“You know what, Teal,” Carson said, his eyes narrowed and dark, “I really don’t think anything Dad does will make a difference with you. You’re a disaster heading for disaster. It’s just a matter of time, a matter of what you will do next to destroy yourself, and frankly, I’m not going to get myself sick over it.”
“Like you ever did,” I said, and got out, slamming the car door closed behind me.
He drove off before I reached the front door.
I watched his car disappear down the driveway. I’ve always felt like an only child, I thought. This just confirmed it. I wanted to be glad. I wanted to be defiant and hateful and not care, but the tears still came into my eyes. Why were Carson and I so different from each other? Was it just because I was born so much later? It was truly as though we had two different sets of parents. Why was he the lucky one? Why was he born first, born when they wanted a child more, when they had more time to give and to love?
It’s so easy for Carson to look down at me from his mountaintop. He had been brought through all the valleys and over all the difficult terrain comfortably, with loving care, and gently placed in a seat of substantial success. I was still struggling to get a foothold, to hold on to anything that gave me even the semblance of meaning and self-worth. Was it really all my fault?
I went inside and up to my room. The experience of being arrested and held without the prospect of hope had been far more exhausting mentally and emotionally than I had imagined it would be this time. The moment I lay down, I was asleep. Hours later, I felt the bed shake and opened my eyes. Daddy was standing there staring down at me.
“Did you enjoy your second night in jail, Teal?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I turned away and stared out the window at the gray sky.
“Okay,” he said, “this is how it will be until further notice. I’ve hired a driver who will take you to school in the morning and bring you home at the end of the day. He will take you nowhere else, so do not ask him to do so. You will come home, do your homework, have your dinner, and go directly to your room. You will speak to no one outside of this house, accept no invitations, even to go shopping, which to you means stealing anyway. You will be permitted to go with your mother to shop for the things you will need for Carson’s wedding. Other than that, you will spend your weekends confined to this house and these grounds. You will invite no one here and accept no invitations.”
“I would have been better off in jail,” I moaned.
“Maybe I should have let you be tried and convicted and go to jail, Teal. Perhaps that would have been the only way you would know for sure that you would not be better off there. However, there are other people to consider here, other people who would be hurt more than you, in fact, and you can be thankful for that. Otherwise, believe me, I would not have hesitated to leave you there. Nothing else I’ve done or tried to do has had any success with you.
“Let me assure you,” he continued, “that if you get into any more trouble at school, if your grades take a dive, this confinement will continue. Your therapist calls this tough love. As hard as it is for you to believe, it is tougher on your mother and me than it is on you. I try not to worry about her and about you at work, but it’s not easy to do.”
“Maybe I’ll die and you’ll be happy,” I said.
“Self-pity won’t work with me, Teal. Don’t waste your time on tears and threats and moans. You’ll behave yourself. One way or another, I’ll make that happen.”
He started for the door and then paused and turned back to me.
“The only thing going for you is the fact that you committed this disgusting deed before you were repairing yourself at school. I’m hoping that you did turn a corner and you will do a lot of soul-searching and continue on that track. If you do, we’ll ease up on the restrictions. How you live and how you enjoy your life from this moment on is therefore solely up to you.”
“It’s always been up to me,” I muttered under my breath. If he heard me, he didn’t care to react. He stared a few moments more and then left, closing the door behind him.
To me it sounded like the door of the police cell, clanking and rattling.
When Mother came home, she looked at me as if I was someone suffering from a terminal illness. Her face was full of pity, her eyes gray with sorrow.
“Teal,” she said, pronouncing my name like she would if she were standing over my grave, “Teal. I feel so sorry for you, so helpless. Forget about your father, your brother, and me for a moment. When you do bad things to people, do you ever think about the pain you cause them? Can you imagine how poor Mr. Mazel must have been suffering when he discovered his loss? His is a small, family-owned store. Do you ever think of such things?”
I didn’t answer, but I knew the short answer was no. Whatever I did, I did on the spur of the moment. Consequences for myself and for the people involved never played on my thinking or my actions. I was truly like some hysterical person, flailing about, casting myself every which way, looking for some relief from my own unhappiness. The therapists at least got me to see and believe this.
But I didn’t even know how to begin to explain that to my mother, so I continued to avoid her eyes. She sighed as deeply as ever and then added, “I guess I have to turn you over completely to your father, Teal. I can’t interfere anymore. I can’t plead for you anymore. I’ve failed you,” she said, and then I looked up at her.
Oh, Mother, I thought, you don’t know the half of it. You have no idea how long you have been failing me: all my life. Maybe she saw that in my eyes, for she turned briskly and walked away, returning to her favorite topics, Carson’s wedding and other social events.
Daddy wasn’t kidding about the driver. Apparently, he hired a former gangster hit man, I thought, because the man, a stout, dark-haired man with beady eyes and a neck that looked like it belonged on a young bull, gazed at me with a no-nonsense expression that shouted, “Don’t give me any grief.” He didn’t introduce himself or even say good morning. He just grunted at me and started the car. Daddy had at least told me his name was Tomkins, but I didn’t know if that was his first or last name.
At the end of the day he was there standing by the car, looking like a secret service agent. I saw the curiosity on the faces of the other students. To be sure, there were some others who had cars and drivers taking them back and forth to the private school, but most, like me, had been forced to ride the bus.
As I approached the car that first day, Tomkins looked at his watch.
“You’re ten minutes late,” he chided.
“One of my teachers kept me to explain something. Sometimes, I have to stay after an hour or so for remedial work,” I told him.
“This is the time I know to pick you up,” he said firmly, tapping his watch. He looked like he could lunge at me and tear off my head. “If there are any changes to be made, it has to come from your father. Otherwise, I’m instructed to go in there and get you. One way or another, I will do that,” he added, leaving little to my imagination. He opened the rear door and growled, “Get in.”
I didn’t know who I was more angry with at the moment: myself for getting into this situation, Del for backing away from our dream plan, or my father, who was like a prison warden. The ride home was dreary— no music, no conversation. When we arrived, Tomkins remained for a while to be sure I went into the house. I expected he would be out there, parked on the street, waiting to see if I would break my father’s rule and try to leave the grounds.