My boy, Billy, turned eighteen in November and a month later his brain fell out of his head and rolled into a deep ditch somewhere. I imagine his brain has company in that dark place and other parents know the pain of watching that fall.
That transition into adulthood is a twisted path for many, two steps forward, one step back. And for a kid with Billy’s background, it’s a dangerous edge to walk. Solidity to one side, a bottomless crevasse to the other, and broken tools with which to cling.
Honestly, when he came to us, we didn’t think he’d make it to eighteen without some kind of incarceration. There were times, I admit, we thought of giving up.
‘Mommy’, he often called me in those months approaching his birthday, this man-child who’d come to us nine years before. Half of his life he’d been ours; the time before that, mostly blocked out. “Why would we want to remember?” his sister, Robin, says. Indeed, why would they.
And so the power struggle began, as newly adult Billy yearned for release from my grasp and the frightened boy he’d once been wondered if I’d drift away, just as all who’d loved him before. “I don’t want to leave home,” he said one night, on the verge of tears. And so we canceled his trip to vocational school in the states. He wasn’t ready, we reasoned. And then a month later he was gone. Maybe it was easier to be the one to leave for once. Easier to leave angry, than to be that child once again left behind.
I won’t describe the plunge to the bottom. It serves no purpose but to say, “Hey, folks…you’re not alone.” But I will say, there is a gnawing in your stomach at two a.m. when you don’t know where your child is. When you know he is cold. That he is hungry. That he brought it on himself and that there is nothing you can do.
And there is a dark place inside the soul where hope goes to die.
Then one day he came home. He ate for three hours, then slept for three days. And we began to slowly, inch by inch, climb from that dark place. He adjusted, he grew, he began to be Billy again…most days.
Billy doesn’t live at home right now and that’s okay. He’s all grown up now. But he plans to return this summer to his cabin in the woods. To work his land and spend time with the other kids. The backwoods boy I raised lives on in this unsteady child before me and I glimpse the man he’ll someday be. Two steps forward, one step back.
“I know I can come home any time,” said the boy today on the phone. “I will always know that.”
And that’s all he needs to know.
*** (To read more about his early years >>> The Lost Boy )