The day was sunny and I felt the warmth envelope me like a cozy blanket. The smell of lavender drifted on the air and, every so often, a gentle breeze lifted the wisps of hair that framed my face. If all days could be like this one, I would be happy.
We had brought the girls to the festival and were having a terrific time! Liev and I woke up this morning and decided that it was high time we did something with the girls that had nothing to do with gloom and doom. You should have seen their faces when we told them where we were going. They were so excited!
Of course, we wanted Leo to come with us, but he was spending the day practicing his guitar so he could audition for the school’s version of that hit TV show Bridgeport Idol. I’m sure the audition will go very smoothly since he plays and sings very well. Even Liev, who I think is a musical genius, is amazed by Leo’s musical abilities. Leo wrote a song for his audition and although I haven’t heard it yet, I’m sure it will be very good.
(On a side note, Leo speaks sometimes of living in Bridgeport and pursuing his musical career after high school. We’ve tried to be encouraging because we do think he’s good enough, but the way he talks about it makes it seem as if it’s just a dream that will never come true. More than anything, I hope he will succeed in whatever he does.)
I watched now as Liev tied the girls’ roller skate laces and gave them a few pointers before sending them out onto the rink. It’s a good thing I was good at roller skating because with my mind wandering to Leo so often, I could have landed right on my bum a few times!
It was really pleasing to see that the girls were taking to the roller skating like pros! Well, they mostly stayed in upright positions.
Later, we also decided it was a good day to take some pictures of them. So we found a nice shady area and started snapping away with the camera. I wanted them to smile, but they were pretending to be models. So they posed using what they thought were diva faces, as if they were on a runway.
The smiles came later when Liev ordered their favorite ice cream treats for them.
For Rachel, it was a strawberry cone with sprinkles.
And for Daylynn, it was a rainbow popsicle. If she seems unhappy in this photo, it’s because we told her that when she finished, we had to head home.
Upon learning this, that child took forever to eat her popsicle! Finally, when she was done, we all piled into the car. She was soon cheerful again as we laughed and sang songs all the way home.
As soon as we walked into the house, however, the merriment ended. Much to my dismay, Chrissy was over and she and Leo were in the midst of making out. I quickly sent the girls upstairs to take baths and get ready for bed.
To my bigger dismay, next to their pizza box were empty bottles – and Leo had one in his hand that he had partially drunk!
Before I had time to even react, Liev was breaking this up. While Leo protested, Liev ushered Chrissy right out the door, closing it firmly behind her.
My stomach sank and my heart threatened to beat its way out of my chest as Leo flopped down onto a chair and Liev began lecturing him.
“How long have you been drinking?” Liev wanted to know.
Leo just shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, it doesn’t matter because it stops now!” Liev said.
Leo was even talking like that girl now. And I could see his response was sending Liev into orbit… as much as Liev could ever go into orbit anyway.
Liev continued to point his finger at our son and while he didn’t raise his voice all that much, he made it very clear how serious he was. “You know you’re not allowed to have people over – girls over – when we’re not home. You’ve really been pushing it lately. You’re grounded.”
“From what?” Leo asked in the most disinterested voice I think I’ve ever heard.
“From everything!” Liev announced.
Good gravy, I thought. It was painfully evident Liev had never grounded anyone before. The last time I’d grounded Leo was so long ago… he had brought home something that didn’t belong to him. Again. So I’d taken his video games away. In fact, I’d actually locked the video game console in the trunk of my car just to assure myself he couldn’t go behind my back because he had such a way of getting around things. At the time, I thought this kid would be the end of me. But somehow, now, those seemed like easier times and I wished we could go back to them.
After our unsuccessful attempt at parenting, Liev and I sent the kids to bed, cleaned up the empty bottles and pizza box, then, finally, retired to our room. We had a lot to discuss.
“That did not go well.”
“You have a mighty keen grasp of the obvious,” I agreed.
“He’s a teenager. I guess it’s not unusual for someone his age to push the boundaries and see what will happen,” Liev reasoned, “but his circumstances are different. He just lost his twin. So what’s normal as a teenager and what isn’t?”
I sighed. This was a good question. Usually, I was the one looking to Liev for the answers. He was usually so level headed.
“I always figured he was going to be a difficult teen,” I admitted. “I just never thought he would be traumatized on top of it.”
“Maybe we’re treating him too much like a victim or something,” Liev said.
“Maybe.” I rubbed my tired eyes. “I just don’t want to see him make horrible mistakes because of what he’s been through.”
“You’re talking about drinking and Chrissy.”
He had that right! I hadn’t really gotten to know Chrissy as she hadn’t been over since the first time I’d met her. Well, to my knowledge she hadn’t been over. Now I really began to wonder what else Leo was doing behind our backs.
Surprisingly, the next morning, Leo was up and ready for school on time. I didn’t have to harass him to get out of bed and to get ready.
I did have to get after him about skipping breakfast, though. He was growing thinner by the day and I was really worried about his lack of appetite.
As he was leaving, I handed him his sack lunch and took an opportunity to try to talk to him.
“You know, your dad and I love you very much.”
He responded with that irritating shrug, but I kept my cool.
“We worry about you and only want to see you succeed and be happy. What can I do to help you?”
He must have heard the sincerity in my voice because he said, “I don’t know, mom.”
I couldn’t help but feel he was holding back what he really wanted to say. I placed my hand on his shoulder and for once, he didn’t pull away. “I only want to help you.”
“I want to go live with Aunt Keniesha!” he blurted.
I was taken aback, but I tried to stay calm. “But why?” He started to shrug, but I stopped him. “No, I want you to answer me.”
“Because I hate that my room is next to Jilly’s and she isn’t in there,” he said hesitantly. “I can’t stand that her chair is empty at the table. There’s pictures of her all over the house! I have to get out of here! Can you understand that?”
Measuring my words carefully, I quietly said, “Yes… I think I can understand that. But I don’t know if it’s the best thing for you to be away from us right now.”
“It is what’s best,” he insisted. “Will you at least talk to dad about it?”
I hugged my boy to me, fighting back the lump in my throat that could only be followed by tears. “Yes, I’ll speak to him. But what about your audition?”
“I don’t really care about it.”
Those words made me so sad as I watched him walk down the sidewalk toward school. I went back inside, my mind swimming with all of the things Leo had said. At least he hadn’t said he wanted to live with my sister because he wanted to get away from me.
I made two phone calls then. One to Dr. Thao who said he would come over to see Leo after school was over. The second call was to Keniesha.
After I told her everything, she said, “It’s up to you. He’s totally welcome here if you think it’s best.”
“I’m not sure, but I do thank you. We’re going to have a meeting with Dr. Thao today.” I paused. “Are you sure you can handle him?”
I heard her snort. “Are you sure he can handle me?”
Somewhat reassured, I hung up the phone. Dr. Thao would help us understand what would be best for Leo. He hadn’t steered us wrong yet.
But then I thought of the mistake I’d made in sending Rachel and Daylynn to stay with Keniesha right after the accident. At the time, at first, it had been necessary as Liev and I were spending all of our time at the hospital with Leo. But then we should have brought the girls home. We needed to provide them with structure and routine so they would feel stable again.
Luckily, the girls seemed to be doing pretty well, considering. But what would happen to Leo if I let him go?
As soon as Liev got home from work, I explained everything to him and told him all of my concerns.
“You know, it’s not the same as when we sent the girls to stay with Keniesha,” Liev said. “It’s completely different. I kind of understand where Leo is coming from. This house is full of reminders of Jilly in every corner.”
“I know. I just don’t want to make the same mistake with him that I did with the girls.” My mind just kept going back to that, making me even more uncertain about what to do.
When Dr. Thao arrived, he joined Leo at the counter in the kitchen. Liev and I stayed in the living room, sitting in silence. We could hear their muffled voices but couldn’t make out what they were saying. This was one instance, anyway, where I would have been uncomfortable if I’d been able to hear.
Dr. Thao had explained to all of us when Leo first began to see him that he would never tell us what Leo had said during their sessions unless Leo was in danger or a danger to himself. And I knew that if Leo didn’t feel his conversations were confidential, he wouldn’t open up to his therapist.
After what seemed like ages, Leo went upstairs and we sat down with Dr. Thao in the living room.
“What do you think?” Liev asked, getting straight to the point.
“Well, normally, I would say that the family should stay together. But each person is different. Having met Keniesha before when she picked Leo up from one of his appointments, I can say that I know he’d be in capable hands.”
I nodded. “Yes, she has always treated our children as if they were her own.”
The doctor paused. “I believe that if you feel he would be safe, would improve and not miss any appointments with me, then it’s worth trying. I could even increase how many times he sees me per week, if that helps any.”
“And you really think that’s best?” Liev asked.
Dr. Thao nodded. “Keniesha lives by the other high school in the city. Although it’s really difficult at this age to start over, it might actually be good for him to go to a school where no one knows what happened to him.”
“It might be good for him to get away from Chrissy Valentine, too,” I mentioned.
“Leo is really vulnerable right now, so if you think this girl is a bad influence, I would agree with you,” Dr. Thao said.
My heart felt like it was breaking into a thousand pieces. I know that seems like such a cliche thing to write. But now I understand what it means. My chest physically ached as I thought of how I’d lost Jilly and now, in a sense, I was losing Leo, too.
If Plan “A” had been to support him and put him into a routine, I guess sending him to live with Keniesha was Plan “B.” All I could hope was that it was the right decision and that it would help him.