Her parents are on one side of the circular table, Lizey and Dr. Cooper are on the other.
Lizey is usually asked to speak first but she often has to be prodded. Told what to say because she doesn’t know what to say anymore.
It used to be easy. The insults and combative responses, the smart-alecky comments and sometimes a heartfelt apology rolled off her tongue and struck her parents dumb. Later on her parents added ignorance into the mix because it was easier to ignore her than to engage.
Lizey whispers something she’s been saying to herself. She’s recited it on the way to talk to them, before, after, every day, checking off the calendar for the two weeks that passed before she got to talk to them again.
“What was that, Lizey?” Dr. Cooper asks.
Lizey gulps in air and courage as she stares at the ceiling focusing on the cracks that aren’t judging her rather than the people across from her she knows will never forgive her.
“I said, now that I’m seventeen, I uh,” she digs her nail into her wrist scraping at the skin, making raised marks. “I realize the severity of my mistakes. And, uh” Lizey’s voice turns into a gurgle. She lowers her head to let the tears run down her face, not up. But when she glances at her parents they do not look back. They haven’t in months, not since she got her driver’s license. Not since she promised she’d stop with the ‘teenage antics’ as they called it. Not until she focused back on being their girl and not trying to be someone else who fell in with people that huffed and drank because they were bored, or so they said.
“I’m,” she trails off. Dr. Cooper reaches over and squeezes Lizey’s arm she thinks but he pulls it away so she doesn’t dig at herself anymore.
“You have to stop punishing yourself,” he often says and she wants to. She’d like to is what she’s said. She’d really, really like to.
Dr. Cooper keeps things moving. Lizey’s unsure if this is protocol or not with him. He pulls something from the file in his lap, thick with notations about Lizey's punishment, the accident, her past. Dr. Cooper lays it on the table for everyone to see. Lizey's parents and her lean forward, though Lizey’s mother has to poke her father to put his phone away.
They see the playground, the graininess of the photo, how yellow it is after the past several years being shielded behind plastic. In the photo is a smiling girl with a missing tooth and a huge sausage curl cascading down her back, and there’s Lizey right beside her. Her mother shrinks in her seat while her father places an arm around her, the first bit of feeling he’s shown her mother, well anyone, since.
Lizey keeps looking at her, at the little sister who went through a windshield because Lizey was going too fast. Had drank too much. At the sister who followed Lizey to the car when she said she’d go pick up a pizza rather than stay put. Lizey let Linette because she didn’t think anything bad would happen. What could? She’d only had a few beers, her boyfriend, or whom she thought was her boyfriend when in actuality he was many people’s boyfriend, had had a sip of cider, a dab of wine because her parents trusted her after all and when he left due to a random text, an urgent one he said--she’d learn was urgent only because the girl on the other end was more willing--that Lizey went to get pizza. That she claimed she needed air. And Linette followed. Linette begged to go. Linette was only four years younger and was often around. Linette just appeared because that’s what younger siblings did. They begged to be included and Linette pleaded with Lizey then. She said she didn’t want to be alone. In fact, she wasn’t supposed to be alone.
Lizey had felt herself tilting a little to the side. But she shook her head, cleared away the blurriness seeping in around her eyes and told Linette to jump in. She wasn’t up for a fight. She was hungry and irritated and just wanted to get it over with. And that, along with a light so bright coming towards them, along with metal posts and eventually trees came to pass and Lizey woke up an only child.
She’d made her sister feel bad about liking the playground at her age. Made her feel like a child instead of an adolescent because Lizey didn’t want to be reminded that she liked those things too.
Her parents don’t say anything, they avoid her gaze, don’t acknowledge her pain. And why should they? She screwed up beyond what teenagers are allowed to do, what anyone is allowed.
“If it makes you feel any better. I wish it were me.” Lizey blinks away more tears. She dares to look and see that now, now her parents met her eyes.
“Don’t you say that. Don’t you ever say that,” her dad says. His voice is a low growl when he adds, “I’ve already lost one daughter. I refuse to lose two.”
Dr. Cooper nods. He’s careful with the picture. Picking it up on the sides so as not to smudge the smiling faces and slides it back in his folder.
“Seems like we’re making progress,” he says.
Story by Jenn Baker
Photo by Krystalyn Drown