Where you’re from.

It is that time of the day in which I’m asking myself whether I want or need that second cup of coffee. Outside it will be brutally hot and humid this weekend, yet I’ll have to go out at some point to buy a few groceries. Early morning would have been best, but it takes a long time for my right eye to clear enough to allow me to drive. I generally give it a couple of hours after I wake up.

I’m missing my walks. Until the worst of the summer heat passes, Adele and I will have to content ourselves with puttering around the house and making brief forays into the yard. Despite the heat, my lawn is looking very shaggy. This week I might have to come to a weekly, rather than bi-weekly, agreement with the guy who mows it. Every other week doesn’t look like it’s enough. Back in Maryland, the grass goes somewhat dormant in the worst of the summer heat. The soil must be very rich here indeed.

My flower beds are in need of something, too. The previous owner planted a pink hydrangea in the large bed in front of the living room windows. I’m thinking I’ll leave it there but cover the rest of that ground with pebbles and add a bird feeder on a pole, which my cats should enjoy. I might add a birdbath out there, too. I’ll have to keep that hydrangea cut back, because when they’re healthy, they can take over.

The flower bed on the other side of the porch is in almost full shade and has only some ground cover (I’ll have to look up the name of the vine) and weeds. The ground cover is seeking to climb into the crawlspace, so I need to cut it back. I’ll probably plant hostas along the rest of that shady bed. The trees need to be cut back some, too; another thing to discuss with the guy who cuts the grass. I don’t need roof or gutter problems cropping up, and it will bring more sunlight to that part of the lawn, to even it out.

All of this reminds me of when my ex-husband and I had a house built in Mount Airy, MD, with a wraparound porch. I created a kind of English-style garden in the front beds, lush with lavender, Russian sage, and ornamental grass. Pops of bold color arose when the lilies bloomed, but otherwise it was subtle and easy to maintain. I planted blue hydrangeas along the south wall there, and one Mother’s Day, Stephanie surprised me by planting alternating red and white geraniums in the bed along the east wall. We created a small, asymmetrical garden around a tree in the front yard and added deep orange Asiatic lilies that bloomed off and on in the summer. Lest you think I’m a great gardener, though, each plant was a learning experience. I do not have the green thumb my mother had. I’ve been known to be a hazard to succulents (can’t seem to resist the urge to water) and a menace to ferns – the two easiest things to grow, supposedly. I do have terrific luck with hostas and shrubs.

I’m wondering whether I want to plant roses along the south wall in the full sun or what kind of shed I need in the backyard. (If I plant roses, they will be pink. Those were my mother’s favorite, and I’d like to grow some in her honor – and see if I can keep them alive.) With all this planting, I’m also thinking about composting. I’ve always wanted to do that. Since my kitchen isn’t equipped with a garbage disposal, it would be the perfect time to start composting. It’s really too bad I don’t have a neighbor who has a horse. Horse manure is a great addition to a compost pile; it makes the resulting soil incredibly rich, as I learned when I was living in Murphy with an ex and her horses. The landlord had a compost heap, and we added the manure to it for him. I wonder if I should do a compost pile out back or get a bin. A bin might be less likely to attract critters, but then I’d need to buy some worms to add to it.

Clearly I’m nesting. But I had a rather tough week.

After work Tuesday, I opened a few more boxes, hoping to put all the books onto the bookshelves and get them out of the cardboard jumble. There’s a risk when you’re a bereaved parent that you’ll come across something that will dissolve you into tears. If your child had problems, it’s more likely that you’ll encounter something that will make you angry, too. This is what happened Tuesday night.

What I thought was one of my own journals turned out to be one of my daughter’s. She hadn’t written in very many pages, but the things she wrote there cut me to the deepest part of my heart. In those few pages, she claimed she packed up her car and left our house, and that the only person she said goodbye to was Sean. She claimed her dad and I were playing with the dogs and never even noticed she was gone. She said on a later page that she wondered if we ever even thought of her or wondered if she was okay. There was more, but I can’t speak of it. I wanted to throw the book across the room. I wanted to burn it. My face was hot, and I didn’t know whether to cry or to scream.

I don’t know how I missed that particular book when I was packing up my house in Walkersville. I remember reading the first couple of pages of that book a long time ago, soon after she died. I showed it to her father and we were both aghast at her perception of us. Were we sometimes hard on her? Yes, because she had addictions and mental illness. We tried everything. We sent her to every doctor and clinic and program that we thought could help. We did family therapy. She turned from a sweet, precious girl into – yes, sometimes – a monster to us. One psychiatrist characterized our family as being on a life raft, and she was the person trying to sink the raft. In his way, he was trying to tell us that we had to detach from the madness in order to survive as a family.

In 12-step programs they call this detaching with love. “I love you, but I won’t let you destroy me.” He was saying you toss that person out or the whole group goes down with the raft. Using tough love and detachment was foreign to me, because I’d spent my entire life trying to be the one who saved everybody. But she truly was trying to take our whole family down. There were times when I said, “You know where the door is,” when she was raging at us or stealing from us or getting completely falling-down drunk and trying to drive. But we also showed her great love. I will never understand why she didn’t see how much we loved her. How she couldn’t feel it.

Something bad happened to her at age 9, and she made us pay every day for the remainder of her life, though we weren’t to blame. We were safe targets for her. She knew deep down that we wouldn’t stop loving her no matter what. That’s what happens when you love a child who has problems. They will often try every way in the world to alienate themselves from you and to drive you away. Our job, as their parent, is to not let them. Establishing boundaries and emotional distance is not the same as not loving them, but she sometimes saw it that way, clearly.

Here is a statement you might not understand. Sometimes I am jealous of other bereaved parents who had good relationships with their lost child. I know how strange that sounds. How could anyone be jealous of another bereaved parent? But I am. When Stephanie was young, she was so loving, so sweet. We were never short on “I love you’s” in our home.

And then her illness came. It might have come anyway, with or without the incident she suffered, but that certainly precipitated the breakdown of her entire personality. I have so many lovely memories of her – even after her first breakdown. Like those geraniums she planted. She was working at a plant nursery at the time and spent some of her paycheck to make me happy with those flowers. She could be incredibly sweet and generous. She was unbelievably beautiful.

God forbid if something would happen to Sean, but at least I would know that we had a great relationship 99% of the time, and had expressed our love for each other in so many ways. He can accept love. Stephanie could not — not from any of us. She could never internalize our love for her, which made her go to greater and greater lengths to make us prove it. She acted out in bizarre ways, just to see if we would come to her aid.

I know that I did everything I could for her. We all did. I will love and miss her until I take my last breath and am reunited with her. In the afterlife, she isn’t suffering anymore.

That I found the journal seemed to precipitate an awful end to my week. I was snappy all day Wednesday. By Wednesday night, I was running a fever. At first it just seemed like the garden variety infection I get a couple of times a year due to one of my health conditions, but it turned into a nightmarish Thursday night of no sleep and horrible stomach pain. I was up and down all night, so I called out sick on Friday. My sick day was spent in bed, and it was a blur. Even today, Saturday, I haven’t done much except take the pup out and unpack a couple of small boxes. I was careful as I opened them, lest I fall into another emotional pit. I don’t have the strength to take that again so soon.

I crawled into a hot bath tonight and listened to the new Steel Wheels album. The first song summed it all up for me.

“Where I’m From” – The Steel Wheels

This is where you’re from,
We are where you’re from,
Whatever you become,
We are there with you.

I wish I could say that to Stephanie one more time. We are where you’re from, and we are there with you.

Goodnight, Jude

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