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Stop the World— I Want to Get Off

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Sometimes the world got away from Kevin.

Consumed by thoughts he’d tried to repress and the pinpricks of pain he’d long since endured.

Most times, he shook it off and came back to himself. Tugging a Mission Training Center approved smile onto his face like he would sluggishly tug on his pants the morning after a long night plagued by Hell dreams.

He still has those, even with his dwindling faith in the religion that had raised him. The elders around him clinging to the fact that they aren’t quite excommunicated, but it’s too late for Kevin, who’s faith lays at his feet in a heap of jigsaw puzzle pieces that will never quite fit back together the way they once had.

Kevin doesn’t mind that his peers need to hold onto this idea, he just can’t bring himself to believe in something that he can no longer wrap his mind around. He’d spent so long in his own head and now the one thing he wanted more than anything was to get out of it.

He didn’t want to relive what had happened, he didn’t want to relive the rough hands that had pushed him around, or the vulgar words spoken. He’d been plagued with ideas of grandeur, running on no sleep and the intake of copious amounts of caffeine and he hadn’t realized what was happening until it had happened and then he’d had to lay in Gotswana’s office, wearing a skimpy hospital gown with his ass in the air and that was it for him.

He couldn’t go on like that.

But Kevin’s scars were still fresh, his wounds not yet healed, his mind a blur and his feelings fragile.

Kevin is sensitive. Mostly, when it comes to others’ perceptions of him. Particularly (albeit formerly) that of Heavenly Father. And sure, maybe he whines a lot,  but he feels he’s owed that much even if he’ll abstain from telling those closest to him the underlying reasons for his desperate pining for distraction. He’d give anything for somebody to fix the clockwork in his brain, to get the gears churning again so that he can move on from this moment in time. Stop the world, Kevin thinks, he wants to get off.

He’s grown to be restless, ruining the perfectly poised exterior that he’d worked all his life to sculpt. He finds himself fidgeting with loose strings on his clothing (that, in a perfect world, really should be snipped to adhere to grooming standards) while he proselytizes the Book of Arnold to the Ugandan people. At night, he tosses and turns until he can no longer take being confined to the tiny room he shares with Arnold.

On occasion, when Kevin leaves the confines of his room in the dead of night, there’s already another elder half-asleep in the kitchen of the Mission Hut. They nurse their hell dreams with cups of tea and light conversation until they’re ready to bid Kevin goodnight and pad, silently, back to their rooms.

Tea is one of the few rules the others break, but Kevin never cared for tea.

His fellow elders used to ask about the content of his hell dreams. Elder McKinley always wanted to know if he was in them, as if knowing what he was doing wrong in somebody else’s hellscape could help him fix himself in the present. Kevin never answered.

Sometimes the simple truth was he hadn’t even gotten to sleep, but since his fall from the Mormon religion, Kevin found himself evading even that simplest of truths. Other times, he couldn’t bring himself to sift through the nightmare he’d had, finding it best just to be quiet and reserved.

He supplied a standard excuse whenever prompted to share why he’d left his room. “I just wanted to breathe different air.”

In hushed whispers and sideways glances the other elders worried about the new Kevin Price.  He’d clearly changed since his first week in Uganda. His self righteous and narcissistic demeanor fading to reveal an anxious mess.

It didn’t go unnoticed that Kevin shied away from physical human interaction, ducking out of hugs and dodging handshakes. Or that Gotswana had prescribed Kevin sleeping pills.

Elder Church had found those, showing them silently to District Leader Elder McKinley.

Nobody wanted to see Kevin hurt, but he didn’t exactly make it easy for them to help.

When things got bad, the elders of District Nine looked to Arnold Cunningham, he was Kevin’s mission companion after all. But in the face of every Kevin related disaster, they were only reminded that even Kevin kept Arnold at arms length.

Kevin related disasters came and went in their frequency. They were inconsistent in their intensity and unpredictable. More than that, none of the elders could pinpoint exactly how to prevent them.

Sometimes he reeled away from a situation with seemingly unprovoked tears brimming his eyes, stealing moments to collect himself. Other times he stormed away from situations or turned to slamming the thin doors of the Mission Hut.

He always came around afterwards, but never happier.

On nights where Kevin came out to the kitchen, he’d sometimes put on a catatonic act. And then, when left all alone, he broke down. Crying silent tears as shaky hands twisted off the cap to the pill bottle Gotswana had gifted him.

He didn’t want anyone else to worry.

All Kevin wanted to do was sleep. Not forever, he wasn’t suicidal. Just until he could figure out how to get over himself. His memories were the only hurdles he couldn’t seem to jump.

And thus, the elders of District Nine found Kevin most mornings seated on the couch with a pillow pulled into his chest. Sleeping, but not peacefully.

Collectively they murmured about how painful it must be to sleep sitting up, and sometimes Kevin complained about a crick in his back. But what they didn’t know is that this was perhaps the least painful thing Kevin had endured as of late.

It was painful for Kevin to live in silence. To tug on that smile like he wasn’t in pain. It was painful to breathe in a tiny room, left alone with his thoughts as his mission companion slept through the night. It was painful to push everyone away, to keep himself from being hugged or helped. It was painful when he failed to jump the mental hurdles, or when the clockwork in his mind refused to advance from that moment in time. It was painful when the world kept spinning, at a pace that was faster than he felt he could handle.

But what hurt the most was the fact that he was in his own way. And he recognized it too. It hurt that he couldn’t just build himself a bridge and get over it, as he used to advise those around him.

He felt useless, truly useless.

His ideas of grandeur had faded and left him with a caffeine addiction because staying awake until he had to induce sleep was the easiest way to live.

Kevin lives in a glass house, the doors lock from the outside and Kevin knows exactly who shut him in, but they’ve since lost the keys and Kevin can’t bring himself to break the glass. He can only imagine the pain that would inflict, shards of glass piercing his skin, on top of all the other pain he carries on his shoulders. He decides he’d rather stay locked inside, airtight.

The elders of District Nine each take their turns with Kevin, trying to chip away at the fortress they think he’s locked himself away in. They don’t quite see eye to eye on things, but that’s Kevin’s fault.

He doesn’t speak up for himself, doesn’t tell anyone not to think whatever they please about him.

They don’t know about the glass house because Kevin never told them. So, they chip away at him with their kind words and their gentle touches, but the tools they use are made for brick fortresses built to keep other people out; and not the fragile, cracking glass that holds Kevin in.

Sometimes Kevin thinks it’s his own fault he’s in this mess.

He spends his days scared to break the glass, afraid of inflicting more pain into himself as his peers work diligently to do the opposite. Not that they’d ever know what they were doing. Because Kevin never told them.

Never told them about the assault.

And that’s where all of this started. With the assault.

For the longest time, he couldn’t bring himself to say that word.

But late one night, he takes a stab at it. He rolls it out, like putty in his hands. He kneads it like dough. He takes ownership of that word instead of letting it define him.

And then Elder McKinley joins him in the kitchen, having long since abandoned any hope of getting Kevin to talk about what’s troubling him.

Kevin is staring down a glass of water he hasn’t touched, rolling the pill he has to take between his fingers. Like most nights, he appears lost in thought, tucked into the catatonic state he’s created to keep himself safe.

“I was assaulted.” He announces, tentatively. Lifting his eyes to meet Elder McKinley’s. The room is dark, lit only by the single lamp on the kitchen counter but the way in which Elder McKinley reacts is easy to see even despite the lighting deficits.

“Oh, Elder Price.” Elder McKinley begins, obviously concerned as he racks his brain for the right responses and procedural protocols.

Kevin holds a hand up to silence him instead, he just wants someone to listen. Decidedly, he takes the pill before he continues, wanting to rely on sleep to take him when he can’t go on any further.

“Don’t tell the others.” Is Kevin’s first request, before he’s settling into the couch with a shaky breath and drawing the pillow into his chest like he does every night. Elder McKinley is there next to him, well aware of the boundaries Kevin has set about being touched and finally understanding why they’ve been set.

He can recall a time where Elder Price hadn’t shied away from physical contact. But the time Elder Price had grabbed Elder McKinley’s face was neither here nor there.

Kevin couldn’t bring himself to maintain eye contact, fiddling with the pillow’s tag as he braced himself to recount his tale. “After I passed out at the bus station,” Kevin explains, “I had this epiphany, that maybe I could fix things if I conquered the most banal evil. If I could bring General Butt-Fucking-Naked to salvation, I could prove myself to Heavenly Father. And I guess, really, I wanted to be better than Arnold.”

Elder McKinley only slightly flinched at the expletive that Kevin had used without batting an eyelash; the other elders coming up with clever ways to avoid this particular rule break. This was the new Kevin talking, he reminded himself. The caffeine-drinking, sailor-mouthed Kevin who had long since ditched the temple garments, might he add.

“So I marched right into camp,” Kevin continues with a yawn, “and I really did think Heavenly Father would protect me. I liked to believe that I was of some worth to him. I mean, I was trained by the mission training center, I was a diligent student and I was supposed to be the next prophet. I was supposed to get my own planet, Orlando.” He laughs wryly at the thought.

Elder McKinley can tell the sleeping pill Kevin took is beginning to take effect. He appears to be more sluggish and less fidgety, his eyelids growing heavy.

“Why don’t you sleep?” McKinley suggests, standing up from his seat. “There’s always tomorrow.” He reminds Kevin pointedly as he moves to fluff the couch pillows so that maybe now that Elder Price has gotten this off his chest, he can sleep easier.

Kevin waves a dismissive hand through the air instead, reaching to tug Elder McKinley back into the spot he’d just abandoned. While his heart may flutter, Elder McKinley doesn’t think much of the fleeting contact. Kevin’s been known to break his own rules on the rare occasion, especially to get what he wants. And this very second, he only wants to be heard.

“I digress.” Elder Price says, as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “Anyways, I walked into camp and, well, the General didn’t want to hear what I had to say. And he, well he. . .” Kevin seems to choke on his words, moving instead to mime the insertion of the Book of Mormon up his ass.

“Elder.” McKinley says quietly, but Kevin’s waving his hand at him again with a yawn. This time less of an invitation to kindly shut it and more of a request to let him sleep.

They rendezvous like this for the next couple of nights. Kevin, recounting what he can before he passes out and Elder McKinley listening intently, unsure quite exactly how this news should be handled.

And then the unexpected happens. Kevin, on the verge of falling asleep, laces his fingers between Elder McKinley’s before he has the chance to leave the couch. “Stay.” He requests, having lifted a weight from his shoulders and not wanting to face another night of hell dreams alone.

Elder McKinley looks down at their interlocked hands and knows Kevin isn’t in his right mind, but who is he to argue when Kevin’s already slipping beside him. Unable to keep his eyes open or his head from bobbing. He’s straightened himself twice already, pretending to shake away the pull of sleep only to end up with his head falling onto McKinley’s shoulder. And, well, Connor feels he can’t exactly leave now.

Kevin had been in Uganda three months — Connor, six — and they were only now on a first name basis. It was against the rules, but in reality most of the elders broke a rule or two after the Arnold fiasco. Just a rule here or there, or in Kevin’s case, all the fucking time.

Kevin had brought himself to trust one person with his burden. With that trust came an outlet to feed one of them many things he’d been starving himself of: human connection.

It starts with innocent hand holding, late at night when Kevin’s too tired to make the trip back to his bedroom. It goes unspoken that he’s calmed by the contact, proud of the progress he’d made. This followed by the unconscious decision to lean into Connor as sleep takes him.

Though, most mornings he wakes and Elder McKinley has long since left the space he once occupied. Instead, having draped a blanket over Kevin in his absence.

It escalates to Kevin sometimes hovering uncharacteristically close to Connor during activities that require the whole of District Nine to work together. Once, Connor had moved to wipe dirt off of Elder Price’s face and Kevin hadn’t flinched. But more importantly he hadn’t broken down crying or run off, so the other elders found this to be an improvement, however confusing it was for them.

“What did you do?” Elder Pop-Tarts had once asked, hip checking his mission companion as he entered the kitchen to get his attention.

“What do you mean, ‘what did I do?’” McKinley had replied, almost offended at the accusing tone in his companions voice.

“To Elder Price.” Pop-Tarts expanded, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “What did you do to Elder Price?”

“I haven’t done anything to Elder Price.” Connor answered, confused by the insinuation. He tried hard to rack his brain for the answer Pop-Tarts wanted.

Pop-Tarts had rolled his eyes, dissatisfied with the answer given. “He’s different.” He said, as if it were blatantly obvious. And maybe it was to everyone but Connor, who’d been working hard to help Kevin transition back to the confident person he’d once been. “Good different.” He was quick to add, in an attempt to prevent Connor from worrying about the other man.

“I don’t think I know what you mean.” Connor replied, despite the inkling he had and the swell of pride he felt having realized it wasn’t an accusation but a compliment.

Pop-Tarts practically draped himself over the counter with an annoyed grunt, having already spelled everything out for Connor. But his saving grace, Elder Michaels, walked through the door before Pop-Tarts had to waste any more breath.

“Michaels knows what I’m talking about.” Pop-Tarts grinned, the way one does when they’re getting away with something or displacing blame. “Right, Elder Michaels?”

Elder Michaels looked up from where he’d been toeing his shoes off at the door, unaware of the conversation he’d just walked into. “Context?” He requested, which only annoyed Pop-Tarts further.

“I was just saying how we’ve all noticed that Elder Price is acting different again. Good different.” Pop-Tarts elaborated, having gotten over his complaining fairly quick.

Elder Michaels nodded his agreement and as Pop-Tarts polled the other Elders throughout the day, they all came to the same consensus.

Elder Price was different. (A very established ‘good different’.)

Everyone had froze the first time they’d heard Kevin laugh in a long while. Doubled over in the kitchen, laughing so hard he’d snorted which had only made him laugh harder until the only sound he made was similar to that of a leaky tire. Nobody knew what Connor had said, but they were pretty sure Kevin had nearly wet himself.

It didn’t go unnoticed that Kevin now joined in on game nights, sticking close to Connor who had every foreseeable situation handled. And Connor, who the others noticed, had prevented an unidentifiable number of Kevin related disasters as of late. For now, the mission hut doors were safe.

He was a good District Leader the others agreed, not blind to the fact that Elder McKinley had the biggest, perhaps most obvious crush on Kevin. They speculated Kevin might feel the same way, but nothing with Kevin was absolutely and undoubtedly one way or the other.

It was Connor’s clever words and caring personality that had helped Kevin through. His patience and even admittedly, his affinity for dancing. There was something about the cadence  in which Connor said things and the fluidity in which he did things that made Kevin feel at ease.

Kevin was sure of a couple things. He knew Connor had worked hard to find the keys that belonged to the glass house Kevin had been locked away in and had finally succeeded in unlocking the door. Connor had also dusted the cobwebs from the clockwork in Kevin’s mind, pulling him from the moment of time he’d seemed to be stuck in; more than that, though, he’d taught Kevin how to jump the mental hurdles that had held him back for so long. Kevin had to admit that Connor was quick on his feet, elegant even. This evident in the way he’d taught Kevin to move in time with the earths rotation, saving him from the treadmill he’d been running on at speeds too high for him to keep up with.

Kevin’s been carefully extracted from his own damaging thoughts and immersed back into the world. Sometimes, things get rocky, but mostly Kevin finds that he thinks he’ll be okay.