Saturday, July 6, 2013

One Foot in Front of the Other

It feels like a thousand years have passed since I last blogged. I feel like a different person, living in a new house. A new life. Even though I'm sitting here on my usual butterscotch-colored couch, in front of my same old noisy air-conditioner, and my back is achy in the same way it usually is when I first get out of bed.

I am me, and I am here, and Lars is sleeping with the covers off him upstairs in our bed like always, but everything is different now.

I am trying to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and move forward now that the person whose care has been the primary focus of my life for twelve years (give or take) no longer lives with us.

And it is damn near killing me.

Talk about mood lability? God knows I've talked about it, here on this blog and to doctors and  therapists and family and friends, for years. I have it now. Happy. Crying. Dully silent. Talking so damned much my friends and family cannot stand to be with me.

My heart is ripped in half, that is the problem.

We left Benjy at his new school on Wednesday. It is one and a half hours away from home. I guess it IS home now. His, anyway. He was FINE with all this, because it is a place with lots of kids like him, and lots of animals for him to love and care for (and do it right): a farm with sheep and horses (which he can ride if he can muster up the courage to do so) and chickens and cats. A family of foxes live near the barn, and when Lars and I visited we saw a couple of fox kits wrestling in the riding ring.

"What ARE those animals?" I asked, squinting at them as we pulled up to the barn with our very nice tour guide. He informed us that they were the younger members of the school fox constituency. Lars said, "Benjy will want to hold them." And we all laughed.

The day we dropped him off we had lunch with my best friend, who lives not far from the school, and I felt elated. I could see my life opening up before my very eyes. We talked about ME, and what I might begin to do for myself now. It was extraordinary, and in two hours I only thought about Benjy once or twice because he had done so well when we left him, and I knew he was at an amazing place. He'd gone in the pool with a few kids and played some sort of water basketball, and  he'd make lunch plans with another boy, and as we drove to our friend's house I was weepy with joy.

In Benjy's classroom, along with a lovely teacher and assistant teacher (who also happens to be the farm manager and who advocated for Ben to be in that classroom because she recognized him as a kindred animal-loving spirit) live two rabbits. Well, technically one of them lives just outside the classroom, because, as Ben informed us, that one is a male, and the inside one is female, and letting them live together would not make a lot of sense.

How that made me smile!

I asked him on Thursday when we talked briefly around eight p.m. whether he'd been able to hold the rabbits during school and he said yes, he had. That made me smile, too.

 I haven't smiled so much since.

Thursday was the last time I talked to him. Every night since Wednesday I have called. Wednesday's and Thursday's conversations have been difficult for us both. I hear from his housing staff and his therapist that he is doing quite well during the day. Playing LOTS of outdoor sports, swimming in the pool multiple times a day. I know he's been to the barn once or twice. But at nighttime there is less to do, and homesickness sets in.

After our first call I thought I was going to die. He cried, and said so softly we could barely hear him (I guess he did not want anyone around him to hear), "I can't do this, Mom. I want to be home. I miss you,"

I tried to keep my voice upbeat and bright.

"Sure you can!" I said, feeling like a miserable felon. "You've done FAR harder than this! And remember how sad and lonely you've been at home. We could never give you what you have at your new school." But he continued to cry quietly and I had to hand the phone to Lars.

What could I do but take a Klonopin, my new tranquilizer of choice, and go to bed? But as is my new normal, I didn't sleep very well.

Last night it took a while for me to reach someone in his house (they live in houses there, not dorms). I always speak with the house manager first, which is good because I get all the details I need. Benjy is allowed to call us, too -- we had to provide him with a calling card for the purpose -- but so far he has not. So last night I called and called, and when the staff on duty finally answered -- these folks are ALL so amazing, I cannot tell you -- he told me Benjy was tired had gone to bed. He had considered calling us and then decided not to. It's just too hard, he had said, and I will just ask them to take me home.

Oh my god, that hurt. And yet, I believe he was thinking of us, too. He knows how hard it is for us to hear the pain in his voice, and to endure his pleas to come home. (He also probably realizes such pleas are futile.)

In one very long month we will begin the process of regular visits -- first on campus, then in the community, and finally -- every other weekend -- home. Until then all we can do it talk on the phone if he will allow it.

I am trying so damn hard to hold it together. To not swing from happiness to sobs to peace to gloom in the space of three hours, I guess I am getting a taste of what it's like to be Ben -- although I hope I will never feel the relentless, soul-crushing depression that has been his dominant way of being for most of his short life.

So here I am, with a house empty of everyone except Lars and the Hound, and so much I could do I can hardly bear it. How do you manage that? How do you learn how to handle openness at age fifty when you have lived on alert, your sole focus quenching the fires of psychiatric crisis, keeping your child, your family, and yourself intact since you were forty? What will I do when I'm not driving to hospitals several times a week, doling out an ever-growing cocktail of medications, twice, thrice, a day? When I'm not calling the crisis team at nine p.m. to get him a bed in the psych unit because I fear I cannot keep him safe at home? Watching him during his waking hours like a hawk, but pretending I'm not? How will I deal with no longer yearning for the sound of his van pulling up to the house and fearing it at the same time? Living life by the hour and not by the month or year, or lifetime?

Readers, I have no idea. All I know is that I am lonely and I am puzzled, and I am desperately hoping he soon misses me less than I miss him. And that he grows to love his new home. Our home has changed drastically, at least for the time being. I hope I can grow to love it the way it is now.

Right now I am just waiting to speak to him when he feels he can, and also for the next text from my darling Saskia, who is in Italy in her opera program. This is the best thing that has ever happened to her, and one of my crowning achievements that I was able to make it happen for her. Although really, the achievement was and is hers. All I did was scrounge up the resources to let her go once she was accepted.

Early readers of this blog might remember my old mantra: One day at a time. I have a new one now:

One foot in front of the other.


  1. Wow. Wow. wow. Nothing else I can say. I've been thinking of you often, and wondering how things have been settling for you all in this new life.
    I imagine most kids going to boarding school for the first time experience some of those feelings too, but Benjy so much more, because he's Benjy. I'm so thrilled for this opportunity for you all, and hold my breath along with you for the next month (figuratively, okay?) as things settle down.
    Praying for you all too. More effective than holding my breath :)

  2. Beautiful hopes for him to adjust quickly, and for you to enjoy the openness!