The Fox at Dawn


Graduation Day

5/9/19 Tomorrow is J’s last day of school before finals. Tomorrow is the ceremonial clean out your locker and walk down Memory Lane, a hallway lined with photos and tearful parents. I can’t stand it. I can’t even believe it. Kindergarten barely feels like it belongs in the past, how can we be here? Last day, last day, last day, rings in my head as I walk the dogs, feeling too full to hold it all. I turned into the gravel drive to go to my prayer spot. There was a dove on the ground with two little doves beside her, foraging. We startled them. Mama flew just up to the near branch of the tree overhead. After a hesitation, one of the young ones followed- unsteady, unpracticed, but up it went and landed on a branch, wobbling to find its balance. The last little dove on the ground watched a moment, gathered her courage and launched herself, even more unsteadily than her sister, almost floundering- would she get enough lift? I held my breath- yes. Up to the branch she flew, landing, teetering and then still. Secure. Spring fledglings. Time for them to fly. Just what I needed to see.

5/14/19 Evening. A pressing unease all day, yesterday too, a pressure, a sense that disaster waits just around the corner there. Out of the corner of my eyes I think I see fleeing shadows of something menacing. Do other people see things like this sometimes? Why can’t I shake it loose from me?Maybe it’s my cousin Louise not waking up. Her visitation was today. She just went to read in bed and then didn’t wake up, didn’t show up for work. Louise so full of goodness and laughter. A cardiac event it’s being called. A non-event, I’d say. Her heart simply stopped. Maybe it’s finding out that Jess failed to turn in her Angela Merici project for theology and without it she will fail the class and will not be allowed to graduate.The teacher will accept it late, she has until Thursday. She still hasn’t started it. Maybe it’s the ED behaviors trying to gain a foothold: skipping meals, defensiveness, body obsession. Maybe it’s money. Her graduation is coming- I hope- and I’ve nothing to give her. No new car. No old car. No grand gesture. Maybe it’s feeling lousy, tired, a little ill, a cold virus. It’s trying to wrap things up for the school year, knocking out the end of semester play productions- last week the dreaded seventh grade play, the 8th grade play Friday night, the 6th grade play Thursday morning. It’s the enormous pile of things untended on my desk. It’s my left shoulder, disintegrating, the pain in my arm, the bad sleep. It’s trying to prepare for J’s party at my cousin Debbie’s house, Mom’s giant birthday party on the 25th. It’s Mom not feeling great in her head, the tumor detected there, the unknown. It’s her turning 80 yesterday. It’s too many jobs, not enough money. It’s being alone at a time in my life when I was certain I’d have a life partner. It’s the goddamned heron eating all my fish.

And yet when I walked the dogs this evening, I ran into one person after another, loads of children, all who wanted to talk, neighbors, strangers, a Walden student, a lawn guy. I was walking around feeling low and alone, but the world was saying- here, look at this, talk to her, to him, laugh. Here, look at all these friends. A beautiful evening. Why do I still feel so blue?

5/17/19 J has done it. Three A’s, two B’s. She got an A in college algebra, the class she failed first semester. She turned in the religion project, ended with a B in that class. These are the best grades she has ever gotten in high school. I would not have even imagined, did not imagine it possible last December. She is graduating. It is going to happen.

5/18/19 I have remembered something. I do have a grand gift for J, one I had made for her many years ago and set aside for the future. An official Kentucky Derby sterling silver julep cup with the winner of the year she was born- Monarchos 2001, her name engraved on the back. These cups are not even made anymore, the jeweler closed up shop some years ago after generations of making julep cups. It’s been wrapped up snug in its green felt sleeve at the back of the cupboard for 16 years or so, waiting to be gifted. This makes me happier, I don’t feel so shabby. I am amazed and grateful for my foresight. Good girl.

5/19/19 White dress, unbound hair, white shoes, white cap and gown. Time ticks. Her boyfriend arrives. Her long time best friend arrives. I am so very glad to see her. So very glad that she and J have reunited after this awful year. Nonna picks us up down front. We are well on our way when J discovers that she has forgotten her tassel. We turn around. I’m nervous even at this late date that something will go wrong, there was a mistake somewhere, a blank piece of paper where the diploma ought to be, her name not called. We get to Knight’s Hall, loads of Sacred Heart fledglings dressed in white, but with a blue yoke thingy, where is J’s blue yoke thingy? Why does everyone have one but her? I see the panic rising in her, in her it manifests as grumpiness, nastiness. She doesn’t know where she’s supposed to go. Clearly we have missed a step. But then she sees Sister Lorna, the kick ass nun. Sister Lorna leads her and another panic stricken fledgling where they need to go, J waves us off as she goes.

We find seats, wonder if we’ll be able to see her at all. J’s godfather is speeding down from Chicago just for the ceremony, then heading right back north again to work in Wisconsin. Madness. The kind I’ve come to expect from him. I watch the clock, wonder if he’ll make it, the worry of it hijacking my brain in the old familiar way. Mom talking to me on one side about the people walking by, how scandalous certain outfits are. Time is speeding by and I just want to sit and think and write in my journal- the moment is here, it’s here, she did it. Everything is changing. The earth under my feet is shifting. It’s five minutes away. The text comes in, miraculously Fa is here. I rush out to get him his ticket, there he is outside the glass doors, perspiration beading on his head and face. We rush in, he is grateful there is air conditioning. Hello, hello, how are you- no time to talk- it begins. A piano march, the girls in white evenly spaced, processing in with their identical everythings. We watch for J. We are high up on the side, she will not be able to see us. They were instructed not to look, we were all instructed not to holler- and then there she was, with the blue yoke thingy and rose bouquet like all the other girls. Click click click, the soft reassuring sound of Fa’s camera with the long lens. Beautiful photos are his gift to us. Click click click, there she goes to take her place in the row, the last time she will be an indistinguishable SHA girl.

Sister So and So, president of the Ursuline sisters, stood up to give the remarks and any thought I had of crying went out the window. “I recently came across something in my reading that I want to share with you- that all of us bear the marks of God’s fingerprints, we all of us are covered in the fingerprints of God, we are smudged with God’s fingerprints” Ewww, I am immediately thinking, what a gross image. “And I want all of you graduates to know and to feel that you are also smudged with the fingerprints of all your many teachers and counselors from SHA” What the hell?? Have Catholics learned nothing? Get your hands off my daughter! ” And what’s more, you bear the fingerprints of our Foundress, St. Angela Merici”. Dang these girls are all filthy with fingerprints. It made me want to shower, the metaphor. What about free will? Individuality? Have they no choice at all in who they wish to become? Don’t they get any credit for the making of their character? I longed to stand and shoot my finger into the air “I protest!” being the protestant that I am. Did this nun not run this speech by anybody first? What unfortunate imagery. All those identical girls in white irreversibly smudged.

Time for the reading of the names and the handing out of the diplomas to the 175 smudgy girls. We were sternly warned not to cheer or clap until the last name was called, to preserve the solemnity of the occasion. Maybe now the tears would come. Being early in the alphabet, we did not have to wait long. The assistant principal, who was a tremendous help in navigating this last year, called her name with what seemed to me to be special warmth. J crossed the stage, was handed her diploma and a sister then shook her hand and gave her a hug, whispering something in her ear. No other girl was hugged by this sister, so we believed J was somehow special to her, but when I later asked who she was, J said ‘I have no idea’. What did she whisper to you? ‘Something about God, I wasn’t really listening.’

It took us a while to all reunite in the crush of people exiting. J was so very happy to see her unexpected Fa. We moved off to a green space and he took photos, different groupings. Then Whoosh, he was gone. Back on the road to get to his job. The rest of us loaded up into Nonna’s car and headed to the party at my cousin Debbie’s house. J brought a change of clothes, but ended up wearing her cap and gown all night. It was a beautiful party. Full of friends and family, my sweet cousins Debbie and Bob made their house so lovely, full of all good things. J felt special, like a queen.

My brother gave a moving toast, he’s good at them, and then J stood up. She had prepared a speech, one she’d been working on for a couple of months it turns out. There she stood in her cap and gown, poised, confident. She gave thanks to everyone who helped her on her journey and then gave special thanks to two people, first to Nonna. She thanked her for always being there for her, for putting up with her vile moods, especially when she was “hangry”. She said lots of funny, sweet things. She made herself cry, she made us cry. Then she turned to thanking me and cried even harder. She talked of the awful, terrible year, her changed behavior, how hard she fought against recovery, how she didn’t want it, how super human I was through it all, making sure she survived and got help. We were all laughing and sobbing at the same time, my brother loudest of all. In a pause, the voice of my nephew who has autism came through- “It’s very scary in this room” allowing us all to laugh some more. My goodness what a speech. My heart. It was like one of those cheesy Hallmark movies where great revelations are made and everything resolves into love.

I know it’s not over. The illness hasn’t just magically disappeared. But she owned it, she said “Here I stand in recovery, ready to go to college, when I really didn’t think it was possible. It’s possible.” When the dark times return, and they will, they already have, we both have this moment to hold on to. And we have it on video.


1 Comment so far
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Loren, you are a beautiful writer and wonderful mother to J. Thinking of Will giving his toast, everyone crying and Will’s son’s remark (it was perfect). I read al, your posts, send positive thoughts your way, and am so happy your daughter is owning her disease and moving forward. It is now your time….treat yourself to whatever makes you happiest. Loving your daughter is your lifetime joy that will never go away. Loving yourself and giving yourself permission is a gift. Accept it. Thinking of you…Marty

Comment by Marty Jones




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