“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”
My little monkey was home sick today. She was up all night long (and by default, so were the rest of us) with a sweaty, headachy fever and a cough that sounded like a cross between a rumbling thunderstorm and a faltering weedwacker. We dosed her with Ibuprofen and Delsym but nothing worked. So Christopher and my son went off to work and school, while I cancelled my riding lesson and prepared myself for a day of bad cartoons and weak, honey-overloaded tea.
My daughter, on the other hand, was ecstatic and kept reiterating the reasons why she should stay home sick from school: 1. She didn’t want to get her teacher sick; 2. She didn’t want to get her friends sick; 3. Her friends were mean anyway, so she needed a break. And it’s true: her friends have been teasing her mercilessly over the past few days, laughing at her laugh, at her small stature, at her unbounded love for all things dragon. After-school pick-up now began with her running to me, then announcing she’d had a “very bad terrible day,” and finally crying quiet, body shaking tears. I dreaded it because I felt helpless. How could I explain the inexplicable cruelty of her friends, of her best friend who had announced to my daughter that she’d found a new best friend?
“Why are my friends so mean to me?” she asked, on the car ride home. “They kept saying ‘Dragons Stink!’ and I tried to smile and pretend it was funny but every time they said that I felt sad inside.”
“People can be stupid,” I said. “And sometimes being mean makes them feel big and important.”
“But why to me?”
“It’s not you, sweetheart. There’s no reason to be mean to you. There’s no reason to be mean to anybody.”
“No,” she said, with a sigh. “If I met someone who loved spiders, and I didn’t, I’d just mind my business.”
So I could understand why my daughter would be pleased, so absolutely relieved that the thermometer read 102 degrees. She was sick and tired of negotiating the thorny tangle of second-grade girl drama and just wanted to be sick (yay!) and home (double-yay!) with me.
Only we couldn’t stay home. I had to get my Lithium level checked so she had to get out of bed and tag along. The phlebotomist tied the rubber band around my upper arm, tapped the crook of my elbow looking for a vein, then paused to read aloud some of the words Christopher had written in permanent marker along my forearm: Integrity, Hope, Self-Love. I wanted to crawl under the chair, ashamed. She’d likely seen the scars, too.
My daughter squeezed my hand. “Momma, what’s integrity?”
“Oh gosh. I don’t have it these days,” I said, “but it sort of means being honest and truthful in what you think and do and say.”
“You tell me the truth,” she said, then pointed at the vial that was quickly filling with my blood. “Can you see your brain sickness in there?”
“Maybe one day,” I said. “But right now it’s invisible.”
“It’s a superpower then,” she said, satisfied. “Which makes you Super Momma.”
How can I be Super Momma after all I’ve put her through? But I forget the wondrous power of a child’s forgiveness that comes only from grace.
Integrity. My mentor, Frederick Busch, once told me that what you rely on are “words of integrity from people with integrity.” All of my backsliding and half-truths regarding the Eating Disorder these past few weeks have robbed me of my integrity. How could I explain that Christopher had written that word on my arm not because I have integrity at the moment, but because I need to remember to want it. IT makes it nearly impossible to remember that I need to come home to myself—myself with health, myself with balance, myself with peace of mind and body, myself with integrity.
I am home sick with “homesickness.” I, too, have “the lump in my throat,” that wrenching knowledge that I am absolutely lost and don’t know how to find my way out of ITs ugly, painful mess. Instead of well-being, I, too, feel that “sense of wrong”: that I am living at a dangerously acute angle to the universe. How many times can you attempt or rehearse your suicide without IT giving you what IT has made you think you want? I, too, am in the throes of “lovesickness”—IT accrues power when IT divides me from those I love. When IT convinces me I don’t deserve love. My lies and half-truths and evasions separate me from love—the love of my family and friends, the love I (still might) have for myself.
A few weeks ago, Dr. B. said, “Love defeats IT.” He’s right. I was homesick today, and my daughter, also home sick, saved me. Instead of crappy cartoons, we sat on the front porch in the sunshine, surfing websites offering beach cottage rentals in Florida (maybe this July?), and dreamed aloud together about our future--building sand castles, moving to a farm, and enrolling in dragon-riding school. Do you want your integrity back? I asked myself. Here it is: You are joining dreams which means you are promising to stay here with her, now and in the future. She is love. She is your way home.