I had that dream again.
Finally I go to the last place I saw him: the beach. We’d dropped him off there for a party – a party. He was invited to a party, with actual friends, and he hasn’t chosen to come home. After these past few years of rebuilding his life, he might have erased it all in 24 hours of what he thinks of as freedom: freedom from the structure of his group home, freedom from the rules when he visits us, and – mostly – freedom from his meds.
At last, I see Ben. He’s slumped up against a wall. He’s drenched with what I assume is seawater from his hair to his bare feet, and he’s smiling to himself. I’m appalled, disgusted, and relieved, all in one huge rush of familiarity. It takes some work – I have to make my voice clearer than the voices he’s hearing again in his head – but I finally convince him to come with me, back to Harrison House where he lives.
In the car, I want to scream at him, shake some sense into him: How could you? You were doing so well! You love college! You finally have friends! What’s wrong with you? But I know this will have no effect. I simply say, “Why, Ben?”
He replies, “I just felt like it. And I feel so happy now. Those meds don’t let me be myself!” And I think: I probably should take him straight to the hospital. He looks like someone I’d report to the police if I saw him wandering in my neighborhood. Is this the same person who was working on his final school paper just two days ago?
How quickly it can all fall apart.
I can control none of this, so instead I just remind Ben to brush his teeth when he gets home. I can see how unhealthy and yellow they are. He admits, with a malicious grin, that he never brushes his teeth, and never intends to. And that’s when I lose it, screaming at him at last about the only thing I can grab onto: his hygiene, and the fact that I pay his dental bills and he’s better start brushing his teeth. I want to say: take your meds! take your meds! I can’t do this anymore! Part of me wishes he’d run away so far that I can’t find him. He’d figure it all out himself, then, right? And we’d be free of the burden of trying to “fix” him, again and again. We’d be sad, but we’d be free. And, even in my dream, I hate myself for having these thoughts, for I love this child so much.
And that’s when I wake up. That’s when this nightmare ends and I open my eyes to the day before Thanksgiving, knowing that Ben is indeed safe in his bed at Harrison House because my husband drove him home last night from school. I awake to only the stress of finishing some work today, and cooking Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. Ben will be here, will sleep over, and we will – as always- supervise him as he takes his meds and watch him for a half hour after that so he doesn’t throw them up in the bathroom.
Easy. Compared to that dream? Easy. I know that dream all too well, because we lived it – in real life, in one form or another – so many times.
But it’s a better “real life” now, one where – for this moment in time -I can wake up to a world that is a relief from my dreams about Ben. There were too many mornings in the chaos times where I wanted to stay in my dreams where Ben was healthy, for the reality of his illness was so hard to absorb.
Tomorrow will be our fifth Thanksgiving in a row where Ben is present, mentally and physically. He’d been in the hospital for too many holidays in the past, but he’ll be here tomorrow. Yes, so much to be grateful for this year: Ali’s marriage, the upcoming publication of my book, and Ben’s life. For the moment, all is well – and the moment is all we ever have. I intend to fully feel the happiness, for that’s how we honor it.