Thursday, April 12, 2012

A tragedy, and a bad day

There was a news item yesterday about a 19-year old who, in a rage, beat his mother to death. It turned out, in one of those too-few degrees of separation things, that the boy went to high school with my friend Ellen's son.

I have a child who has raged out of control. I have a teenage son who has been in psychiatric hospitals, who is in therapy and on medication. This news story slipped in under my skin, lodging itself on my nerve endings, making the slightest thought painful. There have been times -- admittedly not many, and not lately -- when I have gone to bed with the clear knowledge that some day my child could kill me in a rage.

The horror story did me in. I went to bed very, very early. I curled up in a ball and waited for the wave of anguish to pass. It didn't. I lay still, keeping my eyes shut, floating in the pain. I heard Andrew calling the kids for bed, heard the clatter of dishes being washed, heard all the sounds of a normal evening. Eventually I fell into an uneasy sleep filled with endless dreams of court cases and jail cells and misunderstandings, dreams in which I was the perpetrator one moment and the grieving parent the next.

I awoke at 5am. Unrested. Fragile. This morning when the bus ate an extra fare on my transit card, I burst into tears. I arrived at the DMV on the next-to-last day to get a non-driver's license before my passport expires, found a line winding around the block, and began to cry. Be nice to me, I wanted to whisper to the world, Today I can't manage. 

I turned myself around and walked back to the bus stop. I rode back across town, face dripping with grief, wondering why the people of this city all wear black. Is it because they are filled with sorrow, or because it primes us to have colorful personalities, or because monochrome fashion makes it easier to cry in peace? I looked for a place to suffer and found that the only rest was to keep going. There's truth in that, you know.

This afternoon I am better, stronger, still shaken. I have told myself all the things I need to: I've highlighted the differences between my son and this young man, noted the progress Big Guy has made, emphasized the support structures we have in place, and reminded myself that most stories don't end this way. I've spent an entire day talking myself out of catastrophizing, out of predicting, out of overreacting.

Which isn't to say that I've forgotten that my son could murder me. He could. I don't think it will happen, but it could. And here's what's important for me to know about that: it doesn't in any way change my job for today. I still have to be his mother as best I can be, to love him as best I know how, and to give him the very best that I can. I still have to live my life according to all I believe is important. I have to grow and give and cherish and find the joyful things in life.

That's today's job, and I can't let fear of an unknown and undefined future prevent me from doing it.I have to -- somehow -- carry the weight of 'what could be' without having it set me off-balance for dealing with what is. Because today is today, and it's what I know is given to me to handle.

Today is today. Live it.


  1. Ironic. Me, curled in a ball, in anguish. Read your post on my phone. Still dead inside, but now I want to live. Thank you.

  2. This post is so amazing- the honesty, the brutality, the writing, the story. I am honored you shared this with us. I have had a parallel situation, where i heard about something that hit so close to home it undid me. And I'm sorry you burst into tears and walked alone- ( your comment about the black wearing city dwellers was brilliant ) I wish I could have squeezed your hand and given you a hug and walked next to you.

  3. Hang in there, Julia. You don't walk alone.

  4. Ahh Julia. It's very brave of you to write so honestly. You are one of the most capable & incredible ladies I've had the pleasure of meeting in the past few. You have many walking beside you in spirit. I often find the world shows me its most beautiful when it is the darkest - perhaps start there. Also, please make sure that you are taking care of the caretaker!

  5. Your words strike close to home for us. We have dear friends with a son who sounds very similar to yours. They've had the police to their house a handful of times in the past three years, and their son is only 14. They fear for their own safety, and for their other children's . . . but like you, they also have services in place for him, doctors who are helping, and other support in place. We all stumble through this life wounded, doing the best we can. You are not alone.

  6. Oh Julia. I'm so sorry you had such a rough day of it. The story hit home for me to, as Doug has epilepsy, but not in the same raw way. I hope today is a better day.

  7. Julia,
    The depth and honesty of your writing here on your
    blog or at Guideposts always touches me. Know you
    are not alone and are always remembered in prayer.

  8. oh honey. ouch. much love to you, always.

  9. Lots of love and prayers for you and your family! Thank you for sharing your story, sadness, fear and all. I do appreciste you Julia.

  10. Peace be with you, Julia. You are in my prayers.

  11. I just discovered your blog. I grew up with a younger brother who sounds a lot like your son Big Guy, and I think you're doing a great job. I am still recovering from a childhood that was wretched because my brother was violent and unpredictable, and it took all my parents had to keep him and themselves safe. There was nothing less for the three other kids in the family. Sigh...