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It started on Christmas morning.
At least that was when Kevin threw his first tantrum.
Later, looking back, Lucy realized that she hadn’t been paying close enough attention.
There had been the nightmares. Too many to count. Thank God they had recently stopped.
And, there had been the boy’s silences. She would find him staring into space, his face frozen in concentration. Or was it deep longing? She couldn’t tell. But the very adultness—was that even the word for it?—of her little boy’s expression had at times unnerved her.
She knew her son was different. There had always been an almost preternatural stillness about him. Even during the so-called “terrible twos,” she had known him to sit for hours in the presence of his mother, his aunt, and his uncle without fidgeting.
But these long, solitary silences were something different.
They were something more profound.
Today’s trouble began when Kevin tore the wrapping from a present, revealing a plastic construction set. It was a gift from his cousin Pauline. A few moments earlier, Lucy had patiently read the label to him while he’d been busily collecting his trove of presents into a serviceable pile.
He stared at the gift. His mood seemed to change. He jumped to his feet, raised the box high over his head, and threw it at the wall.
He threw it with surprising force for a four-year-old.
Pauline’s blissful humming abruptly ended. Jovial coffee talk among the adults died. Lucy moved quickly. She kneeled at the agitated boy’s side. “Kevin! That’s your present from Pauline! What is it? What’s wrong?”
“I want to go home!”
“What? You are home, sweetheart!”
“No! I want to go home!”
“But this is home! Here with Auntie Ricki and Uncle Jeff and Pauline.” Lucy hated the note of pleading in her own voice, but she was confounded and embarrassed.
Ricki interceded. “Where do you want to go, Kevin?” she asked gently. “Where’s home?”
“Home!” He burst into tears. His voice rose to a shriek. “HOME!”
He ran crying from the room.
Lucy and Ricki stared at each other.
“What the hell was that?” Jeff muttered.
Pauline abandoned the present she had just opened and ran to her father. “What’s wrong with Kevin, Daddy?” she asked querulously as Jeff folded her in his arms. “Doesn’t he like the gear set we got him?”
Lucy started after Kevin.
“Did you notice?” Ricki asked.
Lucy broke stride. “Notice what? That my son just threw a tantrum, and he’s never done that before?”
“No. That he’s limping. It looks bad.”
Lucy hurried out of the room.
She found Kevin on his bed.
An hour later, the boy was wide awake and back to his old self. He was playing cheerfully beside the Christmas tree with the same Gears! Gears! Gears! Super Set he had tried to smash. It was as if nothing had happened.
Except for one thing: He was limping, favoring his right leg. And he didn’t seem to want to use his right arm.
When Lucy asked him if he’d hurt himself, he answered with a blank look.
“Your leg, honey. Did you hurt it?”
“Then why are you limping?”
“What’s ‘limping,’ Mommy?”
“You’re walking like this…” She demonstrated.
“No, I’m not.”
But the limp didn’t go away. On the twenty-seventh, Lucy took him to Coral Gables Hospital. Twelve hours later, after a battery of tests and a hefty medical bill, she was told there was nothing physically wrong with her son.
“Perfectly healthy boy,” the doctor said. “Nothing abnormal.”
“But he limps! And his right arm—he doesn’t want to use it! How is that normal?”
“It can only be psychosomatic. Something may be deeply affecting your son, and this is just its manifestation. I’ll refer you to a child psychologist. In the meantime, you need to think carefully about the stressors in your household.”
So, Lucy Hendricks thought about stressors in her household.
Since before Kevin was born, she’d been living with her sister Erica—the gorgeous and inimitable “Ricki” to friends and family—and Ricki’s husband, Jeffery Barnett. Her brother-in-law’s busy legal practice had easily supported the purchase, a dozen years ago, of the couple’s spacious Coral Gables home. Sprawling over two acres, Casa Barnett boasted an imposing main residence, a separate guesthouse where Lucy and Kevin nestled in significant comfort, a swimming pool, and a tennis court.
Over the past four years, Lucy had devoted most of her time to raising Kevin and caring for her niece, Pauline, now a precocious eight-year-old with thick black curls and her mother’s startling hazel eyes. With the benign indulgence of Jeff and Ricki, she’d been able to live rent free in return for helping out as Pauline’s part-time nanny. The arrangement had worked well for both sides. It enabled Ricki to take over management of Il Bronte—“the Bronte” to locals—their ailing father’s bar and restaurant in Coconut Grove. And it permitted Lucy to bank her modest police widow’s allowance, and to use the rent she collected from her house in Bayonne to pay down the remaining balance on the mortgage.
But the pain was unending.
In the weeks and months after her husband’s death, horrified disbelief had slowly faded into utter desolation; desolation into numb exhaustion. Her life had seemed meaningless; her nights blistered by feverish dreams, her days a barren wilderness, empty of hope. Dolore immenso her father had described it, after the death of Lucy’s mother, his beloved Giulia, when Lucy was only twelve.
It was a despair so deep and deadly that at times it had threatened her sanity. There had been moments when only her sister’s devotion, and her pregnancy with Jack’s child, had prevented her from taking her own life.
She had survived, but five years on, the keenness of her loss remained an ever-present anguish, informing her moods and haunting her relationships. Her days were consumed with a futile effort to stop herself from thinking. Time after time, the past rose to the surface. There were still days when she felt so sluggish with depression she could barely move. She had never come anywhere near the so-called “closure” that pop psychologists always prattled about. The term itself, she knew, had been lifted from the legitimate literature of psychotherapy and devalued by constant misuse. Nowadays, it was used to embrace every conceivable emotional circumstance.
And then there was the police counselor’s talk about grief being a “journey” to be worked through, with its own pre-prepared checklist of emotional states. If Lucy hadn’t been so lost in her wasteland of sorrow, she would have laughed in her face.
The fact was that none of the theories and the chit-chat and the checklists mattered. The only thing that mattered was that Jack Gabriel Hendricks, her soul mate, her protector, her lifeline—the man she had loved almost from the moment they met—had been brutally murdered, and the crime had never been solved.
In other words … forget closure.
Recently, Lucy had made a sincere effort to emerge from her shell. She’d signed on to work as a substitute teacher in the local school district, and she’d even spent a few evenings each week helping out behind the bar at the Bronte.
Not that the activity had sweetened her dreams, or lessened the ever-present throb of loss on the margins of her waking thoughts.
So, yes, there was at least one significant stressor in her household.
It was her.
Copyright © 2016 by Douglas Schofield