With just Sydney and Perth in the house, Sydney was finding life as the big sister and caretaker difficult. She had Cory Fanboy over after class one day to hang out. He liked Sydney at first, however, after he realized the situation he would be entering into by dating her, he made a hasty exit. Obviously, he's not the boy for her. Anyone who dates Sydney would have to accept Perth too, right? But how could she have an adult relationship with her sister in her very bed with her each night? No, Sydney knew it was time to make a change, to put Perth on her own feet and then carefully institute some tough love and make a life on her own, allowing Perth to make a life for herself too. The relationship they had was functional, but it was holding them both back from change and personal growth. Perth was already attending a special program at their high school for emotionally disturbed children. The program allowed Perth and Sydney to go to the same school, but give Sydney her normal high school life and Perth the specialization she needed. Perth's guidance counselor called Perth and Sydney into his office one afternoon to discuss some options since Sydney had contacted him about giving Perth a different start.
The guidance counselor suggested EMDR for Perth. Perth went through the program. It took nearly two hours and then was over. Perth sat in a chair in a therapist's office across from the therapist who was certified in EMDR. She asked Perth to bring the memory of what had happened to her, a memory which only she knew anything about, as close to the forefront of her mind as possible. During this time, Perth looked visibly shaken. She sweated, she shook, she flushed, she tapped her feet on the floor, she exhibited all signs of anxiety. The therapist asked her to get as close to the memory as possible, knowing that right now she was in a safe place and this was just part of her past, even if a scary part. The closer she got to that memory, the more real she made it, the more likely EMDR would be effective. Once Perth was as close as she could comfortably go, she signaled the therapist and they began. The therapist held a marker in her hand and moved it around in Perth's field of view. Perth kept her head still, as instructed, but moved only her eyes to follow the pen. The eye, the therapist had explained, has a point where a trained person can see where the memory connects to the field of vision. By smoothing that jump point out, the memory is remembered, but as no more threatening then any other memory and the nightmares and other symptoms can stop. Perth began to look less and less anxious in her posture and body movements.
Indeed, after the treatment session, Perth was sleeping through the night. She still felt more safe with Sydney beside her, but perhaps that was more out of habit over the past several years. Regardless, Sydney felt that a great milestone had been reached and with her 18th birthday approaching and college applications to be completed, she felt better about leaving Perth on her own.
Perth, still a junior in high school, met with her guidance counselor with Sydney again. The counselor suggested Perth take on a pet. There was a dog, Pandarus, who was retired from police work due to a strain on his forepaw that made him too weak to do the rigorous continued training necessary for his duties. However, he was still a good and healthy dog who could lead a normal dog's life, given proper care. Perth's face lit up. Sydney stated they already had a cat, Clover, and she didn't understand why the guidance counselor was asking them to take the dog. He explained that the dog was therapeutic and had undergone additional training to help people with problems like Perth had experienced. Sydney reluctantly agreed. Now that she was leaving for school soon, she didn't want to burden Perth with extra responsibilities. But, she could tell Perth wanted the dog, so they signed for him.
The bonded right away and Pandarus was in excellent health except for the weak forepaw that even the fur had never quite healed on. As long as he didn't have to run up and down stairs or do obstacle courses, he'd be fine.
The day fast approached when Sydney went off to college.
"You take care of yourself! I'll check my email every day and if you need anything, you just write to me. Of course, you have the car, so if its an emergency, just come see me. I'm only 45 minutes away." Perth smiled and hugged Sydney goodbye.
It was a little sad to see Sydney leave, but also kind of liberating. Perth knew she needed this break from her big sister to live her own life. It was hard, not talking, but she'd done it for so long that it was less and less hard as time went on and she rarely thought of it. It did make answering the phone difficult, but she didn't turn the ringer off in case Sydney called.
She and Pandarus developed a language of their own. Clover knew how to read Perth's body language of when there would be petting or playing or when she wanted to be left alone, and Pandarus would learn that too. He was a great dog and being so outgoing, unlike Perth, really helped Perth come out of her shell a little. That and having her overprotective sister away at college.
Perth vowed to only write Sydney once a week, so she wouldn't worry about her. Her emails were light and funny and talked about school and the pets. In one, she even mentioned a boy she thought was "kind of cute".
Although everyone was afraid of how Clover, an elderly cat, and Pandarus, the new kid, would get along, but they played all the time.
Only the caretaker at the Saint Cassada Cemetary knew that Perth sometimes spoke. Her voice broke often and it was mostly incoherent, but when she visited the graves of her parents, she would wail and plead with them to have not left her. She was angry, maybe, but heartbroken, certainly.
Yet each morning, Perth would make the trek to the back of the bus and sit quietly, throat hurting from the cold and the crying over her parents' and grandmother's deaths. She would go to school and put on her studious face and get through another day. At least now she slept. It was amazing how much more time she'd had for schoolwork with insomnia, but sleep felt much better.
While Perth was at school one day, Grim came for Clover, the elder cat her father had owned since he was a young man.
Grim had Clover chase a squeaky mousey into the light and the great catnip beyond.
We have to break from the Aha household for a moment to take you over to the home of Moora and Adam Fanboy. I should mention that Perth knows Michael, Moora and Adam's oldest child, from school and they're quite good friends. They're both in the same class for emotionally disturbed children.
Michael had been causing problems at home. Mostly "stupid kid stuff" like stealing money from Moora's purse and lying. Sometimes he is not where he says he is when his parents call over to his friends' houses. When he gets home and they question his whereabouts, he tells even more lies. It has gotten to where they simply cannot trust Michael, their own child, a gifted smart kid, who seems to have lost all his brains right out of his ears all of a sudden. Even after skipping two grades and being in high school early, Michael had to be placed in the emotionally disturbed class because he refused to do schoolwork that was easy to him and was putting a strain on his teachers as well as his parents. It was there that he met Perth.
Moora and Adam had never met Perth, or really any of Michael's classmates. They were quite busy with twin toddlers and an infant. Plus, Adam had a full time job. It was all Moora could do to keep up with everyone. She was always exhausted. Adam escaped by playing the piano, something he'd enjoyed as a child, for hours after work.
It soothed the children, so Moora stopped complaining about him putting a piano's worth of distance between them.
Although initially opposed, the school's guidance counselor talked Moora and Adam into an "alternative living situation" for Michael for the remainder of the school year. Moora did not want her child taken away, but he explained that was not to be the case. Michael was not responding to his parents' style of parenting. So he said "What if we tried something else?" They agreed that what they were doing wasn't working and agreed to let Perth take Michael in for the rest of the school year, which was about 4 months. During that time, they could stop by the Aha house anytime, provided it wasn't excessive 3am visits, and see that all was well. The guidance counselor knew Perth could take care of herself and a dog and a cat, and that Michael likely could take care of himself as well but needed a different sort of attention right now.
Moora did stop by at least twice a week to let Michael know that they loved him and were thinking about him. He, a typical high school boy, brushed off his mother's hugs and said "Yeah, yeah, I know. Now I have homework to do, so if you could go..."
Michael and Perth bonded surprisingly well. She treated him like a little brother, which was exactly what Michael needed and he thrived in his new environment. Life improved for Moora and Adam as well without the stress of the additional child, especially a problem child.
As for Perth, the responsibility of taking care of someone else was good for her. She gained independence that she'd never had the ability to show before and renewed self-confidence. Things were looking up for everyone.