Attachment Issues

Every single grace comes to the soul through prayer.

Saint Faustina

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.

Anne with an “E” and the Reality of Orphans

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We all have something of the orphan in us. Rejection, loneliness and the bleak reality that we die alone color some of our darker imaginings. I’ve a soft spot for fictional orphans.  As a writer I collect broken people. I give them homes in MY BOOKS. They tend to wreak havoc. The same is true for real orphans.

Watching the first episode in the new series about the red-headed orphan girl Anne of Green Gables with my own orphan girl last week offered striking contrasts and similarities. I applaud the new edgier Anne. She comes far closer to the reality of orphans.

Here’s what orphans do (well, my orphan in particular):

THEY TALK. Non-stop. Anne talks about poetry and at times is quite insightful. Our orphan girl was so brutalized at a young age we may never fully understand how much of her  potential was lost. Entire blocks of learning do not exist. The level of trauma was so severe in her early school years that while she was there, she really wasn’t there at school. Her last IQ test score was a 57.

But talk she does. When not talking about earrings or insane arguments that make no sense she sings gibberish songs. A rink-dink-dink-dink-dinky-doo is one of her favorites. My teenage son  whispered to me in the kitchen the other day, “Oh my god, I’ve got a rink-dink-dink-dinky-doo stuck in my head. Please kill me now.”

Kids with reactive-attachment disorder (RAD) never shut up. They rob the air from the room. They MUST be in CONTROL of all time, all space and all people. Anne makes it look kind of cute but in reality it can be “nerve-grinding” (a new phrase I’ve learned from books on RAD).

This winter the incessant talking and stalking caused me to question my sanity many times. Not cute. According to the books, people who take in RAD kids have a higher suicide rate. (Don’t worry. I’m not there yet)

ORPHANS CHARM: When I first met our orphan she told me I was the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. After ten awkward minutes of playing  a board game she didn’t understand our orphan announced that she loved me and wanted to live with me forever.  The director of the children’s shelter told me  not to feel too bad if it didn’t work out because no one thought it would. I remember how eagerly the shelter workers hustled the orphan into my waiting car and how relieved they all looked when the girl was strapped in.

I like how in the new Anne series Anne manipulates RACHEL LYNDE into forgiving her. Our orphan has many people in the system and at her school convinced that she is the sweetest kid on the planet. At home she writes sexually explicit stories in her notebooks and calls me a lot of names (on papers she leaves around her room) that paint another picture of me.

ORPHANS STARE: They just sit there and stare. The occasional weird grown-up will actually get offended and ask our orphan why she’s staring at them. She often doesn’t know. Sometimes a face or color, the tone of a voice or the feel of a fabric will bring something back to her that she can’t put a finger on. The terror it taps into is so profound it causes all rational thought to cease. And then it’s gone and she wants ice-cream.

ORPHANS DO THE DISHES: And then they break the dishes. Anne, trying to prove her worth, jumps from the table to wash dishes. She drops them in  nervous haste. In that moment we see the terror rise up. Mistakes made by orphans remind them of other mistakes–and punishments: the belt, the switch, the name-calling and the being tied to a chair for days with the help of duct tape.

Our orphan always wants to help out and do dishes. It always ends badly. We say, “You’re still loved, but, really, stay away from washing the dishes.”

ORPHANS HAVE WEIRD DIETS: Anne gets into trouble when she serves her friend wine by mistake. She’s never had wine or fruit drinks and doesn’t know the difference. Our orphan eats goat food right out of the dirty feeders. The feeders that little shitty goat hooves have trampled in. Our orphan ate green beans off of the floor of a public bathroom at the beach last summer.

“Safe” is just another word that makes her stare.

ORPHANS HURT SMALLER CREATURES: Anne is kind to animals. Our orphan girl pretends to be kind to animals. She is not to be left alone with our dogs. She’s broken hard things over the soft belly of our retriever. We didn’t even believe it at first, but it’s true. Her moods and tempers must be harnessed. Her brain retrained, but it’s a hard road (especially when she laughs at an animal’s suffering).

Being an orphan is a life sentence. We all end life alone, but we’re drawn to the redemption stories of orphans. The homecomings, the healing and the forgiveness of great sins.

I believe in destiny, God and his command to take care of the orphans. Loving the unlovable looks so nice in period costume.

As spring comes on strong here at the farm I see some growth in the orphan (and maybe a little in me). The girl didn’t know how to read last year. It was painful to hear her butcher Dr. Seuss. Now she reads chapter books and understands some of the jokes. She sucks at math but her teacher raves about her blossoming storytelling on paper.

Our orphan wants to dress like Anne and is now able to take long walks in the country by herself without fearing death. Sometimes she tells us things that are coherent and interesting. She tries using big words. No one really believes her true IQ is so low. Tests scare her.

Anne’s adoptive parents initially think Anne is a big mistake. They wanted a boy, but Anne was their destiny.

Our orphan is not what we thought we wanted. She’s just as cute as Anne of Green Gables, but she’s real. Broken things in real life don’t often mend with beautiful music in the background.

Yet there is a reason orphans are mentioned so often in the Bible. It’s easy to love a beautiful little girl on the big screen, but we are commanded to love the beaten, the neglected and the people everyone else has kicked to the curb. yes, sometimes it sucks. But I live for the signs of spring, new growth and happy endings.

***Not all orphans come with the same problems, skills or attitudes.

ANNE WITH AN E (the darker Anne)

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

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