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Authors: Torey Hayden

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BOOK: Just Another Kid
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I closed the notebook after reading that. It was by no means the last entry. There were pages and pages more. But at that point, I couldn’t read any further. Elbows on the table, chin resting on my clasped hands, I sat and stared at the very ordinary-looking green cover.

When Dr. Taylor came in with Leslie the next morning, I took the notebook down from the shelf and handed it back to her. “Look,” I said, “will you come in and talk with me?”

She lowered her head.

“There are some real problems afoot, aren’t there?”

No response.

“I appreciate your having given this to me,” I said, “because it makes it a lot easier for me to understand, but I can’t do much if we don’t talk.”

She kept her eyes averted. Watching her, I was reminded of one youthful summer in Montana when I’d had a young, partly broken horse. My free time was devoured, trying to catch him. Quiet and reassuring as I always attempted to be, he remained wild-eyed and skittish, his trust in me always failing at the crucial moment. He wanted to come. I had the oats bucket on my arm and I could see the longing in his eyes. Occasionally he found the courage. But more often than not, he would approach, come within a few feet of me and then lose his nerve, rearing back and galloping off; and we’d have to start all over again. Dealing with Dr. Taylor was proving to be an exercise on par with wild-horse catching.

“Why don’t you come in this afternoon, after the school day is done. Say, about 3:45? We’ll just have a chat, okay? Nothing more. Just you and me.”

Still no response.

“Give me a chance, okay?”

She nodded very slightly.

And she did come, sober and subdued. She was very, very late. It was almost 5:00, by which time I’d lost faith and had already gone on to other tasks. So she found me at the table, midst plan book and strewn-out papers.

Surprised to see her, I smiled. “Hi. Come on in.”

She slid into the chair opposite me. Looking like a chastened schoolgirl, she kept her coat on, her hands stuffed deep into its pockets. I had the distinct impression that she, like my horse of long ago, would start and flee at the slightest wrong move on my part.

I smiled again, in an attempt to ease things, but she wasn’t looking at me. Within moments I saw her cheeks awash with tears.

Disconcerted, I shifted in my chair and reached to clear away the things on the table. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

She shook her head.

“Are you sure? It isn’t any trouble. I think I’m going to go get myself one.”

“No. Coffee upsets my stomach.”

“Oh, I see. Would you like something else? Tea? A soft drink? Juice? I think there’s juice down there.”

“No. I’m all right. Really. It’s just that this is so hard for me to do.”

I smiled. “I can appreciate that. From reading your notebook, I get the impression things are fairly rough at home.”

She nodded.

“Leslie sounds like an extremely wearing child.”

Again she nodded.

“But from what I gather, Leslie isn’t the only child you’re coping with. It sounds as if your husband’s two children are over a great deal.”

Another nod.

“How often?”

“Every other weekend. And all the school vacations.”

“The whole vacation?”

“Usually.”

“How old are they?”

“Kirsten’s sixteen. TJ’s seventeen.”

“I get the feeling that they’re difficult children in their own right.”

She shrugged.

“Do
you
feel like that?”

“I guess.”

“Can you tell me in what specific ways?”

She gave a little half-shrug.

“I can see you’re finding it hard to talk, but don’t let it upset you. It isn’t bothering me.”

This renewed the tears.

I leaned back, attempting to look relaxed in my rather unrelaxing wooden chair.

Dr. Taylor took tissues from the box on the table and wiped her face. Several minutes passed in silence as she recomposed herself. Laying the tissues on the table, she leaned forward and took off her coat. That was perhaps the most positive sign yet.

“Do you find you usually have trouble talking with people you don’t know very well?”

She nodded.

“Just nerves?”

“I guess. I don’t know.”

“Well, don’t let it worry you in here, okay? It’s not something that’s going to bother me any. I’ve spent a lot of my career working with people who don’t talk easily. There’s a special problem called elective mutism that interests me very much. It happens to kids, mostly; they
can
talk but won’t. Anyway, working with them has made me very comfortable with silence.”

A few minutes passed, and she didn’t say anything. Then she tipped her head and grimaced. “It bothers my husband,” she said quietly.

“What does? Your not talking easily?”

She nodded.

“Yes, he seems the kind to like a good chat.”

“I just can’t talk like that with anybody. You know, make small talk.”

“Does it make him angry?”

She nodded. “He used to give these parties. He was famous for them. But he’s stopped now, because of me.”

I remained silent.

“His first wife was very good with his parties. You know, what’s the word? A hostess. And I think Tom just assumed I’d be the same. You know, put on a great dress and …”

“And you weren’t?”

She shook her head. “No, I wasn’t. I hid in the bedroom sometimes. I’d shut the door and lock it and stay in there until everybody went home. It made Tom furious.

“Other times I just drank,” she said. “That was the other way to get through those parties. To get too drunk to care. I could take them then, mostly because I never remembered what happened.”

Silence.

“Have you had a drinking problem for long?”

She shrugged.

“Have you gotten help specifically for it at any time?”

“No.”

I regarded her. She looked over then, and our eyes met briefly.

“I’m not really into that sort of thing, into those kinds of programs like AA. I went once to an AA meeting and I had to have a drink afterwards to get over it.”

There was something about the way she said that which made me think she was pulling my leg a bit, so I smiled.

“It isn’t funny. They aren’t for me, those kinds of things. I think I’d rather be an alcoholic.”

“There are a lot of alternatives,” I said.

“I can stop if I want to.”

“I see.”

“I
can
. I mean, sure, I get drunk occasionally, but when I’ve done it, I’ve meant to. It didn’t happen because I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t really out of control.”

“Oh.”

“Everybody gets drunk sometimes.”

I looked at her.

She looked down at her hands in her lap. The tears reappeared.

I realized I needed to back off. She wasn’t kidding anybody and she knew it. But I could tell that if I pressed the issue, she’d only grow more defensive and most likely simply get up and leave.

“Do you have any family out here? Any of your own family?”

“I’ve only got one brother. But he lives back in Pennsylvania.”

Our conversation continued in much the same way, and it was bloody hard work the whole time. Dr. Taylor wasn’t exaggerating her difficulty in making conversation. Even when she relaxed, it didn’t come any easier for her. Indeed, she was one of the most inarticulate adults I had ever encountered. If I asked a question and it could be answered with a gesture, it was. If that wouldn’t work and a single-word response would suffice, she opted for that. Had I not known ahead of time that she had had an education, nothing in her conversational abilities would have clued me in. I never in a million years would have guessed she had a doctorate in anything.

However, our conversation did progress. With excruciating slowness, I was given bleak insight into the workings of the Considyne household. Gilded by the ostentatious trappings of wealth, the whole family sounded emotionally bankrupt. They lived like a group of threatened hermit crabs, each person entrenched, isolated, untrusting of the others. Interestingly, the only one apparently to prosper in this setup was Leslie.

I was getting an extremely different picture of Leslie than I’d had initially. At the beginning of the year, I’d perceived her as the stereotype of a neglected child. She was so sweet and docile, so withdrawn, that I had endeavored to give her every spare moment of warmth and attention I could afford, occasionally even at the expense of the other children, in an effort to bring her back to life, as if she were some emotional Sleeping Beauty. However, during the conference with her father, I’d had my first inklings that things were different than they seemed. Now, talking with her mother, I realized Leslie was
not
suffering from lack of attention. Far from it!

Indeed, Leslie was the hub of the Considyne household. It ran to her specifications and hers alone. She ate when and where she pleased; she slept when and where she pleased; she even eliminated when and where she pleased. She indulged in her “self-expression,” as Tom Considyne put it, getting into everything at any hour of the day or night and leaving behind her messes that could take literally days to clear up. No one endeavored to stop Leslie in any of these activities. When required to conform to more conventional behavior, Leslie sharply reprimanded those around her by withdrawing and giving nothing.

The clock on the wall worked its way around past six, then 6:30 and finally seven. My stomach was growling, and I had to lean against the edge of the table to make it unaudible, but the conversation was winding down too, more from fatigue than anything else. About 7:20, a weary silence came at last and lay down between us. I didn’t have the energy to shoo it away.

Dr. Taylor looked over at me. Her anxiety had gone completely over the course of the two hours, and she now regarded me in that peculiarly thorough way she had. It was a very searching look, as if she expected to locate something and absorb it from me. To be examined like that was disconcerting.

Dr. Taylor finally looked away. She had a tissue in her lap and she fiddled with it. “You know what I want?” she asked quietly.

“What’s that?”

“I want to be a better mother. I don’t want Leslie to wind me up like she does.” She paused and glanced over. “I want to be like you are with her.”

I smiled slightly.

“I watch you on the playground. You’re happy with her. Can you teach me to be like that?”

“Well, I expect it’s a little easier for me. She isn’t mine.”

She ducked her head, looking down into her lap for a few moments, then a quick glance across to me again. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’ve had an idea in my head,” she said softly. Her voice grew cautious sounding. “But I didn’t know how to ask you about it.”

“What is it?”

“Well …” she hesitated, head down.

“Can you tell me?”

“You’re going to think I’m being silly.”

“I can’t really tell, until I hear. What have you got in mind?”

“Well … well, you know how you were saying … that first time we talked. After school. You were saying how you never got enough time to work with Leslie. Remember that? After school in September?”

“Yes.”

She was talking mostly to her lap. “You were saying you needed an aide, but the school district couldn’t afford one. Well, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.” She blushed brilliantly at that point and lowered her head even further. “Would you take me?”

I was genuinely stunned.

She instantly took my surprise as rejection.

“It was a horribly stupid idea. I’m sorry I’ve put you on the spot. I mean, I know I’m not the most … I mean, I … well, I don’t know anything about this kind of work. It was dumb of me to ask.”

“No, it’s not dumb. You just caught me off guard, that’s all. It’s a good idea. I am still desperate for an aide. But the thing is, do you really want to
do
it?”

She nodded and still did not look at me. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I just didn’t know how to ask you. I mean, I know I don’t know anything about this kind of work. But I thought I could learn.”

There was a small pause.

“I thought maybe it’d help,” she said. “Tom keeps telling me what a lousy mother I am, and he’s right. I’ve got no patience for Leslie. I just don’t seem to be able to treat her the way he does. So I was thinking that if I learned to do that better, maybe it’d help. And you seem to do it all so effortlessly.”

“But you have to remember, Dr. Taylor, that I’m none of these children’s mother. It’s a lot easier to do this and then go home to freedom and a full night’s sleep. Besides, regardless of how effortless it may look from where you are, it very often isn’t. I screw up a whole lot in here. I can often be very, very wrong.”

BOOK: Just Another Kid
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