This is a short story by Lois Marie Harrod.
My daughter Jenny, 15, flirting with anorexia. I was thinking trade-offs, my daughter for my nephew? Which one should I care about? Didn’t seem a choice.
Least said the better?
Could I eat another half-cup of green beans or not? Then this boyfriend came along who liked to watch me eat ice cream. Butterscotch twirl. 165 calories a half cup. I got better. Things often get better if you don’t talk. Words make prisons.
That’s your theory?
No, no. Of course, not. Can’t. Couldn’t. And I couldn’t ignore what he did during that visit of his.
A hair of the dog that bit you?
Not that dog. Kicking the dog. Lots of people kick dogs. Because they’re scared. But Jenny was upset.
Show a dog a finger, and he wants the whole hand.
That dog kept my daughter safe. Maggie was Jenny’s darling. Maggie lay by the bed while Jenny studied every night.
Wipe your paws?
Well, you know the research.
Wat wud have happened if napoleon was kicked out and snowball was leader again?
Then in the head. Whack. “Get out of here, you damn bitch.” A week later Maggie was blind in one eye, but we didn’t know that then, not when Jake kicked her.
What did you do, Ray?
Moaned. Growled really. Slunk away. Like the dog.
Eight quotes tagged as “copycats”?
Yes, I know. So he kicked the dog. But that was when I knew that however bad I felt about what happened to Jake, I’d have to kick him out of my house. I mean I know a lot of angry teenagers, pot, cocaine, heroin, school problems, petty theft.
In your darkest hour never worry?
A strange thing happened four years before Jake’s visit. Jake’s father, my sister’s ex, Ken, the one in prison, wrote this letter, said that we were to get out of their lives, said he didn’t want our God-fearing morality—weird because we didn’t know we were religious or interfering. I mean we were in Baltimore, and they were in Kentucky.
So Jake was a stranger in town?
Aren’t we all strangers?
But you think you should have taken him in?
My brother Henry and his wife Elaine had this perfect son already in college. It seemed as if they were the ones who should take Jake. That genius at the University of Chicago.
Guilty as charged?
Yes, about my limitations. About being afraid. About helping so far and only so far.
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today?
The courts saw it. After his visit, Jake got caught stealing and the judge sent him to re-hab and put him on probation.
Stay with me?
I don’t know. Maybe he decided he didn’t want to stay with us. Maybe he thought he’d have no freedom here.
Bad things happen?
Yes. Maybe I could have prevented it. The massacre.
You really think so?
Not really. It’s a big question, isn’t it. Mental illness. I mean, we can’t put a person in prison for kicking a dog. Still the “what ifs.” I did save one kid’s life. By chance.
You can save the world?
He was in my writing class. Seventeen and living recklessly like Jake. Even looked like Jake. Tall, lanky, red-haired, freckled face. Not so different from the bug-eyed butcher you saw on TV. He was writing these songs about not having long to live, about dying before he was twenty.
There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
So, yes, there was this school psychiatrist. One day when he and I were alone in the faculty room, he looked over at me and said, “I want you to know you saved some one. I can’t tell you who, but you wrote a note on one of his papers.”
I must have looked confused because then he said, “ You told him that you thought you too were going to die young. You wrote, ‘I was absolutely sure I was going to die the year I was thirty-three, I was so scared, but look at me—I’m forty-seven. Our minds do weird things. Don’t trust these premonitions.’ The boy showed me the note.”
There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
I still hear from him from time to time. He’s in Colorado.
Another kid in Colorado.
But it’s not that simple.
No, it never is.