"Hey, how was your run?" Kim asked as AJ came into the kitchen to get a water bottle from the refrigerator.
"Fine," he replied with a sigh and took a long drink.
"Good." She smiled and continued to chop an onion that was on the wooden cutting board in front of her.
"Is Mom asleep?"
Kim sighed. "Yeah, that little get-together yesterday really wore her out."
Denise came home from the hospital on Sunday as planned and a few of their friends stopped by AJ's house to celebrate. Denise and Tony had decided to stay with him and Kim for a few weeks while she recuperated, plus Kim could help her with certain every day tasks such as getting dressed and bathing. She was still in a lot of pain with her fractured ribs and broken femur, so, sleeping was her remedy of choice. She just didn't feel comfortable taking the Percocet that Dr. Jarnowski prescribed her before she left the hospital; she didn't like the extreme drowsiness that it caused.
"I'll be in the work out room," AJ stated and walked back out past the living room where his uncle Bill was seated on the couch watching TV. He was flying back to Florida on Wednesday once Denise got situated.
AJ went into the room and immediately reached for tape to wrap around his hands. Once that was done, he stepped up to his punching bag and took a hard swing with his right fist, pausing as he listened to it connect with its target, watching as the bag swayed slightly with force. It was held in place by two stainless steel chains on both ends. He swung again with a grunt and continued the motions, increasing his intensity with every punch. By the time AJ finished, he was exhausted, breathing heavily as the all-too-familiar ache in his chest returned with a vengeance. He just tried to weather the storm until it passed, tried to breathe through the pain. A voice broke through his clouded mind after what felt like an eternity of silence.
"Alex? Dinner's ready," Kim said from just outside the door frame.
"What?" he asked, distracted.
"I'm not hungry," he replied flatly.
"I made spicy corn chowder, I doubled the recipe for the six of us," she added to try to convince him to eat.
"No, thanks," he said in the same tone as before. He stood up from the bench he was sitting on. "I'm just gonna shower and go."
"I thought your appointment with John wasn't until six?" Kim questioned.
"It's not," AJ agreed and went to leave the room, walking past her as he did so.
"Hey," she said gently. "You okay?"
He stopped and turned around. "I'm fine, babe." AJ kissed her forehead lightly and continued on his way upstairs and into their master bathroom. He grabbed some clothes to change into before going in and turned on the shower, listening as the water hit the tile floor and disappeared into the drain. He took his clothes off and threw them into a heap on the floor before entering the steam-filled area. He stood under the shower head for a few minutes to let the water run over his body and quickly washed his hair and body before exiting and changing into clean clothes. He trimmed his beard a bit and left the bathroom to grab his keys, wallet, cell phone, and iPod off of his nightstand. Once he had everything, he jogged downstairs.
"Going somewhere, Alex?" Bill wondered from the dining room table where everyone else was eating except for Denise, she was obviously still sleeping.
"Yeah, I got a thing to get to," he said hesitantly.
"Suit yourself," he shrugged. "This chowder is great!"
"Bye," AJ said shortly.
"Bye," Kim echoed, annoyed that he was leaving so early.
"Bye, Daddy!" Jordan said with a wave.
"Bye, buddy. I'll be back around eight," AJ added and left, getting in his car and driving to downtown LA to Dr. Stehlik's office. He knew that he was about forty-five minutes early, but he sat in the waiting area with his headphones in for a distraction and his eyes closed, leaning his head against the wall.
Dr. Stehlik called him into his office at around 5:45 and decided to start their session early. They shook hands and AJ sat down in a chair across from him.
"How are you today, Alex?" he asked him.
"I'm tired, John," AJ replied with a sigh.
"I guess mentally, I just can't handle stress well today or something."
"You're feeling stressed? Do you wanna talk about it?" John encouraged him.
He paused. "Well, my mom's staying with us for awhile. She came home from the hospital yesterday."
"The car accident, that's right. And Jordan is doing well?"
"Yeah, he's been perfect, improving every day. His follow-up appointment with the doctor is tomorrow," AJ shrugged. "I guess I'm just freaking a bit."
Dr. Stehlik nodded. "I understand, you've got quite a bit on your plate right now with your mom and Jordan and the accident."
"Yeah, I guess," he murmured quietly. He was hesitant to mention the nightmare that had been disturbing his sleep since the night before the accident. After about a minute of silence he spoke. "I-I've been having that nightmare again. The one that we discussed way back when."
"And how long has this been going on?"
"Since the night before the accident, I can't even tell you why it came back. It just...did," AJ said, looking down at his hands that he placed on his lap. He was now picking at his nails. "Things have just been so stressful lately."
"Hm. Well, have you been thinking about your dad lately? Your past?" Dr. Stehlik asked after a moment.
A sigh escaped AJ's lips. "I guess, Kim's pregnancy has scared me into thinking that I'm not good enough."
"As a father?" John pressed.
"I want you to know that it's okay if we need to talk about this again. I know that you struggle with this and that your father's abandonment of your family as a child affects you deeply, almost to your core, so to speak."
AJ rubbed a hand over his face. "I mean, I know I'm gonna make mistakes as a parent. Hell, I already have. But what if I screw my kids up for life or something? Do something that is so profound or damaging that there's no coming back from it? I have never been more afraid in my life. Kim can do so much better than me. She deserves so much more."
Dr. Stehlik shook his head lightly. "I personally don't believe that for a second. I know that you love Kim and Jordan more than anything in this entire world. I can tell by the way you talk about her, the light in your eyes when you say her name. The smile that crosses your face when you tell me something funny he said the other day. I think that deep down, even you don't believe that."
"It just feels that way."
"I know it does, Alex, but that's something you've got to work on. You are worth it and Kim does deserve you. We all have our own faults and struggles," he tried to reassure him. "No one's perfect."
"I know. I just...I'm tired, John. I tried not to stress out today, I really did. I worked out to distract myself, but it snuck up on me. I hurt. I'm in pain. My chest aches and it feels like I can't breathe no matter how hard I try."
"The depression has returned?" John asked to clarify his statement.
"And you're still against taking any medication for it?"
"Okay, then, I just wanted to be sure. How have you been feeling physically? Your sleep habits? Appetite? Energy levels?" he wondered.
"I feel okay, I guess, I mean I haven't been sick or anything. Kim sent more Airborne while I was still on tour and it's worked wonders. She was sick last week and I didn't get so much as a sniffle."
"That's good, but your complexion says otherwise," Dr. Stehlik noted.
AJ sighed. "I know. This nightmare keeps me up most nights. Sometimes, I lay there for awhile and fall back asleep, but then, I have it again and other times I don't. Other nights I just can't sleep, so, I go downstairs into my studio or to the bar."
"What do you think, John?" he asked with a hard stare.
"There's no need to get defensive, Alex, I'm just asking."
"Right, right," he sighed again. "Sorry."
"When was the last time you drank?" he asked.
"Friday night. I had a couple of beers outside while working on a song. It was a nice night."
"So, you weren't feeling depressed then?"
"No," AJ replied with a shake of his head. "I was fine, happy."
"I've been eating fine except for today. I'm just nervous about today. I'm not feeling very hungry, my stomach feels like it's in knots."
"I can understand that," John reasoned.
"And I guess I've been getting tired more easily due to the lack of sleep, plus breathing can just take its toll during the day."
"If you're feeling depressed?"
"Yeah. I mean, I try to stay strong during the day and sometimes I just fall apart at night when I'm alone. I try not to drink too much and sometimes, I write instead. I've been keeping a journal since April," AJ said.
"That's good that you're getting your thoughts down on paper. It can help you process what's going on around you."
"I guess it helps somewhat," he shrugged.
"God...I just feel like I'm not a good person anymore, like all I can do is fuck everything up," AJ continued.
"But you're not, Alex, you're just going through a rough period right now. You are a good person, a good husband, and a good father. You've just got to learn to see it in yourself again, and I know you will." Dr. Stehlik said. "Now, I hate to cut this short, but today's the day. Are you ready?"
"Yeah, let's do it."
AJ and John drove out to a local junkyard on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Today was the first day that he was going to try some expressive therapy. He had done something similar when he worked with a grief counselor back in 2001.
"A junkyard?" AJ was skeptical about it being right place to do it.
"You trust me, don't you?"
"Let's get to it, then." The two of them exited Dr. Stehlik's car and went into the junkyard. They were met by another person who was waiting for them.
"Welcome to expressive therapy. Alex, this is Dr. Julia Rollins, a clinical psychologist. She'll be taking you through this experience today."
They shook hands. "I'm Alex McLean."
"It's nice to meet you. Why do you think you're here?" she asked.
"I guess this is so I can express my emotions or something," he shrugged.
"That's good. For most people, this exercise is used to get people in touch with maybe some unresolved anger that they may be holding onto. It could be toward a person or a situation. What you don't want to do is try to numb the pain, because that only makes it worse in the long run."
AJ knew exactly where she was going with this. "Oh, John...you know me so well," he said with a chuckle.
"You can think of someone you're angry at, someone that you may never confront. You can use whatever you want here." She gestured to the various objects around them. There were sledgehammers, golf clubs, baseball bats, rocks, bricks, dishes, cups, plates, eggs, and other things that AJ could use to take his anger out on the things in the junkyard.
"Now, why don't you give me a name or tell me someone that you're angry with," Dr. Rollins said.
"I guess it'd be my dad for the most part. He left me and my mom when I was two. They didn't get divorced until I was four," AJ replied.
"So, it's a lot of childhood stuff, then. Do you two have a relationship?"
"No, I haven't seen him in two or three years. He's only wanted to get to know me because I'm famous, just like all of the loser friends I used to have."
"I see. Well, do you want to give a try?"
"Sure." He put on a pair of goggles that she handed to him.
Dr. Rollins made sure that the three of them were ready before continuing. "Alright. You can go in as deep as you want and you can use whatever you want. Just say whatever you're feeling and whatever comes up," she instructed him.
AJ took off his t-shirt and tossed it to the side, wearing nothing but a wifebeater, jeans, and his shoes. He went over to an old car and picked up a sledgehammer that was leaning against it.
"Don't disappoint us, now," John said.
He flexed his arms with it in his hands and took a few deep breaths. AJ went over to another old car and began to hit the hood of it as hard as he could. "Stupid motherfucker! Son of a bitch!"
"Who is that? Who are you angry with?" Julia asked him to get him to say what was on his mind.
"My dad!" he yelled and hit the hood of the car again.
"What do you want to say to him?"
"Why didn't you come visit me? Why did you ignore me?" He walked around the car and smashed the passenger's side window.
"Just say whatever comes up, Alex," she reminded him as she followed him.
"Why didn't you say you were sorry, asshole?! You never apologize!! I don't wanna hear your excuses!" He smashed the window next to it and went to the back of it.
"That's good, keep going."
"This is for all of the dead-beat dads who hurt their kids!" AJ swung at a taillight.
"Are you gonna be that?" John asked him.
"No," he growled and broke the back window with another swing. He hit the back a few times with full force and breathed heavily. "Asshole! Why did you leave me?!?!"
AJ walked over to an old TV set and prepared to swing. "Fuck you, Bob!" He broke the glass and smoke came from inside of it. "Asshole!" He swung at the top of it and left a dent.
"Tell him, Alex!" Dr. Stehlik yelled as words of encouragement to him.
AJ walked over to the car and pounded the top of it, swinging the sledgehammer over his head, hearing the impact that his blows to the steel made. "Why did you only care about me after I got famous, huh? Why wasn't me being your son enough for you, why is it STILL not enough?" he yelled, taking shallower breaths as his anger really took hold of him.
AJ then went over to a computer monitor and began to break it into pieces, breaking the glass and cracking the plastic.
"What's going on? What are you thinking about?" Julia asked him.
"All I ever wanted was a father! But where were you? The same place you've been my entire life, someplace else!!" he yelled at the top of his lungs and swung again.
"Let it out, now, what do you wanna say? Let it go, Alex."
He walked back over to the car and proceeded to beat the door with the sledgehammer. "Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!" AJ took a final swing at the windshield and left a hole in it. "BACKSTABBER!" He dropped it and clenched his fists, breathing heavily, pure rage could be seen in his eyes and body language as he stood beside the battered car.
"See, that's what scares me," John said worriedly.
"It's okay, no one's getting out of control, he's fine. Alright, that's enough. Come here." Dr. Rollins said and AJ walked over to her. "You're not back there, you're here now, okay? Take a deep breath. Tell me what's coming up, tell me what's going on with your body."
He took a few deep breaths to try to calm himself. "My heart is racing, my breath is...I feel like I can't catch my breath," he said, a bit hoarse from all the yelling that he did.
"Let's take a deep breath, count to five. Are you feeling dizzy or lightheaded?" Julia wanted to make sure that he was okay.
"No. I'm okay," he said in between breaths.
"Take another one, it's okay."
AJ did and he was slowly visibly relaxing.
"You're not back there, you're here now. You're an adult, you can take care of yourself. You're not there anymore," she repeated.
"Yeah," AJ said. "It feels good to break shit. I'm not holding my anger in, I'm pushing it outside of me."
"Right, good. Have a seat. Take a breath, relax," Dr. Rollins said and he sat on a plastic milk crate.
After a few minutes she spoke again. "Alex, why don't you share with John and I what came up for you as you did this?"
"The breathing that I got, it's so key, I haven't felt like that since I was a kid."
"Like a little kid who can't stop crying," John confirmed.
"That's exactly how it was and I haven't felt like that since..."
"So, that's your trigger. Trauma is stored in the body, your body will let you know first when you're being triggered. When you feel that breathing, you know that something triggered you. You feel that in your body, you take a step back, 'I just got triggered.' Try and figure out what it is and take a different way," Dr. Rollins explained to him and AJ nodded in understanding. "Now you're an adult and you can take care of yourself and you have choices. You don't have to do that again, you don't have to do that anymore."
"Alright, that's it. Good job." She and John gave him a hand and AJ collected his shirt off of the ground. They all said their goodbyes and AJ left with Dr. Stehlik and went back to his office.
"This was an important step for you, Alex, the exercise allowed you to feel things and be in touch with things that you haven't felt since you were a child," John noted as he drove along the highway.
"Yeah," he sighed.
"Today was good, I'm proud of you."
"Thanks, John," AJ said with a slight smile.
Soon enough, AJ drove back home and parked in the driveway. He took a deep breath before taking the key out of the ignition and getting out. He went inside and shut the front door. "Hey, sorry I'm late," he said as Kim came up to him. "Therapy ran late."
"It's alright, how was it?" she asked and gave him a kiss.
"It was good, I'm beat, though," AJ sighed and wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm sure. Did you do the expressive therapy?"
"Yeah. It was good, it helped a lot."
"Good," Kim echoed.
"Jordan's in bed?" AJ assumed.
"Yeah, he took a bath and sacked out around eight," she answered. "Are you hungry?"
"No. Well, I'm gonna—"
"Your mom's awake, why don't you go say hi?"
"Okay." He gave her another kiss and went off to one of their guestrooms that was down the hall. He knocked lightly on the door before entering.
"Hi, sweetheart. How was your session with John?" Denise wondered as she was sitting up in bed.
"It was good, I'm exhausted, though." he answered as he came to her bedside.
"Good. Do you wanna talk about it?"
AJ shrugged. "Not really, they always leave me drained afterward. Maybe later."
"So, how are you feeling, Mom? Do you need anything?"
"I'm fine, thanks," she said.
Tony came in the room and stood next to AJ. "Hey, Alex."
"Hey. Well, Mom, I'm dead on my feet." He let out a big yawn. "I'm just gonna shower and go to bed, okay? I guess I'm not much of a chatterbox tonight," he said with a chuckle.
"That's okay, go get some sleep, sweetheart. You sure could use it."
"Mom, don't. Not tonight, please. I love you." He kissed her cheek and hugged her gently.
"I love you, too."
"Goodnight, Dad, see you in the morning." They hugged and AJ left the room and went into the kitchen to say goodnight to Kim.
"Hey, I'm gonna shower and go to bed, okay?" he said and enveloped her in a hug.
"Okay, baby, you've had a long day. Go get some rest."
"Thanks." He kissed her. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Kim echoed and let him go upstairs into their bedroom.
Once he was upstairs, AJ slipped his shoes off and practically collapsed onto the bed. He didn't even bother to change clothes or cover himself with a blanket, he was asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow for the first time in weeks.
Kim entered the bedroom to find her husband laying on top of the bed instead of under the covers with his shoes next to it. She chuckled lightly to herself. 'I guess he didn't make it to the shower, poor baby...' She walked over to his side and ran her hand gently through his brown curls, he looked so peaceful just laying there. She looked closer at his sleeping form and noticed that his cheeks were a bit pink, it was easier to tell because of his pallid skin. Kim reached over to feel with the back of her hand what she guessed was a light fever. 'The stress of everything that's gone on must be catching up with him now. He doesn't have to be strong for me, he should know that...' she thought with a frown. Nevertheless, she turned off his bedside lamp and climbed into bed beside him and fell asleep soon after.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
AJ was jerked awake from his sleep and heard his stomach make a weird noise. The next thing he knew, he was trying to make it to the bathroom in time to throw up what little he had in his stomach into the toilet. What followed that was a couple rounds of dry-heaving, with sweat pouring off of him as he stayed perched over the bowl. A small moan and a cough escaped his lips as Kim came into the bathroom.
"Babe? Are you alright?"
AJ lifted his head up to give her a look that said, "Don't worry about me in here throwing my guts up, everything's just peachy." He stopped as another round of dry-heaving consumed him and he spit in disgust.
Kim wet a washcloth and knelt beside him. Wiping his neck, she could feel AJ shivering at her touch. "Are you cold?"
"No." He swallowed hard. "Feels good." He closed the lid and flushed the toilet, sitting back against it as Kim wiped the sweat off of his face. She placed the cool washcloth around his neck and stood up.
"I'll be right back." She returned a few minutes later with a mug of leftover ginger tea in her hands that AJ had made for Denise yesterday. "If you can keep this down, it should help with the nausea."
He graciously accepted the mug and took a few small sips of the liquid, but stopped as it did not agree with his upset stomach and he threw it back up. He turned back around and looked at Kim. "You shouldn't be here, Liz said to—"
"Shhh. I know, Alex, but I can't leave you in here to suffer alone, now, can I?" she challenged him.
"You can get Bill or dad. On second thought..."
"Exactly. So, I'm thinking stomach bug?"
"Probably," AJ agreed weakly and took another small sip of the tea.
"Yeah, you have a fever. I can see tell, I can see it in your cheeks. Let's see what we're working with here." Kim stood to get the thermometer out of the cabinet above them and turned it on. She knelt back down and put the tip in his ear, hearing it beep after a few seconds and read the result. "100.3, definitely the stomach flu. Let's hope that this is just a twenty-four hour virus."
After a few minutes, the two of them decided to go back to bed so AJ could get some proper rest and not spend the night on the bathroom floor.
"Do you need anything? Some Tylenol maybe?" Kim suggested as AJ got under the covers.
He did have a headache, but he declined. "No, thanks, I don't think my stomach could handle it right now."
"Okay, baby. Just try to sleep."
"Sure," AJ said and closed his eyes. His breathing slowed and he was soon asleep once again with Kim by his side.
Please review, I appreciate any and all feedback! :D