“Yes. I’m her mother. Can I help you?”
I got the call while I was sitting in the car outside my younger daughter’s middle school. I’d left work, picked my older daughter up at her high school, and driven to the middle school to park and wait for the day’s final bell. The interaction with my daughter sitting next to me was stilted and unnatural, as it so often was at the time.
Her behavior after release from her first hospitalization for a mental health hold had been shaky. We’d had high hopes and bundles of nerves, and we were trying hard to make right something that we weren’t even able to completely identify.
In addition to obvious depression and unmanageable rages, she’d become involved with a boy at school who shared some of her struggles. He was a nice enough kid, but the dysfunctions they shared caused them worrisome co-dependence, especially when it came to their self harm behaviors.
And while being together could be uncomfortable for both of us, I had serious concerns about leaving her unattended. She had alluded to running away on a number of occasions, even trying to run off on that weekend before I’d had to call the ambulance. I knew that her thought processes were off-kilter enough that she could make some dangerous decisions.
My youngest daughter’s guidance counselor had called while we waited. “I have her here in the office with me. Is there any way you can meet with us before the school day is over?”
“I’m actually parked right outside. I can be right there,” I replied. The evasive, non-committal tone of the conversation made it clear to me that no good news was waiting inside.
I did the quick mental gymnastics: If I leave her here in the car while I go inside, will she be safe? Will she run? Will she be here when I get back? Should I make her go inside with me, feeding her insistence that I never trust or understand her?
I swallowed hard as I told her that I needed to go inside and speak with someone, and that I’d see her when I was done. She sat with her earphones on, black eyeliner encircling her downcast eyes, too cool and too annoyed to acknowledge much of anything. I put my car keys in my purse and walked to the school entrance.
Photo: D Sharon Pruitt
I signed in and was directed to the counselor’s office where my younger daughter peered up at me nervously from her seat. She was dressed like a typical middle-schooler, sporting a bulging backpack, carefully styled hair, colorful braces, and inches of plastic bracelets halfway to her elbows.
I tried to smile, to remain calm, to not read into the situation anything that wasn’t specifically presented. After all we’d been through as a family in the past years, that was a tough task to handle.