The next few days passed quickly as I began to emerge from the fog that had shrouded my life for two weeks. My family and close friends were frequent visitors, and just as their presence had helped keep me alive when I was unconscious, now their visits pepped me up and helped me to recover quickly. As the days passed and I grew stronger the circle widened to take in students and teachers from school, as well as other friends.
There were other visitors, too.
The neurologist, Mr Perkins, came in the first morning I was in my new room and carried out his tests. He was kind of formal, but friendly enough. His examination took about half an hour. He was thorough and efficient, checking my vision, hearing and reflexes, and asking all sorts of questions which, he explained, would show up any problems with my memory, concentration, speech and my use of language. He said he would like to see me again—after I'd been up and walking for a couple of days and had more strength—and check my balance and co-ordination. 'But, for the moment there's nothing to worry about that I can see. Your injuries don't seem to have had any permanent effect.'
Later that day Mum and I were sharing a joke when the door opened and Groucho Marx walked in. Well, it turned out to be the psychologist, Dr Cazelaar, but for a moment I believed in reincarnation. Peter, as he told us to call him, was a real character, and he had Mum and me laughing within a couple of minutes. Mum excused herself and took a book out into the courtyard. She sat out there, reading, while the doctor and I talked.
We chatted about all sorts of things, and it was a fun and relaxed conversation. I was impressed, later, when I realised that he had managed to slip in plenty of questions about my kidnapping and my captor and what I thought about him.
Finally, the doctor knocked on the window and called Mum back, waiting until she was settled in a chair before he continued speaking. 'Michael…' He turned serious all of a sudden, and looked to Mum to make it clear that he was talking to her as well as me. 'You've had a shocking experience that no one should ever have to go through. You seem to be coping remarkably well, and I know you have a very supportive family and friends who have jumped through hoops to help you. However, it's possible that you will have trouble further down the track. A lot of the time the body and mind recover well from trauma and the victim goes on with life with no further problems. In some cases, though, everything seems fine for weeks or months—even years sometimes—and then something triggers a response and the patient falls to pieces.
'I don't want to turn this into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I do want you to be aware that you might have this kind of reaction some time in the future, and that if it does happen you will most likely need help. It's early days yet, and you will need time to absorb everything that's happened, as well as sort out how you feel about everything. I'd like to talk to your family so that they can be aware of signs to look out for, in case you do suffer a reaction. Meanwhile, I'd like to see you every week for a few weeks so I can keep an eye on your progress. How does that sound?'
'That's cool. Um, is there anything I can do to prevent a reaction, or anything I can watch out for?'
'Well, there's not much you can do to prevent it, but there is something you can look out for. Having talked to you, I'm pretty sure that you don't have any history of depression…' he looked to Mum, who shook her head. He continued '…so if you start feeling down for more than a day or two—you know, longer than a normal kind of "feeling blue" thing—then that could be a sign that all's not well. The important thing, if that does happen, is that you don't internalise it and try to deal with it yourself. Talk to your parents or friends, and come and see me. There's an old saying "a burden shared is a burden halved" and that's very true when we're dealing with depression and reactions to the sort of trauma you've experienced. And these things can be dealt with—so there's no need to feel like there's no hope and that you can't get through it.'
Doctor Cazelaar left, and Mum and I chatted until Kellie, Simon, Travis and Brett arrived after school. We heard them coming long before they came into my room, mainly because Travis was excited about something—and when he is excited his voice lifts an octave and gets louder and louder.
I looked at Mum. 'Why is he so hyper?'
Mum spread her hands. 'I have no idea.'
We didn't have to wait long to find out. I'm sure Travis came through the door without slowing down to open it. 'Mikey! We made the finals!' He practically shouted. 'Oh, g'day, Sally,' he said, in a comparative whisper, when he realised Mum was with me.
'Yeah, and my eight is in the regatta!' said Simon, following Travis into the room at full speed.
Hot on Simon's heels came Kellie, and, although she stopped to say, 'Hi, Mum…hi, Michael,' it was obvious that she was dying to tell us something, too.
Brett came in shaking his head. 'Man, I've got a headache! I had to listen to them all the way here!'
Mum and I laughed.
'Okay, don't all talk at once,' I said, 'and Trav, turn off the amplifier, willya? We could hear you coming from a mile off!'
I paused, and Brett started laughing. 'I've been trying to quieten him down since we left school, but nothing worked. I was starting to look for a plug to pull.'
Travis managed to look hurt, and, in an exaggerated show, leaned over and stage-whispered into my ear, 'The senior footy team won their match today—and that puts them in the finals!'
'Wow!' It wasn't articulate, but I was a bit overwhelmed. The senior team had played well all season in the inter-school league, and they deserved a finals berth. The team hadn't made the finals for about ten years; most people at the school had forgotten what it was like for them to win a home and away match, let alone a final. Although Travis didn't play football he loved the game, and he had been enthusiastic about our team's successes all through the season. He was a one-eyed supporter of Collingwood, a team in the Australian Football League. The 'Woods had endured an even longer drought than the school team, so it was a measure of Travis's love for his team that he still supported them; many Collingwood supporters had long since become disillusioned.
Simon was about to bust his boiler, so I looked to him next. 'My eight won the heats today, so we get to row in the regatta!' He beamed at everyone.
'That's great, Simon,' I said, 'Congratulations little bro!'
Mum hugged him. She couldn't stop smiling. I wasn't any good at sport (I only agreed to play indoor cricket when Travis threatened to break my leg if I didn't—because the team was desperate for another player to make up the numbers) and it didn't hold much interest for me. Kellie wasn't into sport, either, so Dad and Mum's great hope was that Simon would turn out to be the sportsman of the family. He rowed in the Year 9 second eight. The whole family would be expected to watch the regatta and barrack for our boy's crew.
I looked at Kellie. 'Okay, Sis, spit it out.'
She grinned happily, looking from Mum to me and back again. She was almost dancing; this must be really, really good news. 'I'm going to Japan next year!'
Mum let out a shriek that should have shattered the windows.
I covered my ears and looked at the windows, just in case. 'Whoa! Way to go, Kellie!' My sister had applied to join a student exchange program. She would spend three months in Japan, attending school and travelling. 'Hey!' I said, 'That means we'll have a Japanese girl at our place!'
'Woohooo!' said Travis. 'I'll be spending a lot of time at your place.'
'So, what's new?' asked Simon. 'You already spend half your life at our place.' He grinned as he moved quickly to dodge a cuff to the head from Travis.
Mum was so pleased with Simon and Kellie's news that she almost floated out the door when she left to go home and prepare dinner.
Brett had taken his MP3 player to school and recorded messages from, it seemed, the whole school population, from the Principal down. Kellie and Simon brought a pile of greeting cards that students had given them to deliver. We got a lot of enjoyment out of reading the cards and listening to the messages. Some of the kids didn't identify themselves, so I had to play "pick the voice." Travis had made a note of everyone's name and took great delight in "gonging" me when I put the wrong name to a voice.
The gang filled me in on events at school. It was fun catching up on all the news, but I was dismayed when they told me that my teachers had got together and decided that I would have to stay for a couple of hours after school every day for a few weeks so that I could catch up on all the work I'd missed. Unfortunately they lost the effect of their announcement completely when Simon couldn't keep a straight face and gave the game away. The others threatened to strangle him and we ended up laughing so much that my bruises began to hurt. They admitted that my teachers had met, but that they were all happy with my work. They would give me some assignments that I could complete while I was away from school and those would be sufficient for me to be able to maintain my good grades.
Kellie and the boys left when Dad arrived after work.
'Man, I'm tired. It's been a long day, Dad.'
Dad chuckled. 'That reminds me of a girl who used to work in the office. We'd get to morning tea time, and she'd say "Gosh, it's been a long day." I still laugh every time I think of it. She was one of those people who are always cheerful—really good to work with.
'So, how has your "long day" been?'
I lay back on the pillows and took a leisurely twenty minutes to tell Dad about my day.
'It kind of seems like a new life, Dad,' I said as I finished. 'I feel like I've been given a second chance.'
'It feels like that to me, too,' Dad said, 'We thought we'd lost you. It is like a new beginning after the events of the last couple of weeks. I wouldn't want to live through those again.'
For the next hour Dad and I chatted quietly. We had always been close, and found plenty to talk about. We shared a hearty laugh occasionally—and shed a few tears, too—but more than anything else we simply enjoyed the time together.
Travis came back with his mother after dinner, and Brett returned with his whole family soon after them. Dad chatted with both families for a few minutes and then went home to have dinner.
There were animated conversations as the two families greeted each other and me. I kind of expected the hugs and kisses from Travis's mum, Susan, and from Angie, Brett's mum, and I wasn't too surprised when Brett's sisters, Jessica and Naomi, also each gave me a hug and a kiss. I wondered whether the girls, aged eleven and ten, had secret crushes on me and my present condition was a handy excuse. They both blushed, so perhaps I wasn't too far wrong.
I was astonished, however, when Brett's dad and brother both grabbed me and hugged me. Andrew, Brett's dad, was a real "man's man" and I'd never seen him show much emotion; Peter was an awkward thirteen-year-old who must have thought hugging was a really "sissy" thing. The fact that they both put aside their own inhibitions to give me a hug brought home to me how much my family and friends had agonised over my disappearance. This realisation made my eyes damp again—and I noticed that I wasn't the only one blinking back tears.
I had a great surprise one afternoon when my entire homeroom came to visit, accompanied by our homeroom teacher, Mrs Aitken. The boys, being typical fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, whistled and stirred as one girl after another hugged and kissed me, until all of the girls, including Mrs Aitken, had had a turn. I decided I could get to enjoy all this female attention, and wondered whether it might be a good idea to stay sick for a while. The boys gave me high fives and a variety of handshakes, and of course the girls stirred back when a few brave but rather self-conscious boys gave me hugs. I hate to think what the girls would have done had any of the boys kissed me!
Their visit made my day, and I think they all enjoyed it too—for the couple of school periods they missed, if not for the pleasure of seeing me.
Actually, I think their enjoyment did come from my return to life. Most of them went out of their way to tell me how much they had missed me (and I'd always thought they only laughed at my jokes to be polite). I found out, too, that every single one of them—as well as a lot of other students at the school—had spent time after I disappeared searching abandoned buildings and other possible hiding places in an effort to find either me or clues to my whereabouts. They had all been utterly convinced that I had not gone missing voluntarily.
This information almost overwhelmed me and I thought I was going to cry again, until one of the boys declared, 'We only missed you because there was no one to blame for the bad jokes.'
'There were no bad jokes, you mean,' said another guy.
Everyone laughed, but Travis and Brett told me later that no one had felt like making jokes until they knew I was safe. They really had missed me.
After they had all left, I lay back with my eyes closed, deep in thought. Who am I? I thought. I'm no one special. I'm not one of the school's sporting heroes; I'm not a community or social leader within the school. Why would all of these kids come to visit me, let alone go to all the trouble of searching for me when I was missing?
Then I thought of Andrew and Peter, and how they had both put aside their "macho-ness" and hugged me. And that reminded me that Brett and Travis, along with my sister and brother, had spent days in my hospital room willing me to wake up.
Am I missing something here? Why are people doing all these things for me?
I looked at the questions from every angle I could think of, and in the end I could come to only one conclusion: all of these people cared about me; they liked me and had missed me; they did what they did because I am me.
That realisation made me feel really special, and my day ended on a high note.
Doctor Emery was pleased with my progress, and when Mr Perkins returned to complete his tests he was satisfied that I had not suffered brain damage. Karen and Judy both popped in from time to time to say hello, and Doctor Cazelaar even came in for a chat one day. He claimed he was "just passing" but I had the feeling he was checking up on me. He had his meeting with my family—including Travis and Brett—and gave them a thorough briefing on my ordeal and various ways it might affect me in the future.
The detectives I had talked to at the police station the day I escaped wanted an appointment to interview me. We arranged it for a time when both my parents could be present. I thought it would be difficult talking about everything with Mum and Dad there because it involved such intimate acts, but it actually felt good to talk about it to the men who would prepare the case against The Monster. Talking about it seemed to be a concrete step towards making him pay for his crimes.
They taped the interview and promised to have it transcribed and ready for me to read and sign the following day. Now that they had my formal statement they could get everything moving towards a date in court. Since I was a minor they suggested that we apply for approval for me to give my testimony by closed circuit TV so that I wouldn't have to face my tormentor, and to remove me from what would likely be a highly-charged atmosphere in the courtroom. We said we would consider the idea, but I felt it would be better for me to be present. There was no way I was going to miss testifying against The Monster; it was just a matter of how that would be done.
Before they left I thanked them for their prompt action in arresting The Monster, and for the thorough case they had built against him. We said our goodbyes; apart from bringing the statement for me to sign they probably wouldn't need to see me again.
I was surprised when the hospital's Public Affairs Manager (I almost cracked up when she introduced herself as Pam) came to see me. The hospital had been turning away journalists from newspapers, radio and TV—both local and metropolitan—who all wanted to interview me. Pam wanted to know if I was willing to be interviewed. 'It's up to you and your parents, Michael. If you want to talk to them the hospital will allow them in according to your instructions; if you don't I'll just tell them all to shoot through.'
Everyone had told me I was in the news, but I hadn't realised that my story was so big. I guessed that doing nothing wasn't a realistic option. 'If I don't say something they'll just hound me and my family and friends, won't they?' I asked Pam.
'Probably. You know, you don't actually have to talk to them. You could release a prepared statement for me to hand out. That might satisfy them.'
'Yes, that might be a good idea. How about I get Dad and Mum to help me write something tonight when they come in, and they could drop it into your office?'
'Done!' Pam said. 'But don't worry about my office. I'll come and collect it from you in the morning.'
We prepared a statement, and after consulting Pam the next morning, Dad and Mum agreed to be present for a press conference at the hospital. We decided that I could talk to the media at a later date if they were still interested.
I was caught off guard the following afternoon when a stranger, maybe 30 years old, badly dressed and a bit scruffy-looking, walked into my room and introduced himself as, 'John Doan. I need to ask you a few questions.'
I took an immediate dislike to this man. His manner and appearance made me uneasy. I was suspicious, too, because he hadn't said why he was there. 'About what?'
'About your kidnapping and rape,' he replied.
My heart sank. Obviously, I knew that I had been kidnapped and raped, but hearing the experience described so bluntly and starkly brought the bad memories rushing back. I felt like crying, but with a supreme effort I managed to hold back the tears. I really needed my mum's or my dad's reassuring presence to strengthen me, but there was no one with me when this intruder arrived, so I would have to handle him myself.
'Who are you?'
'As I said, I need to ask you some questions.'
The penny dropped, and I pressed the call button to summon a nurse. 'You're a reporter, aren't you?' I said as coldly as I could manage. He didn't respond so I continued, my love of TV crime shows giving me inspiration. 'The hospital bans reporters from interviewing patients without permission from both the hospital and the patient. I've released a statement through the hospital's public affairs manager, and that's all I have to say at the moment. I especially don't have anything to say to someone who barges in without warning or permission and doesn't identify himself as a reporter.'
The nurse came in as I finished speaking, and, realising quickly what was happening, pointed to the door. 'You. Out. Now!'
He wasn't about to give up that easily. 'The public has a right to know—and you owe us for our help in finding you!' His voice was nasal and whining, and grated in my ears. His attitude was arrogant and self-righteous, and that made me even less likely to talk to him.
'Oh, and how exactly did you help?' I asked bitterly. 'No one had any idea where I was—and still wouldn't if I hadn't managed to escape. I don't owe you anything!' The tears were starting to fall now, and my emotions were at breaking point.
He'd been fiddling with a mobile phone, and now held it up in front of his face. The nurse reacted quickly, putting her hand over the phone. 'No photos either, mate. Out!' He still resisted. 'OUT!' she shouted, and managed to steer him out the door.
'I'll be back, Michael!' I heard him shout, as the nurse called for someone to phone my parents.
I had been sitting on my bed reading when Doan came in, and now I slumped down into the pillows, my book forgotten. The tears came in a flood now, and I started to sob. I started to shake uncontrollably as a nervous reaction set in. The nurse came back and sat on the bed, talking soothingly, trying to calm me. A few minutes later Mum came rushing in and I practically flew into her arms. I took quite a while to calm down, and Doan's "bull-in-a-china-shop" approach affected my nerves for several days. Why did I react that way? Doctor Cazelaar said I needed time to get used to thinking of my ordeal as a kidnapping and rape. Certainly, I understood that that's what it was, but at the moment it was simply an horrific experience that had caused me untold suffering. In time I would learn to detach myself from the experience—from the humiliation, pain and violation—so that I could view it objectively and dispassionately. Right now, the emotional wounds were still too raw to allow me to do that.
That evening, my parents and I received a visit from the hospital's general manager. He brought an official apology for the breakdown of the hospital's security procedures that had allowed Doan's intrusion.
We found out later that John Doan was a freelancer, trying to get his "big break," and he was known as an obnoxious and sly character. I didn't think he was likely to get any breaks at all unless he changed his attitude and behaviour. No wonder people hate the media, I thought. Unfortunately that wasn't the last I saw or heard of Mr Doan. He turned up at The Monster's trial several months later and harassed people around the town, trying to dig up dirt on me and my family. He seemed convinced that there was more to the story than had been made public, and that there was some sort of sex scandal waiting to be uncovered.
The weekend came, and—with lots of visitors to keep me occupied and routine checks by the nursing staff—passed quickly. I was growing stronger every day and the bruises were fading and the soreness diminishing. I was allowed to get dressed and spend time outdoors now, so I was able to entertain my visitors in the courtyard when the weather was good. I was feeling well and beginning to look forward to going home.
Doctor Emery, cheerful as ever, and cracking sad jokes as usual (thanks to him I had a whole new repertoire to use on my victims at school, which made me wonder if they would actually be happy to see me return; but then, half the fun in telling bad jokes is the reactions you get from your listeners), gave me a thorough examination on Monday morning.
'Want to get out of here, Michael?'
'Yeah, I guess so. I'm feeling good, and the aches and pains are pretty much gone now. I'm kind of enjoying all the female attention here, though.'
He laughed. 'Well, I can't guarantee you'll get that at home but what would you prefer—hospital meals and the unique hospital ambience, or Mum's cooking, peace and quiet, and familiar surroundings?'
'Okay,' I chuckled, 'Since you put it that way, as much as I've enjoyed it here, I'll take home cooking and my own bed. When do I get out?'
'How does this afternoon sound?'
'Right, then. I'll phone your mum and start the paperwork so that it will be ready for her to sign when she arrives. I won't need to see you again unless you have problems, but I know Doctor Cazelaar wants to talk to you, so we'll make an appointment for you to see him as an outpatient. Take care, young feller—and drop in and say hello, won't you?'
He gave me a hug, and headed for the door. I couldn't help myself; I just had to repay him for all the sad jokes. 'Hey, Doctor Emery!' He stopped and turned to face me, an expectant look on his face. 'Did you hear about the Asian doctor who opened a new clinic and then wondered why he wasn't getting any patients?'
'No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me!' he grinned.
'Well, his name was Mal, and his understanding of English wasn't very good. He named the clinic "MalPractice"!'
Doctor Emery groaned and rolled his eyes. 'I asked for that, didn't I?' Then, shaking his head, he was gone—but I could hear him chuckling as he walked along the corridor.
One of the nurses thanked me later; the doctor had told all the staff my joke. She laughed as she said, 'We told him it was a vast improvement on his usual jokes. He looked so hurt we all thought he was going to cry!'
Dad and Mum both came to pick me up late in the afternoon. I thought they were never going to get there; by the time they arrived I was pacing up and down impatiently. When I asked why they took so long they just said they had things to do and couldn't get there any earlier. It took a while to get out of the hospital; it seemed like the entire staff needed to say goodbye and wish me well.
Home was only a couple of minutes away in the car, and as we pulled into the driveway there was a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. As I got out of the car and looked over the house, though, they were replaced with a feeling of joy. There had been days when I wondered whether I'd ever see this place again. Am I really here? I wondered.
I didn't have a chance to think any further, because the front door of the house burst open and Simon came running out, grinning from ear to ear. He gave me a hug, and said, 'Come inside! I've got something to show you!' He grabbed my arm and steered me to the door, and stood back to allow me to go through first. Mum and Dad were bringing up the rear, taking their time for some reason.
I stepped through the door and my mouth dropped open, and suddenly I realised why my parents had been so late picking me up.
There was a shout, 'WELCOME HOME, MICHAEL!' and I was showered with confetti and hugs and kisses. There was a horde of people crowded into our living room. It looked as if all of my friends—maybe even the whole school, if the amount of noise was any indication—were there. I was taken aback, but what a homecoming! It's really over, I thought, as I looked around at everyone and beamed.
It felt good. It was good—good to be home.
At the end of the first week of August I was well enough to return to school. I'd been away for nearly four weeks. I hated missing school because it always felt strange when I went back—as if I was the new kid all over again. Weird.
It didn't take long to get back into the routine, though, and it helped that both the staff and students went out of their way to welcome me back. I'd been able to get some assignments completed while I was away, but I was kept busy catching up with the rest of my work.
It was a busy time, too, because the end of term three was coming up. There were a lot of sports events in the last few weeks—finals in our inter-house winter sports as well as the inter-school football finals and the rowing regatta. There were jubilant celebrations when the seniors won the football grand final for the first time ever, and Simon's crew won the Year Nine Eights title. Needless to say, there was much celebrating in the Parker household when Simon proudly brought home his medal—the first-ever sporting award in our family.
Preparations for the year ten trip to Central Australia, to take place during the two-week break at the end of term, also kept us busy. It was tradition at our school that every year ten student, regardless of whether or not their family could afford it, went on the trip. The students thought of it as a reward for their hard work through four years of high school. The school intended it as a respite from work before we began the intensive final two years of our schooling, and the school council and staff were as keen as the students that everyone should have the opportunity to let down their hair and enjoy themselves. Each year the school sought sponsorship from local businesses, and the students themselves were expected to hold fundraising activities. In this way, the cost to students was kept as low as possible, and we all felt that we had contributed.
The sense of anticipation as we organised the final fundraisers, and travel and accommodation arrangements fell into place, was amazing. Only a couple of the students had been to Central Australia, and some had never been out of Victoria before. We were all anxious to be on our way.
Oh, and we threw Dad another birthday party. You could see the relief on his face when he opened the presents this time around—no socks!