One More Night
Leila can barely remember a time when she actually felt good. Maybe she felt good once, a long time ago when she was too young to know better and too naïve to know worse, but she didn’t know how that felt now.
She knew her mother loved her in a way only her mother knew how. In the way her mother would leave notes stuck on the fridge telling her to “just call for pizza” or that her mother would “be late, another home service”. And then when Leila left home to move in with her boyfriend, her mother called every other day to make sure Leila was okay and still eating. Half of the time, Leila rejected the calls, especially when she was getting high and in the middle of something she couldn’t really be bothered to stop.
Leila couldn’t really blame her mother for the way she turned out but her mother wasn’t exactly blameless either. The biggest blame Leila ever placed on her mother was getting pregnant at the age of eighteen with an almost non-existent father who she once thought didn’t really give a damn.
Emphasis on almost.
Because almost seventeen years with only the occasional rare calls and no concrete image of the sperm donor in her head, Leila’s father showed up outside the door of her boyfriend’s rundown apartment that reeked of pot and burning acid and sex – lots and lots of sex. Then she was being dragged, Leila with her dark brown hair in tangles and bags under her eyes and the ends of her fingernails yellow and brittle. Her father – she had no idea who he was at the time – dragged her into the interiors of a sleek black Jaguar where – lo and behold! – she found her mother inside, eyes red and puffy, nose sniffling. Everything was happening too fast and her mother had arms around her waist, and then Leila finally realized that something was wrong. Something was happening. The car was moving and she was inside…and she was so fucking high.
That was how Leila’s father basically entered her life.
Months of rehabilitation followed – of withdrawals and cursing and screaming and then a low, deep calm. Leila kept talking to her mother; their conversations that was once full of tears and blow-ups eventually turning into one of laughter. She finally met her father, a man she hated and blamed and wanted to forget ever existed, but eventually started tolerating. It was her father’s initiative, Leila’s mother had said one time, that Leila get help because she was too young to die and too young that she still had a whole life ahead of her.
Peter was a man of few words. He was a Catholic man who once made a mistake and ran away from it. But even when he never visited them, never got to see his own daughter for fear of the situation and then for fear of being rejected himself, he never wavered in child support – that, Leila’s mother could attest to. He had a family back in a country miles away from where Leila and her mom lived. He had a wife and two children, both older than Leila. Apparently, Leila was not his only child, but she was his only mistake.
Leila had been kicked out of school thrice, the third time only two days before rehab and her father. After her second expulsion, her mother had started becoming desperate, had started losing hope. When Leila moved out – and in with her cokehead boyfriend – her mother had been frantic. That was when Peter had called – miraculous timing considering he only called maybe once in a year or less – and Leila’s mother had no other choice.
The first month of rehab was hell. The second was hell. The third was even more so, especially when she was finally advised to be a part of group therapy and “talk about her feelings”. The hell did she want to talk to a bunch of freaks and cokeheads about her “feelings”.
But after being one of those “problem child” people, she started talking. Or maybe she just needed to vent after her father’s visit that afternoon. And then talking about her “feelings” didn’t feel as painful as she thought it would be.
So she talked. She kept on talking. And when there was no one to talk to, she started writing on a journal that she presented to therapy sessions the day after.
And before she knew it, she was out of rehab and in her father’s expensive car once again.
“I want you to come with me,” he said, his voice soft but raspy and rough, which was also how the stubble on his chin looked like to Leila.
“You want me to come with you,” she only repeated, not really able to grasp the significance of that statement at all.
“I want you to consider coming home with me. To my home, I mean,” there was a brief pause. A bump on the road. “I’m leaving the day after tomorrow and I would appreciate it if you would come with me, Leila.”
Eyes straight ahead, not at her father, but outside the window, at the people on the streets. “Why would you want me to do that?”
“I talked to your mother. She doesn’t think it would be good for you to be around the same influences that you had before,” another pause. Leila’s father was good at those pauses; she wondered if he gave out speeches for a living. “I don’t either.”
“So, why can’t I just move away? Another state, maybe. Not,” and then her voice lowered, her eyes closed, “another country.”
“Leila, don’t think I’m imposing this on you. It’s a choice. But back where I live, it’s different. And maybe that’s what you need.”
Leila’s eyes were still closed. She breathed in – deep breath, air full of meaning, full of questions. Then she opened her eyes to look out the car window again. The sky was a clear blue.
“I’ll think about it.”
And that’s what led her to where she was. In a white button-down polo shirt tucked into a dark blue skirt.
Leila did think about it. And this certainly was different.
She just didn’t think it would be this different.
But maybe, just maybe, it would be good.
St. Francis of Assisi Exclusive Catholic School for Women did sound like all forms of good.
Maybe just not the kind she had any idea about.
(Consider this a kind of Christmas gift, if you will.)