She looked at the open suitcase, at its orderly contents, and felt her shoulders move away from her ears. This was the last piece of the puzzle that had taken up all together too much of her time and brain space over the past 6 months. This one suitcase was all she would need, at least for a while, and seeing it all packed and ready to go – her shoulders dropped, her breathing slowed, and she felt a taste of what was in store for her. It wasn’t going to be easy. Necessary? Yes. Easy? Not a bit. The challenges ahead of her were nothing compared to what she’d lived through, and she felt ready. Everything felt in order, and order brought her peace.
The knock on the door startled her, and her shoulders flew back up to her ears before she could even get the, “come in” out of her throat. She felt the trembling start as she watched the handle turn and the door slowly swing open. She tried to get her breathing under control, to get her shoulders to retreat, to get her system to still – none of that worked. She was a trembling mess of tension who could barely make eye contact by the time the door opened all the way.
“Oh, honey. Jill – it’s just me. I just wanted to check on you. Are you all packed? Our ride will be here soon and I know you need time to be ready.” Her mother’s face was full of concern as she lingered in the doorway, not wanting to come in too far for fear of further upsetting her daughter.
Jill found her mother’s eyes and locked in on them, feeling herself settle a bit. She nodded her head, not fully trusting the right words to come out if she tried to speak, and moved her hand on top of her suitcase.
“Good. Good. I’m going back downstairs to wait – we’ll leave as soon as you come down, whenever you come down. No rush, I promise. We’ll take it on your timetable as best we can. Bring your suitcase with you when you come down, ok? You carry it and I’ll hold the doors so we both have jobs.” With one last blink that clearly said “I love you,” her mother backed out of the room and closed the door behind her.
Shoulders down, deep breath in and out, and Jill was calm again. People, even people she loved, were so stressful. She’d get help while she was away. They’d help her manage the stress and get back to a point where she could interact with others without all the side effects. She’d be able to hug her mom and her sisters. Maybe this time it would last longer – maybe even be a permanent fix. She’d been mostly ok for almost a year this time, so anything seemed possible.
She had enjoyed the time at home. It felt good to be almost-normal and to do things that “regular” people did. She’d even made some friends who had no idea about her condition. She’d talked on the phone until late hours of the night, had had a slumber party for her birthday, and had almost – almost! – kissed a boy. She saw her parents relax around her for real. They did an amazing job of interacting with her as if her condition weren’t there while still working within the constraints of it most of the time. Even so, it was like the elephant in the room and she knew it. This time, though, the elephant had taken a vacation and the extra room it opened up was so wonderful to feel.
The good feelings made the return of her symptoms that much harder to accept. She felt it from the inside, and she could see the changes on the outside. Her parents had to bring back their old work-arounds. Her sisters had to pull away. She had to give up her dreams of kissing Michael. She had to come up with excuses for why she was suddenly unavailable to spend time with her friends. All the “normal” retreated into the distance as her symptoms crowded their way into the room again, bringing the elephant along for the ride. Her parents did their best to reassure her. They focused on how well she’d done for the longest time since the symptoms first presented themselves, holding that up as proof that things were getting better.
She wanted them to be right. She wanted this to be the last time she had to go away for treatment. She wanted to come home for good next time.
She stood up, took a deep breath, and closed her suitcase. She knew what awaited her – from the loving parents at the bottom of the stairwell to the black limo with the heavily tinted glass so she could pretend there wasn’t anyone present on the ride to the treatment center, to the kind doctors who would help her find a place of calm.
* All 30-minute musings are fiction. Any resemblance to people or events is strictly coincidental. *