The day begins like any other. I wake up at seven after going to bed around three or four. I stay in bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for Boogie to wake before I drag myself out. He had gone to bed later than usual as well, so there were no signs of him stirring. I replay in my head all that I need to do. Get up. Brush my teeth. Get him up. Get him dressed. Wash his face. Brush his teeth. Make him toast. Get his coat on. Manipulate him into the car. Answer every question he can throw at me between the driveway and the ten-minute drive to his daycare. When I get back home, I need to do laundry, shower, and get ready for my noon meeting at Busboys, then pack.
“It’s sunny outside, Mommy!” My son’s voice breaks me out of my haze.
“It sure is, baby. That means . . . ”
“SCHOOL!” he yells.
“Yup. Let’s get upstairs.”
Boogie and his penguin pajamas race down the hall towards the stairs. Right before he scrambles up on his own, he turns to me and raises his arms, the universal “carry me” sign. Ordinarily, I would have said, “No. You’re a big boy. Big boys can do it by themselves.” But today, I bend over and lift my baby boy into my arms. He wraps his arms around me and buries his face into my neck.
“I’m smelling you, Mommy.”
I don’t trust my voice to stay even, so I just squeeze him tighter and nod.
My son is dressed in his green winter coat and clutching a piece of toast. We are running a little late and I can’t find his backpack.
“Boogie, where’s Diego?”
“It’s not here. I can’t find it.”
“I know but where is it? Where did you see it?”
“I can’t see it.”
“Baby . . . Where. Is. Your. Back. Pack?”
It takes every ounce of strength I have to keep my voice steady. I am doing all I can to hold it together; one broken string could send the entire thing tumbling.
“It’s on the chair.”
The breakfast table chair. The chair right behind me. I inhale deeply and close my eyes. “Just a few hours,” I say to myself.
In the car, Boogie begins his daily ritual of narrating the trip to school. “There’s a man. There’s the gas house. There’s a car. That’s a tree. That’s another tree. And another . . . And another . . . Mommy, can I have a car?”
I listen to him go on and on, answering questions between the pauses, unsure of how to tell him what I need him to know. When we pull up to his daycare, I turn off the car and just sit there.
“Get out of the car, Mommy.”
“Just a second, baby.”
I decide to talk to him on the walk to the front door. The quicker, the better. I want this to be painless. I never really know what it is he understands. We walk up to the door and I take his hand.
“Boogie, you know how sometimes I go away for a little bit.”
“And Kebe gets you from school? And you sleep with Grandma and Grandpa?”
“And then Mommy isn’t in the house but I call you every single day?”
“On the phone!”
“Yes! On the phone. I talk to you every single night before bed . . . ”
“Well, Mommy’s going away for a few days. Do you understand?”
“Yes . . . ”
At three, Boogie is already used to me traveling for gigs and shows. When he was younger, he used to come with me. He’s been on more planes before the age of two than most adults. But as he got older, I wanted him to feel rooted to something, so I enrolled him in a daycare.
At the door, I kneel so that we’re big pair of eyes to bigger pair of eyes. His adorable face is a little sadder than before. “I’ll be back very, very soon but before then Jesam and Kebe and Kanke and everyone is going to play with you and you’ll have fun. And then I’ll be back!”
Boogie nods quietly and I ring the doorbell. His teacher Ms. Dea opens the door with her unbridled enthusiasm. I’ve spoken to her already, so she knows the situation. She smiles sympathetically at me, then turns and offers my son a great, big “GOOD MORNING!”
Boogie spots his partner in crime, Z. Z is a year older than Boogie and from the second they first met, they were friends and co-conspirators. She is a gorgeous little girl who reminds me of a mini Lauryn Hill. I need to get used to my baby rushing off and forgetting me for some girl already. I sign the sign-in sheet and remind Ms. Dea that my brother will be picking him up this evening. She nods.
“Boogie . . . an I have a hug and a kiss?”
His coat already off, my son steps towards me with his lips puckered. I bend over and kiss him. He then throws his body towards me, embracing my legs. I blink back quickly to avoid what I know is coming.
“I’ll see you soon, baby. I love you.”
“Ok. I love you. I miss you.”
I wipe away a renegade tear and turn to leave. I give Ms. Dea a nod and jog back to the car. I turn on the ignition and melt all over the steering wheel.
On the drive home, I want to call and cancel this noon meeting. I’m not sure if I can sit through it and act professionally. But if I cancel, she’s not going to want to work with me and I need to get this career moving again. The last three years have been frozen with bits and moments; I need it full swing again. And I know she can help do this. I need to get it together. At least for a few more hours.
My cell phone is on the kitchen counter, where I left it in a rush to get out the door. The green indicator light is blinking. My anxiety starts, not knowing who or what it could be.
It’s Megan asking if we can move the meeting back a few hours. I feel a bit of weight drop off my shoulders. I text her back and explain that I have somewhere to be this afternoon. But we should definitely reschedule for next month. She tells me to take care of myself. I know she means it. I tell her I will.
I’ve been sitting on the couch staring at the TV. I’m not sure what I’m watching but I do know I need to start the laundry so I can pack. I gather the clothes I might need. I’ll wear the jeans so that doesn’t need to be packed. One sweatshirt, five T-shirts, three pairs of socks, pajama pants, sweatpants . . . the sweatshirt I want to take and my two favorite pajama pants need to be washed. I run upstairs and throw them in the washer. I don’t know where my black Puma bag is, but I’ve decided that’s the only thing I want to take with me. It’s big enough to hold the stuff I need, but small enough to tell the universe that I don’t plan on staying long. This is how I think. This is probably why this trip is necessary.
I find the Puma bag in my son’s room. It’s filled with all his books, a Batman slipper, and about thirty Hot Wheels. I find another bag to dump all his contents but keep one of the Hot Wheels. Before I head to the basement, I transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I push the button and run downstairs. Now that my meeting is canceled, I feel like I can leave a little earlier. Now that my meeting is canceled, I start to have second thoughts about going at all.
My sister and various friends remind me why this is important. I tell myself that I will leave here by one. I pack the clean clothes and a few books. I also pack the journal I bought New Year’s Eve. I don’t like writing by hand. I have the penmanship of a nine-year-old boy with no fingers. Plus my brain moves too fast for my hand. Typing is the only way I can keep up. But I know I can’t bring my laptop with me, and not writing at all is not an option, so the journal it is. Before I’ve even packed the clothes, I realize that the bag is already too heavy. I have to remove a few of the books. I take out all the ones I’ve already read and choose two that I never even knew I had. The author and I share a book agent, so I figured it would be inspiration to get my proposal done.
The View is the black hole of daytime TV. I don’t even like the damn show, but I’ve sat down just for hot topics, and then that Hasselbeck reaches into my chest and steals an hour of my soul. I am just about to go up and check on the laundry when I remember the Wendy Williams Show is on. I need something completely ridiculous before the hard part starts. I can leave at two.
I haven’t showered yet. For someone with no real set time to get there, why do I feel like I’m running late? Because I’m always running late. And I forgot to pack my toiletries. I’m going to need my own stuff. My own soap and poof and toothpaste and toothbrush and moisturizer and lotion and body oil and deodorant. I run around the bathroom collecting the items and tossing them in the bag. I remember the clothes in the dryer and run upstairs. If I get those in the bag, I can still make it out of here by two.
I forgot to turn the dryer on. I thought I’d pushed the right button but I forgot to set the timer, so the clothes are still damp. I can feel the heaviness in my chest. This isn’t a big deal. You still have time; just do it now. I wipe away the first tear and try to concentrate on getting it right this time. I ignore all the noise and just do it right this time.
The shower helps everything blend. You can pretend the wet is solitary. I hope it stops when I get out.
I feel like I’m hyperventilating. I can’t stop crying and I can’t breathe. I’m afraid I’m going to drown on dry land. I’m starting to panic. I can’t do this. I won’t do this. I can take care of it on my own. That’s what people do. They deal with this on their own.
I call my sister to tell her that I can’t do this. That I won’t. That I’m fine. She tells me that this call just proves that you can’t. You need to go. Everything will be fine. Forget the money. Forget everything. Just go. I nod. Yes.
I’m sitting on the bed with one leg in my jeans and one arm in my shirt. I tell this to my friend on the phone. She says she wishes she had a picture. I laugh for the first time and I mean it. Then the panic and tears start again.
“What if I can’t do this?”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re doing this. We’re going to do it together.”
This helps. I think about the one who doesn’t call. Wouldn’t answer the phone if I did. I push him out of my mind. He doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care.
My brother drives deliberately. Not quite sure where it’s located, he turns in one direction, then another, and finally spots it. My heart beats a little faster.
“You okay?” he asks, his face a stoic, concerned mask.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
He maneuvers the car through the parking lot and I tell him not to park. He doesn’t have to wait. I’ll walk myself in.
“You sure? Because I can park . . . ”
“I’m sure. I’ll just ask someone when I get inside. Besides, it’s almost time for you to go get E.”
“Okay. Well . . . ood luck. Call when you know something.”
“I will. Thanks for driving me.”
“No problem, sis.”
I stand outside for a few minutes and watch my brother drive away. The entrance doors look huge. I’m probably all the way on the wrong side of this massive building. A Latina woman with a soft kind face and a badge walks by.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” I stop her.
“Yes, sweetie . . . ” She has the softest, sweetest hint of an accent.
“I’m looking for the Emergency Room.”
She smiles and says, “Oh easy, just go through these doors and follow the signs all the way around to the other side.”
I finally find the Emergency Room waiting room. I look around and scan all the people anxiously waiting for news about loved ones. There’s an old man perched on the edge of his seat. He’s not interested in the TV or the Glamour magazines next to him. Before I can approach the desk, he stands quickly and says, “My wife . . . I just need to know about my wife.” There’s a woman sitting behind the help desk, she is heavy set but not too big. If this was the deep south, she’d be plump and charming. Her blonde bouffant hairdo adds to this. She takes the man by the hand and leads him to the back. I hope his wife is okay.
I stand around, not sure if I should sit down or leave or wait for the plump blonde bouffant to return. Just as I’m about to take a seat, she returns with a huge smile on her face. I can’t help but think that this smile would be more at home at the hospitality room of a Best Western than the Emergency Room of a suburban hospital. I approach her cautiously.
“Yes, Sugar?” She smiles. How’d I know she was going to call me sugar? “Can I help you? You lookin’ for someone?”
“No.” My voice comes out in a hoarse whisper. I clear my throat and try again, “No . . . ” I decided to add a “ma’am” to compete with her “sugar.”
She smiles as she waits for me to finish.
“I’m here for the Behavioral Health Unit.” My voice is thin. “I think that’s what they call the Psych Ward now.”
“Who are you here to admit, darling? And why?” She has her pen poised to fill out the forms.
I bite my lip to keep from sobbing, haphazardly brushing the stubborn tears off my face.
She asks again. “Who are you here to admit?”
“Me. I’m here to check myself in. I need help. And I’m afraid that I won’t make it alone.”