Today’s post is my entry for the fourth Blogging For Books contest over at The Zero Boss. This month’s topic is Insanity, with the charge to write about a time you were pushed to the brink of insanity (figuratively or literally), and how you lived to tell the tale.
“You have to keep him,” I said in measured tones, trying to keep the waver out of my voice. “Please. I don’t think— I can’t keep him safe. We have two small children. It’s not safe.”
“I told you yesterday, I cannot admit him unless he meets the criteria.” This counselor was the same one who had sat with us the previous day, asked a million questions, and then told me to take him home. I had stared at her in disbelief while he continued to stare at the floor. It wasn’t enough, she’d said. Yes, he needs help. No, we will not help you. She was rough and unsympathetic, and I wondered how in the world she’d landed this job. Or was the nature of her work so terrible; it had turned a once-compassionate person into this?
“Part of your criteria is the risk of him hurting himself or others. He is at risk to hurt himself. He has admitted that. Repeatedly. He needs round the clock supervision.” She looked at me as if I’d just suggested we order pizza. I felt my face glow hot with frustration.
“I’m out of control,” he offered in a slack monotone, out of nowhere. His voice was low, his gaze fixed on his shoes.
“What do you mean?” she countered, without kindness. “That tells me nothing.”
“I’m out of control,” he repeated. “I am.” At this, she actually rolled her eyes. I wanted to smack her.
“I need more,” she said.
“I—” his hands came up, and his head sunk down into them. “I punched my son.”
In my peripheral vision I saw her eyebrows going up and her head turning to gauge my reaction, but she seemed a million miles away.
“You what?” I was on my feet. I didn’t remember getting up.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. I could barely make out the words. “I’m so sorry. That day… with the door… he tried to close it on me… I snapped… I couldn’t tell you, I was afraid—” he glanced up at me. “I was afraid you would hate me, and you do, and you should.” He curled around himself and rocked slightly. “You’ll take them away now.”
“You.” I gaped. “Oh. My God.” The pieces were flying to assemble in my head, making me dizzy. “I am so stupid.” The crash, the scream. Me, running down the stairs. My baby, screaming and red, hair on his forehead damp and curling from the force of his pain. And him, standing there, stricken, cradling him, saying he’d opened the door into his stomach. By accident. Crooning over and over that he was sorry, Daddy’s sorry, don’t cry sweetie, it’ll be okay. I had tried to take him, to comfort him, and he just kept crying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” and so out of what I’d thought was misplaced guilt, he’d refused to relinquish him, saying he wanted to comfort him.
It had been a week, and the baby hadn’t made it through the night once since then. He would awaken and cry every night. I would gather him up and bring him to the rocker, where he would cling to me—little hand entwined in my hair, sobs tapering to hiccups—until sleep found him again. I’d heard him sneak along the hallway to peek in on us and I would wave him back to bed without even looking up.
I was being steered out of the room now by the counselor. “I need to talk to him alone, please. Wait out here.” I allowed her to lead me, let her place me in a waiting chair. Her face was softer now. “Do you need a cup of coffee or something?” I shook my head and swiped at my eyes, then stared at my wet hand as it dropped back into my lap.
That morning, the children had sat on the couch watching “Josh and the Big Wall” while I’d rushed around, making phone calls and trying to find a friend who could watch them for me for a while. “Keep walking / But you won’t knock down our wall! / Keep walking! / But she isn’t gonna fall!” played in the background as I made arrangements, gulped my tea, and wondered how much longer I could do this. The Veggie Tales French peas kept singing while I’d told myself to just keep walking.
Now, unbidden, that music popped back into my head, double-time; taunting. “It’s plain to see / Your brains are very small / If you think walking / Will be knocking down our wall!” Over and over it ran in my head, complete with the sequence where the walls tumble down, much to the chagrin of the peas. The kids had laughed and laughed. Those dumb peas! They should’ve known better! A small yelp escaped my lips—something between a wail and a giggle. I’m a pea. Look, the walls fell down. How ’bout that. “Won’t you join me in my irritating leettle zong?” “Eet would be an honor!”
I waited until the counselor came back to talk with me. We finished up and I was allowed to go up to the ward with him while he was checked in. I couldn’t look him in the eye. Before I left, he sobbed. Told me how much he loved me, and the kids, and how sorry he was, about everything. “Get some rest,” I told him. “I’ll be back tonight.”
The French peas serenaded me all the way back to my friend’s house to gather the children. I walked in the door and there was my two-year-old, face lighting up and entire body jiggling with joy to see me appear. I ran up the stairs to him, folded him into my lap, and cried into his fuzzy hair until I could no longer breathe. Finally, gasping for breath, I turned my face up to my friend (who was hovering nearby) and murmured, “I didn’t know. I should’ve known.” She was confused. I lifted the baby’s shirt and lightly traced the bruise on his stomach. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.” I covered his face in little kisses and he giggled and squirmed. “Go play for a minute and let the mamas talk, okay?” My sweet boy, all empathy, patted my cheek and toddled off to find the other kids. Then I collapsed into my dear friend, who let me sob out my grief until I was spent.
The previous year had been a blur of tragedy and sickness. I’d soldiered onward always assuming that improvement was imminent. We would get through. He would get better. We would rebuild. I was selfish to be tired. They all needed me, and I would be there because that was my job. Except that I hadn’t done my job; everything had fallen apart, and when you’re a little animated French pea looking at the dusty remains of a great big wall, recovery seems a ridiculous notion. “Keep walking / But you won’t knock down our wall!” It’s funny because they’re so convinced they’re right, their helium-infused voices so triumphant, and they turn out to be so wrong.
I spent the next few months as a disinterested bystander to my own life. I accepted the prayers and praise that were heaped upon me for the wonderful way I was handling everything. All the while I was standing outside myself, observing, wondering when I, too, would snap and reveal my true weakness. I was already gone. I could not accept that my life as I knew it was over, yet had not even the slightest urge to find a way to move forward. Each day ticked by as I watched myself glide through the surface tasks of survival. Underneath, I was wrestling a demon that I feared would devour me as soon as I stopped moving.
Late one night, as I tried to sleep on the couch, I cried for the first time in ages. This time, it wasn’t for him, or for the kids. It started with a little sniffle because the throw I was huddled under didn’t cover all the way to my feet, and I was cold. Then it became a torrent. It was for me, for the life I’d lost, for the sacrifices I’d made, the assumptions I’d allowed, and the hardening of my heart. It was because I couldn’t do it any more, and I felt like a failure. It was because it sickened me to be blaming myself. I barely recognized this person so wracked with doubt and despair. Somehow, I stepped back into myself, and what I saw there terrified me. The demon and I stood face to face. Silence stretched between us. “I can’t,” I whispered at last. The demon evaporated, and I sat there—motionless, with cold feet forgotten—until pink dawn crept over the windowsills.
In the time that followed—the separation, the divorce, and his angry insistence that I was to blame—I continued to grieve, of course. But I was me again. The French peas stopped taunting me. It was hard. No; it was awful. But it was mine. It was the only way I could see the future again. It was the only way I could see myself again. It’s such a relief just to be still, sometimes. Even amongst the rubble.