The Fox at Dawn

11.26.21 A Full Plate

It’s a sunny, cold morning, the day after Thanksgiving. I only have an armful of firewood left, so I’m sitting in the living room pretending that the fire is lit. It’s cozy anyway. We, my daughter Jess and I, took my mother and Jess’s boyfriend to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving yesterday. There were twelve of us, much larger than just the four of us last year at the height of the stay-at-home era. The year before that, we had travelled to Zionsville, Indiana to have Thanksgiving with my cousin and aunt. And the year before that, we were at my brother’s- a dreadful time I cannot remember without pain. Jess was in the full grip of her eating disorder and I was just beginning the long journey of seeking help for her, finding out what treatment options there were, trying to understand what exactly we were dealing with. I was plunged deep in darkness and fear and the agony of guilt. How could I have let this happen? Why didn’t I notice sooner? Why did I take that second job that kept me from home so much? Why can’t I make more money? How am I going to pay for all of this? What can I do to help?  You dogpaddle, go under, sink down, fight your way back up for air. Over and over.

It was so very painful at home. Day after day, Jess closed herself up in her room, answered only in monosyllables or not at all, cut herself with blades she’d steal from my pencil sharpeners. She had nothing but contempt in her eyes for me as she fought all attempts to get nutrition into her before the silent, grim drive to school where I knew she’d eat nothing. Intake interviews, meetings with therapists and doctors, directions for what she should be eating, the endless looping fights, the ‘I’m fine, you’re the problem-leave me alone- I hate you-I wish you never adopted me- I wish you were dead’. No life partner to tag team with, no arms to shield me even a little from the attacks that seemed to come from an alien inside her. In the middle of this we had to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family and with new family from my brother’s recent marriage. What a trial it was. Walking on tightropes, on eggshells, on broken glass, on hot coals. Any of those, all of those. Some of the family knew what was going on, most didn’t. I didn’t have the language to talk about it, didn’t want to cause pain to Jess by talking about it to people she didn’t want to know. She was a long way from being able to talk about it herself, a long way from admitting that starving herself was wrong. She was a long way from even being herself. Mental illness is the devil.

Sitting here in the peace of this beautiful day, the panic and fear I felt then rise right back up as I write. Within a week or so of that dreadful holiday, it was clear that she needed to go into residential treatment. McCallum in St. Louis was recommended. It was a race against her 18th birthday- I had to get her well enough by her birthday in February to recognize the severity of her illness and the value of continuing treatment, or she would walk away from it all and cling fast to her anorexia, choosing it over life. I’d then be in the position of taking her to court to get medical guardianship. That Thanksgiving was the beginning of very dark months.

I’ve always been an intensely private person. Something I have always kept to myself was my pain. A lifelong habit, a reflex. Snapshot: My brother and I have spent the morning down the street in the tot lot, sent out to play because Daddy was ‘sick’ and needed a quiet house. I was six, maybe seven, my brother was four or five. Dad had come to get us, calling us when he was within earshot. We went to him and then walked toward the house. Out of habit, I reached out my hand to hold his as we crossed the street and met the lit end of his cigarette. The cherry ember lodged under my thumbnail. I whipped my hand away and held my fist behind my back. ‘Oh baby, are you alright?’ he asked. ‘I’m fine’ I lied. I remember feeling embarrassed. I remember feeling it was my fault. I remember not wanting to make my dad feel bad, even as my thumb burned.

That Thanksgiving, the dark months that followed, I let go of that silence. I let the people at my jobs know what I was dealing with. I knew I needed to talk about it, be open about her illness. For her sake and for mine. I didn’t want her to be ashamed of it I didn’t want her to blame herself. If she was going to get better, she would have to embrace it, accept help, talk about it. If I was going to keep myself from coming apart, I was going to have to do the same. I had just started sharing art again on this blog as a practice, as a source of fun. Those drawings reflected a little of that early pain. I didn’t start writing about J’s journey with Edie, the demon Eating Disorder, until her return from residential treatment. 

The writing helped, the talking about it helped, not having to pretend that everything was okay helped. My family was there for me. My friends were there. I was still falling through space, but not quite so afraid. There was so much to navigate- working with her high school, would she still graduate? What support could she get at school? Would they accommodate her half-day group therapy treatments? The looming 18th birthday- would Jess sign on to continue treatment? That was a terrifying day, skillfully handled by the doctor she loved. Jess signed the papers, she would continue therapy. My knees were literally weak as I walked out of the doctor’s office to drive to school. I was still working two jobs- full-time drama teacher at Walden School and part-time Director of Religious Exploration at 1st Unitarian Church. I was in the middle of directing Mary Poppins, for chrissakes, the all-school musical involving 85 K-12kids. I was told I should join a parent support group, should get therapy myself- but when? When? I wrote, I shared, I made art, I talked. It helped. 

It’s been three years. She is in college now, studying early childhood education. She has joined a sorority, has a part-time job. She has worked hard, very hard at her recovery. There have been trials, setbacks, additional diagnoses, medication changes, trips to the emergency room, progress, many tiny victories, several larger ones. After three years, we are back at Uncle Will’s, back with family after a long Covid separation. It is Thanksgiving and there she is- Jess, herself. Smiling. Cheerful. Helpful. Funny. Beautiful. Proud. Her plate is full. My plate is full. Thankful, so so thankful.

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.


April 11 One of my lilacs is starting to bloom, my mother’s day gift some years back. The red buds are in their full glory, the jonquils are about done, some of the dogwoods are blooming or just about to bloom. There is no turning back from spring now.

J seems to me to be much better. She is coming back to herself. Happy even. She is playing music again and making music video edits. She is not horrible. She eats spontaneously, makes good meals for herself without being prompted. Still hyper body conscious and obsessed with how she looks. But happier. I am holding my breath, waiting for the blow, but another day goes by and the blow doesn’t come.

She is going to graduate.

We are planning a family graduation party. I find I have to convince myself that it is all really happening. Four months ago this did not seem possible. But it is.

April 20th Whoosh whoosh whoosh. J & I have been to Bowling Green. We spent the day at Western Kentucky’s orientation. All year I’ve felt that I was behind, a day late and a dollar short no matter how hard I’ve worked. I’ve been plagued with uneasiness that I’ve left really important things undone, that I’ve messed up, that I’m about to be called out, sent down to the principal’s office. I went down to Bowling Green worried that we’ve missed some important step that would cost us dearly, worried that I’d be hit with a sudden huge financial obligation I could not meet, or that the tuition bill would be far more than anyone could afford, least of all me. But no. We were treated like queens. I had done all I needed to do, so had J. We were made so welcome there, pulled into a new family. She already has her school ID, her class schedule, has met her advisor. We bought college sweatshirts. The school is so beautiful, so student centered, so safe. I feel in my heart that she will love it. She is a Hilltopper now and she feels proud of herself for the first time in a long time. In a few short months I’ll be dropping her off and driving home alone.

It all goes so very fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.

April 1, 2019

The first glimpse I had of my daughter came with the letter informing me that I had been matched with this baby, if I chose to accept her. Two small photographs of Chang Meng Ai at six months of age, a deeply worried baby whose name, given by the orphanage, means ‘dreaming of love’. No baby should look so worried. I’m sure the photographer was even trying to make her smile, after all, these photos were to advertise her as a good candidate for adoption. Smile baby, smile, no one wants a sad baby.

She had that worried look seven months later when the elevator door opened to release into the hotel lobby all the orphaned girls held by their caregivers. They stepped out, names were called, and one at a time we rushed up to receive our girl- which is mine? Is that her? It’s her, my daughter. That very first embrace. I can still smell her sweet fragrance in that blue onesie with the ghost bib. I cried, she cried. I was crying with happiness and overwhelming love. Perhaps she was crying from fear. She was thirteen months old and had passed through many arms. I wanted more than anything to let her know that mine would not let go.

All these years later, I find I am still trying to convince her. Failure is not exactly the word I feel. Daunted. Helpless. Seventeen years of loving her with all my might, putting her first in every consideration, protecting and nurturing and teaching her in every way I can is not enough to stop up that chasm inside her. Fear rises up through it like a sea monster spewing poison- you are not lovable, you don’t fit in, you are different, you are not beautiful, you are fat, your body needs to be thinner, only then will your boyfriend love you, only then will you not be left behind, your life is worthless, your mother would be happier without you. So cruel, those lies. And there are moments, almost whole days, when she knows them to be lies but then the sun goes down, or her boyfriend doesn’t respond or her mother is sick and nothing on earth seems more true to her. Drama, wild swings of happiness and wretchedness, self harm, anger, ugliness, tears.

Borderline Personality Disorder is the new name of the beast she is trying to learn to ride. Her eating disorder is an outgrowth of it, a lovely little perk you get along with it. She begins work with a new doctor soon. Meanwhile it is life on The Scrambler, for her, for me, for anyone who loves her. Dreaming of love, it is the hardest thing to love oneself.

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.

January 30, 2019

We are home, today was our first full day, waking up in our own beds in the home we have made. The cold cold weather cancelled all the schools which proved to be a blessing. One less thing to juggle in today’s scramble, the precise breakfast making, lunch preparing, McCallum’s strict portioning guide is the new family bible, getting J to Intensive Outpatient Treatment, meeting the therapists, groceries, running home for the paperwork I forgot, finish making the lunch I couldn’t make without the groceries, bringing the lunch to IOP, forgetting the paperwork again, finishing the grocery shopping for the meals to come this week, going back to meet the nutritionist with the paperwork at last in hand, answering emails from church, school, last minute schedule changes to rehearsals because of the cancellation. You must run as fast as you can Alice, if you want to stay in the same place.

For at least a week now I’ve felt that I’m walking through some misty valley bottom that I can’t see my way through. I feel as if some key part of my brain has gone missing, the executive part that has control of the big picture, that is in control of time. At night I bolt up in bed unable to figure out where I am, a sudden panic that I’ve forgotten something or someone, something urgent, maybe dangerous. I look about me and always seem to see a dark shape just moving out of sight, something I feel I ought to have seen, perhaps it is a menace, perhaps it means me to follow. What is it I’ve forgotten? What have I failed to do? And here is where it is missed- partnership. A hand on the back, a loving voice in the dark that says ‘All is well, you are right where you’re supposed to be, you’ve done all you need to do, it’s time to rest my love.’

J loves her new room, loves the improvements in the bathroom. She is happy to be home, happy to be near her boyfriend. But the happiest I have heard her voice is when she is face timing her pals from McCallum. War Buddies, make no mistake.

January 28 2019
We had our last family session this morning. It was not rosy. Closed down, defensive, stubborn, EDie seems to be gearing up for a revival. I am even more concerned about heading home, I wish I wish I wish she had more time here so that all the routines and new ways of thinking have time to gain more traction. But the insurance company knows best….. She’ll go back into intensive outpatient therapy at home, I remain hopeful that what she has gained here will pave the way for greater headway than she was able to make back in December. I pick her up soon from her last evening at McCallum and I know there will be many tears- she has made good friends and she will miss them dearly. It was a comfort living with people who shared her journey. Now her path diverges and she heads home.