Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Week in Japan

"I love what it smells like here," I tell Ren in our first conversation since arriving. The grass and the cedars and the wooden buildings smell especially sweet as the October chill settles over the campus.

"Maybe it's where you will die," he replies, trying to be funny. It's not funny, of course, but sometimes these terrible jokes are as close as Ren can get to connecting with me. Ren knows that I struggled with ideations the last time I was here, so the joke is particularly poorly-timed. I don't know how to respond.

"Ok, I gotta go get some sleep," I tell him, cutting the conversation short. My mental health is an uneasy topic for both of us.


In my restless sleep, Stow is having another meltdown. He's pretty sure someone has stolen his LEGO. The problem, of course, is that he's stolen so many LEGO from Pink and Sky, it's nearly impossible to determine uncontested ownership. Pink wants her LEGO back, but verbal reasoning is not the way to achieve this. Neither is simply taking back what is hers. I try to distract Stow  as I position myself between him and Pink. If Pink can  just walk away, perhaps the meltdown can be averted. She jumps in, though, "Why does he always steal my stuff?" she whines in a voice at least two octaves higher than  normal, triggering Stow who grabs her arm and then her hair. I wrench him away and then deflect his blows with my forearms. Two things are sure to trigger a long meltdown: LEGO and screens. So, the hitting and erratic and impulsive behavior go on for awhile. When Stow melts down like this, he has to be protected; as much as I want to, I cannot walk away from his flying fists. Eventually Ren changes places with me and uses one of his old judo moves to get Stow on the ground. Only then, with the two of us working in tandem, can we slow his feet and hands and help him calm enough to keep him from flying out of the house in a panicked rage.

When I wake, I remember it’s just a dream. The bruises on my forearm have already faded.


Pink's teacher wants to know why she insists on reading her book and working on her stories instead of listening to classroom instruction. It's a legitimate question. I try to explain that things are hard for her at home between two mercurial, black-and-white-thinking brothers, especially when I'm gone for work. The teacher says she seems happy and positive at school. I don't understand why he doesn't understand kids better. Avoidance and defiance are two pretty common coping strategies for kids with anxiety, after all. It occurs to me that I am failing all of my children. It doesn't matter, though; I'm the only mom they've got.


Walking alone down the busy sidewalks of Kyoto, headphones turned up loud as a way to distract me from my brain, the title of memoir I didn't even know I was writing popped into my head: Fat, Ugly, and Suicidal. The thought makes me laugh because I know I could never name a book that but also because it's a shame I can't even tell anyone that it's the kind of thought that pops in my mind, despite the fact I’m in a place I love, listening to good music, and surrounded by the energy of the city. My brain is an asshole.


Sky answers when I try to Facetime with Ren.

"Hi," he starts, "I know I should, but I don't really miss you at all."

And, then, "Did you buy me a building for my electric train? Because I don't want one."

"I know," I respond. "Where's Otosan?”

While I talk to Ren, Sky hams it up in the background. First, dabbing dramatically, then shoving Pink's stuffed unicorn into the camera so I can no longer see their dad, who is droning on about the broken faucet. Teenagers are complicated.


Doubling the dose of the antidepressant seems to have worked. I no longer spend all of my energy trying to avoid stepping in front of a bus or jumping off a bridge. But, the days don't feel a whole lot easier. Unwanted thoughts still pop into my head: at the cape I briefly picture myself going head first over the cliff; drinking with friends, I imagine drinking just enough to excuse a tumble off of a curb and into oncoming traffic. I'm amazed by the persistence and creativity of these thoughts that come from somewhere along the border of my conscious and subconscious mind.


On Facetime, Stow is trying to tell me something. A few hours earlier, his teacher sent me a picture of him smiling widely as he holds a filled sticker chart. His new tooth seems to have grown so much more than it should have in the six days I've been away. I can't understand what he wants to say. Something about a thing on a table next to the stairs and a big surprise. The message, in and of itself, makes little sense, but I imagine he's talking about the sticker chart and the reward. Without context, communication with Stow can seem impossible.


I listen to a playlist a friend shared with me. 237 songs. My whole life I've struggled to describe my music tastes. But, this playlist hits it. It feels like an unexpected gift, a light at the end of the tunnel.


The fog hangs low today. Maybe my first flight will be delayed. Maybe I won't make my connection. The smell of Akita cedars accompanies me as I roll my suitcase across campus to meet the taxi. In 20 hours, I will be home again, no more or less sure that I got away at all.


Morgan Hazelwood said...

Just letting you know you're not shouting into a void. And best of luck, just take it one day at a time.

p.s. I'm glad your friend got your music just right.

Mom on the Edge said...

Thank you!