“Fine,” Tai-Vaughn said. “Do not talk to me.”
In the car, she offered him a hot pocket. “I don’t want anything from you,” he said.
Moore sometimes clashed with his teachers, but he had never disrespected his grandma before. After four or five days of his sullen silence, Day called the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, which had run the camp, to find out what was going on.
Stephanie Handel, a child therapist, told Day to bring Tai-Vaughn in. Handel could see that the camp had opened him up to his feelings — and now he needed help dealing with them.
The Wendt Center is the resource you hope you never have to use. It stations therapists at the District’s morgue to help families who must identify a body. It leads workshops after school shootings to prevent retaliation. Following 9/11, the 2001 anthrax scare and the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks, its crisis management teams counseled victims and first responders.
About 7,000 people a year rely on the Wendt Center’s services, including 1,000 who, like Day and Tai-Vaughn, seek out individual, family or group therapy at the center’s offices in Northwest and Southeast Washington.
The word “cure” rarely passes the lips of therapists there. There’s no easy fix for clients such as Tai-Vaughn, whose father was charged with killing Tai-Vaughn’s mother when the boy was only 5.
Instead, there is only “your new normal,” which is what Day said Handel told her when she brought Tai-Vaughn in. That new normal is what their lives have been ever since.
A heavy load to carry
Tai-Vaughn’s world shattered on Nov. 9, 2002.
Day was at a conference in Ocean City, but her daughter, 23-year-old Danielle Hurley, kept calling. Hurley and her boyfriend, Tai-Vaughn’s father, were fighting over who should buy the boy’s winter clothes.
When Hurley drove up to the boyfriend to pick up money from him, he allegedly pulled out a gun and shot her through the jugular. Tai-Vaughn sat in the passenger seat, watching.
Police charged the boyfriend with murder, but his lawyer painted Tai-Vaughn as an unreliable witness, suggesting he was too young to tell truth from lies. No one else had seen Hurley’s death. The boyfriend was acquitted.
There was no question that Day would take in Tai-Vaughn. But her job as a conference planner required overtime and travel, and her supervisors noticed that her attention was divided. She was laid off five months after her daughter’s death.
Day found a new job as a construction project secretary. Other challenges were harder to resolve. Tai-Vaughn wasn’t old enough to process what had happened to his mom, and he still loved his father and saw him almost every day. Day struggled with an appropriate response to her grandson’s emotions.