Phoenix

In September, I sent away for some medical records. Did you know you can order autopsy results over the phone? All you need is a direct claim on the person who died, a mailbox, and some courage. The information is free.

The records arrived in October, but I didn’t open the envelope right away. It was so small (regular business size) with my name and address handwritten. I expected something bigger (perhaps a brown 9×12) and more official looking. The answers couldn’t be in something that thin; there were only a few pages inside — I could feel them.

It was the next morning, about fifteen minutes before work. I parked farther away than usual and nowhere near anyone I knew. I opened the envelope, took a deep breath, and read my name.

This is not a ghost story — not a fiction told in first person. My name is on the autopsy because I am his mother; he died inside of me just a few days before he was supposed to be born. He had a name, but only I remember it. It means resurrection — rebirth. The month before he was due, I chose to name my baby to honor my dead father.

You could almost say I wanted him to die, giving him such a loaded name like that.

I don’t talk about him anymore — no one cares to hear, Hugo cries for his baby brother, and I can’t bear to say his name out loud — so I just think of him as Phoenix. The meaning is the same, but I don’t break down when I say or hear it.

A couple of years ago, I saw a little boy who would have been born about the same time. His mother called his name — my baby’s name — and I felt myself die all over again. I was back in that hospital room holding him, unable to let go. The feel of his cold body in my arms is burned into my memory. His ashes are sealed in an urn no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. And his true name is etched on my skin: his only memorial is an unfinished tattoo.

The pages I read in October — the ones that used my name instead of his — the ones that called him “infant” and “fetus” — those pages changed nothing. They dissected him and found no reason. He’s gone, still with no apparent cause. The only thing I know for certain is he was dead for several days, and I didn’t notice. I didn’t save him.

My name belongs on that autopsy. 

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Outburst

There are things you should never say to your child:

  1. I should just let them take you to prison; that’s where you’re headed if things don’t change.
  2. I should have let grandma keep you because I’m obviously failing as your mom.
  3. There’s a reason you don’t have a father, but you’re turning into him anyway.
  4. After what you did, I’m ashamed to claim you as my son.

A few days ago, I said all of those and more. Perhaps it would have been better to whip him – everyone keeps telling me that’s what he needs, and it is acceptable, and often encouraged, where we live – but I have never been able to physically hurt anyone. The few times I’ve gone the corporal punishment route, I’ve burst into tears and had to stop to hug him and apologize. The only lesson he learned from that was how to manipulate mom with tears. Great parenting, Jane.

There’s something going on with him (has been going on with him for five years) that is causing him to get angry and have violent outbursts. There’s no excuse for the things I said to him; I’m to the point of giving up because nothing ever truly changes. It doesn’t get better: that adage is mere propaganda. Just when things start to seem ok – his medicine appears to be working, he brings his grades back up, or he has a great weekend – everything falls apart, and I end up in front of the school board.

Most of my friends are Christians. They tell me I need to trust God, to pray, to go to church, to ask for help, etc. None of that is going to happen. Church is a band aid that hides the festering wound; it does not heal the soul: that is more useless propaganda. My son believes, and he is no better off for it. If anything, his belief has created a rift in our relationship; he stopped confiding in me after he went to church camp this summer, and his behavior is worse than ever. Whatever respect he had for me has disappeared. So, while my words were inappropriate, they are, to an extent, justifiable.

I never wanted to be a mom: that’s the one awful thing I didn’t say.

He was perfect when he was younger. I thought I had somehow hit the baby jackpot. He was beautiful, smart, sweet, and well-behaved. I fell in love, which is incredible because I don’t love anybody.

Then, everything changed. I started getting calls from preschool. He was expelled. Calls from kindergarten. Suspension. Isolation for the rest of K-5 and 1st grade. Appointments with doctors and psychiatrists who all said that it was too soon to know anything. Behavior plans for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. More suspensions. Doctors. Five failed medications. Treatment for an attention disorder he doesn’t have. Counsellors addressing the problems but failing to address the cause of those problems.

Something is going on. Everyone has an opinion, but no one is listening to me. He is dealing with major depression and severe anxiety, exactly what I have been dealing with my whole life. But no one wants to give an 8-year-old antidepressants – no one wants to believe that a young child can have panic attacks. Doctors prescribe harmful stimulants to control negative behavior, yet they won’t prescribe something that might actually treat the root of that behavior?

I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’m physically ill from stress. I’m making bad choices because of how lost and alone I feel.

But more importantly: my son is hurting, and I don’t know how to help him. My son is afraid, and I can’t comfort him. All I seem to be able to do is make us both cry.