Friday, October 21, 2011

Still With Us, at Eleven and a Half

My name is not Anna Delaunay. That said, Anna Delaunay is the name you will know me by, now and forever. This is not because I travel through life incognito, or because I’m hiding some dark or noxious secret. (I’m not a philanderer/liar/smoker/hater/smelly person/incessant talker/etc. Not usually.) I would tell you anything about my real self, and not worry too much what you thought of me.
But there is someone in my life, someone I love more than anything in the world, who must be hidden. He is eleven, and can tell you whatever you need to know about World War II aircraft, D-Day, computers, or pretty much any animal, living or extinct. I’ll call him Benjy. Benjy has looked life over and decided against it. He’s a child who wants to die.
I would like to tell you about him, but I do not want someone in his future life – a date, a boss – to Google him and read these things, decide he is not a good bet. I think he is a good bet, even though I do not know if he will be with me for two more years or forty. I do not know which of us will die first, and whether in his case that death will be an act of volition. There is not much I can do beyond get him every kind of therapeutic help that is available to him, give him his three or four meds every morning and night, listen to him, hold him, love him. I do not pray, but I accept other people’s prayers with profound gratitude. Maybe, I think, the sheer goodness of all those earnest folks will work a transformative kind of magic, and make Benjy choose life.
Benjy has wanted to die since he was four. I know, that’s not possible: children of four do not want to die. They don’t know about death. They like to watch trucks roll past their preschool windows but do not, ever, express the desire to throw themselves under the wheels of those trucks. Nor do they inform their teacher of an urge to leap out the second-story window through which they have watched certain trucks rumble by. I would believe you when you utter this truth, except Benjy has disproved it. He expressed those exact desires when he was four years old and still had the round face of a baby. His little corduroy pants sported gathered waistbands, and his sneakers had flashing lights embedded in their soles, and Velcro closures. He was a little bitty boy, and already he had had enough.
At the time, my husband, Lars (not his real name), and I did not really believe these episodes meant much. How could we? Everyone knows four-year-old boys do not want to end their lives by diving under the wheels of a truck. What we knew about Ben was this: he had Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (a kind of autism), and life was a struggle for us all -- Ben, his sister Saskia (not her real name), Lars and me. Oh, life was hard. A rigid, tantrummy ordeal, a sensory nightmare. Wild furies; bouts of desperate sadness; a tight little body, stiff as a plank; delayed development all around. I remember breathless battles to get Benjy buckled  into his car seat, his back arched, body unyielding. I would sometimes resort to brute strength, and even that did not always work. Then it was my tears and Ben’s screams and Saskia’s impatience (can’t we DRIVE already?) and I was ready for a glass of wine, even though it was nine in the morning.
Lars and I dropped Benjy back at Franciscan Children’s Hospital tonight at eight. He’d been out on a twelve-hour pass. Tomorrow he will be discharged and tonight he is mourning the impending loss of the many, many lovely young women (and a couple of lovely young men) who have cared for him on Unit One, the children’s psychiatric unit. He's already missing the other kids he’s gotten to know and like. For a lonely boy, a lonely boy who wants to die, the hospital can be a wonderful thing, with friends who can’t leave him, at least for a while – friends as wrecked and lonely as he is. So tonight he was depressed when we took him back, because it’s been almost three weeks, and tomorrow he must say goodbye and go back to Real Life, which is unbearably hard.
But he is still with us, and he is halfway to twelve. And we will see what tomorrow brings.


  1. Loving, haunting, and a perfect reflection of the life you live. Keep writing, I'll keep reading. Blessings to all.

  2. That was so well written. It was very hard for me to read.. so I can't imagine, as a mom, the heartache you must feel having to see your son so sad. ((hugs)) to you all. I hope things continue to be positive. I really hope there will continue to be tomorrows <3

  3. Thank you, Laurel, you amazing woman, you. And Rhonda, thank you so much for your comments, and for dropping by. Your kind words mean a lot to me. ((Hugs)) right back at you!

  4. Anna, thanks for writing this. You've inspired me to (re)start my own writing, six years after the death of my partner, who suffered from mental illness, and becoming a single parent to my son, who also suffers from mental illness. The first time my son had suicidal ideation was in first grade. According to his therapist at the time, children of that age have no time separation between ideation and action. It was a scary time.

    It continues to be a scary time every day. He is almost 17 now, and I am afraid every time I walk into his room and wonder what I will find. The hardest part was and is watching them struggle and not really being able to do anything to make it better--no bandage or ointment for these psychic scars.

    Good luck to both of us in our writing.

  5. Dear beyondthephonecall:

    Oh, how I wish I could do more than offer up empathy and warm wishes. I know that feeling of fear when you enter your child's room, when he locks the bathroom door, when your cell phone rings and it's the sitter/friend/relative who's with him. For me, writing has been a life-saver. I was a writer before Benjy came along (that is, writing and publishing stuff NOT about disability or parenting) and I continue to write about other stuff. But this blog, young as it is (four days old!) has been incredibly therapeutic for me. I hope I have inspired you to write again!! and I hope I will have the chance to read some of your writing.

    I'm so glad you dropped by and gave us the gift of your moving comment. Please do come back again. ((Hugs)) Anna