It was Monday and I had an appointment with my therapist. I have been seeing her for years. What made this particular Monday different was not the appointment itself but that I ran into Evan, my son's father. My therapist knows all about Evan, and my relationship with him, or at least from the moment I finally left him. Running into him brought it all back.
I had resumed working at the restaurant though I was having severe post traumatic stress as result of my lung collapse. At the pulmonologist's suggestion, I found someone to help me with my anxiety, as well as to deal with the rapid decline of my son's father. He was not only declining in his mental health, he was also posing a continuously unhealthy and dangerous environment for my growing child. To make matters worse, my anxiety mirrored the symptoms that preceded my lung collapse: shortness of breath, chest pain and intense panic. The condition of my lung was uncertain, and it was imperative that I held things together on the inside. It took me many years to gain confidence in the benefits of mental health services, all the while fending off offers of medication. It was a struggle to really disclose things about my life. I was a client for just a few months when my son and I became homeless. I remember my chart being left out, presumably by mistake. I read the following regarding my treatment assessment:
Single mother, father of child hospitalized, health problems, eating disorder. Poverty-stricken.
(Only one word was listed)
This gave me such a surprising shred of self-worth and much needed strength. It gave me validation that the professional people who were seeing me, in the physical and mental sense, were also seeing what I, more often than not, overlooked. As I continue my therapy to this day with these same medical and mental health providers, I am able to open up more, especially to someone I will refer to as Dr. G. Dr. G is a wonderfully smart woman. She has come to know me quite well, and always treats me with patience. She has many traits that I admire in people who are dearest to me, yet I would not confide in those people the way I do with her. I often go months without returning to the counseling center, but eventually I find my way back. They have become accustomed to this and even allow it. Evan, my son's father, found his way there as well; and this leads to me to this past Monday afternoon.
I entered the counseling office and informed Dr. G that Evan was in the building as well. She confirmed this, though careful not to break any privacy laws. Then she said something that surprised me. "You know, I was thinking of you guys when I saw him in the waiting room. He is such a handsome man, and you...Well, I pictured you guys out in California, driving around, dreaming. Who would think this is where your life would take you?" She then continued: "I also find it interesting that you have not been in any significant relationship since.” At that moment, it was difficult for me to process this. Often I get boxed into my own world, forgetting that if I turn my head slightly in a different way, or make myself hear something for the first time, a light flickers, and I have a spontaneous realization. There are so many ways to look at every situation. We rarely do though, if only to avoid the stress and pain.
After my scheduled thirty minute session, I found myself standing in the faint sun, watching Evan get out of the car to greet me. He is in a perpetually medicated state. He receives injections as ordered by a court. This alone is something many people do not experience with a loved one or their child's parent. It begins with his body language: a slow, specific movement with wide balancing steps. His normal reflexes seem lacking. He has no spontaneity in his word choice, His dry mouth has the occasional white-colored saliva that gathers at the corners of his lips. His voice is slurred, scratchy, low and repetitive. When he speaks, he is unable to maintain consistent, coherent thoughts. He will call to see if he can come over to see his son, unaware that Elijah is in school or he will asks to babysit when I am not working. His hands are remarkable; they are statue-like, and do not come out of their position. They were once beautiful hands that drew pictures and made bumper stickers. They are now covered with scars, and have a homeless roughness. He is disheveled, and his long black hair is often uncombed or dirty. His dark, faded clothes hang down on him, smelling of lingering cigarette smoke and with a hint of the smell of self-medicating alcohol. Everything that he is today is at odds with the Evan I knew from years ago. It took me a long time to get used to seeing Evan as he is today, and it continues to be difficult for his son. It is one of the most painful, in-your-face things that I have to deal with in my life. You look into his eyes, once sparkling with life, and they are glossed over, the whites now near-grayish, his eyelids hang lower. I still see him somewhere behind his eyes, yet he is gone. This is the pit feeling I often get when I am near him now. This is when you ask yourself: Where the hell did this human being go?
We stood outside the medical offices and had a short conversation. The reality of our shared history became apparent to me. As I mentioned, Evan has also become very repetitive; he is obsessive compulsive in his questions. He does not understand any other reality. He is barely in touch with his own, and yet completely trapped in it. I stand there and find myself sad, and angry: angry at the mental health system, and angry at his family for not getting him the help he needs. I think about how his family never puts their grandchild ahead of their own child, though I often ask myself if I would do the same. That afternoon Evan asked to see his son. He now only sees him for about 2 hours a week under a very controlled environment. Elijah grows impatient, frustrated, and embarrassed with his father. He reminded me several weeks ago that Easter was around the corner and that dad usually "has a hard time for a while." "Remember mom?" he says, "Maybe in a few weeks dad shouldn't come by for a while." Of course, the ten year old child is right.
As Evan and I parted ways that afternoon, I felt the normal heaviness of waving goodbye to him. I was in disbelief that the state had given him his driver's license back. Several years ago on Easter weekend, he drove his truck up an embankment of several hundred feet, over a stone wall and into the front door of the local police station. He lept out of his truck and claimed to be both Jesus and the anti-Christ. He was arrested and his license was suspended indefinitely. This action led to yet another hospital stay and the previously mentioned state-administered medication injections. The hospitalizations and compulsory medication is a bittersweet thing for the family of someone with mental illness. Once the person is medicated, the family has a kind of peace of mind. Months prior to this incident, I was criticized for insisting that Elijah was not to be allowed to leave the yard with his father either by foot or by car. I had a gut feeling that proved to be accurate. Two years later (a few months ago), Evan's license was returned to him. This created a new level of fear for Elijah and me. These thoughts flashed through my head as he drove away and slowly raised his hand in a catatonic way of waving.
I went home, and within the hour I stumbled across the photo I am attaching to this piece. It signifies exactly what Dr. G. had described. The photograph was taken over seventeen years ago in Ferndale, California. It was on one of our several months-long journeys across the continent. We had stopped to look at the snag that Evan had remembered resting his frame pack near a few years earlier during his hitchhiking days. He reminisced, and told me lively, excited stories of his traveling days. Many of my possessions, the most heartfelt, photos and letters, have been lost or destroyed along the path of my life due to various reasons. Now I have before me a rare photo capturing that one moment of two young, carefree lives, slowly unfolding. It is a moment from our pasts that no one could ever predict the outcome; a photo representing a time that can never be revisited. It was a time of normalcy and hope, a time of adventure. That particular moment was meant to be photographed, was meant to be saved, and was most definitely meant to be remembered.