Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Music and the Savage Beast (or Brandon Boyd as Peacekeeper)

One more day that I've survived
Another night alone
Pay no mind I'm doing fine
I'm breathing on my own

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Wake me when the hour arrives
Wake me with my name
See you somewhere down the line
We're teathered once again

- Foo Fighters
(On the Mend)

(NOTE TO PARENTS OF TEENS: This is tale told specifically to let you know that, no matter how dark your days may get, that same child you originally fell in love with when first holding him or her in your arms in the delivery room still exists in there somewhere. And, no matter how many times or how many ways they tell you they hate you - they probably do at that moment - but they really love you deep down inside and want your companionship.)

Marissa and I have had tickets for the Incubus concert next Wednesday for months now. Long before Kelsey died, those tickets have been sitting on my desk next to my U2 tickets. We have been gearing up by listening to their entire catalog, even the old jam band material that they almost certainly won't play. Kelsey wasn't going with us because she wrote them off as sell outs long ago, but Marissa is looking forward to it, and I really am, to the point where I passed Green Day by for this one. So, how does a woman near the half century mark become a fan of an alternative band named after a demon? Well, I'll tell you. June 20, 2009 notwithstanding, probably the second worst day of my life was the day I had to come to terms with the fact that my daughter wasn't like the vision I had always had of her. She was not the bright, slightly edgy teenager who was going through a hard adjustment period. She was, in fact, very troubled and needed serious help. What made it a horrible day had very little to do with my coming to grips with her reality, although I would be totally lying if I didn't admit it did contribute to it. But rather, it was a long, physically taxing day for both of us dealing with things we had never dealt with before. We were both scared, frustrated and angry. Really scared, frustrated and angry. And, brand new citizens of this new world of mental illness and the health care system in place to deal with it, we were not very skilled at dealing with one another when we were scared. If tension really could be so thick as to cut with a knife, a buzz saw would have been needed to make a dent in the air between us that terrible day.

I had begun the day like every other. Kelsey caught the bus to high school, I dropped Marissa at her middle school on my way to work and had been buried in the day's workload ever since when I got a call from the crisis counselor at the high school. I had spoken to him a few times before at this point. Kelsey made it through the first semester of high school with little fuss, and we had breathed a heavy sigh of relief. But almost immediately after the start of her second semester, things began to erode, and she had made repeated trips to see the two crisis counselors at the high school. The kids' favorite was a kind, empathetic man whom everyone called "Mr. Bill". I am sure he would tell you that the hardest part of working with troubled teens is their parents. At the beginning, I am sure we were no different. But, he was good at it. He gently led us into the pool rather than throwing us into the deep end all at once. He had a non-confrontational manner that was effective for getting us to do what he thought we needed to do without putting us on the defensive. I think that's an art form that is highly under appreciated, because it didn't happen very often with the long line of caregivers we saw over the years. Anyway, using that careful manner of his, he had steered us to counseling for Kelsey as well as arranging for her to have Section 504 status (which is, in essence, a tool for students with various degrees of emotional handicaps to be given some leeway in their workload and deadlines). He had been trying to nudge us to more substantive steps, but he was beginning to nudge us out of the comfort zone at the point we were when he called me that particular day. Suddenly, soft mannered nudging wasn't cutting it. She had tried to hurt herself at school, and he could no longer drop subtle hints. Still careful and gentle, he told me she was in real crisis and needed an assessment for psychological hospitalization. I had to drop what I was doing and pick her up from school. Mr. Bill told me where to take her and what to do, but of course he couldn't go with us, so as soon as I left the school grounds, it was just Kelsey and me trying to navigate these strange waters. I was definitely floundering suddenly in the deep end of the pool.

We headed for St. David's Hospital in downtown Austin. Kelsey and Marissa were born there. Now I was taking her back. She was not seriously hurt, but she was very much like a wild animal who finds itself cornered and injured. There is nothing left but to turn and fight. That's what she did. Fiercely. With everything and everyone, most especially me. I know now she was scared. I know now I was scared. But at the time all we saw when we interacted with one another was the anger. White hot anger practically seeped out of my daughter. I made a comment the other day about her being Linda Blair before the exorcism, and it wasn't that far from the case. I understand how parents genuinely think their kids are literally possessed. Her behavior was truly bizarre. I remember at one point she was laying on the floor with her head under a chair spouting hateful rhetoric and threatening to make a more serious attempt to hurt herself. For my part, that made me angry. The fact that I was missing work made me angry. And, the fact that I was frightened made me angry. We were there all afternoon, an interminably long afternoon. Mostly waiting. And waiting. And watching. I remember watching other people come into the area, which was literally shut off from the rest of the hospital in a small wing, cordoned off by a long hall and heavy doors, and seeing the same looks on the faces of the potential patients and the family with them. Scared, tired, and confused people looking like they weren't quite sure what was happening to them. What was happening to us, in the meantime, was that a bevy of medical professionals were assessing my daughter and determining that she was mentally ill and trying to explain that to me. I remember specifically a beautiful young doctor with a heavy Indian accent coming to speak to me. She sat down opposite me and leaned in to me, met my gaze and told me in her lovely lilting accent that Kelsey would always be ill, that this was a condition that would last the rest of her life. Trying to absorb what I was being told was hard, dealing with the immediate guilt of realizing that she was a product of my DNA, and I had done this to her was harder. I cried, I remember. Of course, in those days I cried a lot.

They decided that she needed to be hospitalized and evaluated, so they were trying to find a bed for her. So, we waited some more, our nerves fraying more with each passing minute. Finally, they gave up trying to find room for her there and sent me to another hospital nearby, and we headed off for our first visit to Shoal Creek, which specializes in mental health and addiction issues. Once there, the process began anew. We had to talk to new doctors and fill out new paperwork. But they agreed she needed to stay for a more thorough evaluation, and we were dispatched back out to the waiting room for a time. I'll never know how she felt at that point, but I would liken my own physical state by this point in the day (or early evening by now) as being like a dish rag that has just been wrung out and tossed in the sink. I was spent. We sat there lifelessly, Kelsey thumbing through a magazine, me staring at some generic picture over the receptionist's head when she shoved the open magazine and brightly announced, "Look, this is the guy I'm going to marry!" I can't remember if I looked at her first waiting for the punchline to the about face she had just pulled, but I eventually obeyed and looked at what she was holding. There he was. A full page black and white photo of a young man with large black plugs in his ears and tattoos on his arms sitting by a pool looking off at some unseen focal point. But it wasn't the plugs or the tats that caught my attention, it was that beautiful flowing hair and that angelic, wistful face. He literally took my breath away. I stared at this unknown person for a minute and then said, "Yes. Yes you are." Just like that, she was my child again. And I was her mother. And we were enjoying a magazine together. The switch was almost dizzying. She explained, in great detail, that I was looking at a picture of Brandon Boyd, the lead singer of a band called Incubus. She knew a lot about him and their music, and by the end of the conversation, so did I.

Brandon was eventually forgotten for the moment, as we were escorted upstairs and she was admitted on a 72-hour hold, but she knew she had piqued my interest, and she didn't let it go. What I remember most about the days immediately following her release from that first stay in the hospital was her trying to force me to like the band. And I didn't initially. Except for Drive. But, she wouldn't let it go. We played Incubus whenever we went somewhere, and she made me read articles about them and specifically the gorgeous Mr. Boyd. Finally, she wore me down. I learned to appreciate their music. Of course, I like the later Incubus when he learned that he didn't have to scream everything, and the lyrics were more than just bridges between obscenities. They actually were, for a time, rather deep. Now they do, admittedly, carry on about relationships a lot. But they do it so very, very well. But, that's not the point. The point is that a pattern emerged for us. She would introduce me to music, nearly cramming it down my throat sometimes, and when I would finally bite, she would decide the band in question must be too sedate for her and she would move on. But, as a result, I was introduced to The Foo Fighters, Tool, Iron and Wine, Jimmy Eat World and Mew, to name a few. She and Marissa both would go onto my iTunes and just add music with my knowing. Some of Kelsey's handiwork came up in rotation yesterday at work. A Deftones song cycled through today. I know I didn't add it. She must have. But, I think that was a way we remained in touch and "communicated" if you will. I don't know if we knew that's what we were doing, but I really think it was. This was our connection when we had no other. I am going back through all those artists she pushed me toward and trying to listen more carefully to the lyrics this time. Her voice is there, speaking to me. I wished I had listened better the first time around.

Thank you, Brandon Boyd. I will see you Wednesday.

CA : Celebrity Surf Jam

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