The Conigliaro home, Long Valley, New Jersey...
“You can’t be serious?” Phil tossed his paper aside and stared at his wife. Jaclyn tried to smile but she was too frustrated over her husband’s determination to be obtuse.
“Dear god in heaven, Phil, would you just read the report?” She pushed the paper across the breakfast table at him.
“What does a so-called expert know about our son that we don’t, Jacki? I just don’t understand.” His tone softened, and the kind-hearted man she had married seemed to peek through the huge wall of defense he had erected.
“You know as much as any parent, Phil…It’s not about what we know, but what we don’t know. What maybe we never knew?”
“How can she possible know what’s best for him? He can’t even know…Come on, Jacki…you know he can’t.”
“I only know what he…what I was told. And Dr. Martel says that the longer we wait to address this, the harder it will be for h…” She paused in the middle of the word; pronouns seemed too fluid any more.
“I know this is hard, Phil, but for everyone’s sake we have to make a decision…” Jacki turned and looked down the hall, expecting to see their child. Kenny hadn’t returned from school, and his sister Maureen was off to her girlfriend's after lacrosse practice, however, so the hallway was empty.
“Listen…I knew Dr. Martel would be….I know she’s a good doctor, but this is our son we’re talking about, hon. I don’t want to make any mistakes.”
“Would you just listen? We can’t go through life, and we can’t protect Mo or Kenny…we can’t protect them from any mistakes.” Jacki put her hand on Phil’s arm and patted it gently.
“What about the big one?” He pursed his lips and shook his head slightly.
“No, Phil…I’m not going there…we…we didn’t make any mistake. Look at him, honey, please?” She said it as if Kenny was standing at the table.
It was hard enough to begin with; what could make things any worse than they already were? But it wasn’t a matter of better or worse so much as a matter of easy versus painfully but wonderfully rewarding and difficult to think that their son was much different than either of them had ever dreamed of or hoped. Different had gained a completely new meaning to a family used to difference. Just then the front door opened and they heard Kenny walking down the hall with his best friend Louise Bevaqua.
“Oh, hi Louise. Good to see you,” Jacki said as the girl laid her backpack by the doorway to the kitchen.
“Staying for dinner? I’ve got sweet sausage with peppers and onions and potatoes in the oven.” Phil said, pointing to the kitchen. She nodded.
“Oh, yeah, Mr. C. We were countin’ on it!” The girl laughed. Kenny looked at her and smiled.
“Can we…” Kenny began to repeat his daily question. Jacki nodded and smiled.
“Okay, but you know the rules. You have to go first, and you come back here while Louise gets dressed.”
“Okay, mom.” He kissed Jacki on the cheek before running down the hall to his room.
“My mom read that book you gave her…the one by that Alice lady.” Louise breathed out a sigh, but smiled.
“I think she understands, but she’s got some questions for you. She said to give her a call about lunch tomorrow or Wednesday, okay?”
“I’ll give her a call and let her know she’s invited for dinner…just give me a couple of minutes, okay? You can tell her you’re staying for dinner and then give me the phone.” Jacki said. Phil smiled and breathed out a heavy breath.
“I just wish everybody was as understanding as her. But we’ve been dealing with this in a way since he was born.”
“Since who was born?” The voice came from over Phil’s shoulder. He turned to see a girl standing in the archway between the hallway and the living room. She was about five-foot three; she had been asking her mother about heels for the past month, but they decided it was too soon. Her round face and almond shaped eyes were set off nicely by the biggest smile anyone would ever want to see.
“Since Kenny…was born.” Phil put his head down, almost ashamed of talking about his son, but the girl put her hand on his shoulder.
“Daddy…I know….I’m….sorry.” It was all Phil could do to keep from crying; this time not from embarrassment but from sadness over his behavior.
“It’s okay…honey. You have nothing to be sorry about. Along with Mo’s birthday, Kenny’s birthday is the best day in the year in this house, okay?” He touched the girl’s cheek tentatively.
“I’m sorry you feel bad. You’re just fine, honey.” He pulled the girl closer and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Dr. Martel sent her report over today, Kay. She says that we should bring you in for another appointment.” Jacki said almost in a whisper.
“It’s okay, Mrs. C,” Louise said as she came up and stood next to the girl at the table.
“Kay already told me about her doctor’s visit. My mom says that’s what they do for kids like her.” The words ‘kids like her’ had been almost a staple of sorts in the Conigliaro household, but this time in this context it was something entirely different.
“Well, you’re right. I guess we’re just going to have to see. Why don’t we call your mom, okay?” Louise nodded and they walked over to the couch and grabbed a phone. Kay turned to Phil and shook her head.
“I’m sorry I’m so much trouble, Daddy. Did god hate me?” She looked down at herself. She was dressed in a blue blazer and skirt; a near duplicate of Louise’ outfit. She shook her head and tears began to spill on the dining room carpet.
“No….Ke…no Kay. God doesn’t hate you at all. Remember what I said?” Phil pointed to his left eye; too little oxygen at birth had resulted in blindness in that eye. Kay nodded, but continued to cry softly. Phil grabbed her hand and squeezed gently.
“You’re just who you are, honey. No more, no less. Okay?” His smile seemed to brighten her spirits.
“Connie is coming over for dinner, too, Phil. I’m going to run out to Kings. You can set the table before you forget, okay, honey?” Jacki said, looking at Kay. The girl put her head down.
“I’ll go change back, Mommy.” The girl said with a frown. She went to walk down the hallway but Jacki grabbed her arm.
“No, honey…you don’t have to. I think it’s a good time for Mrs. Bevaqua to meet you, alright?”
“You mean I don’t have to be Kenny?”
“No, honey…you don’t have to be Kenny.” Jacki sighed and her shoulders lifted ever so slightly as tears came to her eyes. The girl went into the kitchen and started getting dinnerware together to set the table. She was humming a Taylor Swift song…Jacki smiled before grabbing the keys the car. As she walked down the hallway, she spoke softly to herself.
“You don’t have to be Kenny anymore.” She bit her lip and choked back a sob; a bittersweet moment of farewell and greeting as she opened the door as tears streamed down her face; all good tears, she knew.
“I don’t think you ever were.”
for my cousin Susan May
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