My memories of her and I are photographs, really. I do not need to get the albums out because I remember certain pictures so vividly. They help me keep in mind why I love her.
The first one was the day after her birth. She was born the weekend of the Miami riots, and the day Mt. St. Helens blew. I was stretched out on the bed in our furnished efficiency in Ft Lauderdale. Dressed in a white and pink bunny sleeper, she nestled snuggly in the crook of my arm. A thin silky cap of dark hair topped her red pruny face. My hair was in braids, one curl, an escapee, lay on my forehead. My face was red, sun burnt from a visit to the beach two days before. I looked tired and happy. I can remember distinctly how right it felt to hold her soft, lovely self close to me.
The next photograph/memory is of her skating in our driveway in Texas. She was four years old. She wore a short maroon cheerleader jumper with a big white A on the front. Her plastic blue and yellow clamp on skates clattered and scratched as she stumbled around the driveway. I was sitting on the front steps on the phone with my mother. She turned her blue eyes huge behind oval glasses. Brushing a wisp of long blond hair from her sweaty freckled face, she shouted, “Mom, tell Gram I go soooo fast.”
There are other photographs and memories, but for some reason unbeknownst to me those two stand out.
I saw her last Sunday. Her pants were pushed down to a place on her hips where it seemed like a miracle was holding them up, her huge, baggy shirt tucked in just so. New expensive black sneakers, several silver rings and many ear piercings completed the ensemble.
“Mom, do you really like my new hair cut?”
“Yes, honey, I love it.”
How could I not? Her blond hair was all the same length, clean and its natural color! Sometimes when I turn and see her I am amazed at her beauty.
When the phone rang Wednesday night I did not have any misgivings. The voice of her foster mother stated evenly, “She’s gone.”
It was the nineteenth time I had heard those words.
I finished the conversation, asking the right questions, hearing the same old assurances. I walked back over to the couch and waited for the feelings to come. They did, but not until 2:05 a.m. when I was starkly awake, my stomach a-twirl. The coyotes were howling in a surprisingly God forsaken way. A lone car crawled up the hill, turned around and zoomed back down. I tried to pray and must have slept.
Today I am sitting with my feelings; my questions. Where is she? Who is she with? What is she doing?
It’s weird; sometimes I feel like celebrating her free spirit and other times I just want to put my face in my hands and cry.
I started going to al anon meetings when my daughter was 14. I had been sober in AA for 8 years. Emily started running away from home when she was 12. We tried to do everything to stop her short of tying her to the bedpost. (Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.)
I knew in my head I was powerless but not in my heart. She was my daughter…my responsibility. People in the rooms would pat my back and tell me to detach with love. I had no idea what they were talking about. She and I were so enmeshed it would have been like cutting out my own heart.
I kept going to meetings. One day I heard a lady say if you can’t detach with love then just detach and if you can’t just detach…..detach with an ax. That made sense to me somehow.
So I stopped taking her calls and going to see her in various foster homes and special schools for about six months. My husband took her calls and we communicated through him. It was a good move for me. It gave me some space and breathing room. Having a chronic runaway drunk and drugged teenager makes the whole family crazy. My reactions were making me insane.
I started working the steps and keeping the focus on myself. I got a sponsor and spoke at meetings. After six months I was able to go see her and talk to her again. I have been able to stay in love with her since then.
I have had some slips around her…I think it’s normal because she is my daughter.
We have a guarded relationship today. She is still working on her story. I love and accept her. I don’t try to change her. I mind my own business, go to meetings and pray …and so I have a beautiful life. I finally know what detach with love means.
I wrote the first part of this paper when Emily was 16. She finally stopped drinking when she was 29 after giving her children away just as I had done before I got sober. The stark reality of giving children away rang in my heart like a frozen once struck chime. It did the same for her. She now has been sober for 8 years. He oldest son was born on the 15th anniversary of my sobriety. Life is sweet today. Great pain provides a wonderful contrast for simple quiet days.