Saul left school today. We caught up with him sitting on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street to come home.
Shit. Are we really back HERE again?
I never know quite how to think of myself.
For years at a time, my armor is quite strong. I can remember the details of the battle, Achilles chasing Hector around the walls of Troy, the sun on my back, the weight of the leather shield across my arm, "as when single-hooved horses that are winners of prizes course swiftly about the turning-points." I know what I did in battle, how close a victory it was, and I can give myself strength to move forward, the words and phrases of my own epic echoing in my head, giving me strength. I can even laugh at myself when I trip and fall. Silly Person. Did you not see the banana peel on the sidewalk?
Then there are times when I can feel an itching under the skin, and I realize that the armor's only an eggshell, trying to hold in a persistent bird. There's an egg tooth scraping under my shoulder blades, and I can feel that ugly friend trying to get out. It's wet and its eyes are too big for its head. And it knows that although I'm pretending to be strong, I'm really only that little kid with a bag of coping skills, filled with forty years of experience in saying, "I'll be OK as soon as I get my breath back."
I've had the wind knocked out of me a number of times, falling from horses, and every time it's just as terrifying. Even when I'm talking myself through it. "Muscle spasm. You won't suffocate. Don't try breathing in. Breathe OUT. Breathe OUT. Muscle Spasm." And the blood is crashing in my ears and my chest feels like knives should be sticking out of it. I know now not to focus on the panic or on the pain. But it doesn't mean that they've gone AWAY, just that it's the right thing to do, to tell yourself, "Muscle spasm. Breath out. Calm down." That coping skill takes some of the fear away, but I'm not sure it brings me my breath back any sooner. I hate having my breath knocked out of me. I know all seven times I've experienced it. More frightening than the pain of broken bones or childbirth, not being able to breath.
One of my bigger fights with a certain therapist involved the symbolic idea of journeying down into Hell and walking up out again. It was stupid to fight so hard with her about it, but I really objected to that metaphor, and I knew we were going to keep referring back to her favorite metaphor throughout therapy, so I wanted to get my objections "down on paper" so to speak before we started.
She kept saying that people close the gates on Hell in order to cope, and that now we were going to open them, climb down into Hell, and find all the demons. After finding them, labeling them, and working out why they were still tormenting us, then we would finally be able to walk straight up out of Hell and leave them behind.
I said, OK Fine, I can go with the Hell metaphor if you want, but I don't believe that you can just walk up out of Hell. I think you go down into Hell and wrestle with them for as long and as hard as you can. You get bloody and muddy, and you work out why they are so very powerful against you. Some of them you can recognize as being silly, like the fear of a giant spider living under my bed. Surely if it existed I would have seen Some Sign of it in all these years. So I guess that demon has been vanquished and is longer living in my Hell.
But I don't believe that you can walk right up out of Hell, because there are some demons that can not be pacified and be reasoned with, and in fighting them you can chip away at their strength over you and stench they leave behind in the world, but I'm not sure that all demons can be fully left behind.
I think that when you are strong you can fling open the doors of hell, wrestle with a few demons, and then leave before your energy is sucked dry. You have to be realistic and know that there are some that remain. You turn around the way you came and climb back up out of Hell, cleaning off your pants on the stair, and come back a stronger person. Another day, when you are ready to wrestle, you can go chip away at the big bad meanie living under the floor.
The fight I had with her was that she wanted me to commit to wrestling ALL my demons and walking through Hell. I kept saying, I don't have the energy for that. I'll get to most of them, but I don't believe that you ever fully let go of some, so I'm not going to pretend that all is going to be hunky dory when I walk out of here. "Twelve Sessions! Demon Free! Guaranteed!"
She said that I wasn't committing enough of my energy. I told her that since this was couples therapy, and not individual therapy, I reserved the right to fight some of my demons in private.
We went back and forth.
"You can walk through Hell."
"No. You can slosh around in the muck, and then you can come out a stronger person, but you don't ever walk through it."
"You are refusing to envision a door on the other side."
"This is all made up anyway. Why are we arguing about this?"
"If I don't feel as if you've made the proper commitment to therapy, then I'm not sure that there's much I can do to help you."
"You know? I've been in and out of therapy since I was six. I know how this works. I get it. I object to being the Identified Patient. It has happened in every family therapy I have been in, so don't do this in this couple's session either. I'll commit to walking around in Hell. When we get to the point where we are walking out of doors, then we'll have to decide which door I'm choosing in your mythical construct. OK?"
Stoopid woman. She still gets me angry. And I haven't seen her in years. Humph.
OK, so why am I writing about that woman, a perfectionist Buddhist, by the way?
I think because my armor is cracking. I think the demons are slithering up the stairs and sticking their grimy fingernails under the door, leaving grease stains on the carpet.
I've said to a number of people that participating in the last IEP meeting, that five hour THING, was like a car wreck. I keep reliving portions of it. How could I have said what I needed to say in a way in which the ten other people in the room would have heard me? Maybe if I were more forceful. Maybe if I were less likely to quote research. Maybe if I were more protective of my son. Maybe if I were more aggressive. Maybe if I were more placating. Maybe if I had invited more comments. Maybe if I had been less inviting of comments.
Round and Round.
I know what this is, in my logical heart. This is reliving my experience with my parents over and over again. You are reasonable people, how can you refuse to hear what I am saying? Maybe if I try it this way. Maybe if I appeal to your intelligence. Maybe if I fling myself to the floor and whine and whine until you take me off the ice. I don't want to ice-skate on this bumpy pond today. Maybe then you'll hear me.
Round and Round.
I don't like thinking of myself as weak. But then, there's only so much a person can take.
Dear Butcher said to me last night, when I was trying to explain all this, "You are the best person in that boy's life. You are the one who is helping him, sometimes the only person who is helping him, so that he can be a functional person. One day when he's forty, he won't be lying here in bed with these demons picking on him. He won't have had to go through this part. Because you are helping him every single day. Every day. And with your help he'll figure out how he needs to cope. He'll know that there's someone who really gets him and understands how he ticks. He'll have his own demons, but he won't be raised to think that he's invisible."
"But what does it mean for him if the one special person in his life isn't ABLE to get what he needs? They all just sat there and nodded."
"They didn't want to hear you. It had nothing to do with you. They weren't ready to hear you, but that's not on you. That's on them. It's not your fault."
I can hear that, and I can agree in the moment that he's right, but my diaphragm doesn't believe it yet. It's still spasming.
Somehow I know that I'm still doing a good job for Saul.
But on the other hand (what an excellent Greek turn of phrase. On the one hand, men,... on the other hand, deh.... It's called a "men, deh formation" in Attic grammar lessons. Burned into my head as a child. And then again ten years later as a student of Homer. What a digression.) On the other hand, I feel as if I'm floundering. And it makes it all the harder to watch him flounder too. I'm supposed to be lifting him up, but the life jacket won't quite hold both of us.
While Saul was home we did two weeks worth of work in a language arts book. Oddly enough, the same book, With The Same Cover, that I used in fifth grade in a private school three thousand miles away and thirty years ago. Please don't let it be the same edition.
I took him back to school, and he was full of pride at the work he'd done. Twenty four more vocabulary words under his belt. (And dammit, I think it was the same word lists from when I was in school. I fucking recognize the poem in the crossword. Agh!)
His aides were eating lunch, so I stood at the side of the field and watched him during recess tumbling in the grass with Bobby and Anan. Three awkward boys, gawky thin legs scraping the air, rolling in the grass. No tickling, but lots of laughing. At one point Anan rolled next to Saul and draped his arm over Saul's belly. Anan who two years ago could not speak English. Bobby who struggles to this day with the vowels. Saul lifted his head, saw Anan's arm across his hips, and gently patted it with his hand. Then he reached out with the other hand and patted Bobby on his dark shiny hair. Everyone else was running around after balls, swinging off the jungle gyms, and out in the middle of the field were three boys lying in the grass, looking like puppies at rest.
I wish he hadn't run off from school.
And I especially wish his aides could have stood at the field to see how he returned.