Six months later, Cole limps slowly out of the hospital. Garvey is next to him; Cole’s mom and a guard are behind. Cole’s dad didn’t visit Cole in the hospital because a month after Cole was hospitalized, his dad was arrested and charged with child abuse. This is all thanks to Garvey—he told Cole’s mom that her silence is the reason why Cole is hurt so bad and if she remains silent, it’ll be partly her fault. The next day, she agreed to press charges against Cole’s dad.
Garvey made it clear to Cole’s mom that just like Cole has to accept responsibility for his actions, she must do the same. If she does this, she’ll also be in a better place to earn Cole’s trust and build a better relationship with him. By owning up to their past mistakes, both Cole and his mom can move forward and break the cycle of violence.
Lots of people from the Circle visited Cole during his hospitalization. His mom came often and assured Cole that she loves and cares about him, but Cole didn’t know why he should believe this now. For one, she’s not around at night, when Cole is alone to think through his mauling, his fear, and his anger—which, as Edwin predicted, isn’t gone. Cole also remembers the baby sparrows and touching the Spirit Bear at night; thinking about the bear makes Cole feel calm.
Just as Edwin and Garvey have no real reason to believe Cole actually saw a Spirit Bear, Cole has little reason to believe his mom when she says she cares—her actions throughout his life suggest otherwise. However, if Cole can begin to experiment with trusting her and being honest in turn, they can break the cycle of violence and build a stronger relationship.
Cole glances back at the hospital, glad to leave. He knows he has a lot of therapy ahead of him—the therapist made it clear that he needs to fight to walk and move. Garvey tells Cole that healing his mind will be even harder and that he’s not sure what the justice system will do now. He promises to stop by tomorrow. Cole’s mom says she’ll visit too, and then she suddenly hugs Cole. Rather than push her away, Cole hugs her back and assures her she’ll be okay. He gets in the car and wonders if he’ll go to jail. Cole also wonders if his dad will go to jail. At the detention center, the guard escorts Cole and his small duffel bag—which contains the at.óow—to a room. Cole hangs up the at.óow as a reminder and wonders if he can remember the Spirit Bear’s gentleness.
When Cole hugs his mom back rather than shoving her away, it speaks to just how far he’s come—he certainly wouldn’t have accepted that kind of an overture before, when he shied away from Garvey’s attempts to touch him. By making sure that the at.óow has a prominent spot in his room, Cole is able to create a space where he has to remember what he learned on the island. He can remind himself of the importance of truthfulness and gentleness, hearkening back to the Spirit Bear’s treatment of him during their second encounter.
The next afternoon, Garvey shares that the Justice Circle will meet with Cole again—but they’ll probably send his case back to the courts. This means jail. Cole says that he wishes he hadn’t ruined his chance, and he vows to go back to the island to see the Spirit Bear someday. Garvey isn’t convinced that Cole saw a Spirit Bear and is incredulous when Cole says it didn’t try to hurt him. Cole explains that when his dad beats him, he knows his dad is trying to hurt him. He knows the bear was just trying to protect itself. When Garvey asks if Cole wonders why his dad beats him, Cole insists that he hasn’t done anything to his dad—his dad is just mad. With a smile, Garvey asks if that reminds Cole of anyone, and then he leaves.
Cole’s ability to differentiate between malice and self-defense in comparing his dad and the Spirit Bear is a major leap. Garvey and Cole’s conversation about why Cole’s dad might beat him is an attempt to make Cole understand that he and his dad might not be all that different. Cole lashed out at Peter just because he was mad; he’s said himself that he didn’t mean to actually hurt him. By forcing Cole to make these connections, Garvey asks Cole to understand that he’s part of a cycle and isn’t just a victim.
Cole settles in. His dad never visits, but Garvey and Cole’s mom stop by every day. Cole’s mom looks happier. One day, she suggests that they start a new life somewhere when this is over and admits that she quit drinking. Cole asks why, and his mom explains that she and Cole’s dad were normal newlyweds, excited about their life. She insists that Cole’s dad isn’t a bad person, but violence is all he knew since his parents beat him as a child. Drinking helped Cole’s mom ignore that her then-husband was beating Cole, and she hoped it’d get better. She says she only woke up when she got a divorce and Cole landed in the hospital. Now she knows that she can’t change Cole’s dad, but she can change herself. Cole’s mom asks for forgiveness, since she didn’t protect Cole. Cole tells her it’s okay and hides his wet eyes.
Cole’s mom is able to provide even more information to help Cole understand his dad and the violence he suffered as a child. When he learns that his grandparents beat his dad, he begins to see that violence is something that can pass down through generations if people don’t take active steps to stop the cycle—and both Cole and his mom are starting to take those steps. Cole does this by cultivating a relationship with mom, while his mom does this by giving up alcohol, accusing her husband of child abuse, and asking Cole for forgiveness.
A week later, Garvey announces that the Justice Circle meets the next night. Both of Cole’s parents know about the meeting, and Garvey has a surprise. The next night, Cole accompanies Garvey to the Circle. Many of the same people from before are there, except for Peter, Peter’s parents, and Cole’s dad. The Keeper opens the meeting, and Garvey keeps glancing at the door. The Keeper talks about how Cole violated the Circle’s trust, and as the feather moves around the room, everyone agrees that the Circle shouldn’t handle Cole’s case anymore. Cole thinks that the Keeper left out important information when she told his story—she doesn’t know about the baby birds, his loneliness, or the Spirit Bear. Edwin walks in and joins the circle. Then, the Keeper asks Cole to explain himself.
Even if Cole has changed quite a bit since the last time he was at a Circle meeting, he still thinks that he’s the most important person in the room. This shows that he still has a long way to go as he figures out how to deal with his anger and face the consequences of his actions. To be fair, the Keeper and the other members of the circle have few reasons to believe he’s changed—they know him only as a violent liar. However, Cole is correct in that without the full story of what happened to him on the island, they’ll never see how much he’s changed.