The Fox at Dawn

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.