The first time I heard it, I could not believe it. Did I hear it right? My son, Kyle, had a girlfriend, and her name was Jezebel Kawalak. That was her true name, honest to God. I thought maybe Kyle was joking, but that really was it. Kyle was surprised himself, thinking she was joking, so Jezebel showed him the proof on her birth certificate. It was her mother’s idea to name her Jezebel. Her father was against it.
“She goes by Jez”, Kyle told me. “Everyone calls her Jez”.
I was making dinner when he told me the news of his new friend. I stopped cutting up some carrots and looked at him with great skepticism. “Jezebel? Who on earth would name their daughter that? Don’t her parents know that the name, Jezebel, is a putdown?”
I remembered the old Betty Davis film, and she was supposed to be some kind of floozy. I decided to look up the name in the Bible, and Jezebel was not a nice woman, but an evil seductress and the daughter of a king. I didn’t know much about that Jezebel character from the Old Testament, but I knew she was far from nice. Now Kyle reassured me that Jez was not all what her name implied. She was a shy, sweet girl who lived across the street and twelve houses down from us. She was petite, gentle in nature, which added coolness and calm to the picture, for her sweet nature coexisted in tune with my son’s impulsively creative disposition.
“Jez wouldn’t hurt a fly”, Kyle told me.
“Oh, sure” I said back. “But will she hurt you?”
Kyle and Jez were both sixteen and both in the tenth grade. They also attended the same high school, making their friendship all so more convenient. They were even in one class together, an English class. Like Kyle, Jez came from a divorced home and both were only children. Jez’s mom, Tammy, worked three jobs to keep things afloat, and Jez was often left alone at home to fend for herself. It was not surprising that she got quite lonely and was in need of a good, solid companion.
Kyle never had a serious girlfriend before. He had gone out a few times with a few girls, but none of them were ever more than a brief date or two. I was glad for that. I sometimes worked a double shift as a hospital nurse and, ready or not, I was forced to deal with this new path in my son’s life. I could not always be around to make sure my son was doing what he was supposed to do. And he was far too old for anyone to really watch over him. He was still working on getting his driver’s license, slowly gaining more freedom as he was gradually gaining more trust from me. I did not like this hesitation in me, for I always knew quite well that this time would eventually come. Yet everything seemed like it was coming too fast, and I could not contain the breaking dam of my son’s ever increasing entrance into manhood.
“It is probably not like you think”, my mother told me about Kyle and Jez. “They seem like just good friends, like she is the sister that Kyle never had”.
My mother could not convince me that she knew what she was saying, not with that remark. Come on! I wasn’t born yesterday!
For the longest time, it was just the four of us, which is until my sister moved to Miami. Kyle, my mother and I lived in Cleveland, and that seemed like a stab in the heart to me when my sister first left. But I eventually convinced myself that I could not be so selfish, and I learned to adjust to just now only “the three of us”. Kyle saw his father but his father and I divorced when he was the age of four. Since that time, he had three strong women in his life, his mother, his aunt, and his grandmother. We were not a big family, but we were a tight family unit. Whenever I had to work and when Kyle was in need of a sitter, my mother watched him. She deserved the credit for raising my son just as much as I did.
Kyle reasoned with me that he and Jez could be good study partners for each other. I rolled my eyes at that one. There would be more of Kyle playing his guitar than anything. He loved his guitar, practically was self-taught, and I had to admit that Jez had a beautiful singing voice. Kyle loved to compose his own songs as well as he liked to play some from other artists, and he was pretty good at his talent. The trouble was that as soon as made something up in his head he quickly forgot how some of the songs went. Sometimes, he could get it right and sometimes not. But that was not because Kyle wasn’t smart enough. Actually, he was very bright. Kyle could dream in his sleep about music and wake up frantically trying to remember what new song he was dreaming up.
The two of them sounded really sharp together, Kyle’s strumming and smooth singing and Jez’s soft back up vocals. There was no denying that they looked just as good as they sounded together. I would study Jez over as she sat next to Kyle on the couch with her golden brown hair clipped up on the back of her head, her eyes peacefully closed, and her small frame swaying in the rhythm of the music they were making. If they weren’t working on live music, they’d be cranking up the stereo or watching television much more than they would be hitting the school books.
I was shocked when Kyle and I were alone at home and he said something quite out of the blue and totally unexpected. “You practically gave up on men, didn’t you?” he asked me.
“I beg your pardon, young man!” I snapped at him. I gave him a sharp glance and that was all that I had to say about that. I never expected him to say such a thing. Frankly, I was dumbfounded.
I did not feel like I had to answer to my son, but driving to work that day I had wondered if he was right. If my life was not wrapped around the needs of my son, my energies were put into my career. I enjoyed my independence, not like my mother who never worked outside the home once she was married. And when my father died, my mother’s financial needs were taken care of because of all those years of his hard work. It seemed like my mother came from a dying breed, not that I faulted her for who she was, but I had to take care of myself. I felt it was the right choice and better than the alternative of marrying for convenience.
Was I really that fearful of another commitment? It seemed that no man I had met since my divorce could be a good enough stepfather figure for my son. At least, I believed that was a good enough reason for me to remain unattached. How could Kyle ask me that anyway?
One day, he was destined to leave the house and have his own life. I was always so smug about women who seemed to have no life outside of their children, but was I only fooling myself? Before I knew it, I would be coming home to an empty house. Would I be alright being all alone?
All I knew is that I wanted my son to be happy, and I thought I did a pretty good job of helping him be that so far. For now everything seemed fine, but I could see how Kyle was really falling hard for Jez. In my worried mind, there was no denying that.
“You assure me that you will do nothing that you cannot undo”, I warned my son. “When I am not here, there is to be nothing done under my roof. And you know what I mean!”
“Mom, come on”, Kyle answered me. “I would never do anything like that in your house!”
I looked at my son with a mixture of pride and sorrow. It was now I who had to look up to him to talk to him. It seemed like yesterday when I was the one towering over him. Now he was almost six feet tall, was now shaving, and was handsome like his father, his dark shaggy hair dusting his light brown eyes. I sure could not stop him from growing up. Trying to control that situation was like trying to control heaven and earth. Slowly, I was learning that I had to let go of him, for his sake and for mine.
Deep down, I knew Kyle wouldn’t do anything in my house. But I also knew that those two did not need my house to do the unspeakable, what I would not quite say to my son in proper words. I knew I was being unrealistic for some silly fear that if I said “sex” it would egg on his teenage desire all the more. Nor could I keep my son under lock and key to stop those flooding feelings.
It soon came to be that Jez was over every day. Why didn’t they ever go to her house? But then I was glad they were under my roof, like that would keep them out of trouble. Jez’s house was rented and much smaller than ours, even though ours was not spacious by any means. Jez seemed to feel more at home in my house, and soon she was growing on me. Before long, I was quite used to her, for she somehow crept into my heart and won me over. I had to admit that she almost seemed like a daughter to me.
“You did not have to make these”, I told her about a batch of oatmeal cookies she baked me.
Jez smiled at me and said, “Your favorite, with no raisins”. She put them in a cake box that she tied up with a purple ribbon and handed them over to me. She had such a sweet disposition that I wanted to tell her to go yell at her mother for giving her such a ridiculous name, but simply smiled back and gave her a hug.
“I can see you really like her”, said my smirking mother. She had come over for dinner and was sitting with me at the dining room table. “She is really good for Kyle and you know it, too”.
Kyle just came around from out of the kitchen. “Thanks Grandma”, he said to her, and gave her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. He then gave me thumbs up as if to show that if Grandma approved, it was a done deal.
I could not disagree with my mom. Yet I wondered what Jez’s mom would think of everything. Even though she lived down the street I never met her. I wanted to invite her over, but she was always too busy working or taking care of things. How did Jez cope with her always being gone? She needed her mother just as much at sixteen as she did when she was a young girl.
“She works pretty hard”, Jez once told me. “I feel kind of bad because maybe she would not have to work like that if I wasn’t around”.
“Jez, don’t think that way!” I exclaimed. I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Kyle, sitting next to her, put his arm around her and gave her a good squeeze to make her smile.
Kyle admitted, “Jez’s dad always told her she is welcome to live with him. She could but she’s not so geeked about it. He lives in California, in San Diego”.
“And he has a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi”, Jez added. “So you think I’d be crazy not to go there”.
“I’d rather live in warm weather, all year round, with a pool to swim in every day”, Kyle confessed to her.
Emphasizing her remark by playfully dotting his nose with her fingertip, she said to him, “Kyle, you know that Cleveland has one thing that San Diego does not have”.
“What’s that?” he answered in a silly voice, gleefully playing dumb.
Giggling a little, she said “You”.
Kyle leaned over, and pecked her with a kiss on her mouth. I could feel the heat in my face, embarrassed that I was blushing over an innocent kiss. But I never saw my son kiss a girl before, not in a romantic way. I got up out of my chair before they could see my discomfort. How foolish I felt! After all, I was a nurse and nothing should have shocked me like this.
There were times I felt that I had more than a leg to stand on with my fears. There was a fine line between innocent times with each other and too much togetherness, and it seemed like Kyle and Jez were crossing it.
Usually on Friday or Saturday nights, Jez and Kyle would watch a horror movie. They both loved horror flicks, the more blood and gore the better. Both loved the classics, from the original Night of the Living Dead to the modern ones like Drag Me to Hell. They’d always snuggle together on the couch with the lights off and big bowl of popcorn, and if I was not working I would be extra watchful. They could be up till past one o’clock in the morning and, even if I needed the sleep, I stayed up right with them.
Often, Kyle and Jez would fall asleep together on the couch before the movie ended. They had gotten that cozy. A few times, Kyle would wake up to still find Jez sound asleep. She was quite a sound sleeper, more than Kyle was. Instead of waking her up to take her home, Kyle would scoop her up in his arms and carry her to his bedroom. In turn, she barely made a stir but rested her head upon his shoulders, letting him take her away from the living room. After laying her upon his bed, Kyle would come back to sleep on the couch.
“How are you going to explain this to her mother?” I asked, confronting him about it”.
“I’m not sleeping with her, Mom!” he argued with me. “You can see I am staying on the couch! Jez’s mom has some new boyfriend, so why would she feel like she even belongs home? Yeah! That’s right! He is crowding Jez right out of her own house! Do you have to look at me like that? Like I am the bad guy, or something? He is living with her mom, sleeping in her bed. Why do you think Jez never wants to go home? The guy’s a total loser! He creeps her out.”
I knew I had to eventually talk to Jez’s mom. I needed her input and she needed mine. As much as I liked her, I just did not feel like Jez should be around so much. It seemed like she lived at my house when she really did not. The only news I heard about her mom was that Tammy was angry at her daughter for not helping to clean up the house more. So now I found a sound excuse to help Kyle to listen to reason.
I had to tell him to listen to me, to trust my better judgment and experience in spacing out his time with Jez. Perhaps, he needed to see her every other day. To Kyle, that was a hard sacrifice but, along with becoming an adult, came some necessary lessons.
“If Tammy wants her daughter to be more responsible at home” I told him, “you have to learn to respect that”. Deep down, Kyle knew I was right.
So those in between days, with no visits, Kyle was either instant messaging Jez on our computer or talking to her on the phone. He may have listened to his mother, but he was finding enough ways to not take me as seriously as he should have.
I found myself wishing that Jez would just go away. That feeling did not last long before my guilty conscience got the better part of me. Jezebel Kawalak really was a sweetheart. Everyone who really knew her loved her.
“Do you feel like she is competing with you for Kyle’s time with you?” my mother asked me.
At first, I was ready to tell my mother how out-of-line she was with that statement. Did I seem that selfish? This was the time in Kyle’s life when the childish diversions in life were being replaced with more important things like earning his own money and planning what college he wanted to go and what he wanted for his future. Or maybe I had to accept that he would tell me that college was not for him. Now he could play his guitar and dream of being a rock star, but reality was ready to kick in for both of us. More carefree days like these were beginning to look scarce.
I had to admit that Jez became a threat. I worried that she had a high likelihood of ending up pregnant. What would happen then? Kyle was not mature enough to deal with that possibility. I still had those desires to see Jez just go away.
One night, I was going to get what I wanted. But it was something what I never would have wished for.
It was a long day at the hospital for me. I had barely the energy to eat the diner that Kyle had made for me. He was a pretty good cook as he had to learn to make his own meals when I was working. I was brushing my teeth when I thought I heard a knock at the door, but the television was on and I wasn’t sure.
“Kyle, is someone at the door?” I asked him. I heard no answer.
I went into the living room and the front door was open. In the dark, I made out the two silhouettes of Kyle and Jez sitting on the cement on the front porch.
I turned the porch light on and gasped. Jez was leaning on Kyle, her face battered and her lip bleeding.
“Let’s get her inside!” I ordered Kyle.
He helped her up but she was stumbling badly. Kyle lifted her up into his arms, and she winced in pain as he carried her inside.
Kyle sat in a chair and kept Jez cradled in his arms, caressing her bruised face with his hand and gently kissing her cheek. His caressing hand was soon wiping the blood that was dripping down her face. I ran to get a towel.
“I’ll kill that bastard” Kyle said as I wiped Jez’s face.
“Who?” I demanded.
“Who else?” Kyle snapped. “Her mom’s boyfriend! Kyle stood up, with Jez crying in his arms, and gently laid her down on the couch.
As he started to storm off to go outside, I stood before him. “Don’t be foolish!” I warned. “We are calling the police!”
After the police arrived and left, Kyle and I found ourselves up the rest of the night in the emergency room. Tammy was notified at work of her daughter’s trauma, and I sat there awkwardly with Tammy in the waiting room. Kyle was pacing the floor restlessly, not listening to me as I told him to relax. I wanted to comfort my son, but I had little to give him that would help. I was too shocked myself. I never imagined that anything like this would happen to Jez. One of the sweetest girls, she did not deserve to have someone attempt to rape her and attack her when she resisted. Nobody did.
Tammy and I hardly looked at each other, but I would glance at her from time to time. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying, but now she sat there, almost emotionless. Under the lights, her features looked like they were carved of stone, like she had a rough life, and I found myself feeling sorry for her in spite of her reckless decisions with the men in her life. The last time I did attempt to speak to her was to ask her if she wanted me to get her a cup of coffee, and she shook her head. Once the doctors wished to speak to her, she left the room and that was the last I saw of her.
Thank God that Jez got away before she was raped. It turned out she had a concussion, plenty of abrasions, and some bad bruises from that horrible incident, but she was able to get away. I thanked God she made it out of her house alive. Tammy’s boyfriend was soon captured by the police as he also tried to get a way and leave the state.
When Jez’s father heard the news, he was furious with Tammy. There was no way that his daughter was going to live in that miserable house anymore. He had always wanted Jez to come to California to live with him, but now he was going to make it happen. As far as he was concerned, Tammy had failed Jez completely. Yet Jez still loved her mom. That was why she was torn apart to have to leave her. And she did not want to be apart from Kyle.
To convince himself that everything was going to work out fine, Kyle still held out hope. When Jez moved in with her dad, he knew he would see her for the trial, the one that would put her mom’s boyfriend behind bars. Kyle and Jez remained in close contact. They texted each other on their new cell phones. They called each other at least once a week.
When Jez did come back for the trial, Kyle, my mother and I supported her by being in that courtroom. Jez was scared to death to testify, but when she saw us there for her, she found her strength. After all, we were a second family to her, one that would be there for her whenever we could. Tammy still looked emotionless and very tired. Jez’s father would not even acknowledge his ex-wife.
When the trial ended, Tammy’s boyfriend was sentenced to ten years in prison. Kyle and Jez hugged each other for the longest time. He was fearful that the guy might walk out of this one, but now justice has been served. Kyle and I only wished it could have been longer but we were happy that he did not get away with what he did to Jez, not just physically but emotionally, as well.
That afternoon, Jez’s father allowed her to spend one last time with Kyle, and I treated her out with her father and my family to a nice meal to celebrate. The next day, Jez and her father had tickets to travel back to San Diego.
When it did finally sink in that Jez was probably going to stay out of Ohio, Kyle finally did something he would never allow himself to do before. As he sat on the couch, he laid his face upon his hands and cried, weeping heavily. This was one of the times when I could not shield my son away from reality, but I came alongside him for support and simply sat with him and cried with him. I missed her, too.
Kyle and Jez still communicated by the new cell phones they had, and by email. They still remained close but, as time went on, their communication seemed like it was dwindling down. Kyle was finding interest in another girl because he felt that, no matter what, Jez and he would always be good friends. Jez, too, was interested in a boy in her newly adopted hometown, and it was only fair to move on with their young lives. When Kyle’s and Jez’s new relationships grew and deepened, they heard less and less from each other.
I remembered those moments when I did not know what to do with Jez, when I wanted her out of our lives. I had no idea that this could really happen though. I soon painfully realized that I did not want it to happen. I would miss that girl named Jezebel Kawalak, the girl with the strangest first name that I had heard in quite a time.