“Well they admitted him,” Jay says, “but not until he threw a magazine at the shrink's head.”
I have been laying on the bed for the last hour, flanked by anxious dogs. They wag their tails as Jay comes into the room, but do not get up to greet him.
“Please be joking.” I say, but I can tell from his expression that he's not.
He drops his keys and wallet on the dresser and then flops down onto the bed beside me. The dogs rearrange themselves around us, Iggy shoving in between and the new pup Chloe tucking in behind my legs.
“They were about to send us home again and I don't know, he just flipped out, started screaming and threw the brochure thing across the room where she and I were standing.”
“Did it hit her?”
“Nah, but it wrecked the blinds on the window. She shoved me out the door ahead of her and called for the orderlies. The last I saw, he was slamming himself against the wall as they went into the room.”
I don't have to try all that hard to imagine the scene. I've seen most of it before. Still, I'm torn between horror and a certain sense of I-told-you-so.
“So then they admitted him?”
“I've never actually heard someone say '5150' in a clinical setting before.”
[Note: The cross-gender pronouns which follows are intentional, with the narrator referring to Jordan as female, while the characters refer to her as male. I've included this note here awkwardly for clarification and apologize for the interruption.]
The whole fiasco is my fault. I should have just marched her down to the Emergency Room again, but with the $1,100 bill for the last ER visit still hanging over our heads, we tried calling the Behavioral Health hotline for our insurance company to see what they recommended we do.
They suggested that we take her to the Psychiatric Center a mile from our house where they could do the same kind of evaluation that they'd do at the hospital and then arrange to admit her to the appropriate facility. Except that's not what happened. When we arrived, someone ushered us into a small evaluation room and asked a handful of quick questions which Jory refused to answer seriously.
“Are you feeling suicidal?”
“No more so than any other day.”
“Do you have a plan to take your life?”
“I'm more the spontaneous type.”
The woman checked off some boxes on her form and then motioned for me to join her in the hall. Jory rolled her eyes, picked up a brochure and casually opened it, as if she was waiting for a simple check-up. As if all of this fuss was boring her to death.
“I'm going to recommend that you follow up with his regular doctor and see if some therapy is in order.”
“He has a therapist and a psychiatrist. And less than an hour ago, he was bashing his head against his bedroom wall screaming 'I'm fucking done' after breaking the last stick of furniture in his bedroom.”
She closes the metal clipboard with the evaluation on it and forces a weak smile.
“We have procedures, ma'am, and I'm afraid there's nothing we can do for you today. You should call his therapist and make an appointment for …”
“Look, I now you may think he's just a bratty teenager, but my son is not well. All I need from you is a recommendation so he can be admitted to Fremont or Sutter hospital.”
“He's certainly argumentative, but he's not exhibiting the necessary symptoms for me to make that recommendation. If he does, you're welcome to return at that time.” and with that, she walks away.
She walks away and I stand there in the hall, so frustrated that I want to scream and spit and break furniture and bang my head against the wall and scream “I'm fucking done” until I can't scream any more.
I look over my shoulder and realize that while the doctor and I have been talking, Jordan has rolled up the sleeve of her camouflage jacket and is in the process of making a neat row of thin red paper-cuts on the inside of her right arm. I glance back up the hall, but the doctor is gone, so I gesture for Jory to follow and we make our way back out of the building in silence.
When we arrive home, I tell Jay what happened and he immediately calls the Behavioral Health number again. He's still on the phone with them when the first loud sound comes from out front. We rush outside as the banging continues and see Jordan kicking Jay's work truck with her steel-toed boots. There are already three fat dents on the back-end and she's moving around to the side when Jay throws open the passenger door and orders her inside.
“They're still insisting that we have to go through the Psych Center.” he says, thrusting the cell phone at me.
“But …” I stammer and then stop. He's already in the car and backing out into the street. I look down at the phone and realize that someone is talking on the other end. I press the button to end the call and walk slowly back inside.
I find both dogs cowering on the bed, a habit Iggy and Lola shared when Jordan first started getting loud and violent. Chloe has learned all too quickly where the safest space in the house is, and I bury my hands in her coat as I curl up on the bed between them.
Now, more than an hour later, Jay and I lay here staring up at the ceiling in silence, absently petting the dogs to reassure them, or perhaps reassure ourselves.
“He's a danger to himself, not others.” I say
“Yet,” Jay says, and then, when he feels me bristle, “look, you're not the one who has nightmares about being stabbed in his sleep.”
“It's not fair to …” I start to argue, but he cuts me off.
“I'm sorry that my feelings aren't fair … and don't matter.”
“It's not that they don't matter, it's just …” but what can I say? I turn away, sit up and drop my legs over the side of the bed.
“I dread coming home every night.” he says, “This is no way to live.”
“Something has to change.”
The finality with which he says this frustrates me even more, as if it is some kind of demand that I alone must answer. At this point, we both still believe that someone out there has all the answers and if we could just find them, then we could fix what's broken. But for the most part, the search to find that person or that solution seems to fall to me. The doctors and therapists and school administrators, all those meetings and details and hoops to jump through, I'm the one in charge of those and on days like this one, I wonder why anyone would ever think that I should be in charge of anything.
I shove up off the bed and go down the hall to find Mouse folded into the couch with a video game controller in his hand.
“Are we having dinner?” he asks tentatively.
“I suppose we should.”
Slowly, we revert to some kind of normalcy. I cook dinner, feed the dogs and polish off the cooking wine. We go about our evening with a peacefulness that borders on uncomfortable. This feeling is becoming familiar; relief in the calm of Jory's absence, guilt following on the heels of the relief, a certain gloom hanging over us like a cloud. It is something we will become accustomed to living with later, in the sad calm after her great storm.
Late in the evening, a nurse calls from Sutter Psychiatric Hospital where Jordan has just arrived. I answer all her questions and am told that the doctor will call tomorrow afternoon.
I speak with the doctor exactly twice during her 72-hour stay. On the first call, she tells me that Jory has been manipulative and instigating on the unit, convincing her peers to refuse dinner and then refuse to participate in unit activities. An odd bit that she adds in the conversation and her notes is that Jory told her “When I was born, there was something wrong with me.” but could not or did not explain the statement. She also lays out her diagnosis, which is a major depressive disorder and PTSD.
There is is again, PTSD. I know what it is but not what to do with it. And each time it comes up, the only thing that seems to fit is Devil Pups, but Jory was already acting out and occasionally off her rocker before she went there, in fact the only reason I let her go to that camp was because I thought maybe it would 'whip her into shape'. I cringe now at that thought.
A little more than a year ago, Jordan spent 10 days at Camp Pendleton Marine Base in a program they call Devil Pups. She was completely convinced that it would be the coolest thing ever and knee-deep in her militant phase, she assumed it would prepare her for the Boot Camp to come. There are really two kinds of kids who attend the annual camp; athletic over-achievers who hope it will look good on a college application or get them a leg up when they join the military and fuck-ups whose parents place them against their will hoping it will straighten them out.
Jordan might have fit the second category except that she wanted to go more than anything. Her teacher, an ex-Army Drill Sargent had told her about the program and encouraged all the boys in his class to try it out. Jory was the only one dogged enough to research all the necessary details, get in touch with the local contact and shove the appropriate paperwork in my face enough times to get the proper signatures.
We dropped her off at the meet-up spot, where she boarded a bus and headed for Southern California. Ten days later, Jay, Mouse and I drove down to Oceanside to attend her graduation ceremony and bring her home. The difference between the soft, slothful child we dropped off and the lean, tanned serious-faced young man who greeted us was stunning. As we followed him across the field to meet his Sergeant, we were in awe of how he carried himself, the reserve with which he spoke and the obvious respect he had for the Marine who shook our hands before being swallowed up by a crowd of other reverent teenagers and delighted parents.
It wasn't until we piled into the car and let Jordan ramble her way through the whole story on the 8-hour drive back to the Central Coast that it started to become clear; she hadn't had the time of her life. She had, if even half of what she told us was true, been belittled and bullied, been pushed beyond her breaking point and then pushed some more.
Still, she was so happy to see us and so delighted to be home again that we relaxed into the peaceful lull and never considered the possibility of long-term emotional damage. We didn't think how all that breaking-em-down-to-build-em-up might have broken her in ways that could not be repaired.
The second call from the doctor at Sutter Psychiatric Hospital comes on the morning of the day they're releasing her. The discharge plan is for us to follow-up with Dr. Singh and Linda, the therapist.
The hospital in Sacramento is much nicer than the one in Fremont, sprawling out at ground level with wide windows, manicured gardens and sprawling shade trees. There is still the series of heavy locked doors separating each unit, but when I enter the adolescent ward, Jory sidles out casually and drops onto a comfy couch to wait while I sign forms and talk with the nurse. Still in her jeans and camo jacket, she looks no worse for wear. The crew cut is growing out and her straw-blond hair almost lays flat atop her head.
I think back to that lean, tan boy standing at attention beside his commanding officer on that field in Southern California, how completely I misread his expression that afternoon, sensing pride where there was fear, seeing a sudden maturity instead of recognizing that brittle facade. Not for the first time, it strikes me that she is an utter mystery, a complete stranger who I am utterly in love with. Nothing could terrify me more.
As we leave Sutter and make for the freeway, Jordan seems cheerful. Just like Fremont Hospital, she's come away with a cast of characters to describe and stories to tell. I let her ramble for a bit and then break in.
“When you and Jay went back to the Psych Center, what the hell happened?”
She shrugs, leans back the seat and grabs her sunglasses from the glovebox.
“Well they weren't listening to me or you or him, so I figured if I went batshit crazy they'd have to do something.”
I don't know what to say but I do have to suppress a laugh.
“And are you feeling better now?”
“I'd feel better if I had a spicy chicken sandwich. Can we stop and get a spicy chicken sandwich?”
She puts the sunglasses on and rolls off again into the storytelling. I'm only half-listening though because all the way home, I'm dreading the reality that we are right back where we were 72 hours ago. Something has to change but for the life of me, I don't know what I'm supposed to do to make that happen.
*Note: The preface to this larger work is HERE. My youngest child died at the age of 16 from an Onycontin overdose. One year earlier, she revealed her true gender and changed her name from Jordan to Alice. The cross-gender pronoun usage, while awkward here is intentional. More of Alice/Jordan's story is posted in my previous diaries as well as at Laurustina.com under the title "The Complicated Geography Of Alice".