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Eccentric Mom Colors Childhood of a 'Beautiful Boy'

When Robert Leleux's father left a wife and son in 1996, Leleux's mother plotted a new course: remarry rich.

Stuck in the backwater of Petunia, Texas, mother and son began an erratic journey that saw Leleux's mother pursue risky plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures to meet her goal. Their story is recounted in Leleux's poignant coming-of-age tale The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy.

No stranger to drama himself, Leleux knew as a 17-year-old that he was special — even without his larger-than-life mother and her grand, sometimes foolish antics. In high school, Leleux wore pastel pants, streaked his hair and spritzed himself with mineral water. Growing up, he would regularly go with his mother to have their nails and hair done on weekends. Eventually, Leleux realized he was gay and met the love of his life, Michael.

But before Leleux began his own journey away from his mother, he learned to survive without his father. Chronically low on cash, the pair moved out of the white-pillared horse ranch they couldn't afford. His mother's strategy to strike it rich took Leleux from Neiman Marcus to seedy salons on the wrong side of Houston.

At one point, she faked a gynecological illness, abandoned her son at a doctor's office for a day and snuck off to get her lips enhanced. Leleux took it all in stride, but eventually found solace in the local theater world. That's where he met Michael and came to terms with his sexual orientation — a revelation that surprised no one but himself.

Jacki Lyden spoke with Leleux about growing up with his colorful mother and their lives together.

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Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.