NOW YOU SEE 'EM by Xiola

I should have listened to Sam.

"Do yourself a favor. Don't get shot. It's not all it's cracked up to be."

Good advice - I know that now. The 'not all it's cracked up to be' part's still got me scratching my head though. I really don't think getting shot is anyone's idea of a good time, but she made that pronouncement back in the days before we were in the business of second guessing every word out of each other's mouths. So I let it go.

I know Sam's still self-conscious about her scar. She wasn't one to often wear a dress or a skirt, so you wouldn't think she'd be bothered much, but ever since Barry Mashburn used her leg for target practice, it's been nothing but pants for her. I tried to tell her, once, that anyone as good-looking as she is doesn't have to worry about a mark that no one will ever notice. And yeah, I know it sounds hokey, but I even said she was gorgeous. I should have known it would get me into trouble. It was bad enough that I'd said it, but the fact that I'd meant it too...well, it was OK for other people to give her a compliment, but she didn't want to hear it coming from me.

Sam hasn't been the first woman to tell me that I'm too earnest. Too sincere. Too nice. Maybe I am, but there isn't much I can do about it. Stupid me - I grew up thinking those were *good* things to be. Especially when I saw my father steam roll his way through life without being any of them, leaving a trail of crushed and diminished egos in his wake. I guess I'm not all that good at games, and when it comes to women, I've never learned the rules. I've never gotten past square one, and I know what you're thinking, but no - it's not the same as first base. I've even been waved home a few times, but I never got to the stage where things were easy - like where she stops wearing makeup to bed and you stop worrying about whether you snore. And yes, according to Sam, it was possible to be too nice, and too devoted, and too understanding, and that maybe if I just had a bit more of an edge to me... well it certainly wouldn't hurt. I'm not sure who the hell she thought I should be. James Dean in a nine-to-five-button-down job whose idea of 'bad boy' is to drive five miles an hour over the speed limit? Well, sorry to disappoint you Sam, but I've go no idea how one gets an edge. I spent years in private school for God's sake - growing up in a world of padded suit coats and V neck sweaters and ugly ties. Hate to say it, honey, but boring is my middle name. So I'm to be punished forever because I never learned you don't wear stripes with plaid? I have to admit, though, that I've never spent a whole lot of time looking at myself in the mirror, and Sam always looked like a million bucks, so maybe I should have listened to her when it came to all things fashionable.

But having said that, I think I can cut myself some slack and acknowledge that for every time I should have listened, there were ten when I shouldn't have. For awhile there I actually started to believe those things she said about me were true - that I was selfish and inconsiderate and naïve..... til finally I stepped back and realized what it was she was really doing. She was scared. I got too close and she had to do something to push me away. And she did it by convincing herself I was all those things I know I'm not....or I don't think I am.....

Sometimes I really want to let myself hate her. But I can't. I just wish that she'd learn to love someone, and let someone love her back. And I wish that person could have been me.

Ok - now I'm feeling sorry for myself and that just ain't allowed.

Where was I.... Oh yeah. I was going to look at myself in the mirror.... not because I want to, but because Dr. Harris thinks it'll do me good.

"It's classic PTS, Martin. You almost died."

Well thank you very much Dr. Harris, for sharing those pearls of wisdom with me, but I was there. Oh, and get this - the latest in Dr. Harris's arsenal of psychological treatments is called 'exposure therapy'. Kind of makes me sound like a pervert hanging out on the corner in a trench coat, but what it really means is that "by reliving the trauma over and over in a controlled environment, the mind learns to".....hmmm... I'm not sure what's supposed to happen then, but I'm sure the good doctor Harris'll tell me when it does.

And that's where this whole 'go home and look at yourself in the mirror' command comes from. Maybe she has a point. Maybe I should spend more time looking at myself in the mirror, find out some things about myself that other people seem to know.

So here I am, standing in the bathroom with my shirt over my head, looking at the train wreck that passes for my body these days.

I'll make this easy on myself and start with the small scars first. Like the one I can see when I turn sideways and run my hand along the ridge of my ribs. I don't remember them being quite so obvious before...but at least here the damage isn't quite so...visible. There's a small puckered knot of skin there where the tube went into my chest. I have to say I'm surprised it healed over as fast as it did. I had that particularly annoying piece of plastic as my constant companion for weeks, made me feel like a dog on a leash that thing did - well - it and the IV pole. Man's best friend and all that. I don't actually remember anything about the whole ventilation process - I was pretty out of it for a long time. One of the nurses told me that chest tubes weren't usually left in as long as mine was, but it seems I managed to pal up with a particularly stubborn brand of pneumonia that meant it had to stay.

Yeah, that would be about right. We Fitzgerald's don't do things by halves. Dad must have been proud.

And this one - just above my collar bone - it's hardly even worth mentioning. I guess that would be where the central line went in and allowed me to mainline the copious quantities of high-end painkillers and the 'take-no-prisoners' antibiotics I had to have when the infection set in. I think they managed to kill every bacterium not only in my body, but every microscopic organism within a fifty-mile radius. I swear even now all I have to do is walk through my kitchen and I can see the germs dying. Maybe I could shave my head and get a job hawking cleaning products on TV. But then I'd have to fit into that T-shirt, and to get those muscles, I'd have to start working out. And all I've got to do these days is think about exercise and I break into a sweat.

OK - deep breath - those are the easy ones dealt with. On to the heavy - duty stuff.

I've got my shirt all the way off now, and for a minute all I can do is stare. I can't believe this is my body. Not that it was ever anything to write home about, but these marks, these colours, this skin - I don't recognize them at all.

I can't believe that only a couple of months ago I was training for the New York marathon, and now I can barely make it from the couch to the bathroom in under ten minutes. This is going to be the first year since I moved to the Big Apple that I'll be lying on my back watching the whole thing on TV. I wonder if that makes me a couch potato. Well, not just watching the marathon on the tube, but the 'coming-in-the-door-from-work-and-collapsing-on-the-sofa' thing I've got going on. I *know* when I stagger in completely beat after a hard day at work that I'm going to fall asleep there, and I know I should just cut out the middle-man and head right off to bed, but it's too damn far to walk. Besides, I always tell myself 'I'm only going to lie here for a minute' and -wham!- the next thing I know it's morning. At least I'm saving time in the bed-making department - actually, my whole 'at home' workload has decreased enormously since I got shot. I don't feel much like eating any more - so I don't have to shop for groceries, and tea and toast don't make much mess, so there are no dishes to be done.

Maybe being shot has an upside after all.... once you take away the scarring. And the pains you get in your chest whenever you take a step. And the way food makes you feel - when the smell of it and the look of it and watching other people eat it makes you want to throw up. And you know you can't because it just hurts too damn much to hang over the toilet horking your insides out, and the reason you know this is because you do it at least three times every day....

OK enough of that.

Fitzgeralds aren't into pity.

They don't get depressed, they don't make excuses, they most certainly don't feel sorry for themselves. As soon as they feel anger or frustration or despair creeping up to overwhelm them, a good Fitzgerald strips off his shirt and makes himself stand in front of the mirror. Takes a good hard look and reminds himself of just how lucky he is.

Besides, chicks dig scars.

That's what Allison said when she and Jamie came to see me in the hospital. I know she was trying to make me feel better, and I might have believed it if it hadn't been coming out of the mouth of one of the few people in the world who actually gives a crap about me. Besides, it's easy for her to say, because she's never actually seen them. The scars. She has no idea how red and angry-looking they are - and they do look my body is punishing me for being so stupid, for not caring enough to get myself out of the line of fire. It wasn't on purpose...the not getting out of the way. I don't have a death wish - at least I don't think I do...or I didn't. Not then.

Leave it to me to not even get a good-looking scar out of the deal. Now Danny - Danny has a good-looking scar - and a good story to go with it. Fifteen years old, knifed in a street fight in Hialeah, tough and scrappy kid on the fast track to nowhere pulls himself together and makes good. All Taylor has to do is flick up the corner of his shirt and there it is- four inches long and tucked neatly below his ribcage- just the spot to allow the women a glimpse of those perfect abs as they gush over poor little Danny. Not that I devote a lot of my life to studying my partner's assets - but we do work out at the same gym and share space in the same locker room. Now that I think about it, with that smirk and the bad boy attitude Danny's going for him, he'd probably still look good even with half his face shot off.

Maybe that's my problem. I should be more like Danny. Stop ironing my shirts, quit brushing my hair, try to get the whole 'Latin' thing going for me.

OK, Fitzgerald, now you're really sounding pathetic.

You're not the only one who has it rough. Viv has scars too, but to look at her you'd never know it. Actually it's worse to think of Viv with scars. It must be because she's black - and her skin's so perfect - that it seems more of a violation to think of anything marring her flesh. It's kind of like the time I saw a turtle on the road, run over by a car, lying there with its shell crushed. It looked worse than any raccoon ever could. Not that Viv reminds me of a turtle... she doesn't. I like Viv a lot - except, you know, when she's pissed at me. And this sounds really schmaltzy and stupid, but the way she talks to me sometimes.... I guess I've never had a whole lot of people call me "Sweetie" - wouldn't want them to in fact - but the way she says it - makes me feel good. Makes me feel like someone cares.

The other thing that makes it worse for Viv is she's got someone in her life who's going to see her scars. If nothing else I'm glad Sam and I broke it off when we did, because there's no way I'd want her to see me like this. And if my life continues to trundle along the way it has been, it just might turn out that no one else will be looking at my chest anyway.

Note to self: Cancel plans to run for Mr. Nude Universe.

Yeah, life's just one kick in the teeth after another.

Seems like Jack's the only one in the office who's gotten away without scars. Well, I know that's not true. None of his show - at least not most of the time. Getting divorced, having your kids dragged off to another city half way across the continent, only seeing them once a month - that's gotta leave a mark. For all that Jack really gets up my nose sometimes, I know he loves his kids, and it just about kills him to think about them growing up away from him. Or it would if he let it. He just fills up all the holes in his life with work. I don't know what he did to cope when his mother died when he was a teenager. I guess he came home from school one day and found her in the garage with a hose hooked up to the car's exhaust. I don't think I could have handled that - I mean, not if I'd been Jack and actually cared about my mother.

My mother - well I wouldn't have missed her at all.

I was sick a lot when I was little, and she used to sit by my bed, staring at me in a way that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. She didn't often touch me, which was fine by me, but on those rare occasions when she did I remember her hands were cold and smelled like bleach. She never was the type to sit around the kitchen table in her apron, offering up plates of cookies and maternal advice, and I always had a nanny, but when I finally got shipped out to boarding school, I don't think she even noticed I was gone. You know, this is weird, but when I woke up the first time after the surgery, I was surprised that she was there. And I don't know if it was because I was wrecked out of my head or what, but I swear she had that look on her face again - like she was going to tear my heart out and eat it... and I have to admit it's a good thing I was stoned, because otherwise I think I would have been creeped right out.

I don't remember a lot about being in the hospital, or what I did for those first few weeks lying flat on my back. It's probably a good thing I don't. I hate having anyone around me when I'm sick, mauling me, doing things for me.... I'd much rather just be left on my own to either die or get better in my own good time.

When the doctors finally decided I could leave, they had me carted home, my doting parents, and hired me the best nurses. Nothing too good for their boy. Popped in every couple of days to make sure I hadn't died or messed on the carpet. They never stayed long. It wasn't necessary. It's not as if I needed anything from them. I'm a Fitzgerald, and it is a well-known fact that we don't bleed, feel pain or suffer any of the complaints that plague mere mortals.

We recover from near fatal trauma in no time.

We cope.

We soldier on.

We don't have scars.

I turn away from the mirror and see it's true.

They're gone.

Just like that.