Chapter Twenty-Five: Lake Forest
One 145-milligram tablet of Fenofibrate. One 50-milligram tablet of Losartan. One 81-milligram tablet of low-dosage aspirin. One 5-milligram tablet of Cialis I knew I wasn’t going to use. Rachel kept her arms folded while she sat up stiffly in bed. I knew she was still fuming about Moshe at the baseball game. There had to be more to it than him missing a fly ball and wanting to quit. I also knew I had to do something to calm Rachel down, at least so we could sleep.
First, I had to brush my teeth. Dad knew the connection between dental health and overall physical health long before most other doctors did. He instilled in me the importance of taking care of my teeth. I hoped I passed it on to Muriel and Dylan.
With clean teeth and fresh breath, I was ready to face Rachel. She said nothing as I folded back the covers and got into bed.
“Should I let him quit?” She relaxed her shoulders and set her hands in her lap.
I folded the covers back over me. “What does he want to do?”
She started stiffening her shoulders again. “He’s eight years old. How would he know what he wants?”
“Even at that age, kids know what they want and don’t want.”
“If you leave an eight-year-old to decide what he wants, he would eat ice cream and play video games all day.”
I smiled. She frowned. I guessed she wasn’t joking.
“But kids know what causes them pain. Has he had problems with his coaches? His teammates?”
I pretty much knew the answers from what I saw at practice. Was Rachel seeing the same things I did?
“It doesn’t matter.” Her voice tightened. “You do what you’re supposed to do. Coaches and teammates aren’t there to make you happy. You’re supposed to work hard so you make them happy. And then they will be good to you.”
“But what if you work hard, and they still don’t like you? You talked about how parents push to make sure their kids get the best treatment. Kids, coaches, and teachers can be political too. What if Moshe feels he’s being screwed over?”
“For starters, I would never allow him to say ‘screwed’!” She folded her arms again.
“You don’t know what a pain Moshe has been. From the moment he was born, he caused problems. He was colicky. He never slept through the night. I tried to follow all the advice I give my patients, and nothing worked!”
“Dylan was like that too. Then we read the book by Dr. Lipschitz...”
“You read that garbage! The man is a fraud! I don’t even think he’s a real doctor! His books are why almost every child born after 1991 is an entitled, self-important brat!”
“Then what did you do? How did you help him?”
“I had stay up all night with him, even when I was on call. Avraham didn’t do anything. He said he needed his sleep so that he could be alert in court. And he wasn’t even a lead attorney. He just prepared briefs. And whenever anything came up with Moshe, if he got sick and threw up all over the car, or if he got in trouble at school, I was the one who had to take care of it. Avraham didn’t even want to deal with it. ‘It’s the woman’s job,’ he’d say. I was sick of it, so...”
“Are you blaming Moshe for your divorce?”
Rachel froze and swung her head toward me. “I never said that!”
“But you’re implying it.”
“Are you a doctor, or am I sleeping with another lawyer!?”
I held my hands in front of me with my palms facing forward. “I’m not playing lawyer, and I’m not accusing you of anything, Rachel. I’m just saying if that’s the way you feel about Moshe, that’s a hell of a thing to lay on an eight-year-old kid.”
“You think all children are perfect and cute? They can be rotten little monsters! They can come out like that from the womb. I’ve seen more than my share!”
“So, are we supposed to be like the Spartans and kick them off a cliff?”
“You do what a parent’s supposed to do and discipline them! No one disciplines their kids anymore! They treat them like little angels and cater to their every whim. That only makes them bigger monsters than they already are!”
I found myself tensing the way Rachel was.
“How would you define discipline?” I grumbled.
“I’m not surprised you don’t know what discipline means.”
I folded my arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You tell me you did such a good job with Dylan? He got kicked out of the house...”
“He got kicked out of Teresa and Steven’s house.”
“Does that make a difference!? How did you raise him when you were married to Teresa? How did you discipline him then? What did you do for him after your divorce besides pay child support and his military school? What did you do to straighten him out after he got arrested? What are you even doing to look for him now that he’s missing!?”
My jaw loosened and fell slack. I couldn’t answer any of her questions. She knew it. She tightened her posture even more.
“If you don’t know how to raise your own kids, don’t tell me how I should raise Moshe!” She kicked off the covers and bolted out of bed.
I lost my mood to sleep. I retreated to the study. Rachel would be on the family room sofa, her preferred spot to sleep when she didn’t want to sleep with me. I figured I would be alone in the study.
I tapped the trackpad on my MacBook Pro. No point letting it sleep when I couldn’t.
There was a new email from Muriel, one that wasn’t there that afternoon.
Dad: Please read”
It sounded urgent. I opened the message.
I just heard the news about Mom and Steven. I can’t believe that this happened!”
I glanced back at my briefcase, which still contained the front page section of the Orange County Register with that large-type headline.
“But I’m really worried about Dylan. Did he ever write back? Do you know if he’s OK?”
I exhaled. I couldn’t answer her questions any more than I could answer Rachel’s.
“I’ve talked to my roommates about this. They said we should file a missing person report. Dylan can be in real trouble. Something might have happened to him! I can’t believe you or Mom haven’t done anything to look for him!”
Now, Muriel was accusing me too.
Was I wrong not to file a missing person report earlier? What if he really didn’t want to be found? If did look for him, would I be undermining Teresa and Steven’s discipline for him? But from what I read about them...
What would I have done if Dylan was living with me? Would I have kicked him out too? How could I ask that? I didn’t even know what he did! I knew he had problems, but what could he have done that was so horrible that they tossed him out on the street to fend for himself? Would I have given up on him like Teresa did? But perhaps being out on his own would be good for him. He would have to straighten out to survive. Or, he might...
I continued reading Muriel’s letter.
“I’m not blaming you or Mom. I know you tried. I haven’t been a good sister. I could have done more for him. I wish I had.”
I could feel Muriel’s heartbreak, because I felt that way about Maury. How many times did I stand frozen with fear while Grandma Dinah beat him? How many times did I tell on him because if I didn’t, she would do worse to me? How many times did I take some perverse satisfaction from watching her tear him down because it was closest thing I got to praise? So many times I wished I could have stood up for Maury, protected him, and told him I love him. Instead, I just watched him crumble away.
“If you want me to come home and help you look for him, I will. I have midterms and softball, but Dylan is more important. He’s made me upset so many times, just as I know he’s upset you and Mom, but I love him so much. I can’t bear seeing anything bad happen to him. I hope he’s OK, and I hope he gets straightened out. I love you very much, Dad.
I couldn’t let her come home and ruin her school. Yet, I thought of all the times when I buried myself in my homework so I didn’t have to hear Maury be beaten.
What was I to do? Should I talk to Teresa? No, especially with the situation she was in. Should I file that missing person report? Should I call his friends? I didn’t even know any of his friends!
I knew I should write to Muriel. But the clock on the computer screen said 10:39 pm. It would be 12:39 am in Minnesota, too late to call or text.
What was I to do?
POUND POUND POUND.
I looked up from my Macintosh SE. I was in my second year of pre-med at UC Irvine. I rented a room in an apartment near campus. Although UC Irvine was a short drive from our house in Lake Forest, I couldn’t study there living with Grandma Dinah.
POUND POUND POUND.
The clock on my desk said 10:39 pm. A pounding on my door that late at night meant something bad happened. Perhaps Kent, one of my roommates, got in trouble again. I knew I had to answer that door before the pounding woke up Joey. The lease was in his name, and he went to bed at 9:00 pm so he could get up at 4:00 am to go to work. He would be ticked off if someone woke him up. I rushed to the door. I gasped when I opened it.
He stood trembling. He only wore an El Toro High School t-shirt, a pair of jogging shorts, and sandals. Blood caked around his nose and lips.
“Oh my God, Maury!”
I put my arm around his shoulders and led him into the apartment. I could feel his scapulas and clavicle through his shirt. Was Grandma Dinah starving him? Or was this from drugs? I let go of him and closed and locked the door. I then took a closer look at his face. He showed signs of epistaxis and contusions on both cheeks. There was a small laceration on his upper lip and abrasions on the side of his face.
“She’s never done this to you before.”
“It’s been bad, bad...” A tear ran down his cheek.
I looked nervously at Joey’s door. I then turned to Maury and patted him on the shoulder.
“Let’s get you cleaned up.”
"He can’t stay here.” Joey was still in his Ralphs uniform, complete with apron, dress shirt, and slacks.
“He’s my brother!” I begged him.
Maury sat in the corner of the room with his arms clutched around his knees.
“The landlord has rules,” Joey spoke firmly. “I can’t have another person living here.”
“Just don’t fucking tell him.” Kent was sprawled out on the sofa half-drunk again.
Joey jerked his head towards him. “I should have told him what you did to the bathroom!”
“Cleaned it up, didn’t I?”
I stood up and gestured to Joey. “You don’t understand what’s going on with my brother. He’s facing serious abuse at home.”
“It’s not my problem...”
I heard a gasp and near whimper from Maury.
“You know I’m a good roommate, Joey. I’ll take care of everything, Joey. I won’t get you or Kent in any trouble...”
I realized that this was not what happened.
"I don’t make the rules, Ollie. Even the landlord doesn’t make the rules. The Irvine Company says you can’t have more than three people living in this size apartment.”
“I’ll pay for us to get a bigger place!”
“We have a six-month lease, Ollie! Look, I don’t want any trouble.”
POUND POUND POUND.
I went to the door and opened it.
Mom was standing on the other side.
And behind her was Grandma Dinah.
This was definitely not what happened.
"Maury,” Mom’s voice quivered. She was clearly doing this under duress. “It’s time to come home.”
I stared back at Maury clutched into a ball and crying in the corner.
“Please don’t let them take me, Oliver! Please don’t let them take me!”
Mom started trembling too. “I’m sorry, Maury. You really needs to come...”
Grandma Dinah shoved past Mom and stepped through the door. “Maury is coming with us. Now!”
Maury burst into frightened sobs. “No, Oliver! For the love of God, no! Don’t let them take me! Please! Don’t let them take me!”
I stepped in front of Grandma Dinah. “He’s not going.”
She stood still and stared at me. I stared back at her and stood rigidly. Her wrinkled lips tightened before speaking.
“So, you’re fantasizing that the thing in the middle of your back is a spine.” She wagged her finger at me. “But this wasn’t how it happened, was it, Oliver?”
Grandma Dinah stepped slowly around me. She kept her eyes fixed on me as she moved.
“I don’t remember exactly when you caved in, Oliver. You’re better at remembering things than I am. Was it when I threatened to stop paying for your college, or was it when your roommate said no?”
“You refused to pay for my college anyway! I paid for it myself with hundreds of thousands in student loans that took me years to repay. And we wound up getting kicked out any way because of this dirtbag here,” I stuck out my arm towards the Kevin-shaped lump on the couch, “After he drank up an El Torito Grill at happy hour, he caused $500 damage to the kitchen!”
“I did?” He mumbled.
Grandma Dinah took another step towards me. “So, you know your history. You just don’t learn from it.”
“I learned one thing, Grandma Dinah. I’m not afraid of you anymore.”
“Yes, you are...”
“You’re dead. You died a lonely bitter woman!”
“But you still fear me.”
“No, I don’t! And I’ll prove it! Hit me!”
She stared blankly at me.
“Go on. Hit me!”
She remained still.
“Hit me, damnit! HIT ME!”
She cocked back her hand. My eyes closed. I waited for the WHACK! The sting. The beating she delivered to Maury so many times. But I felt nothing. I opened my eyes. Grandma Dinah’s hands hung relaxed by her sides.
“I never had to hit you to make you fear me.” She let out a small grin.
Rachel was leaning against the doorway. I had to blink my eyes a few times to make sure I still wasn’t dreaming.
She stood up and walked into the room. “Were you talking to yourself?”
“Uh...” I looked around the desk until my eyes fixed on my MacBook Pro screen with Muriel’s email. “Muriel wrote to me. I was, well, just thinking about what to write back.”
She nodded. “I’m going back to bed. You want to go too?”
“Yes, but I should write back to Muriel first. I should write to Dylan again too.”
“Don’t be up too late. We have a lot of errands to do.”
I nodded. I forgot Sunday was our errand day.
“I may be asleep by the time you get in,” she said, “So, good night.”
“Good night, Rachel.” I turned to my MacBook Pro.
“Wait.” She walked towards me and gave me a kiss on the lips. It was quick and close-mouthed. Nothing passionate, but enough of a sign to let me know it was safe to come back to bed. “Good night, Oliver.”
I watched her leave the study and then turned back to my screen. I should reply to Muriel, but I needed to write to Dylan first. I started a new email.
We are wondering where you are.”
No. Not strong enough. I wasn’t that good at expressing myself, but I had to let Dylan know how urgent this was.
We’ve become frantic wondering where you are.”
I also had to let him know how important it was to Muriel.
“Muriel is very upset. She wants to come home from Minnesota to look for you, even though she has midterms next week.”
Would this be enough to convince him? I had to tell him more.
“We’re considering calling the sheriff and filing a missing person report.”
Good. If he wanted to us to find him, he would tell us instead us getting sheriff’s deputies involved. If he didn’t want us to find him, he would write back anyway to tell us not to file the report.
That was if he could write back at all.
Grandma Dinah was right. I didn’t stand up for Maury that night at the apartment. When I told him to go back to her and Mom, it was the last time I saw him alive. After that, he ran away from home for good, and he didn’t finish high school. I didn’t see him again until I had to identify his body after he overdosed.
Was this what would happen to Dylan? Would I ever see him again?
My eyes started to burn. I bit my lip to keep from crying out loud. Everything I felt flowed to my fingers and to the keyboard.
“Dylan, I know I haven’t been as close to you as I should have been. There are so many times I wanted to hold you and tell you how much I love you. I know things haven’t been easy for you, and I should have been there to help you. I wish I had asked more about how you’re doing. And when you told me, I wish I would have listened. I wish I could have done more to help you. I would hate to think that anything bad happened to you. It would destroy me to lose you. So, please, Dylan. Call me, write me, just let me know that you’re OK. If you don’t want me to be in your life, I can accept that. I just want to know that you’re safe. Please know that I love you, and Muriel loves you. Write as soon as you can.
I clicked Send, exhaled hard, and gave a silent prayer to hope he gets it and replies.