Sunday, April 22, 2012

You Can't Save Them All

The sound of tiny desperate claws scratching against brick lured me into the family room. Entombed between the fire place and the chimney, a small life chirped for its mother. It was a stupid place to nest; the rim of the chimney, disguised as shelter. I could relate to that poor mother bird who’d attempted in vain to provide a safe haven for her children. I sat on the hearth a few moments, praying for a miracle for that one small life. I knew it was hopeless, but I wanted a reason to hope none the less. I thought of the small white bone I had discovered in the soot when cleaning the fireplace the year before. I cursed the man I’d hired to secure the shingles on the roof to prevent another mishap. Cursing was pointless now. I left the room with the echo of the pleas from behind the brick laced in my thoughts. Another failed attempt at prevention accompanied me to the kitchen.

The neighbors moved in sometime after we did, a year or so after our family of six settled in. My four children were young. Young enough to peddle tricycles and be pushed in strollers up the street. The woman was paralyzed, confined to a stretcher on wheels. Her husband was an older gentlemen, who I would often see smoking a cigarette as he walked his small white dog to the corner and back. On nice days he would roll his wife into the garage or onto the driveway while he worked in the yard. They installed a lighted fountain in front of the picture window of their one story home and although I couldn’t see her through the glass, I imagined she enjoyed the calming illumination it cast on summer nights.  I often thought I should walk up and introduce myself as I drove by on my endless stream of carpools and errands. But for years, I didn’t.

At Christmas we would take the children caroling and ring the doorbell with baked banana bread in hand. They never answered the door, so we sang “We wish you a Merry Christmas” on the dark front porch and left the bread. On Halloween we included them in our neighborhood tradition of “Ghosting” -- leaving treats and a paper ghost taped to their front door. Again, no response.

One summer I was heading out for a walk and they were out, so I introduced myself.  Jack and Lynne were their names. Lynne was very animated, confined to a stretcher from birth, she was now in her 60’s. Jack was a slight man who appeared a bit older. He was eager to show me all the work he’d done in the back garden. We exchanged emails. I learned a bit of Lynne’s history, her struggles with her disability and her love of communicating over the internet. It felt good to finally make the connection. They were nice people.

Lynne and I corresponded for a time by email. I wasn’t acclimated to using email yet and the frequency with which she sent messages was more than I could manage.  My older children were now teens. Clinical depression, anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, personality disorders, you name it, plagued my family. They were like bricks descending around me.  Walls began to form. Brick by brick, diagnosis by diagnosis; my life was closing in, solidifying the distance I felt from my community.  I read the books and went to the seminars and prayed the prayers, but chaos prevailed. It came in uneven and unpredictable bursts; gusts of wind that sent my once secure nest plummeting into darkness.

 I sought safe haven for my family, using the materials at hand. Coping with chaos requires a faith and level of acceptance I had not yet developed. I was an apprentice at best. I slapped those walls up as quickly as I could, not giving thought to the world I was shutting out. Lynne and Jack were left on the outside. I just didn’t have time to focus on others; my attention hadn’t saved the ones I loved. I stopped receiving emails from Lynne, and I didn’t pursue to friendship.

The years past and the children lost interest in caroling at Christmas time. I didn’t see Lynne outside anymore. Dave, the mailman, told me she had been very sick and could no longer leave the house. I rarely saw Jack. Sometimes the garage door was open, but I never saw the van, large enough to accommodate the stretcher, come or go.  On my side of the wall, the counseling continued for a time, then  stopped, same with the medicine. There would be a lull, a temporary peace when the nest was intact and it seemed all would be well. Construction would cease but the wall remained, always a bit higher than before. Then things would get bad again, and the desperate calls were made to psychiatrists to refill prescriptions: the small terrified cry from the hearth once again resounding in my ears.
The for-sale sign was placed in their lawn last week.  I thought Lynne must have died. I hadn’t noticed the garage door open for a long time, even though it was spring. I ran into a neighbor who told me Lynne had died three months before and Jack followed suit last month. Cancer. I don’t know what became of the little white dog. I don’t know if Jack died alone in the house with only his frightened little companion to see him off to eternity; my view completely obstructed by brick and mortar.