Two years ago, when my daughter began to devolve psychologically, I was offered a glimpse of the future. At some point- probably in a couple years- this would all come to a head, and some crisis would compel my husband to acknowledge she’s profoundly troubled, and the school would be forced out of denial to recognize this is a young woman in dire need of help. Until then there wasn’t much I could do, since she herself didn’t want help and my husband stonewalled me. I thought that crisis arrived last year when she wandered off campus before the end of a school day, not knowing who or where she was. But she found her way back to school after snapping back to reality, and the theology teacher bought her excuse of rummaging through her locker.
Then she started picking out her hair. By midsummer a third of her hair was gone. Three weeks into the current school year, half her hair was gone. She looked like a bald mannequin with a central mohawk. What little hair remained was gnarled into hopeless tangles. She paced incessantly, up down and around the house, chattering to- I don’t know to whom or what. If we approached her she shrieked to leave her alone. And this morning it finally happened: after 2 hours of pleading that she go to school while she paced, shrieked, and pulled out more hair, I told my husband: Enough, take her to the ER.
To my surprise, he did.
She was promptly admitted to a locked psychiatric unit- no shoelaces, no glass containers, no hoodies with ties. I later brought her some clean clothes, like an offering to a quixotic goddess.
“Hi mommy,” she said, quiet and tired. She was wearing a crumpled hospital gown, slumped in a chair as vitals were checked. I asked the nurse about visiting hours and allergy medication. Then I left.
Some hours later I returned for one of the two visiting hours allowed. Again, Hi mommy! We were ushered into the “common area” by an Indian nurse- yes I asked if she was from India, and told her I’d watched many documentaries about India- and then a Haitian “tech” watched our every move. “She good,” assured the tech. “She no trouble!”
At first my daughter was cooperative. She wanted to know what precisely I’d explained to the school. I described the phone calls with the vice principal- how worried sick they were because they had found her pacing and talking to herself, in weeks previous, in the hallways during classtime.
“Well I told you that,” she said, nervously scratching her arms and rocking back and forth.
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.” Her eyes were darting, like a cat watching bugs.
She then asked what would happen after two weeks. This facility, apparently, is equipped to house patients only for two weeks stints. Her fellow “inmates” had already informed her of a south shore facility that could take on long term residents.
When I de-tied her hoodie I found the following poem scrawled on a piece of paper in her pocket:
I am a person
I am a human being
But can’t but I am
You could but you couldn’t
And but you wouldn’t and
I am not a violent…
Person but wouldn’t
We be left