A mentally ill child tried to kill me this year — more than once. I knew she was serious by the hollow look in her dark eyes. I now know that the local sheriff is a history buff because he’s visited the house more than once. There’s a part of the brain that shuts down in the face of prolonged rejection. It’s the part that makes you care about being rejected, the part that makes you care about the person who rejects. I never really needed this child to love me. I suppose, looking back, that I needed her to at some point heal.
This past year I’ve prayed a lot. I say this not as a boast, but a confession. My prayers have often times been like the dried and shriveled roses above. A few times I’ve prayed about viruses and mask mandates, but most times the words stayed closer to home.
My prayers have been weak because I have been past the point of caring, or more to the point, past the point of trying to be successful. The idea of tip-toeing in blog posts over the minefield of masks and politics was beyond anything I could even consider because our house was a minefield. It still is — every time this kid with gaping emotional wounds comes home from the hospital.
I don’t fear death. I look forward to it with much curiosity and enthusiasm, but I don’t want my teeth knocked out or stab wounds. Unlike a soldier in an old-time hand-to-hand combat situation, self-defense against a child who weighs more than you and is psychotic is a risky venture anyway. I don’t want to go to jail. I prefer to calmly gather up the things I don’t want broken, shoo the dogs to their crates as the situation escalates and suggest to the child that she call the crisis hotline. Sometimes she does this. She calls them when she doesn’t want to read for school and hangs up on them when they tell her all children have school work.
This last time she called the police on herself and told them that if they didn’t get the f**k here soon she was going to kill me and set the house on fire. I knew that with a captive audience (the police dispatcher) she would not come at me so I was able to tidy up the place before the police arrived. When the officer arrived, this child greeted him at the door with the remains of a frothing, raving anger dried at the corners of her mouth. he commented on it, said it was a chemical reaction to an unhinged mental state though at this moment she was calmly telling him that she had dreamt of killing her brother and father too. She was only being honest, she said. They took her away and two weeks later she was home again and worried that she would not be able to control that desire she had to murder me.
After a year off blogging I go with this story, right? What am I thinking?
I could pretend it was a good sabbatical year. In some ways it actually was a good year. I wrote a decent amount, I traveled alone to my favorite place, I kept a sense of humor, but it was definitely a hard one.
I usually go about two days being pretty sure I’ve given up on the kid. During those days I sometimes beat myself up for not being more clever. It turns out I’m weirdly brave in those crazy moments when she wants to do damage, but I do have trouble sleeping some nights imaging lurid outcomes.
I want to know what real bravery and self-sacrifice feel like (because I’m often timid). I mean the kind where you want to be brave and self-sacrificing, not the kind poisoned by resentment and indifference. I’m not even sure that exists. I’m writing about a soldier (and cousin) from a time when most people seemed to realize that life was basically suffering and that self-sacrifice and bravery were pretty cool things but ordinary too. Now I begin to see how a young man swept up in his country’s enthusiasms makes a decision to serve. How the naiveté wears off. How the true test begins. How when the charge comes you fight or flee.
I think I’ve grown this year because I don’t have any sense of victimhood. I don’t care about rewards or if this kid likes me. I volunteered for a fight that looks pretty and noble on paper with flags flying and spectators cheering you on as you disappear to the reality of blood and guts. It no longer matters what the crowds say. There are so few good field hospitals for a kid with this type of hurt. There are so few people (even doctors) who understand the battle. I sure as hell didn’t (and don’t even now).
I only begin to understand my small part in it, like a single foot soldier I almost can’t see a thing. Unlike a real soldier I’ve only been up against death a few times and can call in the police so it’s a faulty and kind of obnoxious comparison, but the question still stands. What does bravery look like — for real? Is there a point when you know you’re brave? Do you have to be a little out of your mind?
I’ve noticed that when you stupidly pray for something to grow in your life you tend to be given opportunities to grow it. And it’s seriously always painful.
The kid calls me every day from the hospital and we talk about how she wants to kill me, but how she really doesn’t want to and how some doctors misdiagnose her with bipolar and jack up her meds and how others see that she’s just an unhealed gaping wound and say no amount of drugs will help a kid who had such a shitty bio mother.
I don’t know how this fight or flight combat situation will end. I’m hoping we make it to armistice. The weird part is that we still love each other.
Sensitiveness by John Henry Newman
Time was, I shrank from what was right, From fear of what was wrong; I would not brave the sacred fight, Because the foe was strong. But now I cast that finer sense And sorer shame aside; Such dread of sin was indolence, Such aim at Heaven was pride. So when my Savior calls, I rise, And calmly do my best; Leaving to Him, with silent eyes Of hope and fear, the rest. I step, I mount where He has led; Men count my haltings o'er; I know them; yet, though self I dread, I love His precept more.