Content Warning: This chapter contains brief images/topics related to teen suicide/depression which may be disturbing to some.
As the weeks grew into months, it became more and more clear that Leo was sinking into his despair. Liev and I were beside ourselves in our attempts to prevent him from being swallowed completely by the darkness.
While we were no longer awakened in the night by his nightmares, it was clear he wasn’t sleeping well. Our son had grown thin with dark circles under his eyes. As he slowly got more pale and gaunt, the scar on his cheek became more prominent. It continued to be a terrible reminder to us all of our loss.
He spent long periods of time in the bathroom. Often times we could hear him crying.
It was the morning we didn’t hear anything at all that alarmed us the most. Liev had to break the lock on the doorknob to gain entry to the bathroom. Much to his shock, he found Leo completely submerged in the water.
Liev grabbed Leo, dragging him out of the water and wrapping a towel around him. In the hallway, we had a terrible fight. I think my fear and shock had gotten the best of me.
Leo insisted he was not making any attempts to end his life but could we believe him? Should we take that chance? Our only resort at this point was to speak with his therapist Dr. Thao.
Dr. Thao had been recommended to us by Dr. Reeves and Leo had met with him twice a week since the funeral. Luckily, they seemed to have built a good rapport.
During my conversation with him regarding this most recent incident, Dr. Thao told me my concern was understandable and that we should bring Leo to see him right away; which we did. After seeing our son, the doctor assured us that we were doing all of the “right things.” However, I was unconvinced. If I was doing everything right, why was my son so lost?
I expressed my concerns to the therapist and he said Leo was not in immediate danger. Was I supposed to trust this doctor who’d only known my boy for a few months or should I rely on the awful feeling in my gut that told me Leo was in trouble?
Granted, my instincts were working overtime. I realized I was hypersensitive. I didn’t want to lose another child. I couldn’t go through that again. My marriage and family couldn’t go through that again.
But Dr. Thao continued to tell us the best thing for Leo was to get him back into a routine. He said it would make Leo feel stable and safe again.
So, that settled it. Liev and I sat Leo down and explained to him that it was time he returned to school. He’d been doing extra assignments at home so he wouldn’t fall too far behind, but it had been difficult for him to focus. I wasn’t certain what kind of reaction to expect but I was prepared at least for an angry response. Leo argued that he didn’t feel he was ready. We tried to be encouraging yet firm. He had to go back. It was time.
Much to my surprise, Liev offered him the keys to our old beater car. But instead of taking the keys, Leo recoiled as if he’d been burned.
“I’m never driving again!” he declared.
I knew the poor kid blamed himself but no matter what kind of reassurance we tried to provide him, he remained firm that he would never drive again in his life.
The next morning… it’s difficult to describe. Leo was not being outright defiant about returning to school. Instead, it was as if a silent war had begun. He wouldn’t eat breakfast and he refused to let me drive him to school. I tried not to hover and to ignore the way he stomped down front the path that led to the sidewalk.
I turned my back on him purposefully and scooped up the paper. The last thing he needed was to feel as if every move he made was being scrutinized. But the truth? I was most definitely watching every move he made.
After he was gone I let out a slow sigh. I didn’t like having to admit to myself that I felt a little ashamed because I was glad to have a break for a few hours. I was emotionally exhausted from worrying about him. But then a new concern slipped into my mind… What if something happened at school? We’d spoken with his teachers but would they handle it all right? Would they know what to do?
Liev tried to comfort me. “It’s good that he’s going back to school. It will probably take a few days, but it will put him back into a familiar routine.”
I knew he had to go to work but I couldn’t stop myself from blurting, “We’re losing him and we have to figure out what to do!”
“Memphis, we are doing everything we can!” he exclaimed. “We have a really good therapist for him, we try to engage him in life and he’s back to school now. I think we need to trust Dr. Thao. He knows what he’s doing. And listen, if you don’t stop this, you’re going to collapse or something and what good will that do him?”
“I know Dr. Thao is good but how can I just put this in someone else’s hands like that?”
He touched my arm lovingly and said, “Some things are out of our control but I think Dr. Thao can help Leo. I really do.”
I tried to hold back tears. “I just wish I could make his pain go away.”
“Don’t you think I wish every second of every day that I could just make this all go away and see him be happy again?”
I nodded. “Of course I know that. You’re a really good father.”
“And you need to trust that you’re a good mother,” Liev said quietly. “Leo knows we’re here for him. He knows we love him. We’ve told him over and over again how important he is to us.”
I covered my face and pressed my tired eyes closed. A few stray tears rolled down my cheeks.
“Do you remember what Dr. Thao said about what happens when one twin loses the other?”
I nodded sadly. “He called it being a twinless twin. Jilly was a huge part of who Leo is.”
“They did everything together. She was the one person he loved and trusted above all others. He has said he feels like half of himself is gone. You don’t just get over that in a few months. Whatever path his grief takes, we have to support him and make sure he has the coping skills to get through it. Dr. Thao knows what he’s talking about.”
“Logically, I know you’re right. I know Dr. Thao’s right. I’m just…. I’m feeling scared, Liev.”
He took me in his arms and gently stroked my hair. His embrace felt warm and good and I sank into it comfortably.
“We can’t do anymore than we are,” he said soothingly. “You have to take care of yourself so we can focus on Rachel and Daylynn and so we can be there to support Leo.”
Resting my head against his shoulder, I knew he was right. If I became ill because of this worry I constantly felt, I wouldn’t do anyone any good.
After writing a little bit and taking a nap in which I slept heavier than I thought possible, I realized it was time for Leo to come home from school. I tried to look casual as I went outside to greet him. The last thing I wanted was for Leo to feel like I was still watching him like a hawk.
To my surprise, he strolled right past me and with a little wave said, “Hi, mom. I brought a friend home.”
I’d been so focused on my son, I hadn’t realized that a girl had come home with him.
“This is Chrissy Valentine.”
“Uh, hi, Chrissy,” I murmured in a daze as we all went inside.
It had gotten warm, so I ran upstairs to change my clothes, lost in thought about Leo’s “friend.” I’d never seen her before, not that I knew every kid in Storybrook County but I wondered where she lived and how Leo had met her. As I pulled a clean t-shirt over my head, I heard the refrigerator door open.
“What do you want to drink?” I heard Leo ask. The response was muffled and then I heard Chrissy laugh.
I checked my reflection in the mirror. The humidity was making my hair look stringier than normal so I shoved another pin in and hoped it stayed put. The time for lingering was over as the clatter of backpacks and more feet coming through the front door alerted me that the girls were home.
I hurried downstairs. Rachel and Daylynn sat down to do their homework and I brought them each a glass of milk and some apple I had cut up for them. Rachel ignored all of this, though, and couldn’t stop staring at Chrissy. I had to admit, she had my undivided attention, too.
There was something about her eyes that had me on edge. They were puffy and reddened… and really glassy looking.
“Chrissy, did you have brain surgery?” Rachel innocently inquired.
“Well, I saw on TV when a cat had surgery and they shaved it’s fur where they had to operate. Did you have an operation on your head? Did it hurt?”
Leo wasn’t taking this line of questioning well. “OMG, Mom, make her stop!”
Coming to my senses, I said, “It’s her hairstyle, honey, do your homework.” I attempted my best smile and asked our guest, “Would you like to stay for supper? We’re not having anything fancy, but I always make enough for leftovers.”
She shrugged slightly. “Sure. Whatever.”
“Chrissy, let’s go upstairs.”
“Upstairs?” I nervously inquired.
“To do our homework,” he explained.
“Yeah, our homework,” she emphasized as if she was in on some huge joke that no one besides Leo got.
I shook my head and said firmly. “Nope. No girls in your room.”
Leo immediately rolled his eyes. “Oh come on.”
“This is not a new rule and it’s not unreasonable.”
Totally absorbed by the show we were putting on, Rachel and Daylynn stopped eating their apple slices. Before I could argue further with Leo, Rachel asked, “Why is your hair blue? I like it! Blue is my favorite color.”
“Mom!” Leo protested as he glared darts at his sister.
“My hair is blue because I wanted it that way,” Chrissy said smugly. “Grandma hates it but oh well, this isn’t her life.” She pointed at the dermal piercings on her face. “See, twerp,” she said, still addressing Rachel, “you can do anything you want as long as you know how to get around it. See this? My grandma said I couldn’t get my ears pierced. Who doesn’t have pierced ears? She’s so old fashioned and I was so pissed! So I pierced my face. And you know what? There wasn’t anything she could do about it because I didn’t pierce my ears! I didn’t do anything she didn’t tell me to.”
Good gravy! What new problem was this and how could I nip it in the bud? If only Liev were here; he’d know what to do. But I couldn’t always rely on Liev. This was something I had to take care of. Meanwhile, Chrissy looked at me pompously, her chin jutted out in defiance.
“Well, in this house, things run differently and there are no girls upstairs,” I reiterated my earlier point.
“Whatever,” she said.
“Come on, Chrissy, we’ll go in the living room and do our homework in there.”
I looked into the girl’s eyes again and found myself feeling really disconcerted by her. There was something really wrong here and it only partially had to do with her disrespectful attitude.
Leo, obviously livid with me, ushered her out of the room. At least I could quietly observe them as they were in an open area. I tried to busy myself with dinner preparations while listening to what they were saying.
After a while, I checked the girls’ homework and ushered them outdoors to play. On my way back to the kitchen, I peeked into the living room and heard part of their conversation.
“So, what will happen if you watch it?”
“My mom and dad will be really mad at me,” Leo said, absently tapping his pencil on his paper.
“Well, just tell them it’s rated for everyone. They’ll never know.”
There was a long pause as if he was considering doing this, then he said, “I can’t. They always find out everything.”
She sighed loudly. “That’s so stupid. You’re old enough to make your own decisions without mommy and daddy telling you every move to make.”
“Fine,” Chrissy said with disgust. “I’ll go to the movies by myself and you can stay home and watch Bambi with your parents!”
Realizing Chrissy had gotten up and was coming toward the hallway, I quickly ducked back into the kitchen and pretended to check the timer on the casserole I had in the oven.
“Give me a break!” Leo begged as he followed her.
They exchanged another round of unpleasant conversation, then, after a moment, I heard the front door open and slam closed. Slowly, I walked into the foyer and Leo turned on me, his face red and angry.
“–I don’t want to talk to you!” he yelled as he stomped up the stairs, slamming his bedroom door behind him.
Part of me wanted to go after him and just have it out, once and for all. But the other part of me, the wiser part, decided to let him cool down and come to his senses. If I tried to speak to him now, he would only get angrier.
All I could hope at this point was that this Chrissy girl, who seemed to be the epitome of trouble, was now out of our lives just as quickly as she’d entered.