LeonNoelWhen I was much younger, I helped make ends meet by singing in a band called “The Rebel Angels”. I was recently divorced, working full-time and raising three children – ages ten, five and four – pretty much on my own, receiving scant financial support from my ex-husband. Thankfully, my parents would watch my children when my band performed.

My oldest child, Leon, had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which, at times, would cause him to act out. When he would have one of his ADHD episodes, it could be hard to refocus his attention and calm him down. One Saturday night when “The Rebel Angels” were booked for a wedding reception, Leon was having an episode.

He had gotten into a conflict with another middle-school student, and they had set up a time on that Saturday to resolve their differences on the playground. I would not allow him to take part in this adolescent grudge match, and he was not happy with me. I did not want to leave him with my parents that night, fearing he’d run off and keep the fight date. So, I called the band’s manager, explained the situation, and got the okay to bring him with me to the gig. Again, Leon was not happy with me.

After we got to the reception hall, I sat Leon at the table where the manager was running the sound board. The wedding party and guests arrived and we “Rebel Angels” got ready to step up on stage and play. He was still angry and would not make eye-contact with me, crossing his arms in front of himself, and crunching his face into a pout. The music started, I began to sing our opening song.

Leon had never seen a live band before, and he certainly had never seen me, his mother and lead singer, in makeup and a leather mini-skirt. He looked up at the people, who were dancing in celebration, and uncrossed his arms. By the end of the first set, he was looking at me, clapping his hands and laughing.

When it came time for our break, I took a seat by Leon. He was so excited, and asked if he could sing a song. The manager gave a thumbs up to the idea and I handed Leon the set book, so he could pick a song. He chose “Your Mama Don’t Dance”, and we set up an extra microphone for his début.

Break over, we took the stage and I talked to the audience, asking if they’d like my son to sing a song. They cheered, “Yes!”. I motioned for Leon to come up, as I put the lyrics sheet on a music stand for him. He was nervous, sweating and shaking – strangers in the crowd and the lights overwhelming him, I think. I whispered to him, “You’ll do fine. I’ll be right here. Don’t worry, just sing like you’re singing along with the radio.”

The guitar players began the recognizable intro to the song, and the crowd laughed and applauded in anticipation of my son’s singing. I looked at Leon and smiled... he smiled back. He sang lead, and I backed him up with harmony. He was good. So good, in fact, the manager put it on the demo tape. He was my little rock star.

Eleven years after that night, Leon went missing on a New Year’s Eve. His body was found three months later. I was devastated. I tried to carry on, searching for support and healing. I found out about The Compassionate Friends, a group that offers support to parents and families after the loss of a child, and decided to attend a meeting at a local chapter. At that first meeting, I was nervous, sweating and shaking – the strangers in the crowd and the dark overwhelming me, I think.

The meeting had an exercise, where each parent pulled a question about their child out of a basket. Then, going around the circle, you would read your question and give the answer – an opportunity to share something about your child. When it came around to my turn to speak, choking back the tears, I read the question I’d pulled; “Who was your child’s favorite singer and band?”

The second I opened my mouth to say, “Axel Rose and Guns-n-Roses”, the lights in the room blinked off, then back on again. It was at that very moment that I realized Leon was right there beside me... and I knew what his answer would be. So I told them: “I was his favorite singer. Me, and The Rebel Angels”.

Leon, I love you and I miss you. You’ll always be my little rock star, and my favorite “Rebel Angel”.


Bonnie Bertelson

Bonnie Bertelson

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