She had been grateful for the down turn in violent crime of late, her eyes on the news that played quietly on the television though her thoughts were with her son that was lying in the hospital bed next to her. The humming of the machines seemed quiet now next to the intravenous drip and the vital signs monitor was not nearly as annoying as it had been, now, through the beeps that consistently punched into the air, a reminder that her son was alive. No, he wasn’t moving. No, he couldn’t speak. No, he wasn’t even awake, but he was alive and healing - both in the physical sense of injuries that the nurses kept a steady eye on to keep clean and stave away any potential infection and the deeply mental facets of a mind shocked by such injury.
While two weeks ago there had been a number of incidents, they hadn’t been so prevalent now, such troublemakers gone underground until the heat was off or perhaps caught up in their own foolishness to find themselves in a worse situation than Connor had been, an innocent bystander as far as she was concerned no matter just how strange life had been since… well, for a long time now.
The thoughts stirred her away from the newscaster on the television speaking of this, that, and the other she felt little immediate inclination towards no matter how important the stories on broadcast and the issues that came with them might have been, and brought her focus more intently on her unmoving company as if to peer beyond what he was in that moment - what he had ever been - to what lied on the other side in the juxtaposition his life had become. Between the aliens plants that had found reason to attack their home to government agencies showing up at their door due to unforeseen circumstances and invasions of alien beings that had put him in the hospital once before for injuries that seemed all too far fetched to be real, there was someone else there, someone who wasn’t entirely her son.
But he had always been her son and there was nothing now, not even in this situation, that strayed from all she had known. A frustrated youth with an inclination for trouble and a history of offenses that came from the best of places no matter the consequences that had been handed down to him, Connor had always been someone who was willing to stand up for what he believed was right even though when frustration took hold, he was more than willing to take the low road in bruising his knuckles against those who couldn’t be bothered to listen. At times overlooked by those around him, by those in positions that had been able to do something about the situations he found himself in, perhaps it had been in his own attempts to take matters into his own hands that had landed him with unsavory sorts in the first place; but Sandra’s thoughts stopped short of suggesting that Connor would have willing found himself in a gang in this place and this time. Perhaps at one point, but certainly not now.
Full consciousness comes to him in fragments, shuttered snapshots of the events immediately preceding the taste of copper in his mouth that, in the post nasal drip that seems intent on going down his throat, nearly makes him sick. It isn’t the first time an exchange of fists landed him in not only trouble, but the nurse’s office with a bloodied nose, nearly stuffed raw with Kleenex as he hangs his head over the garbage can just in case.
He can hear them talking in the other room from beyond the cracked door, the administrative offices of the elementary school not as widespread as they would be in his future education - his mother and the principle, going over the details of yet another fight, yet another angry parent, yet another wounded child that all shared Connor as a common denominator. It is a tune that he knows well and he knows the consequences to come when the meeting adjourned and his mother stepped into the nurse’s office to collect him. She’s unhappy, naturally, but he knows his arguments, his justification for the fight that occurred, would fall on deaf ears.
Those years, the ones wrought with trouble found in juvenile antics that constantly tested her patience as well that of those around her and actions that severed friendships that these days seemed hardly touched on despite their proximity, were long behind him, left behind in formative high school years where delinquency was always afoot. A time of rehearsal for what life would become, to try and test the system and boundaries that life had put on every human being, it was all a matter of trial and error - finding the wrong friends and losing the good ones, dating the wrong girl only to find the right guy, passing and failing courses that seemed to serve no importance in the long run beyond the expected curriculum needed to “get someone in life” as had once been believed - it was hard to believe that amends had yet to be found; but then again, she didn’t know the full story, did she?
They had gotten along once. There were jokes, jabs at each other over everything from the size of his ears or the height of his body or the puff of his cheeks whenever Aiden found himself frustrated, and there were arguments over everything from top bunk privileges to who got to ride in the front seat, but for all such things, they had gotten along. Brought together in trying times, it had been good for both of them to have found such friendship - one, facing the loss of his parents while the other could have used some better influences in a life that had only felt ostracizing.
Through late nights at the dojo, tournaments that Aiden had been dragged to, and even the chores that fell into place whenever Connor had acted out, they had bonded, finding idolization in feats achieved on the mat just as well as further ways and means to tease him. It grew into comradery, into friendship, and their own antics that were not hurtful or harmful, be it to them or those around them. Through thick and thin, it seemed, as one found ways to accommodate the other even if it was as ridiculous as a pair of rain boots in the bathtub as a giant replacement for puddles in the rain, helping the other with martial arts moves that would turn into a full blown experience, and any number of activities together that only served to strengthen such a bond between two people, as shown when the worst times came to pass and they knew just who they could turn to and count on for support - for help.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“You’re not doing anything right... Follow my lead. Monkey see, monkey do.”
“Says the monkey I'm copying.”
And then something happened, the first step in a long line of mistakes and short-comings that Connor could only reflect on now that they had come to pass.
Once a scapegoat, continuously a scapegoat, it served no one, least of all Aiden Park, to be the fall guy for those who saw little to no importance in anything beyond their own self-service; but with a record as potentially damning as Connor’s had been, one truancy and incident and fight too many compounded into a file that followed him wherever he went and no matter which school had accepted him, perhaps he had felt convinced that he was doing something good and that favor would return to him in due time, maybe when he needed it the most. She knew it was likely though she had certainly hoped that Connor would have done the same for Aiden in such a situation where punishment was so unjustly given, but Connor hadn’t been the problem - not in the long run.
Had that been the case, such a black and white framing, surely such distance, such grudges and long-standing disappointments, could have been rectified. Even with the physical distance found in collegiate ventures that had taken them out of city, if not out of state, there had been enough time, enough instances where the two had been together, to connect; and she found it perhaps as equally baffling it hadn’t as everything else that seemed to surround their family in the wake of a super powered San Francisco, but just like those instances, there was always something more in the works, something behind the scenes that those involved might not have been so privy to, puppeteers that, through their manipulative suggestion, could have made matters much worse than they were.
If making a “good” impression had been the name of the game, he was certainly making one in a bad way with the group of friends he had found himself among. They were not popular, not even in the slightest, but neither was he and, had he been asked, he never had been. They were not entirely delinquent, unsavable and without hope, but neither was he, some effort made on the part of his mother and his uncle to get him in line in a constructive way though that held no bearing on what happened at school. They were rough around the edges, something he could identify with in his own way, and for once, Connor did not felt so pigeonholed in school societal isolationism underneath his belief that they had wanted to be his friends where very few others did.
Perhaps it had been so foolish to think there could be some harmonious balance between those that he had kept in that circle, blindly believing that the distance found among them was nothing more than growing pains. One party not getting along with the other, one individual in the mix not seeing eye to eye with another - all of which were normal in social situations no matter what age group they might have fit in; but that was where the true colors started to shine in shaky conversations after school, in avoidance in the halls, in spots and shiners of marbled violet and yellow hues as bruises deepened and healed themselves, Connor never once so readily believing his friends could have done such a thing.
But were they really his friends? That was the question, one that had no founded answer even though there had been some inclination there, some feeling in his gut that he should have followed, that he was so wrongfully mistaken on who had been a friend and who had not been.
Friends, and not the good kind, had a similar habit, bullies in a softer form until their true colors were revealed through one conflict or another who felt they had some reason to see themselves as superior; who, in their self-importance, had no qualm in stepping on whoever was weaker, sometimes in the most unsuspecting of ways that they themselves had no self-awareness to see how wrong it was; and Sandra, unfortunately, couldn’t count on one hand just how many friends her son may have had as she gave it conscious thought. Those she had met through business ventures surely didn’t strike her as the troublesome and problematic types, a collection of slowly remembered faces that became more and more familiar as they appeared at the restaurant, but that wasn’t to say there hadn’t been others, ones which might not have had such good intentions at heart; and in this wild world, if there were heroes living among them, there surely had to be villains.
It was a strong word to use in association with a group of teenagers that her son had fallen into during their shared high school experience, they were still relatively unknown parties. A name here and there, a mention that he was going over to someone’s house to stay the night, the occasional paths crossed during school functions, there had been no reason to suspect the trouble they had gotten in nor had there been any signs to dissuade such worry, Sandra banking on the belief that her son would pick the high road over the need to impress his peers; but that did not account for the pressures that were ultimately laid on his shoulders. It did not count in the need to be accepted, to be someone more than the target of bullying in the oldest adage of ‘if you can't beat them, join them’ or ‘when in Rome’, and it was found in those moments, the growing distance that all at once seemed to split the seams of friendship to the unknown tune of whispers and lies and means to distance a good friend from the rest.
Things had become terse, tense, distances pulled taut by a cat and mouse game that Connor had been no part of, a silent associate of their bullying that seemed to go unchecked by the administration or, had there been any consequence for it, that too seemed to go ignored by the unmanageable youth Connor was finding himself more and more irritated with. Friends, they were not, but enemies, they hadn’t yet become - not until everything that had been going on fell out into the open, falling into his lap as something so readily obvious to someone who did not have their head in the shadows or lifted high into the clouds where there were structures there to blind them, their eyes ready to see the world around them.
Comments filtered into the air, swirling about in a vortex of after school conversation that only seemed to push all of his buttons at once, reaching an intensified fever pitch that made itself known with his voice ringing over the chatter of the intimidators around him - not to Connor, but to Aiden as the piece began to fit themselves together.
Assurances that they were his friends were muted, ignored, filtering through one ear and right out of the other as lines started to form in the sand, ever-deepening with each word spoken, each furrow of their brows and crack of knuckles, each step backward and away from the concrete battlefield that became the walk home. It punctuated itself in one moment, one claim…
“Don't you have anything better to do than pick on my friends?”
“Hey, man, we did you a favor, and got rid of him for you.”
And all at once, it seemed things had been irreparable, a schism made worse by traveled distances and only slightly closed in their returns to the city she had come to call home and, she hoped, could feel like home for the both of them; a place where hearts could rest and mend and heal from what was ailing them and the woes that weighed them down, no matter how long-standing or how deep the wounds had been. Mothers were good for that, right?
Unfortunately, in her somber and saddened mind as she sat back in the chair that stood as seating for visitors to such a quiet place that was so far from the home she had wanted him in, this was one instance where she couldn’t heal him - not the hole in his chest, not the weight on his heart, not the strain on his mind that swirled with much of the unknown as different thoughts and memories crossed this way and that. She could not have taken the bullet that he had in whatever confrontation had sent him to the hospital in the first place, and she couldn’t simply wish the incident away, but if there was something she could do, perhaps it was bring them - her family - together again, grounding them in such troubled times.
There had been no fix for it, no convincing him that he had nothing to do with the claims that had been made that Connor had wanted nothing to do with him, brought on by those who thought with no good intention and took to action in a way that only harmed those around them. There had been no changing the wound that had been made no matter the assurances that he had laid, not enough time to patch over the action of his own when there had been a deadline looming and a distance that put on a physical addition to the one laid between friends. Or former friends. Connor rapped his head on the headrest of his seat, mulling over what had been and what currently was, and those small moments in between that would soon find themselves put in the backdrop of his mind in the torrent of social gathering, students, and lectures and exams that would be his college experience.
“Have you thought about where you want to go for college?”
“Somewhere samchon won’t be bothered with us?”
“So… anywhere but here?”
Excusing herself from his bedside with the quietest of thoughts she knew he wouldn’t hear, not even awake, and moving into the hallway outside of the department, she brought her phone to her ear after a quick tap at the number pad on the screen.
“Kwan Jae,” she spoke softly, not wanting to disturb others that might have been in the vicinity or have her voice carry too far through the hall. There were a number of people she could call - her husband, for one, who would have jumped at the request to help his wife no matter what her son might have thought about him and her brother, another, currently staying in their Marina household to pick up the slack found in Connor’s absence from the dojo - but neither were the proper fit to mend such a gap as the one she was hoping to pull together again. “Do you mind coming to the hospital to sit with me for a while? I - and Connor - could use some company.”