E, my 15-year-old daughter, has invited me to her therapy session. We sit side-by-side on a couch across from her psychiatrist. Her doctor stands and billows a sun yellow yarn blanket overhead, letting it fall on E’s lap where it’s tucked securely around her legs. Their comfort ritual.
I am a guest here.
E talks about her drive for perfection, how the gap between what-she-is and what-she-wants-to-be is vast. How her depression takes root there. Her eyes on her therapist, never on me. She reveals her fear of being abandoned and suddenly I am on guard, tallying up the ten thousand hours.
“Don’t you know I would never leave you?” I say. “I’ve always been right here.” I slap the couch cushion space between us. She looks at me now and where I expect fight I see despair.
The gap between what-she-thinks-I-am and what-I-think-I-am is vast.
I remember E when she was a few days old. We are back from the hospital: me, E, and her Dad. We have this bed called a co-sleeper, it’s a small crib attached to our bed so E can sleep close to us, and I can easily reach over to nurse in the night. We used it with her older sister M, and it worked very well. But E isn’t like M–she’s fussy. Doesn’t like to be out of my arms. Even being swaddled in the blanket won’t do. And of course it wouldn’t. After nine months of womb dark and warm, how could a blanket help? Her tiny body contains only one cup of blood.
Her Dad is different this time too. Easier to irritate. Tired, all the time. He’s deeper into his medical training than he was when M was born. Medical Board exams are coming up and we have to decide where he will pursue his fellowship. A big move away from our city with two young children. It’s daunting.
E cries a lot. She doesn’t like being separated from me. Our pediatrician is old school, been practicing for over forty years. “Let her cry it out,” he says. “Don’t breast feed her too much.”
So this time, the co-sleeper won’t work. E senses me so close and wants to be in my arms all night. It makes her Dad do this silent rage thing, an anger that needs no sound to go noticed. We move her to a big crib in a small room on the other side of our apartment. I can’t put anything in with her because she might suffocate so she’s just in pajamas. In the dark. So far away from me that we can’t even smell each other.
And she cries. Wails. Endlessly.
It turns my bones inside out. My breasts swell, dribbling milk.
I look forward to the nights her Dad is on call and has to stay over at the hospital. On those nights, E is in bed with me. She slips into my shell, our eyes lock, her lips purse against my nipple. We drift to sleep and stay that way for hours.
But most nights she is alone. Eyes wide to the dark, tiny balled up fists flailing. Her throat cried raw as breath becomes whimpers becomes silence which can mean anything but all of it is a kind of death.
Now, in her therapist’s office, I share this memory with E a few weeks shy of her Sweet Sixteenth birthday. The therapist—skilled, professional—even I can see her eyes widen a bit. “It’s no wonder.” We all agree. No wonder.
I ask E, “Can I hug you?” And she nods. I scoot across the cushions and cradle her in my arms. I pull back so she can look at me, I want her to see how deep this runs. “I am so sorry,” I say. She cries and I cry. In this moment, I’m not good mother, not bad mother. I’m witness. You did live these things and they are as you remember.
And there is time. Her face still fits in my hands.
Lisa Mecham is a writer living in Los Angeles and she finds bios boring. Instead, please read the work of Jayy Dodd, Jasmine Sanders, Colette Arrand, Joyce Chong, b: william bearhart and María Isabel Álvarez.