Sunday, April 13, 2008


Photo by
Brendon Stuart

I awoke in the cold cabin to thin morning light and the familiar sound of Jean putting on her shoes. I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep as she walked by my bed and out the door, which swung shut with a loud bang. Next I heard her trudging up the hill to the toilet, and knew it wouldn’t be long before she came back.

“Are you awake, Jane?” I asked quietly, looking up at the ceiling, not turning around to see her bed at the back of the cabin.


It was good to hear the voice of my milder sister. Hearing her sympathetic tone was all I wanted, really. I wasn’t eager for conversation. But since it seemed that I should say something more, I asked the obvious question. “What am I going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

I was comforted by Jane’s lack of certainty and the warm weight of my sleeping bag. Like me, she was buffeted by circumstance, not sure how to respond in the face of disaster, preferring to stay still, cocooned in the cabin, waiting for some kind of sign. In these circumstances the memories of our father’s episodes worked against me. Dad had lost his mind several times, but always returned to reality unescorted. He had an unholy hatred for hospitals, and classified as a traitor any person who suggested he should check into one. And as it played out, he didn’t seem to require them. Was it possible that Eddy’s madness would follow the same rules? I felt unsure. And it seemed that Jane did, too. But Jean was untroubled by any hint of ambiguity. She knew exactly what to do.

“You have to take him to the hospital,” she told me when she returned, bursting through the door and sitting down solidly on the empty bed opposite mine, which had become the repository for all our bags and belongings.

“But how am I going to do that, Jean? What if he doesn’t want to go?”

“You’ll talk him into it. I’ll help you.”

“Okay,” I said uncertainly. “But I think you should talk him into it. I don’t think he’ll listen to me. In fact, if I suggest it, I’m sure he’ll resist.”

“All right. I’ll talk him into it. But you have to get up and help me find him first.”

Jane and I put on our clothes slowly and the three of us walked down to the lodge area where, surprisingly, we found Eddy sitting at a picnic table out front.

“There he is,” I pointed him out to Jean. “Well, that was easy. You go ahead and talk to him. I’ll wait inside.” Jean didn’t blame me for my cowardice, or laugh at the absurdity of me running away, or resist her assignment in any way, but walked purposefully toward my son, a force of nature in her yellow shirt, turquoise shorts and white sneakers with ankle-length white socks. Inside the lodge, I scooped out a bowl of granola and sat at a table near the window, where I could spy. Before long, I felt ridiculous. “I’m going to go talk to them,” I told Jane before bringing my bowl outside and approaching the table.

“Eddy. It’s the best thing for you. You need help,” Jean was saying in a calm, loving voice.

“No. Not yet. I’m fine…I think,” Eddy answered. “Hi, Mom.” He turned his face toward me, glad of the distraction.

“Hi, Eddy. How are you feeling this morning?”

“Okay, I guess. I think I want to read my poem at the Talent Show tonight.”

“You do? Well, it’s a good poem.” Eddy had read it to me earlier in the week, on the day we had hiked out to Ledges, a remote and beautiful swimming hole. Jane and Jean and I had driven to the trailhead with Karen, another woman our age, and enjoyed the 50-minute hike up the little north fork of the Big River as much as the swim when we arrived. The trail went through many transformations during the hike, starting out as a big, rutted road with two yellow, locked gates to block car traffic, passing through a fairy circle of enormous redwoods that created a still, silent sanctuary beneath heavy boughs, and then trickling down to a tiny footpath just big enough for a medium-sized human to avoid the poison oak that crowded in on either side, along with loganberries and stinging nettles and tall, tickling grasses. Once we arrived at the sandy bank deep in the woods, we found another small group from camp, and a family of locals: mother, father, and toddler. After lying in the sun long enough to raise our temperature, Karen and I peeled off our clothes and got into the water. It had taken me five years of coming to camp before I loosened up enough to go skinny dipping with the regulars, so I wasn’t surprised that Jean and Jane preferred keeping their suits on. They were the only ones clothed. An hour or so after we arrived, a group of teens from camp showed up. “Where’s Eddy?” I asked Brenda, whose thick, black hair made a striking contrast to her pale white skin.

“Oh, he was with us. But he wanted to stop along the way.”

“Stop? But where?”

“I don’t know. He just stopped. He didn’t want to keep walking.”

Eddy never showed up at the swimming hole, and I worried over him for the next few hours of our stay, wondering if he might have gotten lost in the wild, or would miss his ride back to camp, or decide on a whim to leave the forest with a group of townies and never look back. But on our hike back to the car, he suddenly appeared in the middle of the path, surrounded by verdant vegetation, like some kind of magical wood sprite. He stood without speaking in a beam of light that filtered through the trees, clearly aware of the visual effect he was making. He had his shirt off, was barefoot, and held a piece of crumpled paper in his hand. The background framing him was 100 shades of green.

“Hi, Mom. Can I talk to you?” he asked when we approached, as if there was nothing unusual about meeting up in the middle of a redwood forest.

“Hi, Eddy. Of course!”

Eddy and I dropped back while Jane and Jean and Karen walked ahead. He had written a poem, he said, and he wanted to read it to me. His voice was strong, his mind clear, and his poem provocative. He kept apace with me for 15 minutes or so talking about it before peeling off and fading back into the trees. That was a day I felt good about coming. Camp seemed to be having a salutary effect on Eddy. He was recovering, I told my sisters. He was coherent. He had written a poem! But the next time I saw him, he looked completely lost.

Now, a few days later, with the camp week almost over, I finally agreed with my sister Jean that maybe Eddy needed to return to the hospital after all. I stood considering this prospect as all around me people were practicing for the traditional week-end talent show. A group of four adults was sitting on chairs before music stands, playing a Baroque piece on recorders of various sizes. Five little girls were working on an acrobatic skit. A smattering of drummers were coordinating their rhythms under the trees.

“I’m going to go work on my poem,” Eddy told us, rising from the table. “I’ll see you later.”

“Wait a minute, Eddy,” I stopped him. “Are you sure you don’t want to go home right now? After last night, I thought we would be leaving this morning.”

“No. I’m not sure. But I don’t want to leave this second.”

“Okay. Well, how about this? Why don’t you get your things into the car? Let’s get the car all packed and ready to go so we can leave at a moment’s notice, if we decide to.”


“Not maybe, Eddy,” I girded to assert my authority, unsure what response it would bring. “I’m feeling anxious now. Remember our promise to each other? That we would leave if we needed to? Well, I need to. I want you to go get your things and put them in the car. I’m not saying you can’t read your poem at the talent show. But I still want all our things in the car, just in case.”

“Okay,” he said easily. Then he left.

“What do you think?” I asked Jean as he walked away from us.

“I think you should be leaving now. But it’s a good thing you got him to pack up, anyway. We can talk to him some more, later.”

I went and packed up my own things, and hauled them out to the car. When I ran into Melanie, Henry’s abandoned girlfriend, I told her to do the same. “Eddy was feeling pretty crazy last night, and we might need to leave at a moment’s notice, so after you pack your things in the car I want you to stay around the lodge where I can find you,” I warned. She agreed.

Once my things were in the car I felt some relief. A decision had been made; we were moving in a direction. The rest of the day was spent waiting.

After lunch was over, Gem, a lovely and responsible teenager with white-blonde hair and opalescent skin who had run the popular soap-making workshop earlier in the week, sought me out in the clearing in front of the lodge, where I was making myself accessible. “I think Eddy’s in trouble,” she told me.

“What’s happened!?” I jumped up out of my chair.

“Nothing’s happened,” she calmed me. “He’s just been talking to me, and it sounds like he’s having a pretty hard time.”

“Oh, thank God he’s all right. Well, what should I do? Should we go find him?” I walked with Gem back towards the Far Meadow, where we thought we might run into him. “What’s he been saying?” I asked.

“He says that he’s having trouble thinking. His mind is racing out of control. He hears and sees things that he isn’t sure are real. He doesn’t know what’s happening to him, and he’s scared.”

I felt the proper worry and sympathy when she told me these details, but for some perverse reason, when we found Eddy sitting on some beleaguered camper’s front step, my chest exploded with anger.

“Eddy, how’re you doing?” I asked aggressively.

“Not so well.”

“That’s what Gem’s been telling me,” I tried to modulate my voice. “Come on, why don’t you get up and walk with us? I doubt the person who is staying in that cabin wants you sitting on her step, blocking the doorway.”

Eddy scowled at me. “Nobody’s here!” he said. “There’s no problem. Why do you care about that person? You don’t even know who she is.”

“Are you sure nobody’s there? Did you look inside?”

Eddy shook his head in frustration at my inanity.

“Listen Eddy, I want to go home now,” my voice took on an excessive tone. “I know you’re having a hard time, and I am too. You don’t have to go to the hospital, if you don’t want to. But let’s get out of the forest. I want to go home. The car’s all packed now. I want us to get in it now and drive away.”

Eddy stood up and started walking towards the lodge. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Someone’s trying to tell me what to do. Someone’s trying to talk to me, but I can’t understand what he’s saying.”

“Eddy. Nobody is trying to talk to you but me. There’s nobody here but me and you and Gem. Can you understand what I’m saying?”

“This isn’t working. This isn’t working. I don’t want to get in the car with you. I’m not supposed to.”

His resistance to leaving triggered more animosity in me, reminding me of countless times when he’d refused to end outings as a child. I remembered the time I had to chase him around Marine World for 45 minutes in a sputtering rage before finally capturing him in a foolish maze, and though I wanted to beat him senseless at the time, I remembered restraining myself admirably, managing merely to carry him, kicking and fighting, all the way to the car. He bruised my thigh with his heel that day, and broke the flesh on my arm. I told him during the ride home that I would never bring him to Marine World again, and I never did. But that didn’t change his behavior. At King’s Castle, a video parlor closer to home, I’d become so apoplectic at his refusal to leave that I’d actually gotten in the car without him and driven away. I didn’t carry him out that time because I couldn’t bear the physical confrontation—the flailing and screaming, the kicking and scratching, and especially not the people standing and staring after me like some kind of child abuser. Yet the vision of him in my rear view mirror, finally coming outside and running after the car on his skinny little boy’s legs as I pulled out of the parking lot, still filled me with both guilt and anger. Then there was the Unitarian Universalist snow trip, when the problem was not refusing to leave, but leaving too soon. Tired of waiting for me to gather up the other children off the slopes, Eddy had hitchhiked back to our lodgings with another church member without telling me, leaving me to look for him frantically in the freezing snow for two hours, imagining all the while that he was in some kind of danger, or dead. All the frustration of raising this preternaturally willful child welled up in me.

“Edward, why are you doing this to me now?!” I yelled at him. “Why did you wait until Dad left before you went crazy? I can’t deal with this alone, I’m telling you! Just get in the goddam car so we can go home!”

“No, Mom. No. I’m not going yet,” he used a calm voice that threw my own into sharp relief, making me realize that I was the one who sounded hysterical. “I’ve got to read my poem at the talent show. I’m sure of that.”

We were back at the lodge area now, and Jean moved in for tag team persuasion. I saw her envelop him in her big mama’s arms, pulling him close to her chest in a completely open and candid way that I envied—a way I hadn’t been able to hold him since he hit puberty.

While Jean showered Eddy with unconditional love, I sat at a distance and wondered what was wrong with me, asking myself for the thousandth time if there was something lacking in my mothering that had brought Eddy to this pass.

I remembered what he had said in the hospital three months previous—that at the core of his difficulties was a birth trauma, a desire to stay in the womb, not to separate from me. I remembered the dream...

After dinner, the lodge was made ready for the talent show, with the big tables pushed to the back and the benches lined up in front of a clearing which would be used as a stage. Mike Goodman was the MC this year, and I was comforted by the sight of Eddy’s friend all grown up, big and bear like and friendly, with a full head of long brown hair, running the show. I found a place on the edge of a crowded bench and waited for Eddy’s turn anxiously. The room was crowded with parents and children and teens. Jane sat beside me, and Jean stayed in the staging area outside, with Eddy. First came several silly performances of small children doing sommersaults and tricks with hula hoops. One group of young boys recreated two scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: the Black Knight getting all his limbs amputated in battle, and the gatekeeper asking riddles of the knights who wished to cross a bridge. A pair of small sisters did a magic trick. An adult sang a love song. Brenda danced to a Stevie Nicks CD. At one point I saw Eddy poke his head through the back door which was acting as a stage entrance for the various acts in waiting, and then worm his way into a group of spectators sitting on the floor along the side of the stage. I went out to talk to Jean when I saw he was settled inside. Jane came with me.

“He’s ready to go to the hospital,” Jean told me. “He wants to leave as soon as he reads his poem.”

Melanie was outside too, hobnobbing with the excited and costumed performers, and fully informed of the plan. I gave Jean a grateful hug goodbye, in case we left in a hurry, and a promise to see her with her family in Santa Cruz in August. I hugged Jane goodbye, too, thanking her for coming and supporting both me and Jean. Then I hurried back inside to see Eddy’s performance.

He was scheduled to read just before intermission. Mike announced him and he stood up alone before the audience. He held up his paper, and I imagined him stunning the crowd with his brilliant locution. It was a testament to his charisma that I saw several adults leaning forward in anticipation. But in the pressure of the moment he just hurried through, mumbling, so that most couldn’t hear what he had to say. But I did.

Death and dying; Anticipation.
I’m too ready to be ready.
My flow is stunted, my thrusts blunted
Try too hard and martyr my failures
but now I hang up on success
I’m down on progress past the present
But my life isn’t in line, my life?
My life? I mean right fuckin’ now
‘cause I don’t have another I’m not
immortal. Here I am munching nuts and
Writing but they both go half ignored apparently
my parents and me we had a moment once us
three. I loved my mother and she me I
came out of her breathlessly I
did discover another universe I was reborn without
consent and now I hurry then slow I’m spent
little maybe change is against my nature cause I
didn’t want to leave that warm secure shelter
Now, I’m stuck in a wombless room or hallway as
the case may be and I know that worlds flip
upside down but I hold these two that make
me frown.
Die to the womb I died I die now, crazy
but too lazy to make it all the way, rationality
stays. Internalize those closed up eyes and
refusal. No approval. Came out blue and
hated to.
I’ll die like all the rest.

The crowd couldn’t hear all the words, but they saw the emotion, and were clapping enthusiastically when Eddy slipped out the stage door and I went out front to meet him.

“That was good Eddy,” I encouraged him.

He hung his head and shook it once.

“You ready?” I asked.

He nodded this time.

The people who happened to be outside hugged us goodbye until Melanie climbed into the back, and then Eddy snapped the seat back into place and sat down on the passenger’s side. I slid into the driver’s seat, and we started down the dusty road.
Even though it was dark, and we had a long way to go, it was a tremendous relief to be on the road at last, leaving camp and the crowd of people behind us, traveling toward home, and Lawrence. We did little talking. Eddy sat much of the time with his eyes closed, although I didn’t think he was sleeping. Melanie sang along to music coming out of a set of headphones attached to her ipod.

Hours later, around midnight, we pulled into the parking lot of the emergency room at Sisters of Mercy Hospital. This was the same entrance we’d gone to three months before, in daylight hours, when Eddy had been admitted to a psych ward for the first time after cutting his hand. It was dark now, of course, but there was still activity. We saw a security guard standing outside the sliding entrance doors. A man and woman drove up in a truck and clambered out together. A head leaned against the etched glass in the waiting room.

“Okay, Eddy. Here we are. Let’s go in,” I prompted.

“Wait a minute. I’m not ready to go.”

I was exasperated, after the long drive, to come up against his ambivalence, but too tired and confused to make much of a fuss. We sat in the car as Melanie and he engaged in an interminable conversation about the pros and cons of submitting oneself to the hospital authorities. She patiently listened and debated with him. I sat mostly silent, but eventually insisted a decision be made.

“Listen, Eddy. I’m tired of sitting here. I’ve been driving for five hours. My legs are numb. If you don’t want to go into the hospital this minute, that’s fine with me. Let’s go home, and we can talk about it again in the morning. Otherwise, let’s go check you in.”

“Okay. But you stay here,” he instructed me firmly. “I don’t want you to come with me. I want to go in alone.”

“Why, Eddy?” I was inexplicably insulted. “What’s the difference? You need me to go with you. What will you tell them? Do you even have your insurance card?”

Eddy didn’t have his card, and I told him pettishly that I didn’t want to give him mine, because he’d lose it. But he retorted that he didn’t need my card to be admitted.

“Don’t worry, Mom. They’ll take me,” he reassured me before climbing out of the car. Melanie and I watched him walk barefoot across the parking lot and through the sliding glass doors, but when they closed behind him, I didn’t immediately drive away. We waited and watched from across the desolate parking lot for another 10 minutes, afraid he might change his mind and come running back out to us.

We waited and watched in the cold car beneath merciless stars for a long and lonely 10 minutes. When the wind picked up and a paper wrapping tumbled by, I felt a tsunami of grief rising up in my chest, but it wasn’t until I had driven home and crawled into my own bed next to Lawrence that I finally let myself cry.

Come back next Sunday to read the next chapter, or buy a paperback copy of the whole novel HERE.

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