Chapter Nine

Zoe stood up. "Okay everyone, let's get started. We have a new person with us today, a friend of Jami's who seems to maybe have become entangled in what we're going to talk about tonight. And we have the counselor, Dennis, who Mrs. Carmichael invited to speak with us.

So let's do a quick round of introductions, which I'll begin. The name I go by is Zoe. I'm the support group co-facilitator or co-moderator, whichever term works for you. Jami, would you introduce your friend?"

Jami stood, pulling Alyssa up beside her. "Hi folks, and Dennis. I'm Jami. I live in the apartment upstairs, with Carys. This is my friend Alyssa, who works at the mall where I work, though she's in a different store." She looked questioningly at Zoe.

"Let's finish the introductions before we go into that incident, Jami. Welcome to the group, Alyssa."

"Thanks," said Alyssa. "I used to do some acting and modeling, but I'm kind of just struggling with living and coming out of my shell at the moment." She and Jami sat back down.

The introductions continued around the circle and back to Zoe, who was sitting next to the counselor.

"Thanks, folks. Now I want to introduce Dennis." She nodded at the man sitting in the chair next to her. "Dennis is a social worker who often works with young people. He's agreed to talk with us about what happened to Kathy, maybe give suggestions for dealing with grief. He's here in an informal capacity, so there's a limit to what he can say and do. But I think he can give us some safe contacts for people who may want to consider individual counseling?" Dennis nodded. "Okay, it's all yours, Dennis." Zoe sat down and took a sip of water.

Dennis uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. "Thank you all. My name is Dennis. I'm part of a group in independent practice. I have a business card I can hand out later. I grew up in Seattle, went to college there, and then graduate school here, because my wife had strong reasons to do her graduate work here.

"Your facilitators, Zoe and Carys, have filled me in on what happened to Kathy, and told me about the memorial service you had before the holidays. I'm glad you were able to do that. I understand that the holidays can be a burden in and of themselves.

"Let me begin by saying some general things about having lost a person you care about, and the stages of grief that many people find themselves going through." He talked for a few moments, then looked around the circle. "Do any of you have questions for me, or a specific concern you'd like me to address?"

Carys raised her hand. Dennis nodded at her. "I guess I'll start things off. I went to the same high school that Kathy did, and I knew her a little bit there. I'm angry that because Kathy was unable to belong to the GSA or attend this group, she had no where to turn when she needed help.

"I'm also angry that an important part of who Kathy was has been erased, because she was never able to express her feelings publicly. The person most people know is the Kathy her parents wanted her to be, not the person she really was."

"Those are good points, Carys. I share your concern that young people often don't have trusted adults in whom to confide. It's important for friends to keep alive the memories they have. Each person is unique, as is each relationship."

Emiko was curled into a ball at the far end of the couch that also held Kay and Erin. She timidly raised a hand. When Dennis gave her the nod, she said, "Young people do not have enough rights."

Dennis waited, but she said no more. "You're Emiko, aren't you?" She nodded. "As I'm sure you know, the question of rights for minors is somewhat difficult, but it's also true that the situation is not always as hopeless as people might believe it to be."

"Kathy thought she was going to be put in one of those behavior modification camps," said Carys. "Do you mean there is some way she could have stopped that?"

"Perhaps. I don't know all the details, but often there is a way to fight such things, if one can make contact with the correct people."

"Like who?" asked Isaac.

"An understanding relative, a school counselor, a priest. This area has no youth center, but there are people active in GLSEN in the schools, there's PFLAG, and there's the ACLU."

"I'm sure Kathy knew that," said Carys, "and she had online access to this group. But she didn't contact us until it was too late to try to help her."

"We can only guess what her thoughts were," said Dennis. "She may have panicked. She may have felt powerless against her parents. Without knowing her, her experiences, her beliefs, there is no way of knowing what her frame of mind was when the accident happened."

Carys, Jami and Tam exchanged furtive glances.

"We believe the situation is more complicated than most people know," said Jami, "and we're not so certain it was an accident." Zoe looked at her, nodded that she should go ahead.

"What do you mean?" asked Dennis, noticing the looks going around the room.

"This group has an online community," said Jami.

Dennis nodded.

"Kathy made a number of postings to that community over the past few months. Some of them are more than a little on the dark side. They maybe hint at, well, at possible courses of action," said Carys.

Several members of the group nodded. Dennis looked back and forth from Jami to Carys.

"So far as I know, the existence of our online community remains unknown to the police. As does Kathy's involvement in any way with this group," continued Jami.

"Okay," said Dennis, sitting back. "Can you elaborate on what was said online?"

"Is this confidential, no matter what we say?" asked Carys.

"Don't tell me any names, other than Kathy. I'll warn you if it seems to be touching on any area I have an obligation to report."

"Like what?" asked James.

"A few things, such as child abuse, simply have to be reported, no matter what," said Dennis.

Carys should her head. "No, nothing like that. And part of the problem is that we think we see indications that something nasty may have been going on, but we don't know for certain, and we don't know any names for certain."

"Okay," said Dennis, "proceed."

"What if there had been something more explicit dating from close to the time of her accident that was never posted for the group to see? Or something like a letter written before the accident and mailed afterwards by someone? Or a comment made during a recent incident that suggested something suspicious about Kathy's death?"

A number of people around the room looked surprised, and leaned forward to listen.

"O-kay," said Dennis, breathing out a sigh. "I understand your reluctance to involve the police, but..."

"If the police thought that Kathy's death was suicide, would that have been hushed up?" asked Carys.

"Quite likely, if there was no clear public evidence." said Dennis. "That's the prevailing attitude in this country."

"What if she had been using alcohol or drugs?"

"I don't know," said Dennis. "If she was the only one involved in the actual accident, that may not have come out, either because of her parents' wishes, or because of an ongoing investigation."

"I don't suppose there's any safe way to find out if there's an investigation going on?" said Carys.

"Are you thinking you may have some kind of evidence that she was mixed up in something illegal?" asked Dennis.

"Possibly," said Jami. "It's kind of a Pandora's box situation, and we're wondering whether to open the box."

"We're concerned about our moral obligation to Kathy's memory, and also concerned about the confidentiality of the group," said Tam.

"And maybe other kids at the high school are involved," said Crystal, unexpectedly. Carys tried to catch her eye, but Crystal would not look at her.

Dennis was silent for a moment. Then he looked from Carys to Zoe. "I have a feeling there's more going on here than anyone wants to say in the open." There were several nods. "Okay. I suggest that your facilitators talk to a lawyer, if only to protect yourselves and the group. I am not a lawyer. But I can recommend one to Carys and Zoe.

"If you suspect there was some kind of wrong-doing involved in a teenager's death, that's a very serious thing." He ran a hand through his hair. "I know a lot goes on in this world that isn't legal or right. Sometimes with very bad consequences. Be careful."

"Another thing," said Carys. "Kathy was a writer, a poet. We have some of her work that doesn't deserve to die with her. We'd like to publish her work or make use of it somehow. Where do we stand with that?"

"Again, I can only suggest you talk to a lawyer," said Dennis. "From what you've said about Kathy, I would imagine she wrote some things that her parents and other people might not like to have made public?"

"You got that right," said Carys.

Dennis shook his head. "That's hard. I do urge you to really think through the consequences of anything you decide to do. I'd be willing to talk with you again when you've made any definite plans."

"I guess we're all just really pissed that there doesn't seem to be anything we can actually do," said Kay. "It's especially hard on teens, because most adults, especially in the so-called GLBT community, are scared to have anything to do with kids."

"That's true," said Dennis. "We can treat you as problems, but we walk a very fine line encouraging any manner of non-mainstream behavior."

"How can that be right?" said Alyssa. "Kids who don't get to be themselves, to try to reach for their dreams, often do stupid things to try to strike back at their parents and other goons in charge."

"That's the real thing that's important to me about college," said James. "I don't have any idea what I'm going to do, but I feel that only now can I finally figure out who I am."

"Teens have no rights," said Emiko, sounding disgusted. "Glorious years of freedom before adult. Hah!"

"I was young once, too," said Dennis. "Now I'm an adult working with young people and kids. You all are young adults. You can make choices soon, or even now, about what you're going to do as adults. If you feel strongly about these issues, find a way to be part of a solution.

"This group is a good thing. Build on it. Be careful you don't do something to tear it down."