The Fox at Dawn

Grace 2.22.19

Sometimes it just happens, a grace comes to you after hope has given up the ghost, like a dove with an olive branch or an email saying you’ve been accepted to college. Such was our grace this week, and with it comes room to breathe and space to dream. And today J got a 92 on her college algebra test, the first of many she has to take in order to catch up and graduate, in a class she failed last semester. Math has always been her Waterloo- discalculia coupled with working memory and language processing issues make it seem like a battle not worth fighting sometimes. But then the light comes on, not by grace but by virtue of her own hard work. She did it, she understood it. I’ve not seen her this happy in ages. Western Kentucky University wants her, in spite of those dreadful ACT scores, the school where she wants to study film and broadcast. And she knows that she must be in recovery to go, she must be committed to continuing treatment. Graduation seems possible today, college seems possible today, and those possibilities give her a big push toward recovery. I take a deep breath, and throw bouquets to heaven.

Valentine’s Day

God, will you just shut up-you’re so annoying-I don’t care-No one gives a shit about you-just stop talking, God.

Not fifty words into the morning, my tone carefully modulated to kindness, the land mines start detonating. Getting her ready for school. Trying to get breakfast into her. Blam! another one explodes. EDie walked out of the bedroom door but J is in there somewhere and I know she’s scared. It’s her first week back at school and she is standing at the foot of a mountain. At the top is graduation and she has no idea how she’s going to get there in time. Blam! Another mine explodes.

I don’t care-why don’t you just tube me? I want to relapse- When I go to college, I’m going to relapse- Just shut up, I don’t care. I hate you. Why do you care? You don’t have to care-

On the third morning of this I am unable to check what I am feeling and I find I am crying and having trouble breathing, even as I try to pack the lunch. I’ve only had a few anxiety attacks in my life, but I know it’s gathering steam. Ice on the back of my neck and temples, bear breath, I slow it down. “What are you doing?” she asks with all the contempt she can muster, and I believe in that moment that everything I have done up to now has been a failure, I have, in fact, raised the meanest child on earth.

We do not talk in the car. I drop her off at her school, and then I go to mine. I am hollow and her words echo inside me all day as I teach, and later in the evening as I sit through the monthly Worship Ministry meeting. The theme we are discussing is Transformation.

She is going backwards and there is nothing I can do.

Valentine’s Day was once my favorite holiday. I love making cards for those I care about, I love making small, unexpected treats. When I was a girl, I loved the special heart-shaped apple spice cake my mother made for our Valentine’s dinner, and I glowed with the anticipation of giving and receiving valentines. I was expecting that nothing would be celebrated today. I certainly didn’t feel celebratory. Any gift I might give would be blown out of the sky by the disorder that has commandeered my daughter. Breakfast was silent, but she ate it. No bombs. Then she was angry that I was meeting her for lunch, since eating lunch at school on her own had not been successful- who told you? who told you? she barked. Someone who cares about you very much, I told her. Which was true, a friend of hers, a true friend, has been keeping tabs, letting me know.

After dropping her off, I went home to walk the dogs and make her lunch because I was off from school, officially on Winter Break. My heart sank when I saw the Great Blue Heron in the fish pond. It had been chased off a few days ago, but there it was again and I could tell it had been feasting. I started to sit down on the hill and cry. I can’t even keep the goddamned fish safe, I thought. What’s the use of trying. Then came my second thought- maybe there is no use, but I can’t stop being me and who I am is someone who tries to keep them safe, useless or not. I refuse to stop trying, even if I fail. I took all my bamboo peace flags and the wire tomato cages and erected a ridiculous looking defense system over the pond. It would take some balls to try to get in there again, but if any birds have balls, it’s herons.

J was mad about lunch, but she came out to the car anyway and we drove silently through the park while she ate, listening to a radio program about single older adults and “gray dating” before I self-consciously turned it to music. When finished, she exited the car quickly and ran back into school.

On my way to work at the church, I stopped at Sister Dragonfly, a lovely store in my neighborhood, and I soaked up the love given freely by the two store dogs, Star & Milton, who greet everyone. I bought J a pair of soft, funny knee socks depicting a shark attack. Just in case. I worked a little at my second job, only a little because I literally could not bring my mind into focus, my thoughts kept flitting away, I couldn’t grab hold of them. Maybe this is what it’s like inside her head all the time. It’s really hard to get anything done.

Then the miracle happened. My mother called to say that J had texted her and asked if Mom might pick her up from school so J could buy me a Valentine. I hurried home and made her a card too, and wrapped my silly gift. When she came home, J came to me and gave me a box of chocolates and a homemade card. In it was a beautiful letter, apologizing for the hate, expressing her love, expressing her desire to continue fighting the eating disorder. She wanted to keep fighting, she wanted to keep trying. In the letter was everything I needed to hear. Thank you universe, thank you angels, thank you darling girl. A reprieve. We live to fight another day.

February 15. At dawn, the Great Blue Heron returns to the yard, though perhaps he never left. I just couldn’t see him before first light. He stands there, just uphill from the little fish pond, hoping to repeat yesterday’s breakfast of winter fuddled fish. There he goes, walking, stalking, slowly down the hill, though I know he sees me sitting here at the window, his foe. He has one eye on the fish and one eye on me. I am waiting to see if my defenses hold. It is thrilling.

Navigating 18.

From “The Worst Journey in the World”, Scott’s expedition to the South Pole 1911-1913

It was a difficult week. EDie has been fighting hard to regain strength, like Lord Voldemort living inside poor Professor Quirrell’s head. Ugliness returned to mealtimes- the slow dismemberment of food with knife and fork, the maddening clink clink clink of utensils on porcelain, the pushing it around, making it appear that something has been eaten, attempting to skip eating entirely, and really mean talk. God I hate that talk. Especially that talk about quitting treatment when she turns eighteen. Christ. Eighteen. It has been looming like a threat for months.

The front of J’s birthday card.

She struggled all week at her IOP and at home, young Dr. Jekyll trying to keep control of the transformation. At dinner times she lost and Hyde sat across the table, not caring about J’s future, not caring about her present, her love for life, caring only for control over the plate. And then we’d battle and any victory is pyrrhic. One night, the worst night, I heard her crying in her room, sobbing as she facetimed her friends at McCallum. I heard their comfort and advice to her, it was very good, very wise and very loving. All the advice she can’t hear from me right now.

The back of J’s birthday card

Friday morning, her birthday, her longed for day of liberation from childhood, I set her card and gift on the dining room table and waited for her to emerge. I wanted it to be special, the day. We had planned nothing. All suggestions about what we could do- party with friends, family, something small, no meal, no cake, an activity, a small journey, had been met with a shrug.

I had been emailed by her doctor that she wanted to see me in the morning with J at her first appointment, because J had spoken in group that she was planning on walking out of therapy . What were my contingency plans if this was to happen, she wanted to know. I had been speaking to J all week about it, when she asked me ‘what would happen if I quit therapy?’ I had been forced to say she would have to drop out of high school because I would no longer fund her private education, I would not pay for college. It would be setting her up for failure and I would not do it. That seemed to get her attention. Thursday night, she told me she was not planning on dropping out, at least not right away, but things change so quickly and she is highly impulsive. And in the morning, her birthday morning, she sat in Dr. Alex’s office, sullen, quiet, withdrawn. What would she do? Dr. Alex reiterated what the consequences would be if she stopped, spinning them even further out- J would have to get a job in order to pay for her phone, gas, insurance, rent to me. That’s what would happen after she left treatment and couldn’t return to school. My stomach burned with fear, bubbling away. After some expert handling by the doctor, J agreed to continue. I left her then in Dr. Alex’s capable hands as she had J sign all new paperwork agreeing to continue treatment. I walked to the car, quite literally weak in my knees. I had always thought that was just a saying, but it isn’t. Many times through the last week I have felt that sudden weakness in my legs as waves of fear passed through. I sat in the car and had trouble collecting my thoughts, figuring out where I had to be. School, back to school to be the teacher part of the parent/teacher conferences. Terrific. Giving advice to parents about their children, feeling like I hadn’t a leg to stand on.

In the early afternoon I picked her up. She was tired and so was I. We went home and she crashed in one of her monster naps. I curled up in an armchair in the sun for twenty minutes and let that light do its job. When J woke, she jumped in the shower, dolled herself up, grabbed the car keys and went to pick up her boyfriend at UofL across town, in the Friday evening rush hour traffic. “Don’t worry Mom, I’m eighteen!” Fingers crossed, I prayed and prayed and vacuumed the house. I will not lie- she is a terrible driver. At least she used to be, of course, now that she is eighteen, everything has magically changed. Her plan was to drive to see two of her friends, ones she hasn’t seen since before she left. She was light and cheerful and confident, all the things I was not, and that made me happy. And happier still that she was reaching out to friends she had pushed away. She and her boyfriend made it back around 8 and I made them dinner. They put a candle in a brownie and he sang to her. I was not invited to the little party, but I was happy to hear the song floating up the stairs.

I knew it was coming, the headache. I cannot release the tension as quickly as it builds, though I try. A synaptic firestorm blazed up in my sleep Friday night, and I carry it still now on Sunday afternoon, though it has diminished. I try to extinguish it with yoga and meditation, art making, working in the yard, the house. Breathing, just breathing.

On the first anniversary of my biological father’s violent death, many years ago now, I set myself the task of riding my bike up Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains. It had been a hard year coming to terms with the manner of his death, his impoverished life’s end at the hands of alcoholism. I was executor, which really only meant that I had to figure out if there was anything to save, anything to share with my brother and sister and how to protect us all from incurring his debts. I struggled with depression that year, a heavy dibilitating sadness. I dreaded the anniversary, and the idea took hold to make that climb on my bike. I thought it would be a good place to cry, a cathartic release. I got about 20 minutes into it and looked ahead at the 5,000+ foot climb in endless switchbacks and realized, shit, I will never make it up there if I am crying. I have to let go of that right now. The only way I am going to make it is if I don’t look back over the past and if I don’t look too far ahead to the summit. I have to look right here and I have to allow myself to enjoy it. My mantra became, I love you, you little piece of pavement, I’m perfectly fine right here, and I’m fine here too on the next little piece of road. I may be in the lowest gear I have, but hey, I’m fine, I’m better than fine, it’s a beautiful day. And I started to look around and truly love, not just pretend to love, the place where I was. By the time I finally did reach the summit, three hours later, and got to look down upon the sweet sweet world, I was light and free, the happiest I had been in a long time.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying not to look back over the past. I’m trying not to look too far ahead. One makes me sad, the other terrifies me. I’m just looking to this little piece of road we are on. And we’re doing alright, she and I. One step at a time.

May 2009 Chicago.

February 2-3 2019
February 3, 2019, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Eating Disorder aka Edie | Tags: , ,

It’s been a day, a few days, a week of days in a weekend as we navigate being home together after a long absence. The weekend was a special challenge because there were no therapy sessions, each meal and snack was at home, oh god the endless parade of meals. Clutching the McCallum bible of portions, measuring each almond, every drop of milk, it’s an odd new world. She has been brave, petulant, grumpy, manipulative, sweet, vulnerable, irritable, above all she has kept trying. I try to remember that as I’m getting the skunk eye. The weekend was full of have to’s: chores, eye exam, shopping, family event and work. Not the weekend she had planned when she thought of being home again from St. Louis, not the weekend she wanted to spend with her boyfriend. And yes there was conflict and drama and feeling rotten and negotiating and trying again. Trying again. And now it’s Sunday night and I’m listening to the latest Ryuichi Sakamoto album, async, on repeat as I make pictures, write and let my lake clear, allowing all the have to’s, all the strife and misfirings to settle down to the bottom. I’m sure they’ll get stirred up again tomorrow.

I was given an extraordinary gift this weekend, from my cousin Marty. Yesterday my nephew Flynn was commissioned into the Air Force, a private ceremony at University of Louisville where he recently graduated from the Nursing School. He is going to be a flight nurse, begins his posting this month. The family gathered along with many friends, we are so very proud of him. There at the ceremony, Marty pulls something out of her purse- “Here, I’ve found this little present for you”. It’s a glass plate photograph of Roald Amundsen in Antartica! The printed description that came with the plate describe him as “the discoverer of the South Pole” (which strikes me as a rather weird thing to say, as everyone knew exactly where the South Pole was, just no one could get there) and claims that the photo was taken a few days after he reached the Pole, so he was on his way back. The name on the plate is The Keystone Viewing Company, found in an antique store among a great many other glass negatives of different subjects. Marty has a keen talent for uncovering treasure, recognizing the value of things that other people would dismiss. I’m not really sure how she knew what a nut I am for South Polar exploration, maybe from other things I have posted, but the truth is that for decades now I have been fascinated by it and, to confess truthfully, mad in love with the Scott Expedition. I hold this small picture in my hand like it is a miracle message from the beyond.

Here’s a love poem I wrote to dear Captain Scott about five years ago:

Because it is a long winter
Captain Scott crawled into bed with me last night
He was so very sorry and so so cold.
It took me a long time to convince him to shed 
That ridiculous Burberry,
I had to take that crusty wool jumper
Into the other room.
He only agreed to take off his flannels 
If I turned out the light
But even in the dark
I could feel the whiteness of his skin
Trace the sastrugi of his ribs.
My hand disappearing into his crevasse
He slipped the harness from his shoulders
Let fall his pencil
And cried and cried
Glaciers calving into the sea.
At last, Mt. Terror 
Lay soft and warm,
And we slept.

I feel that it is time for me to re-read Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s remarkable account of the expedition: The Worst Journey in the World. It’s time to walk alongside my old friends. A hundred and seven years ago on January 17th they found the Norwegian flag planted where they had hoped to plant the Union Jack. They planted their flag a few yards away, took a grim photograph and made their desperate dash home, perishing along the way. Their journey has always been so vivid to me, it hurts my heart. My darling Cherry, his extraordinary book, the responsibility of writing it falling on his young shoulders, all the strength of his youth spent there in Antartica- the crazy ass journey he made with Dr. Wilson and Birdie Bowers in the dead of winter to collect penguin eggs, the depot laying journey, the journey South in support of the Polar party, the heartbreaking journey to find the bodies of their friends the next spring. Oh Cherry. I do indeed want your company this winter.

What a thoughtful gift Marty, I can’t thank you enough. It is a powerful talisman for me, I cannot explain it, but I am so grateful it came to me when it did.