On the morning of February 14th I went missing. My first thought was that this would be a temporary disappearance; the kind of sensorial vanishing that often accompanies the fallout from a striking epiphany or a grave shock. So I continued in my daily routines with conditioned fortitude and watched for my return like an anxious commuter awaiting the next train.
Unfortunately, after an exhaustive search over many weeks, I have yet to be found; and although none of my alter egos has had the temerity to say so directly, the internal consensus is that I will not be coming back.
All it took was that one phone call.
Before my son called home from the penitentiary to tell me that because he had violated several rules, he would be spending thirty days in solitary confinement, I had been having a good morning.
For the first time in a long turning from bad to worse, I was beginning to glimpse better. After the generous mix of advances and retreats that have conditioned my son’s long battle with drug abuse, it appeared from his most recent letters to me that he was finally winning the siege. I noted with pride and relief the contrition and sincerity in his tone and the necessary accountability, which had previously been lacking, and my smile was genuine.
I had even begun to sustain laughter for prolonged periods and to believe that at some point in my future life, I would be able to reclaim the joy I once felt knowing that I had done a good job as a mother, along with the attendant pride in knowing that other people could see that, too.
Instead, on the morning of February 14th, I followed my son into the hole. It was not a literal hole. This was the retributive kind endemic to prisons and medieval novels of torture and bondage; the kind that shuts out the buzz from every distraction apart from that of your own mind and holds you inside of yourself until the voices in your head sing like a chorus of wayward angels heralding your own personal apocalypse.
Of course, mine was a theoretical confinement. I was still able to go to the grocery store and stand in the gently greening backyard to watch the dogs play. Books were available to me, if I chose, and so was television. And even though my level of grief and distractibility made it very difficult to do so, I could also communicate with other people.
I just wasn’t able to leave the choking confines of my own sorrow.
Clearly, I had not anticipated this measure of worse.
Nine months ago in my initial, blind scramble to find redemption and then to somehow normalize and infuse hope between the shame and sadness of my son’s latest internment, I had told myself that because this was the worst of his hard lessons, it would surely be the last of them; that he would finally learn and would do all he could to be a model inmate and prove just how sincere and anxious he was for that second, third, fourth chance.
After all, this was not just another jail. This was prison.
That morning, fingering the edges of the receiver I tried to distill his voice through the roaring in my ears as the blood drained from my skull - picking out a word here, a syllable there. Staring hard into the white porcelain surface of our small kitchen table, I attempted to establish a cadence to my breathing that would not betray my disappointment - or my terror.
After the bald revelation of this dark, new circumstance, the air that surrounded me became alarmingly thin and unbreathable; and when he said good-bye, I felt the last vestigial scrap of hope; the bit I had safely stashed beneath my heart, break loose and disappear with him.
Very soon after that, I went missing.
Exactly what he had done to deserve this harsh requital was never fully explained, but having endured the fallacious nature of his troubled, drug-addled soul for the whole of his adolescent and adult life, I am used to such evasiveness.
But now, in the wake of this grave pronouncement, I struggle to court the naïve conviction that once enabled me to believe with absolute certainty that he can change.
He has always been a sweet young man. Sweet with words, sweet with promises and I do still believe, sweet with intentions. But there seems to be a failed connection between the greatness of those qualities and an awareness of the consequences for not upholding or for acting against them; and it is in this in-between where he is often trapped and becomes mildly predatory and highly manipulative; the exception to every rule, the guy who will say or do almost anything if it enhances the moment or advances his aims.
For twenty-nine years I have chosen to ignore this. I have strangled my discouragement and turned my heart to face only the very best in him. I have justified his continual lags of conscience as the unintentional by-products of his diagnosed A.D.H.D.; and as they grew more sinister and more frequent with age, I blamed them on his drug abuse.
He always seemed so alone. I wanted to make certain he knew that he was not, and I stood by him resolutely.
The first time I scolded him, he was not quite two years old. I remember standing in the hallway chastising him with all the requisite guilt, insecurity and sadness of the young, first-time mother that I was. I had never before played the role of disciplinarian but expected that at any minute he would begin to cry, tell me he was sorry and curl into my arms where I would fully and achingly forgive him. Instead, he looked up at me, turned away, toddled slowly into his nursery and gently closed the door behind him.
As a small boy, he did not like to be held, cuddled or carried; although every night he asked me to pat his head and sing him to sleep. So, before the world let go of his restless mind and stilled his sturdy bones came the lullabies: To Dream The Impossible Dream and The Rainbow Song.
Often this took over an hour but finally, drowsy from the childish labors of his day, he sleepily promised me that he would do great things in the world when he grew up. I believed he would, too. Sitting on the edge of his small bed in the warm dark of his room of picture books and toys and plastic imaginings, I stroked the coarse curls feathering his head and wed my heart to those promises and to his brilliant mind, fine humor, perceptive nature and curious ways. This was my chance to bond with this lovely and unusual child of mine - Perhaps my only chance.
“I suppose he is just a very independent little boy.” I consoled myself.
Even today I cannot look at that picture without experiencing a grief so large I could journey across it for ten years before reaching the other side.
Yet he remains my beloved son whom I adore, and in spite of the great difficulty he appears to have in reaching the sort of love, morality and empathy that we identify as empirically noble and true, I cannot shut him out, deny him or send him away. I cannot abandon hope.
But with that phone call on the morning of February 14th and from a desperation so malignant I was not certain I would be able to survive the day, I was forced to tally the current facts against his years of destructive behavior - replete with deception, manipulation and rampant self-interest - and when I was done it, became obvious that one of us would have to go.
That was the last time I saw myself.
These days I fill my body selectively, allowing only the highest functioning ghosts of my soul to return. I cannot afford to be brutalized any longer by the soft maternal blindness and relentless optimism from natural breeding that encouraged me to pluck out normal from the broken shards of dysfunction and pretend that this was good enough – that it would make me good enough.
Today my son was returned to the hole; another infraction, another punishment. And just as I did the last time, I will write him every day and tell him of my love for him and of my sure faith that he will make his way to a better place one day where he will fulfill the promises from his boyhood and do great things in the world ,and I will do my best to believe this.
I will tell him that one day he will find himself.
Perhaps when that day comes, I will find myself, too.