by Katie Murray

What do you bring to your sixteen-year-old son when he has been sectioned in a high security hospital, three hours away? I remember the frantic packing of the car—a trunk load of paraphernalia that we thought would comfort you—tea, plants…I even packed a teapot. I can’t believe I’ve now forgotten the name of the ward you were in. Primrose? I know it had some innocuous name—some flower name—designed to make it not sound like the prison it was.

The first time we came to see you was two days after they’d sectioned you. (They advised us to stay away the first day so you could settle in, take your medication.) I phoned the hospital constantly that first day:

“How does he seem? Has he taken his tablets?”

I was still torturing myself with idea that, if we had managed to persuade you to take your antipsychotic tablets, you would not have ended up being sectioned. Mothers are supposed to protect their children. But your psychosis was too far gone. Reality itself was spiraling away—skies away from our fingertips.

We didn’t realize how secure a high security hospital is. What it would really mean. That it meant bag searches and many objects being taken away. That it meant locked doors and a sterile visitor’s room you could only use for two hours. I didn’t know any of this—until I got there. I didn’t know that when someone has a psychotic break they can regress to childhood. But there you were. You—but not you: sixteen-year-old you hidden inside a child. My child, unrecognizable. All your wonderful words lost. You were loving the colorful children’s books but reading them so fast it was as if you were pretending to be a robot: your mind was still spinning down, out of your control.

You cried on us; you wanted to be held like a baby. We sang to you—songs you’d liked as a baby, and songs you like now as a teenage boy. The Beatles. Our words and our bodies were the invisible gifts we brought—smuggled—in. They didn’t confiscate those at the front desk. You can’t search a song.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night.

I remember sitting in the uncomfortable red-plastic armchair, my knees pressed right up to your daddy’s chair, where you sat, clinging to him, as we sang and cried silently.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly.

Trying not to look at each other in case we broke down. Really broke down. The words of the songs—Daddy knew all your favorites, and could remember every word of them. We sang. You buried your head  on his shoulder and cried—and when you cried, it was a relief, only because it meant we could cry too.

You were only waiting for this moment to arise. Blackbird, fly…

The words of your favorite songs reached you. They were the only thing that did. And that was beautiful. A glimmer of hope. You were still there. Somewhere inside. Our words held so much. And now, today, I’m finding this really hard to write about: my own words, as they reach for me, are slippery and wet; they want nothing more than their own life.

Goodbyes were getting harder the more you healed. After about two weeks, you had unfolded and repacked your infancy, your toddlerhood, and your ten-year-old self, and had started the steep climb back to being the sixteen-year-old you. The closer you came to wellness and to the present day, the harder you found it to walk back through those double security doors. You clung and sobbed—begged us not to leave. I started to dread the visits. One time, just before I said goodbye, I handed you a picture that your little brothers had drawn for you—some monsters or dragons, I think—I can’t recall the picture now, but I can still see the smile on your face as you showed it to a girl on your ward:

“Hey, look what my brothers made for me!”

“Wow,” she whispered, drawn in. Your heads bent together, and both of you—for a moment—were lost to a marvel. Then the double doors slammed in my face; my view of your backs shuttered, and your voices were lost to me—not your smiles, though, or the way you’d walked together, leaning into each other, the drawing a treasure to share. It seemed to be leading you somewhere.

I left that night warm with wonder for you. Not at the speed of your recovery, but at the way you’d wanted to share some of your own little brothers’ fierce love with someone else. On the other side of those double doors, I was alone in the stark corridor, still smiling, wondering where I had put my heart.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

What’s that sound?  Have I buried my heart beneath the floorboards?

“Morning, Mamma.”

Now you’ve pulled me back into the present—thumping down your gray staircase, landing softly outside my bedroom door. Everything I had just been re-living leaves me—instantly.

“Morning, baby. I’ve put some clean joggers on your stairs—but I couldn’t see many of your underpants in the wash?’

Why am I always talking about laundry?

“I’m making coffee,” you say. ”Would you like some?”

“Yes please, baby.”

I’m so grateful. For you. For the present tense of our lives. For your soft words, especially the way you say Mamma; I smile into the kiss I plant on your cheek. I need to make my peace with the way grief unfolded its wings—the way we never knew how wide those oily feathers could stretch. It can’t live on inside me. But right now, I’ll take your sleepy bed-hair at my bedroom door, the softness of your words pressed against the bristle of your beard, and the enchanting smell of you making me a cup of coffee. An incantation to the sky.

The feathers of grief pale into insignificance when we pitch them against the sky. Like words, the sky holds no limits.

Like you. My boy.


Image by fokustier via Pixabay