Friday, June 15, 2012

GOING HOME: IT'S TIME



"IT'S TIME", I was thinking while I pumped gas…almost midnight, in an unfamiliar town, in the middle of a freaking blizzard I knew nothing of until five minutes before.  I was shaking - not from the 0 degree temp - but hunger and the twelve previous hours spent in the hospital with my daughter who I had just left, finally asleep in a quiet room off of the ER.  Those five minutes felt like a year after I walked out into such an unexpectedly messy night, so strangely without her.  It felt like those occasional nights when she was a nursing infant. After feeding her I would, on autopilot, put her in her crib and shuffle back to bed, then suddenly wake up later, panicking at the new-mother drill sargent in my head screaming "where's the baby?!" before remembering in my sleep-deprived stupor that she was where she was supposed to be.  (Newborns: the "other" boot camp...)  

The station I found took checks, a miracle, because it was the end of the week and even this unplanned ~35 mile trip was not in the cash budget or the tank.   Music was piped in over the pumps in an otherwise snow-muted night like an ancient transmission from outer space, playing to no one (which always creeps me out).  Fitting, because I was briefly convinced I was the last person on Earth.  Turns out it was me and the lady behind the counter, who I secretly loved for verifying with her presence by the nachos that I was not alone on a frozen post-apocalyptic planet.  And hey, I thought, if it was just us, at least we had nachos...and every additive and preservative known to man to either kill us quickly or sustain us for eternity. I decided while scratching out a check that if she was a poor end-of-the-world companion, I would attempt to OD on cherry Slush Puppie.  We could chat casually while I sipped and slipped away quietly into a diabetic coma rather than insult her with a more obvious attempt to escape...like standing in the mop bucket and dropping the neon Bud Light sign in.  

So I was not alone but without my child, who had suddenly (again) experienced a brief, extremely low mood swing during a routine appointment we had expected to be the start an ordinary day.  It swept over her almost like a seizure, wiping her face clean of any expression.  She asked to go because she did not feel safe and I drove to the only ER in the area that does psychiatric evaluations.  By the time she had blood drawn and was given pajamas, she was back to herself but both of us were shaken and knew we would be there until she was cleared to go home…It would be 24 hours later, several hours of MTV, and one takedown of a periodically agitated guy in another room before we were let go.  We had listened to the young man wander up and down the short hall, sometimes stuttering with a sharp "shh" sound, as he calmly reiterated his trigger for punching the wall at home.  My girl and I quietly agreed we were lucky, despite being penned up, too.  We weren't afraid of him, but for him…in life…in general.  On a side note, had my daughter been in need of hospitalization, we would have been forced to wait an indefinite amount of time for a bed to open up at the local psychiatric hospital, and if one was not available there, she would have been sent to one located two hours from our home. Criminally insufficient mental health care.  And yet I am sure we look like a well-oiled machine to other regions.  When will people understand that almost every one of society's ills trickles down from this problem?

I rubbed her back until she fell asleep and went home to get a few hours of real sleep in preparation for whatever 'the system' had in store for us in the morning, fearing that if I didn't, I would become the next unruly one restrained.  Growling to myself on the 25mph white-out all the way home, I continued what started at the gas pump:  "You are never doing this again. You are never f@#*ing driving forty miles to an incompetent hospital and then leaving your kid there because there is nowhere to sleep.  Just because you can handle this, doesn't mean you should, you friiiiiigging moron.  You cannot stay here any longer.  It's time.  It's time to leave."

For years, people close to me have slowly (and understandably) tuned out my repeated intentions of "leaving this place" because I have said it so many times.  This place, where I have spent the most time in my thirty-eight years, is what I consider my hometown and, I guess to a certain extent, "home".  My hesitance to call it that is buried in the recent realization that - for me - home will never be just one place as it is for so many, and this conflicts with my lifelong misunderstanding that people only get one.  I thought it is supposed to be where the most of your love resides.  My love resides all over this country and sometimes on the other side of the planet, so home - in my head - is a patchwork quilt of places and souls. It is nowhere and everywhere all at once.  I guess we just have to relocate headquarters, that is all.  Now that I am finally and fully in the process of relocating, I am figuring out what - aside from financial logistics - has kept me here so long.  In addition to it being a great place to raise a young child as a single mom, it has also been the ridiculous assumption that we had to wait to be claimed by some place, by way of a stellar job or relationship; that we could not just pick up and go.  

The understanding had been growing for years, but it took standing under the fluorescent lights of a deserted gas station in a snowstorm to realize nothing and no one is coming for us.  This is Radio Nowhere.  We are a good enough reason to just go.  It will kill me a little to leave this sweet unassuming town but I want to go Home, whatever and whomever that ends up consisting of for us.  

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