Sixteen year-old Ritchie Russell seems like a lot of boys his age, grumpy, hours and hours in his room with the door closed, playing blood splattering video games. He once had a great smile. Gone. He once liked to sing. Not in years. Loud angry music blasts through his door.
His parents hope Ritchie is going through a phase, that time will heal, that he and they are going to put the past behind them.
If only. The Russells have been to hell and back. It is now five years since twelve year-old Lisa, big hearted, quirky Lisa, lost her battle with a lymphoma. They still have a way to go, but considering the impact at the time, they’re relatively okay. Fortunately, Michael’s anger had somewhere to go. His reputation as a righteous impassioned investigative reporter, a fighter for the good has grown
Unfortunately, he can no longer connect to Deborah, and she’s stopped trying. She’s been tuning him out for years. As soon as he gets excited and angry she will soon have a headache. Lisa’s death changed him. She knows Lisa is behind his ranting and raving, his political passion. She knows that Lisa plays a part in his attempts to right wrongs. She knows his hatred of the bad guys is proportional to his love for Lisa, his dedication to justice is justice for her.
Still hatred is hatred. It’s never finished. Deborah doesn’t hate. She becomes too upset. She prefers the Lisa she can invoke in her memories, sweet moments, too quickly gone, but real. With the help of marijuana she is able to spend quality and sometimes delicious time with her daughter.
It’s the best they can do. It will have to do. Much as they might wish it, neither can return to the way they were. They can no longer throw down their defenses, and love unguardedly. Deborah’s turn to marijuana to keep her memories flowing has contributed to her withdrawal from the marketplace. Despite their need for income she hasn’t looked for a job. She hasn’t thought about it. Nor is she focused on their home, on meals, on cleaning, on keeping an eye on Ritchie. Her friends have slipped away. Her reveries are her entire existence.
Michael is seemingly doing better than Deborah. Not just at work. He could pass for normal. Along with millions of his brothers throughout America, he loves TV, loves good triumphing over evil, preferably violently, loves flashing swords cutting down villains. It never gets old. Deborah can’t stand the noise.
Ritchie’s suicide attempt shatters their adaptations. It isn’t the first time their defenses have collapsed. But this time, events suddenly move rapidly, flying out of control. Following the initial scare, the Russells are relieved that Ritchie is safe in the hospital. However, at a thousand dollars a day, their insurance company is determined to get Ritchie out quickly.
The Russells soon learn that this is business as usual. Insurance companies pay the bills, which gives them the power to harass doctors, make them jump through paperwork hoops until the doctors have been trained to see things the insurance company way.
Afraid for Ritchie, Michael switches into gear. This has been his career. He races to put together an expose that can apply counter pressure. Will it be enough? Can they save their son?
Whether or not Michael’s plan works, it is not wasted energy. The fight to save Ritchie helps revive Deborah and Michael’s relationship. With the exception of his mother, Ritchie has never been an easy person for anyone to love, but especially Michael. Facing Ritchie’s death, Michael taps into his love for him, which is a comfort to him as well as Deborah. Misunderstandings and anger develop quickly but so do spurts of love. While not enough, never enough, the love is real. Immersed together in a fight with real consequences, Michael and Deborah rediscover their passion for each other.
A true heartbreaking, yet strangely romantic story from my files, memory and imagination. The Russell’s name and the details have been fictionalized, but the real Russells remain alive to me.