to explain about the construction of the Capitol Dome. Then we toured the House wing before heading to lunch in the House members’ dining room. Lunch was served buffet-style, with a set price that Seth charged to his father’s account. As we ate, we talked about the things we might do during our trip to Glacier National Park. However, our lunch was interrupted by the phone call that would change our lives.

“Yeah, Dad, what’s up?” Seth began as he answered his phone. He started to get up, intending to take the call in the hallway outside, but froze in place. The profound look of shock on his face told me something serious had happened. He confirmed it by shouting, “Oh my god, when? Is he alright? No! Bellevue? Okay, we’ll be right there.”

Hanging up his phone, Seth sat back down. With a dazed look on his face, he said, “Asher was attacked this morning outside of the restaurant. A man who appeared to be homeless used racist language, and then he stabbed Asher, multiple times. Asher’s in surgery at Bellevue right now. We need to meet Dad in his office in Rayburn. We’ll make a stop at the hotel to check you guys out and get your things. Then we’ll drive to New York.”

None of us said anything. There was nothing left to say. With hugs all around we left the remnants of our unfinished lunch on the table and ran down the stairs. We got on the subway trolley that took us to the Rayburn House Office Building. Propelled by restless energy, we ran up the stairs to Seth’s father’s office and then departed with the congressman. A D.C. police escort led the way. We stopped briefly at the Ritz-Carlton, where we packed up our things

The front desk was expecting us and had already checked us out. The police escort continued as we made our way down K Street and turned onto New York Avenue, which became Highway 50. That brought us to the Baltimore Washington Parkway. When we reached the Maryland border, the D.C. escort waved us on and a Maryland State trooper was waiting on the other side.

The car rode smoothly, and it felt like we were hardly moving at all. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the speedometer and saw that we were going over eighty miles an hour. Damn! I kind of zoned out as we headed northeast toward Baltimore, crossed the Baltimore Beltway and appeared to head right toward downtown Baltimore. We merged with Interstate 95 and headed into the Fort McHenry Tunnel under the harbor. However, the sight of the Baltimore skyline brought back memories of the last time I was in Baltimore…

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

The trip from New York down to Baltimore seemed to take forever. Because of my condition, I had to go by ambulance. I’d have rather been sitting up, and I’m sure I could’ve been, but I had to lay on my back for the entire ride. Before leaving, the tracheostomy tube that had been inserted into my throat was removed. So was the gastrostomy tube that had been inserted into my stomach. Actually, they were yanked out, but the holes were already healing up. I was fit with what looked like an oversize bicycle helmet, except it was made of a dense foam rather than hard plastic. It felt weird on my head. There wasn’t enough room for Dad to go with me in the ambulance, so he went separately and met us there. Ken offered to go with him, but Dad insisted he save his family leave time for later on in my recovery, when we’d need it the most.

When I arrived, I was transferred onto a gurney and then wheeled through a series of hallways and elevators, with Dad following right by my side. Finally, we stopped in a brightly-lit area next to what I recognized was a nurses station. The person who’d been wheeling me announced, “This is Kyle Goldstein, from New York City.”

A woman came up to Dad and me and introduced herself, “Hi Kyle. I’m Ruth Gardner, the chief administrative nurse on the brain injury unit. Welcome to Baltimore.”

Dad extended his hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Ms. Gardner. I’m Jacob Goldstein, Kyle’s father. I’m a neuro-ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal disorders. My husband is a pediatric epileptologist who served as Kyle’s attending physician in New York.”

Ms. Gardner shook Dad’s hand and replied, “Please call me Ruth. You too, Kyle.

“Dr. Goldstein, I know you’ve probably had your share of physicians as patients. You probably know what I’m talking about when I say that physicians are trained to fake it. For lack of a better term, doctors don’t like to admit they don’t know everything, so they pretend. It’s instinctive.” I saw that Dad was nodding his head, apparently in agreement.

“Most physicians know absolutely nothing about brain injury and even less about rehabilitation. We’ll assume that applies to you as well. It might be different for your husband, but even acute care neurologists generally don’t know much if anything about rehabilitation. We’ll treat both of you as lay people when it comes to Kyle’s care. It’ll be up to you to tell us if we’re going over things you already know.”

“That sounds fair,” Dad acknowledged.

Then a young man who’d approached while Ruth was speaking came up to me and said, “Hi Kyle, I’m John. I’ll be your primary nurse while you’re here at Kennedy-Krieger. I won’t be here every day, but I’ll be here most weekdays from 7:00 AM until 4:00 PM. You’ll meet Jan later today. She’ll be your nurse on the PM shift, starting at 3:00 PM and ending at midnight. Let’s get you situated in your room, where we’ll have more privacy. Then we can get you checked in. We have you in room 734, bed 2, which means you have the window bed.” There was more than one bed in the room?

As if reading my mind, he said, “You might not have had experience with having a roommate. Most of our rooms are doubles. Some rooms have three or even four beds. The single rooms have priority for patients with the behavioral issues that sometimes result from a brain injury. Otherwise we adhere to the notion that kids benefit from rooming with other kids who are going through the same thing.” We started wheeling down the hall. I soon found myself being wheeled into a bright room with a large window and sunlight streaming in. Then. rather than being moved from the gurney to the bed, John made me do all the work myself of scooting across from one to the other. I was surprised – it was exhausting.

No sooner had the person with the gurney departed than a young woman breezed into the room pushing a wheelchair in front of her. It wasn’t anything like any wheelchair I’d seen before. It had a vivid purple frame, bright yellow racing stripes and neon purple trim on the seat and seat back, which were black. For a wheelchair, it looked utterly cool.

“Hi, Kyle, I’m Chandra,” she began. I’m one of the occupational therapists here at Kennedy. Latisha will be in to see you later, after your nurse and the doctors have finished up with you. She’ll be the one doing your occupational therapy evaluation. In the meantime I’ll be fitting you with this wheelchair for your stay here.” Chandra wasted no time in taking measurements, then showing me how to do a sit-pivot transfer into the chair. She made further adjustments until my feet could easily reach the floor. “There are no footrests on your chair because you’re going to propel the chair with your feet rather than your hands. That’s important, because it will help you when it comes time to start walking.

“You’re going to be very busy here. During the next month, it’ll be a lot like going to a boarding school, with therapy sessions taking up most of your time. Everything we do here will be aimed at getting you back to a point where you can live at home again. Not only will you work harder than you ever have in your life, but it’s going to feel like you’re constantly pushing against an immovable wall. Like in school, the harder you try, the better you’ll succeed, but unlike in school, your body and your brain can only recover so fast, no matter how hard you try.

“It’s going to be frustrating, but that’s what we’re here for. We’ll help you get through the worst of the frustration so that when you leave here, you’ll be ready to face life’s challenges. A month here isn’t going to cure you of your brain injury; only time can do that. This is just the first phase of a rehab and recovery process that usually takes one or two years.”

I was stunned and practically shouted, “You’ve gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!”

“One thing you’re going to discover quickly is that we don’t put up with abusive language,” Chandra admonished me. “A lot of kids may shout things like that when they’re frustrated, but it’s not fair to the other kids who are doing their best to fit in. We also expect you to be respectful of your therapists and the rest of the staff. There are children as young as five on this floor and we don’t want them learning to speak like that.”

Rightfully rebuked, I realized. I replied, “I’m sorry.”

After Chandra left, I told John I really needed to piss, and was finally given a plastic urinal, which I filled to capacity. I mean, what did they expect after a three-and-a-half hour ambulance ride? I also told him I was starved and so he got me a tuna salad sandwich and a high-protein milkshake.

John asked Dad and me a shitload of questions about my medical history. He needed to be sure I didn’t have any underlying medical conditions, past surgeries or drug or food allergies they’d need to know about – anything that wasn’t listed in the medical records sent with me from New York. Then he began, “Kyle, I know you have two dads, but your paperwork indicates that you yourself identify as gay.”

“I don’t j…just identify as gay; I a…am g…gay. I came out when I w…was eight.”

Then Dad added, “It was Ky’s coming out that made me acutely aware of my own sexuality. My wife’s parents and mine were the descendants of holocaust survivors. They’d escaped to Brazil and sent us to The States for our education. Our marriage was basically arranged. Even after we had two children, our parents expected more. It was at that point that I refused. My relationship with my parents and with my wife went downhill from there.”

“So Kyle’s your natural son?” John asked.

“Both Kyle and his older brother, Roger, are my natural sons,” Dad explained. “My husband has no children of his own. My wife’s still close with the kids; actually, she’s become closer since the divorce, now that she’s sober. She’s remarried and her husband treats the boys like one of his own.”

“Are you gay?” I asked John.

“Although a lot of male nurses are gay, I’m not one of them,” John answered with a smile. “I have a wife who’s a resident in internal medicine here at Hopkins. That’s how we met.”

Looking over at the other bed, which wasn’t occupied at the moment, I noticed there were tons of pictures plastered all over the wall. The pictures were family photos, most of them showing a boy who appeared to be in his early teens. He was drop-dead gorgeous. Noticing where I was looking, John told us, “You’re roommate’s name is Dalton. He just celebrated his thirteenth birthday last week. As you can probably gather from all of the photos on his wall, he’s been here a while. He was in much worse shape when he got here. He had an e-scooter accident and had to deal with a lot of orthopedic trauma besides his head injury. You’ll get to meet him later.”

Over the course of the next hour, I was examined in great detail by Philip, who was a third-year medical student. Remembering what Ruth had said about doctors being conditioned not to admit when they didn’t know things, I decided to have some fun with Philip, who was in his very first clinical clerkship. He had to be a very bright kid to have gotten into Hopkins, which was one of the top-rated medical schools in America. I suspected that made him a bit cocky and I wasn’t disappointed.

“So Philip,” I began, “One of the th…things I’ve been wondering is, if I’m l…left handed, doesn’t that mean my left and right hemisphere are b…backwards? Why am I having trouble speaking?”

“Even though the bleeding was on the left side of your brain, the pressure can affect the entire brain. Damage on the opposite side is common,” he answered. Although I suspected that was true, it was the wrong answer to my question. I wasn’t about to tell him that, however.

“Is that why I’m having difficulty moving my arms and legs on b…both sides of my body?” I asked.

“Exactly,” he answered. Wrong again.

“Why can I scratch an itch on my n…nose, but I have trouble g…getting a spoon to my mouth?” I asked. “Don’t th…those use the s…same muscles?”

I could’ve gone on and on and strung the poor guy along for days. Dad saw through what I was doing, though, and decided to put an end to it. “Philip, in time you’ll realize my son’s a genius. Even with the brain injury, he probably knows more about brain function than you learned in two years of medical school. He’s trying to trip you up. He’s only eleven, but he was finishing up his senior year at Stuyvesant High School. Stuyvesant’s the top public high school in New York and one of the best in the world. He and his boyfriend were accepted to MIT for the fall semester. Obviously that’s on hold for now.

“Given Kyle’s questions, I’ve no doubt that Kyle already knows the answers. He may have learned them in school, or maybe from reading something like Scientific American. Even since the injury, he can still derive complex mathematic formulas in his head. My advice to you as Kyle’s father is to assume my son’s testing you and to proceed with caution.

“My advice to you as an academic physician, however, is that it’s best not to wing it. There’s no shame in admitting you need to look up the answer, even at the risk of being berated by the resident or your attending. Nothing’s worse than being caught in a lie. Instead, use every opportunity to read up on what you encounter in clinical practice. If you want to impress everyone, read up on apraxia tonight and give a short presentation on it on rounds tomorrow.”

“If I don’t fall asleep in the middle of it,” Philip responded with a half-smile.

“We’ve all been there, but you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t exceptionally smart,” Dad countered. “Make it a habit to spend an hour every night reading up on what you’re seeing on the floor. You’ll find you actually have more time for other interests, and for sleep.”

“So what are the real answers to Kyle’s questions?” Philip asked.

“As I’d tell any student on rotation with me, look them up,” Dad challenged. “Tomorrow, you can enlighten the team on the difference between hand dominance and hemisphere dominance, explain why a countercoup injury is unlikely in an epidural hematoma and be prepared to discuss the role of motor control in apraxia.”

“What are you? A neurologist?” Philip asked.

“I’m a neuro-ophthalmologist and Director of Retinal Surgery at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute,” Dad replied. “We’re a part of New York Presbyterian, which is one of the primary teaching hospitals in the Columbia-Cornell system.”

“D…don’t w…wing it when there’s a full p…professsssor in the room,” I chimed in, “esssspecially when they’re from an Ivy League m…medical school; and just to w…warn you, m…my other dad’s a p…pediatric neurologist s…specializing in s…seizure disssorders. He’s a full professssor too.”

Philip responded. “You’re pretty spunky for kid. I like that! Now that I know you’re playing games with me, be warned that I like to play games too, and I play to win.” The grin on his face told me he was a lot like me, which meant we’d have fun.

During the rest of the afternoon, I was evaluated in detail by physical and occupational therapists. They told me what I’d be doing with each of them during my stay. Physical therapy would be working on mobility and walking. Occupational therapy would focus on functional things like bathing, dressing, grooming myself and using a toilet. Latisha, the occupational therapist, made me try to get dressed. I needed a lot of help with that, just with putting on my boxers, a t-shirt, shorts, socks and sneakers. I knew that it was because of the apraxia, but it was frustrating as fuck. Then again, learning how to do things for myself was the whole point of what I’d be doing in occupational therapy.

A speech and language pathologist evaluated my difficulty with speaking and tested me for reading and writing, which I did with incredible difficulty. Then she did a bedside evaluation of my swallowing. I’d never even considered that I could be aspirating food into the lungs and not even know it. Apparently that should have been tested before I ate that tuna sandwich. Then again, I’d been eating similar food back in New York. In any case, I passed the test. Even so, something called a FEES test was gonna be scheduled to check out my swallowing. It involved sticking a fiberoptic scope through my nose and into my throat. I was gonna be busy…

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Thursday, July 13, 2023

The change in speed brought me out of my reverie as we veered to the left and slowed down, passing a sign for the Delaware Welcome Center. Seth’s dad drove up to a service station and a Delaware State Trooper led us up to the head of a long line of cars. He inserted himself in front of the first car that was waiting for an open pump and motioned us forward when one became available. I was surprised that it was Seth who got out of the car and pumped the gas. The tank must’ve been nearly empty; otherwise we’d have waited to gas up in New Jersey. Not only do they pump the gas for you, but as everyone knows, gas is cheaper in Jersey.

The state trooper escorted us back onto Interstate 95 and across the Delaware Memorial Bridge, were a New Jersey state trooper was waiting for us. The drive up the New Jersey Turnpike was uneventful. I couldn’t help but notice that the troopers were out in force, taking advantage of our speed to ticket the cars behind us that tried to keep up.

It was as we passed by Exit 8A on the Turnpike that Seth received a call from his mom. Seth listened intently for what seemed like forever before saying, “Thanks Mom. We’re just coming to New Brunswick. We’ll be there soon.”

Turning toward us, he relayed what he’d just heard. “Asher’s outta surgery. There were seven stab wounds. Most were superficial but a few were deep, and one missed the aorta by only a few millimeters. If that had been cut, he wouldn’t have survived. The Celiac Artery bled enough as it was. There was extensive damage to the small intestine, however, and they had to resect and repair a great deal of it. Fortunately, no other major structures were injured, but he lost a lot of blood and had to be transfused with six units. He’s in critical but stable condition.”

“Did they catch the guy who did it?” I asked.

Shaking his head, Seth replied, “It’s the lead story on the front page of the New York Times. Not only is an apparent hate crime big news, but when it’s the chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s considered a celebrity incident. Add in the fact that he’s the son-in-law of a U.S. congressman and it’s national news. The FBI’s even involved. The one who did it is still at large, but probably not for long. There’s surveillance video from multiple angles, so he won’t get far.”

“We’ll undoubtedly have to face reporters,” Seth’s dad threw in. I expected as much. “I’m just glad Asher’s going to be okay.”

“For sure,” I agreed.

“Definitely,” Freck chimed in.

Even with the police escorts, it took nearly four hours from when we left the Ritz-Carlton until we reached Jersey City and the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. At that point, our escort dropped away. After exiting the tunnel, we took Exit 1 off of the Holland Tunnel Rotary and took the Battery Park underpass to FDR Drive.

I thought we might stop off at Seth’s apartment to drop off our things and maybe change our clothes. We were all still wearing suits, but Seth’s dad was as anxious as we all were. He continued up to 34th Street, where he made what I thought was an illegal U turn onto a service road that took us right to Bellevue Hospital parking.

In the meantime, Seth texted his mom and found out which surgical ICU Asher had been taken to, and we headed right there after stopping to get our visitors’ badges. Not unexpectedly, Ashe wasn’t ready to have visitors just yet. Even when he was, he’d only be able to see immediate family members. Freck and I wouldn’t be allowed to see him until he got out of intensive care. Seeing Asher’s parents in the visitors’ lounge, we hugged Gary and Bernice as if our lives depended on it. We hugged Seth’s mom, Julie and asked her about Asher’s condition.

“The biggest question is how much the blood loss may have affected his brain,” Julie began. “He lost more than half his blood volume and was already in shock when he arrived here. The good news is that he got here quickly, so they were able to stabilize him and get him into surgery within less than an hour after the attack. In most cases, brain damage is minimal and only transient, if there’s any at all, but we won’t know for sure until he wakes up.

“In the meantime, he’s being kept sedated and on a ventilator to give his brain and major organs time to recover. The celiac artery was severed near its origin, which makes it something of a miracle that the aorta wasn’t punctured or lacerated as well. Much of the small intestine had to be resected due to multiple lacerations, and there was a laceration of the left hemi-diaphragm with partial collapse of the left lung. The diaphragm had to be repaired and he has a chest tube to re-inflate the lung.

“The celiac artery originates from the aorta, very high up in the abdomen. It supplies the stomach, the liver, the spleen and part of the duodenum and pancreas. It’s a major blood vessel and the damage was severe. There was extensive retroperitoneal bleeding into the space behind the abdominal cavity. That could affect the kidneys, the pancreas and even the blood supply to the spinal cord.

“Stopping the flow of blood from the celiac artery was the first priority, but then restoring blood to the organs supplied by the celiac artery was critical, and that took a lot of time. They couldn’t simply reconnect the celiac artery and the only way to stop the bleeding was to clip and patch it.

“The fastest, most practical way to restore blood flow to the organs was to graft each branch of the celiac artery directly to the iliac arteries rather than to the aorta itself. We don’t know if there was any lasting damage to the affected organs. Only time will tell. Given the rapid response to his injuries, the chances of organ damage are small. Even so, his recovery will be prolonged. If he develops any degree of organ failure, particularly if it involves the liver or the kidneys, he could be in for a very long stay.”

“The iliac arteries are the ones that go to the legs,” Freck noted. “Why would they graft the branches of the celiac artery to the iliacs when they’re all the way down there?”

“In some people, the aorta actually bifurcates at or just below the level of the kidneys, so it’s not quite so far down as you might think. The reason they don’t graft directly to the aorta is that there are many small blood vessels that come off of the aorta that supply the spinal cord. There’s too much risk that in damaging one of them, Asher could end up paralyzed. Grafting from the iliacs avoids that risk, but it does require some pretty fancy vascular surgery.”

“Frank, welcome back to New York,” Jenna Biles said as she popped into the visitors’ lounge. Jenna was the congressman’s New York chief of staff. “You might want to join me in the small auditorium. The Mayor’s already there, as well as the police commissioner and a number of city officials, and the director of the field office of the FBI. I understand they’re going to update the press soon regarding your son-in-law’s condition and the search for the suspect in the case.”

“Is he still at large?” Seth’s dad asked.

“Yes, but they may have his identity. They think it was a targeted attack and there are others at risk, including the mayor and the Manhattan DA.”

“Shouldn’t I be there as the victims spouse?” Seth asked.

“Shouldn’t we be there as his parents?” Bernice asked.

Shaking her head, Jenna replied, “Not at this time. Appearances are everything and the three of you should remain ‘by the victim’s bedside’.” Then looking at me, she added, “Kyle, your father’s in surgery doing an emergency case and won’t be able to get away for some time. Your other dad should be here soon.”

Turning to my boyfriend, she said, “Francis, your mother is on the perp’s victim list and the last thing we want is to bring her here. They have police officers stationed both in front of and in back of her house in the hope of catching the guy. Her message is to please sit tight.”

“Shit, why would anyone want to hurt my mom?” Freck asked. Then he got an even more worried expression and asked, “What about my sisters?”

“The perp left an online rant, naming people he thought should be eliminated, to paraphrase his words,” Jenna explained. “Let’s just say he doesn’t approve of a Jewish lady trying to help undocumented homeless people.”

“I thought he was homeless,” I pointed out.

Shaking her head, she explained, “He disguised himself as a homeless person to make it easier for him to disappear. It was no coincidence that he targeted Asher first. Asher was black, Asian and gay – three of the demographics the perp hated most – and his family’s restaurant’s less than a block from a subway entrance, making it easy for the perp to disappear.”

“Damn!” Seth responded. “He went after Ashe because he was accessible. He was the low hanging fruit on his list.”

I almost laughed out loud at Seth’s unintended double entendre. It took all of my effort to keep from making even the slightest sound.

“And as to your sisters, Kyle, it’s not public knowledge that they’re away at camp, much less which camp they’re at, so the risk to them is minuscule. Nevertheless, the Governor has sent a state trooper to the camp to sit guard, just in case.” Then turning to Seth’s dad, she added, “One more thing, Frank, you’re still on for Alex Wagoner tonight, and now Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell and Stephanie Rule all want to interview you. We politely declined the others, since I know you want to be here with your son. Because you’re in town, we’ve arranged for you to interview in person at 30 Rock.”

“Never a dull moment,” Seth’s father responded. “Let’s go see what the announcement’s all about.”

After they’d left, I asked of no one in particular, “Do you think the conference will be televised?”

“The New York Times is live-streaming it on their app,” Seth replied as he looked at his phone. “I’d bet the local cable news channel has it, if not all the local network affiliates. Maybe even the networks themselves,” Seth added. “CNN and MSNBC are carrying it live; I was able to pull it up on their apps.”

“Let’s see if we can bring it up on the TV,” Gary suggested as we approached the large flat-screen TV that was hung on the wall of the waiting room. It was off and there wasn’t an obvious way to turn it on. There were probably hidden, touch-sensitive controls, but I figured there had to be a remote control somewhere in the room. Sure enough, I spotted it in a stand on a table in the corner. Grabbing it, I pressed the power button and the TV came to life. I couldn’t help but laugh when Gary acted surprised, wondering what he’d done to turn it on. It didn’t take him long to see that I was holding the remote control up in the air in triumph. “Very funny, young man.”

Using the online program guide, I quickly found the channel for CNN, which indeed was carrying the conference live. We all sat down and kinda zoned out as Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer bantered back and forth while waiting for the conference to begin. Repeatedly, they spoke of the rash of violent attacks in New York since the pandemic, failing to mention that the number of attacks had been steady falling and was still well below that in other cities. They mentioned that Asher was apparently attacked because he was black and Asian, but it was also noted that he was a celebrity teenage chef, the son-in-law of a U.S. congressman and that he was gay. The fact that he was a college student was barely mentioned at all. They also repeatedly showed video footage from surveillance cameras that had captured the attack and although the actual stabbing was blurred, it was nauseating to watch nevertheless.

The repeated videos showing one of my best, dearest friends being stabbed, possibly to death, brought back memories of an event I’d tried to forget…

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

“Hey D…Dalton,” I said as I wheeled myself into our room at the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, in Baltimore. I shared a room with Dalton, a cute African-American boy who’d just turned thirteen a few weeks ago. At the moment, he was relaxing in his bed, sitting shirtless with the head of the bed elevated and his legs stretched out in front of him, on top of the blanket and sheets.

He still had an external fixator with stainless steel pins screwed into the bones of his pelvis, holding them together while they healed. There was another one attached to his right leg, which had broken into too many pieces to put them all back together surgically. He’d been in an e-scooter accident and had suffered a lot of orthopedic trauma in addition to a traumatic brain injury. Because he couldn’t get regular pants over either fixator, he was wearing only a loose-fitting pair of gym shorts. 

“Oh, hey Kyle,” Dalton replied as he turned off his bedside television and swung it outta the way. “I wasn’t really watching anything anyway,” he continued. “Nothin’ but crappy afternoon programs on a crappy TV.”

“You got th…that right,” I agreed. “For what we’re p…paying them, you’d think they could afford more than a fuckin’ thirteen-inch flat panel. It’s not even high-def.”

“For sure,” Dalton chimed in. “So how’s it hanging?”

“Lower than yours,” I replied, but then thought better of it and said, “S…sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. If I take after my b…brother, he wasn’t much older than I am now when he had his first w…wet dream. I come from a family of freaks.”

“Just remember – you’re the one who said it,” Dalton said, and then added, “And it’s than I – not than me.”

Rather than say anything, I stuck my tongue out at him. Funny, that I could do without hesitation, but when my speech therapist asked me to touch the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth, my tongue went every which way but the way it was supposed to.

“My dad says his voice didn’t change ’till he was fifteen,” Dalton lamented. “I mean, like, I used to like ta play basketball, but it’s hard ta compete with kids who are a foot taller than I am.”

“My b…boyfriend says the same thing,” I responded. “He’s thirteen-and-a-half and y…yet I’m nearly as tall as he is.”

“I still don’t get it, Kyle,” Dalton interrupted. “Even though I’m a late bloomer, all I can think of, day and night is girls. I jerk off every night and sometimes during the day, sometimes more than once.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I replied, causing Dalton to give me the finger. “It’s not l…like I had a choice, you know. Even when I was l…like three, I think I knew. I didn’t know w…what bein’ gay was, b…but I knew I didn’t wanna get married… to a girl anyway. B…by the time I was eight, I knew what it meant to be gay and I c…came out then.”

“And you got a boyfriend when you were only nine?” Dalton asked and I nodded my head. “I mean, what was the point? It’s not like you could have sex or anything —”

“Oh, we were sexually active, right from the start,” I interrupted.

“You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me.”

“No, I’m not,” I went on. “Actually, I was nearly t…ten by the time Freck and I met and there w…wasn’t much we didn’t do. I c…couldn’t ejaculate yet – I still can’t – but I’ve b…been gettin’ org…gasms since I was like five and read about m…masturbation.”

“What kinda five-year-old reads about masturbation?”

“One who t…taught himself how to read w…when he was three and figured out how to g…get around the p…parental controls on his iPad when he was five,” I replied.

“You were a sex fiend when you were only five?” Dalton asked.

“Nah, I was j…just curious. B…besides, it was fun!”

“And you get off by stickin’ your dick up your boyfriend’s ass?

“Actually, I prefer to b…bottom.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Dalton asked, but then he caught on and added, “Oh shit, that’s disgusting.”

“We keep ourselves c…clean, so there’s not m…much shit involved, even when we’re rim…ming.”

“What the fuck is rimming?” Dalton asked, but then he thought better of it and said, “On second thought, never mind. I don’t wanna know.” But then Dalton got a look of panic on his face and he seemed to be having trouble breathing.

“Dalton!” I exclaimed, but then he stopped moving entirely and his eyes rolled back in his head. I’d heard that expression before, but never actually seen it happen until now. It didn’t look like he was breathing, and then I realized he was turning a dusky blue – enough that I could even see it on his mocha-colored skin.

Nearly in a panic myself, I pushed the nurse call button, but quickly realized Dalton literally could die in the time it took for a nurse to answer it. I threw open the door and wheeled myself into the hallway and shouted, “Help. Dalton’s not breathing!”

All hell broke loose as nurses and doctors rushed down the hallway, one of them pushing a large cart with lots of drawers and a honking big defibrillator on top. I’d seen enough medical TV shows to know what it was and that the cart was a crash cart. I started to wheel myself back into the room, but one of the nurses stopped me and said, “No, Kyle, you need to stay out here. Why don’t you go to the lounge?”

The last thing I wanted to do was to go play video games or sit around with some of the other kids on the brain injury floor while my roommate was fighting for his life. All I could do was to sit there helplessly off to the side of the doorway as maybe a dozen or more nurses and doctors rushed into the room. Inside I could hear the commotion of the code team desperately trying to save my roommate’s life. I’d read enough to know what was going on.

More than likely, Dalton had a pulmonary embolus – a blood clot that had formed in his legs and broken free. If so, it had traveled up through the inferior vena cava and through the right side of his heart, lodging in the pulmonary arteries. By blocking the flow of blood through his lungs, it sent him into cardiovascular collapse. We were all at risk of an acute PE, as it was called, but Dalton was more at risk than just about any of us, because of his extensive orthopedic injuries.

We all were on blood thinners to try to prevent blood clots from forming in the first place, but blood thinners increased the risk of bleeding, especially inside the brain. They could only give us so much of them without risking a brain hemorrhage. They checked us often for blood clots in the legs with ultrasonic Doppler scans. I guess that wasn’t easy in Dalton’s case, with those fixators and all. He’d probably had a motherfucking huge blood clot in his pelvis. The external fixator had blocked access by the ultrasound machine, so no one knew it was there.

I’d been reading a lot about brain injuries since I’d been injured myself, and pulmonary emboli were one of the few complications that could be fatal in someone who’d survived the initial trauma. Treatment involves giving high doses of clot busters and, in more severe cases, embolectomy.

It seemed like forever, but the sounds of the code team doing their thing continued from inside. At least I knew he was still alive; otherwise the commotion would’ve stopped. Finally, a nurse assistant showed up with a gurney and wheeled it inside the room. After a time he emerged along with several nurses and a doctor. Dalton was lying on the gurney, with a breathing tube down his throat and a nurse periodically squeezing on an attached bag.

I never did see Dalton again. They moved me to another room, I guess so I wouldn’t be reminded of what had happened. I finished my rehab and returned to New York not long after that, so it was possible Dalton returned to complete his rehabilitation later, once he was stable. Deep inside, however, I feared he had died, but I was too afraid to ask. I didn’t wanna know.

<> <> <>

Thursday, July 13, 2023

“Thank God,” I heard Gary say, bringing me out of the memory of the day I thought my roommate probably had died.

“I can’t believe he was on an FBI watch list, and yet free to walk around the streets of New York,” Bernice chimed in.

“What else could they do?” Julie responded, “There are nearly five thousand American citizens in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database, and more than a million-and-a-half worldwide.” I was surprised at how easily Seth’s mom slipped into her political mode. She’d been her husband’s chief of staff when he was in the State Assembly.

“The FBI and law enforcement agencies can’t keep track of all of them,” she went on. “Besides which, until and unless they actually break the law, there isn’t any reason to pick them up. You need probable cause to issue a search warrant. You need probable cause to make an arrest. By allowing them to go about their lives, you increase the likelihood that they’ll do something that leads to the arrest of others too.”

“To think he was driving around New York with all that ammo in his trunk,” Seth added. “He coulda shot up a school, or City Hall, or the Port Authority, but his first priority was my husband ’cause he’s black, Asian and gay.”

“I wonder how they tracked down his car,” Bernice asked of no one in particular.

“It coulda been from one of the myriad traffic cameras the NYPD has all over the place,” Seth suggested. “My bet would the that the tag readers they’re gonna use for congestion pricing flagged his license plate.”

“I thought congestion pricing wasn’t taking affect until next spring,” Garry countered.

“Maybe not even then, with all the law suits filed against it,” Julie responded, “but the plate readers are already installed and you can bet the NYPD is taking advantage of them. Why wouldn’t they?”

“That’s a good point,” Gary agreed.

Finally, I noticed that CNN was showing a split screen on the TV. On the left half of the screen was a live stream of the ongoing press conference. On the right half was an image of a nondescript SUV, surrounded by police vehicles as seen from above. It wasn’t until then that it dawned on me. They’d obviously caught the guy they thought had stabbed Asher.

At that moment, a young man in a white coat with a stethoscope slung around his neck popped into the waiting room and asked, “Is Seth Whitmore here?”

“That’s me,” Seth answered.

“Your husband is awake and would like to see you,” the young man answered, and then added, “By the way, I’m Dr. Creighton, the intensive care fellow taking care of Asher.”

Gary and Bernice practically pounced on the poor guy and Gary asked, “How’s my son?”

“Are all of you part of Asher’s family?”

“We’re his parents and this is his mother-in-law,” Bernice answered as she drew Julie in close to them.

“Francis and Kyle are family too,” Seth added as he nodded in our direction. “They’ve been our best friends for the last five years. They’re like brothers to us.”

“Okay,” Dr. Creighton replied. “As you know, the surgery was complicated. Asher lost a lot of blood, but he’s young and strong and seems intent on defying the odds. We had him sedated and on a ventilator, but he woke up in spite of the sedation. He managed to extubate himself before any of us realized he was awake. He’s breathing on his own and has good oxygen sats, so there was no point in re-intubating him or putting him back on the ventilator. Thank god he didn’t pull out his surgical drains or his chest tube!

“Anyway, his vitals are stable, and he’s far more comfortable than he has a right to be after such extensive surgery. The police and the FBI want to interview him right away, but he insists on seeing you first, Seth.”

“Can we see him too?” Bernice asked.

“Later, but he needs his rest and I expect he’ll be wiped out after the police get through with their questions. Don’t worry, though, I won’t let them stay for more than five minutes.” Then turning back to Seth, he added, “I’m afraid that applies to you too, Seth.”

“So what are we waiting for?” Seth asked.

<> <> <>

To say Asher’s recovery from being stabbed was something of a miracle was an understatement. He was discharged from intensive care just two days later and discharged from the hospital a week after that. He still needed a lot of physical therapy to build back his strength. Unfortunately, he wasn’t well enough to attend my sisters’ double bat mitzvah, let alone go on a cross-country camping trip. Not that any of us felt like going.

The trip to Glacier would have to wait until next year. By then, Asher will be twenty. It turns out that’s old enough to rent a car from Hertz in Montana, with a younger spouce as the secondary driver.

It was as Freck and I were preparing to return to MIT for the fall semester that my boyfriend noticed I was feeling a bit down. I kept telling him it wasn’t important but if nothing else, Freck’s persistent. Eventually I broke down and told him how Asher’s stabbing brought back memories of my own time in the hospital and in rehab. I told him of how my roommate died right in front of me, or so I thought. When I finished telling him about it, however, Freck asked if I was certain Dalton had died. I admitted that the last time I saw him, he was on a gurney being wheeled out of our room, but he was on a cardiac monitor and still alive.

“So you don’t know if he died,” Freck responded.

“I don’t see how he could’ve survived,” I replied. “It looked like he had a massive PE.”

“But young people can survive a massive PE,” Freck countered. “Don’t you wanna know for sure?”

I started to open my mouth, but then I stopped. I just sat there in a kind of trance until I finally admitted, “That’s just it, Freck. I’m afraid of finding out that he didn’t make it. I guess I kinda didn’t wanna face it. If he died, I didn’t want to know.”

“How do you feel abut it now?” My boyfriend asked.

Thinking hard about it, I realized I was in a much better place than when I was in rehab and really did want to know. If I found out he died, then I’d just have to move on. On the other hand, if he’d lived, then Dalton and I had a lot of catching up to do. A quick search for his obituary yielded multiple hits for people with his name, but all of them were much older than he was.

It didn’t take me long to find his Instagram. He was now sixteen and was just starting his junior year at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, which had an emphasis on a STEM curriculum. Apparently, it was the top-ranked public high school in Baltimore. Damn, he’d been elected the president of the Student Government Association. There was a picture of him online in the school newspaper. He looked cute in his school uniform.

With more than a bit of trepidation, I recorded a short video of myself, and then I hit send…

The author gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Rob in editing my story, as well as Awesome Dude, Codey’s World and Gay Authors for hosting it.

Disclaimer: This story is a fictional account involving gay preteen and teenage boys. There are references to gay sex and anyone who is uncomfortable with this should obviously not be reading it. The reader takes all responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. The author retains full copyright.