Jane's expenses are next to nothing--she lives in a one-room apartment on the college campus--but even so, I know she’ll run out of money by the middle of next month, and I wonder what will happen then. Her father and I divorced many years ago but have agreed not to finance her life anymore, the way things are. I wrote a script to follow before I called to tell her we were cutting her off.
Dear Jane:Your dad and I talked. We love you, but because you have continued to drink alcohol and have stopped taking your medicine, we won’t be paying for school or any living expenses. We are both very worried about your alcohol abuse and think you need to get into treatment to get better. Right now, neither of us is willing to have you stay in our homes. We have agreed to pay your first month’s rent at the new place and will continue to pay your medical expenses for a while longer. This is a very hard decision for us both, but we think it’s the best thing we can do to help you become the responsible adult we know you can be. Love, Mom
The raising of Jane has fallen to me. This is what you’re supposed to do, right? Tough love?
It’s about a half an hour until I’m called back to the curtained area where they’ve taken Jane to get her ready for the endoscopy and colonoscopy. As it turns out, she is dehydrated, and the nurse has blown one vein before getting the IV in another, and it’s obvious Jane has been crying. In the hospital gown, she looks so small . . . about 12. I stroke her head, once, smoothing her hair, but I pull my hand away quickly, not knowing if my touch will make her lash out at me again. I just want to get through this.
The nurse asks Jane if she knows why she’s having the procedure and at first, she says, “I don’t know.” She does, though, but it takes her a minute to marshal her thoughts. She’s had stomach problems for over a year. She’s been taking Prilosec, but everything she eats still makes her feel sick. Lately, there’s been bleeding from the rectum.
After a time, they take her out on the gurney to the procedure room. I wait with the curtains drawn around me, the bed no longer there, nothing left but the blank expanse of shiny tile floor. I see myself from above, the middle-aged woman in the chair, child gone. I breathe. I think, if Jane were a normal child, I would be worrying about the possibility of stomach ulcers, even cancer, but I admit to myself what I am really worrying about is how she will be when she comes back. Will she wake up calm or fighting? Will she let me take her back to my house, even if I decide I can stand to have her there? Will she go back to her one-room apartment, where she tells me a friend has agreed to baby-sit her until the sedation wears off?
Finally, they wheel her back in. She’s out and so for a while at least I feel we are both safe. The nurse comes and goes, checking her blood pressure. Then the doctor comes in, dressed in a lavender shirt and tie, no white coat. He tells me the procedures went well and shows me pictures of the open throat, the GI tract. Jane said his teeth are bad, the kind of detail she would notice, but I concentrate instead on his calm, melodic voice, his vaguely British accent. He tells me everything is normal.
So now she’s awake, still groggy but ready to go home, and the nurse is helping her to get dressed and will bring her down in a wheelchair, as is protocol. I make my way to the parking garage, confused by the bright sunshine but feeling good that it’s over. We’ve made it this far. I find my car on the fourth level and head for the main hospital entrance to pick Jane up. But she's not there.
Where did they tell me to go? They told me here, but as I wait, the thought begins to circle in my head that maybe I’ve gotten it wrong, that I should be at the GI procedures patient drop-off and not at the main entrance. Soon the thought becomes a certain knowledge that I’m at the wrong door, so I drive to the other drop-off location and get out, but I find the door locked.
With my hand on that locked door, even though I know that if she’s not here, Jane must be somewhere in the hospital, I feel a sudden terror that I've lost her. It’s the same frantic feeling, that instant you turn down an aisle in a store and suddenly your child is gone. Heart pounding, I get in the car again and go back where I came from, and there she is in the main circle drive, smiling.
The volunteer pushing her wheelchair puts her in the car. She's woozy, unsteady, and I help her fasten her seat belt. "I’m starving," she says. She coaxes me into buying her Subway, a meatball sandwich, even though the nurse has said to just drink some juice and eat some crackers and see how that stays down. I want to give her what she wants, but I’m afraid she’ll make herself sick. Now she’s tearing into the sandwich, and I tell her, "Slow down. Just eat a little, or you’ll throw up."
She looks up at me, smiling again, and says, "Even if I did puke in your car, you’d still love me, right, Mom?"