Once in a while the threads that keep me airborne break and I crash into the muck of depression. It’s happening again, and I always spend way too much time in these episodes pondering whether it’s really situational or just me, because I know I could be handling it better.
* * * * *
Jesse has taken her version of Carlin’s seven-dirty-words routine to school. “FUCKSHITPENISASS!” Her classmates are startled and a little scared, her teacher reports. Jesse ends up in the counselor’s office alone to do her work most days.
The words sit inside Jesse like an ever-present, vomitous bile. She told her teacher, “I feel like I need to say the words, and if I don’t, it turns into a burning feeling in my throat that gets worse and worse, until I have to say them.”
We still don’t have an official diagnosis of anything except anxiety; but if that doesn’t sound like a plain case of Tourette’s syndrome, I don’t know what does. Maybe it’s time to push the shrink for a formal diagnosis, so we can get a game plan on with the school. People worry about the stigma of a diagnosis, but what could be more stigmatizing that being the classroom’s resident freak show, even if the syndrome remains unnamed?
The outbursts are confusing and humiliating for Jesse. I started telling the teacher about Jesse’s alienation and friendless state. I couldn’t get all the words out, because the tears would have come out too. I didn’t feel like crying. I’ve already been crying too much lately.
Jesse has barricaded herself behind a fortress of anger and hostility. She doesn’t cry for emotions anymore, just physical pain and rage. She’s mean to all of us, even the dog. We keep hunting for chinks; Citalopram is definitely opening some cracks, but it’s slow going. A couple days ago, Jesse told me, “I’m not easy to break on the outside, mommy. But inside, I’m real easy to break.” I stuck my finger in the chink as hard and fast as I could. I asked her to break easy on the outside, to let us see her hurting so we can help her.
Jesse thinks her creativity is linked to her rage. Anthony and I chided her. Creative people are vulnerable and open, not cruel and closed up. True human insight comes from that softness, buttressed by the courage to speak — not from anger and cruelty.
* * * * *
Jesse likes to threaten to kill us all these days. “I hate you. I’m gonna kill you! I hate you! I hate you! I wish you were dead!”
A few nights ago I couldn’t take it anymore, the incessant rant of threats, death wishes, weird cussing and sexual references. It was too much. I stood next to Jesse, who was holding a block of wood she took off the top of the newel post for our basement stairs. “Just do it, Jesse. End my misery. Kill me. You can use that block to do it. Just brain me. Hit me in the head, over and over again. I’m begging you.”
She stared at me in shock. “What??”
“You heard me,” I answered. “Do it. Stop making noise. If you want to kill me, do it. Me and daddy. Just get it over with. Stop being a bully and making threats. Just get on with it.”
Anthony stood next to me. Kill us. Then we’ll be dead like you want. You’ll have exactly what you want.
In that moment, I meant it. I felt peaceful about it. I was ready to take the blows. I was ready to make the final sacrifice. Maybe it would teach her a final lesson.
Jesse ran upstairs and sobbed on the sofa. I didn’t understand her reaction.
* * * * *
My heart breaks and breaks and breaks for Jesse, even as my own rage breaks the dam I build every morning as I plan out how I’ll survive another day of her verbal and physical abuse. I keep waiting for relief, and I weep every day as I wait. I try to do it in private places where no one will see me. No one likes a cry baby. But once in a while I can’t stop it. Nick thinks it’s all his fault, amplifying my guilt; his soft brown eyes brim with tears as he hugs me and asks me to stop. Jesse tells me coldly to stop being a cry baby, but she can’t hide the startled sadness that lurks behind her huge green eyes.
Last week Nick’s teacher, Mrs. R, told me an anecdote. The kids were supposed to be drawing something they think about a lot. Nick was having trouble getting started. Mrs. R asked him what he was thinking about. “I’m thinking about how my mommy cries a lot when she’s sad, and sometimes I cry too because she is crying.” Mrs. R answered Nick cheerfully, “Oh! How about trains! You like trains! Or dragons! Draw dragons!”
Mrs. R, whose own teenage son struggles with a mood disorder and behavioral challenges, wasn’t chastising me but just letting me know, keeping me in the loop. Still, it was a crushing moment.
* * * * *
There was no school yesterday. Our district doesn’t have school on Yom Kippur. They call it a “fall break day,” but everyone with half a brain knows it’s for the Jewish new year. I took the kids apple-picking. It was a disaster, of course, devolving into whining from Nick and abuse from Jesse. As we tried to drive away after filling two bags with apples, I had to pull over and kick Jesse out of the car. I called Anthony and ended up sobbing uncontrollably as Jesse sat on the grass next to the road. Unexpected words flowed out of my baby-bawling mouth, giving shape to how low I’ve come.
I can’t remember the last time I had real fun with my kids. I can’t remember the last time I was happy. I have no hope that anything will change. I haven’t had a break from on-site parenthood in TEN YEARS. I live in this filthy shithole of a house, working seven days a week on this and that, waiting and waiting for our renovation project to push forward more quickly, but it’s only going to go slower and slower because I have to do more work myself to make up for budget overruns.
Snot ran out of my nose and tears poured onto the steering wheel as I blathered at Anthony. He was silent on the other end until I dried up. “I’m sorry, Carla,” he answered simply and quietly. “I know it’s been hard for you. Jesse is impossible.” I could hear his heart breaking for me, and it made me feel selfish and self-absorbed.
I think we have to give the dog away so she can be in a place where she’s not afraid of the kids. I love her and will miss her so much. I hate it.
A person came to my house Tuesday, trapped me in a room where I was trying to avoid him, forced a conversation on me that I had told him several times I didn’t want to have, harangued me and yelled at me and insulted me. It was aggressive, bullying behavior. I reacted like a trapped mongoose, because what else could I do? It was truly the most awful human encounter I’ve had since I quit lawyering. I was only thankful that Anthony wasn’t here to witness it. He doesn’t like to see me feeling threatened and I’m not sure what he would have done.
Jesse was right when she said we were being greedy by doing this home improvement project. My misery is a simple karmic justice for my greed.
* * * * *
There have been moments of light, but right now they feel to me more like the trick your eyes play on you when you’re in pitch blackness. The light isn’t real. I can’t even fake up hope today.
But I like Yom Kippur. I like what it’s about; I like the idea that you can seek new beginnings, again and again. Christians like to think they own the market on principles of repentance and forgiveness, but they forget that those very ideals grew out of Jewish traditions. And it seems to me a lot of modern Christians leave out an important aspect of these ideas: you should seek forgiveness not only from God, but from the people you’ve wronged. You should atone not just in prayer and between you and God, but in life here on this earth.
I read a little Yom Kippur poem yesterday.
To those I may have wronged, I ask forgiveness.
To those I may have helped, I wish I had done more.
To those I neglected to help, I ask for understanding.
To those who helped me, I sincerely thank you.
Nice ideas. I read them and started crying as I thought about Jesse and Nick who have only me to be their mother, who deserve better than I’m giving them these days. I re-imagined the poem in my own image, as I prayed to my children.
For all the wrongs I’ve committed against you, I beg hopelessly for your forgiveness. Someday. When you’re older.
For the times I actually managed to help you, I wish I had done more. And better.
For the countless times I neglected to help, I ask for understanding. Someday. When you’re older.
For the times you helped me, lifted me up, and threw me a lifeline. I sincerely thank you. You shouldn’t have to do that for me. You’re children.
* * * * *
Will my children ever forgive me?