Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Musings on the Unspeakable

I had a plan to get through grading almost half of my portfolios tonight even though I didn't get started until after 11:00, but sometimes other things take the front seat. Tomorrow morning Elvira and I are going to the viewing for a friend of hers who committed suicide this past Saturday. We're taking some other friends in the van. I think they need a mom to go with them; I don't care if Elvira is almost 18. They need a mom.

She was surprised, but I wasn't, that she couldn't sleep tonight. She's not sure how she should feel, and it's hard to explain why that's normal for her age. I think we learn how to feel about things we can't understand; we aren't born knowing, and empathy plays an important role. She can't put herself in anybody's place but her friend's, and she can't imagine hanging herself in her dad's closet with one of his ties. What I know is that her friend isn't feeling anything now, but her parents....oh, her parents will never forgive themselves. All the questions they'll never answer: What if we hadn't let the doctor put her on Prozac? What if I'd been there instead of watching the basketball game? What if I.....? They'll never get over this. I'm not sure how I would live if that much of me died inside. I know how to feel about this; she doesn't yet.

I asked Elvira earlier today how she was doing. She said, "Mom, it was a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It's a logical fallacy. Wrong thinking." I felt such a flood of relief. The school is trying to keep it all quiet...the reason her friend died. Of course, duh, that's not going to happen. I dread the copycats. I hope not one of them succeeds, but sometimes they do.

I remember about 13 years ago hearing an ambulance siren stop nearby. I looked out the back and saw the lights about a block away, down the hill behind our house. About the time I went to bed, I heard the backup beeps and then the ambulance driving off, this time without the sirens. Later I learned a 15-year-old boy had shot himself with his father's gun. The story was--and who knows the truth?--that Dad had a new wife and they'd gone on a trip and left the boy at home. It was the first week of school and nobody was there to take him to buy school supplies. I don't know if it's true or not. The next-door neighbor told me though, so maybe it's true...a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Several other suicides followed that year.

I still have portfolios spread across my living room floor. I was sorting them, getting the obvious failures out of the way first. They will probably still be there in the morning, and maybe tomorrow night when people come over to rehearse for Sunday morning church music. When Elvira came back downstairs, those portfolios lost their importance for a while. Yes, they represent hard, important work of kids who are almost the same age as my daughter and her friend. As a teacher, I hope I never make a decision that causes....well, I won't go there.

We sat on the couch for a while, and then we went outside so Elvira could smoke. It's the first time I've let her smoke in front of me, and I hate it. The reasons why are another story. It was more important tonight that we sit out on the deck and talk. I had a glass of wine; she had a Bacardi Silver Raz (about as much alcohol as cough syrup) that I finished while I wrote this. The raccoons we raised last summer, Bonnie and Clyde, came up to eat dog food and a couple of bananas. Bonnie was in a playful mood and kept trying to pull off our shoes and bite us. He climbed up into the umbrella and got stuck. Sometimes it's not a bad thing to distract yourself with cigarettes, booze, and crazy raccoons.

Elvira wonders why her friend, who was always so happy, would do such a thing. She worries that she's not reacting the right way. I....I just want to hold on to my little girl--who will be 18 in one week--and keep her safe. Anybody who knows her knows I won't be able to, but just for tonight, an early spring night when we sat on the deck drinking, smoking, and laughing at the raccoons under a clear starry night....just for tonight, she was safe and nothing was OK, and yet everything was just fine.

I wish tomorrow wasn't here already.

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