A Sense of Symmetry Pt. 11


"Have you tried the Center for Grieving Children?"

"I thought they only dealt with children who had lost a loved one through death. I took Sean there when he first came to us."

"That is their primary concern, but they do help children who have suffered any kind of loss, whether through death, divorce, or a situation like this. If they can't help you, they'd be better able than I to recommend someone who can. Best of luck."

"Thank you," Dani hung up and dialed the number for the Center.

After being shuffled from person to person, Dani was finally able to make an appointment for Anna. "Isn't she a little young for that?" Jason asked when Dani asked him to attend the appointment.

"I don't think so," Dani said. "She cries half the time, she won't play, and she talks about Sean constantly. She needs help to deal with all this, and you and I are too busy grieving ourselves to be able to help her."

"Grieving?" Jason repeated. "You make it sound like he's dead, Dani. We're going to see him again. We only have two months till we can go back to court for visitation, and-"

"And no one seems to know where Julie's taken him," Dani said. "And it doesn't matter right now, because we aren't talking about Sean. We're talking about our daughter. The one who sits on the living room floor all day, won't touch her toys, and barely talks to anyone except Melanie. She needs help, Jason. If you won't come to the appointment, fine. But I'm taking Anna to meet with this woman."

"Whether I want you to or not."

"Damn straight. We went through this same argument when I wanted to get Sean help dealing with Ben's death. You were wrong then, and you're wrong now."

"I don't like counseling, Dani. It doesn't do any good in the long run."

"That depends. Do you think it's good for you to have the girls and me? Because don't forget, Jason, if you hadn't gotten counseling when Anna was a baby, you and I wouldn't be having this argument right now, because I would have divorced you."

"You're right," Jason said. "I'm sorry. I still don't like counseling, and I'm still not going with you and Anna. But it helped me, and I guess it helped Sean, so it should help Anna."

"I sure hope so," Dani said.

* * *

Two days later, Dani and Anna went to the counselor's office. "Mommy, why we here?" Anna asked.

"We're going to talk to a lady named Jane," Dani replied. "She wants to talk to you a little bit."

"About what?"

"About Sean."

Dani couldn't have anticipated Anna's reaction. "No! No! No!" the child screamed. "No Sean! No!"

As Dani attempted to calm the little girl, a woman came out of the office. "Are you Dani?" she asked over Anna's screams.


"I'm Jane. Why don't you bring her right in?"

When Dani tried to pick up Anna, Anna punched her. Dani picked her up anyway, holding her so she couldn't move her arms. "Let go!" Anna shrieked.

When they were inside the office, Dani set Anna down. Anna threw herself on the floor and continued to scream. Motioning Dani to stay back, Jane knelt beside the girl. "Anna, my name is Jane," she said, quietly but firmly. "I know you are angry, but this is not acceptable behavior in my office. Please stop."

"Anna stopped screaming long enough to hear what Jane was saying, but resumed as soon as Jane had stopped speaking. "Anna, you are not being appropriate," Jane said in the same quiet tone. "If you cannot control yourself, I will help you. Are you able to stop screaming?"

"Yes!" Anna shouted.

"I do not like the way you are speaking to me, Anna. Please answer me in a polite tone. Are you able to stop screaming?"

"Yes," Anna said quietly.

"Thank you. Please get up off the floor and sit in the blue chair while I talk to your mother." She stood up and went over to Dani. "I hope you don't mind my stepping in like that."

"Not at all," Dani replied. She looked at Anna, who had climbed into the blue armchair next to Jane's desk. "I had no idea she was going to do that."

"No, I wouldn't think you did. Do you know what set her off?"

"Yes. It was when I said Sean's name."

"Sean is the little boy who was living with you?"

"Yes. And Anna's reaction to his leaving is why we're here."

"Why don't you go into the next room and let me talk to Anna for a little while. There's a one-way mirror in there, so you'll be able to observe us, but I think Anna might open up more if you weren't in the room."

"I think you might be right," Dani said.

"Why don't you tell her where you're going."

Dani went to Anna. "I'm sorry, Mommy," Anna said.

"It's all right, Sweetheart," Dani said, giving her a hug. "Listen. Jane wants to talk to you for a few minutes, so I'm going into the room next door. That way you can tell Jane anything you want, because I won't hear you."

"Will you come back?" Anna asked, suddenly frightened.

"Of course I will," Dani said. "I'll be right in the next room. If you need me, Jane will come get me, and I'll come back in here when you and she are done talking. I promise."


Dani went into the next room, which was set up as a waiting room. She didn't want to eavesdrop on Anna's talk with Jane, so she sat down and leafed through some magazines. She occasionally glanced at the one-way mirror to see if Anna and Jane were done yet. Finally, Jane tapped on the glass and beckoned Dani back into the office. "Mommy, it's a magic mirror!" Anna said when Dani came in. "Can I look through it?"

"After I talk to Jane," Dani said.

"Did you watch me, Mommy?" Anna asked.

"Some of the time."

"Anna, you may choose one toy from my closet to play with while your mother and I talk," Jane said.

Anna chose a Colorforms set, and settled down on the floor by the closet to play with it. Dani took the chair next to Jane's desk. "I think you might have guessed part of the problem," Jane said.

"Sean was taken away, and Anna's afraid she's going to be next," Dani said.

"Exactly. She told me- she expresses herself extremely well for her age, by the way- she told me that she misses Sean, and she thinks he left because she kept fighting with him. She's also afraid that she might have another mother who will take her away from you. We discussed what she told me, and I think I've eased her fears somewhat. But it's really up to you and your husband. At her age, what her parents say and do is more important to her than anything else. Make sure she knows you love her, and that she is your daughter and no one will take her away. And do talk about Sean. Let Anna know that it's okay to miss him, and that you miss him, too. But try not to mention the custody aspect; that's what she's most upset about. Downplay the idea of Sean's mother 'taking him away,' and make it sound more like he's just gone to live with her instead of being taken there."

"Should she come back to see you?" Dani asked.

"I think it might be helpful."

"All right, then," Dani said. "When should we come?"

Jane smiled. "I'm glad you feel that way, Dani. You wouldn't believe how many parents bring their children to me, then throw a fit when I won't pronounce the child cured after one visit. Would next Thursday be all right, at the same time?"

"That would be fine," Dani said. "Thank you." She got up. "Anna, would you like to come back and talk to Jane another time?"

"Can I play with this again?" Anna asked.

"Sure. But right now, it's time to pick up."

Anna started putting the playset away. "Can I go look through the magic mirror?"

Dani smiled. "Of course you can."

They went into the other room so Anna could look through the "magic mirror," then went home. "Did you like Jane?" Dani asked the child.

"She's nice."

"That's good. What did you talk about?"

"My brother. Mommy, will you really never go away from me?"

"Not until I'm very, very, very old. And that won't be for a long time. You're my Anna-girl, and I'm not leaving you. And no one's going to take you away from me, either."

"I love you, Mommy."

"I love you, too, Sweetheart." Ignoring the tears that began to fall, Dani smiled. Someday, they would see Sean again. Meanwhile, the healing had begun.


As time went on, Anna stopped talking about her "brother." Dani didn't know for sure whether the child had forgotten Sean, or just didn't want to talk about him anymore.

Jason, as usual, dealt with something unpleasant by pretending it didn't exist. At the three-month mark, the Sheridans petitioned the court for visitation rights. The rights were denied; the judge said it was an issue that could be settled between the Sheridans and Julie without the court's intervention. But no one seemed to know where Julie was. From that day on, Jason refused to mention the boy.

Melanie, of course, had no memory of Sean. Dani considered telling her about him when Melanie was old enough, but rejected the idea. Melanie might not understand why her father and sister never talked about Sean. Dani also had a feeling that telling Melanie about Sean would benefit her more than it would Melanie. This left Dani with no one in her family to talk to about Sean, except herself and Ben. The conversations with Ben, of course, were only in her imagination. She had no more dreams about him after the custody hearing.

"Sean's doing all right," Phyllis reported periodically. "Julie's got him in Head Start." Or, "He scored so high on the kindergarten screening that they might bump him up to first grade." Or, "He got the highest score in the school on his achievement test." Phyllis never actually saw Sean, but Julie continued to allow her to speak to the boy on the phone, and Phyllis always passed along the information from the phone calls.

Nine months after Sean was taken away, the Sheridans celebrated the birth of Steve and Robin's second child, a son. As the first male grandchild in the family, the baby was being spoiled rotten before he even came home from the hospital. Steve and Robin allowed Jason and Dani, the baby's godparents, to choose his name. After some consultation, they agreed on Joseph Steven, to be nicknamed Joey.

Dani and Jason had no more children. Because both of her pregnancies had been high-risk, Dani had had her tubes tied when Melanie was born, so another biological child was out of the question. "We could adopt," Jason suggested shortly after Joey was born.

"No," Dani said, in an "end-of-discussion" tone.

"Why not?"

"Because I'd be too paranoid. What if we had all the plans made, and the birth mother backed out? Or if we wanted to adopt an older child, and the parents took him back? It just wouldn't work, Jason. We have the girls. They're enough."

"Dani, it's been almost a year," Jason said. "Get on with your life."

"I have gotten on with my life," Dani said. "Anna will be in kindergarten in the fall, and Melanie will be old enough to go to daycare. I went yesterday and signed up for a couple graduate courses at the University. I'm going to get my teaching certification up-to-date, and go back to teaching next year."

"Were you going to discuss this with me? Where'd we get the money for you to take college courses, anyway?"

"I just did discuss it with you. And my grandmother gave it to me."

Dani had gotten her bachelor's degree in education just before she married Jason. She had taught for one year, but had quit to stay home with Anna. Now, working toward getting recertified, Dani felt like she was accomplishing something. And, more importantly, the work gave her something to focus on instead of Sean.

* * *

Years went by. Dani got her master's degree, and secured a position teaching first grade at the school Anna and Melanie attended. Anna, popular and imaginative, entered high school as an A-student. By her sophomore year, she had earned the distinction of being the lead actress in most of the school plays. She was also a cheerleader and a soloist in the school chorus. Melanie, more athletic than her sister, had insisted on having gymnastics lessons at age three. By age twelve, she was winning medals in almost every competition she entered. She maintained honor-roll grades, and tutored special-needs students at her middle school.

One day toward the end of her sophomore year, Anna came running into the house after her play rehearsal, looking like she had won the lottery. "He said yes!"

"Who said yes to what?" Dani asked without looking up from her lesson plans. She had become accustomed to Anna's exclaiming over a different boy every other week.

"Remember that new boy I told you about? The way-cute one who just moved up from Mass.? The freshman who beat out Seth for the lead in the play?"

"How could I forget? He's all you've been talking about."

"Incessantly," Melanie added.

Anna glared at her. "Well, I asked him to the Spring Prom, and he said yes!"

"I thought the prom was just for seniors," said Melanie, who as yet had little interest in boys, and less in dances.

"That's the Senior Prom, Dumbo," Anna said. "The Spring Prom is for everyone in high school.

"Anna, don't call your sister Dumbo," Dani said. "I think I'd like to meet this boy before you go to the prom with him. And I know your father would."

"I knew you'd say that," Anna said. "He's coming over tomorrow after school. I'm tutoring him for a French test."

"A French kiss test, probably," said Melanie. She hid behind her mother as her sister came after her.

"Knock it off," Dani said. "That's fine, Anna. Your father's working third shift tomorrow, so he'll be here when you get home." Jason, now a foreman at the machine shop, worked a schedule in which he and the other two foremen rotated shifts. "What's the boy's name, anyway?" Dani asked, realizing that despite all of Anna's talk about the boy, she had never mentioned his name.


Dani stared at her daughter for a minute, then shook her head as if to clear it. There had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of high school freshmen named Sean who came from Massachusetts. It couldn't be, she thought. "Sean what?" she asked, but Anna had gone upstairs.

* * *

When Dani got home the next afternoon, Jason and Melanie were arguing over who was supposed to mow the lawn. "I have a competition tomorrow night, Dad," Melanie said. "I have to practice my routine."

"Pretend the mower handle is an uneven bar," Jason said unsympathetically. "Anna did it last week, and I did it the week before. It's your turn."

Melanie, sulking, went outside. "Where's Anna?" Dani asked.

"Not home yet. She called and said she had to go to the library before she came home."

"Her new boyfriend's coming with her."

"I know. She told me."

"His name's Sean."

Jason looked closely at her. "Dani, I know what you're thinking," he said. "It isn't possible."

"He's from Massachusetts," Dani said. And Anna's the same age I was when I met Ben. But she didn't say this aloud. Jason wouldn't have seen the logic.

"Dani, do you know how many Seans there must be in Massachusetts?"

Before Dani could answer, Anna came slamming into the house. "Don't slam the door!" Jason shouted.

"Sorry," Anna called back. "See, Sean, I told you they're typical," they heard her add.

"I wish I had typical parents," was the reply.

Anna came into the room, followed by the boy. Dani caught her breath. There was no doubt who he was. He was identical to the way Ben had looked at his age. "Mom, Daddy, this is Sean Ryan," Anna said.

Jason looked at Dani, and nudged her to make her respond. "It's- um, it's nice to see you, Sean," said Dani, unsure whether the boy might remember her.

He smiled. "It's nice to see you, too, Mrs. Sheridan."

"You can call me Dani."

"They're decent," Anna said. "They let all my friends call them by their first names."

"You can call me Jason," Jason said, shaking hands with the boy.

"Is it okay if I go to Sean's to work on his French with him?" Anna asked. "His mother's there. She wants to meet me."

"I'm sure she'll be very interested to meet you," Dani said.

Anna looked at her strangely. "So can I go?"

"Go ahead," Jason said. "Call for a ride if it gets dark before you come home."

"I will," Anna sighed. "Come on, Sean."

"Some things never change," Dani said as the kids left. "She's still bossing him around."

"They don't remember each other, do they," Jason said.

"I don't think so. Not consciously, anyway."

"Should we tell them?"

"Only if they ask. I think it's better that way. I just wish I could be a fly on the wall when Julie hears the name Anna Sheridan."

"So do I," Jason said. "Dani, how did you know? How did you know that Anna's Sean was our Sean?"

"I've always known we'd see him again."

"I know that. But how did you know that this was him?"

"It had to be," Dani said. "The universe has a strong sense of symmetry. It just had to be."

"Wouldn't it be weird if they got married in ten years or so?" Jason said.

Dani smiled. "I bet they will," she said. She and Ben had never had a chance to be together. It was right that their children would.

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