Janet Kay Jensen
by Janet Kay Jensen
Preheat oven to 350°. Put on ruffled June Cleaver apron.
Cream sugar, butter and eggs. Add milk, vanilla and sifted dry ingredients. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out dry. Do not overbake. Does anyone ever mean to overbake?
Greet seventeen year-old son who has come upstairs, coughing. Note that he is bleary-eyed as he says Mom we need to talk.
Switch to Mommylisteningmode. Watch tears well in his reddened eyes when he says This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Practice childbirth breathing exercises, in-two-three-four, out-two-three-four and remain calm while he tells you he’s taken five hits of LSD since last night, he’s having a bad trip, and that now everything will come out.
Switch to primal protective maternal mode and say, We are going to the ER. Call husband’s office, where secretary connects you with his voicemail. Hang up. Call again. Tell husband to meet you at the ER ASAP.
Have presence of mind to take unbaked cake out of oven and turn oven off. Deal with son’s anger when he says Don’t call Dad. Listen to his slurred objections, something about his unreasonable father and grades and car privileges, and that you can’t imagine what he’s experiencing because you’ve never been on a trip. Tell him you have been on a trip of sorts. Explain it was a bad reaction to a pain pill in college. A laser light show played in my head while I clung to the bed in sheer panic because the room was swirling around and I was terrified of falling off the edge of the earth. After the light show ended, I staggered to the bathroom, threw up, and flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet. Tell him you saw Timothy Leary when he visited the university on his LSD tour. Sigh when son is impressed.
Park car. Walk, supporting son, who is eight inches taller than you, to ER registration desk. Give insurance information to twenty year-old gum-chewing clerk. Wonder how she can type with inch-long long red-lacquered fingernails.
Follow nurse into treatment room. Help son into standard issue hospital gown while he announces he is hearing red and wants quiet music, which is not available.
Meet tall, young, white-coated doctor. Request that when husband arrives, ER personnel please intercept him and notify you. Remain civil when doctor asks, Why, are you two separated or something? Reply calmly and with dignity that you are not separated but it is better for father to wait nearby until son is calmer and medical status can be confirmed.
Shift to fact-retrieval mode. Recite brief medical history to doctor, who performs perfunctory examination and says Nothing we can do, they just sleep it off anyway, and adds, young man, eat a healthy diet, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and don’t do this again─drugs are dangerous, before he shakes son’s hand and leaves the room.
Feel an ounce of comfort as nurse enters and says Don’t mind the doctor; he’s only got a two year-old at home. I’ve been in your shoes, I’ll call the substance abuse department. Blink away sudden hot tears.
Meet social worker, whose black lacquered hair is fresh from the salon. Repeat history and pertinent background as she takes notes. Listen, astonished, as one facet of son’s brain directs him to calmly and coherently describe what is happening inside the rest of his brain. Sit quietly, hands gripping the arms of your chair, as he says it started when I was fourteen, pot, booze, cigarettes, I sure could use one now, chewing tobacco, crystal meth, LSD just this once, ecstacy, pot, especially pot, oh, about three times a day lately. Leave room when he asks if his mother must be included in interview.
Switch to grieving mode and pace outside examining room. When invited back, listen to social worker’s conclusion: we have a serious abuse/addiction problem here but as he’s not eighteen, he doesn’t qualify for our program. I’m sorry. Watch, speechless, as she picks up her clipboard and leaves.
Greet husband, who was not intercepted, who rushes in and anxiously hugs both of you. See son stiffen in his father’s embrace. Lead husband to waiting room where you can tell him what you know─and what you don’t know.
See another physician, whom you have never trusted, as he breezes by with a friendly wave. Realize that having seen you at the hospital, he will soon make it his business to know everything.
Speak in quiet tones to husband, trying to coherently explain the inexplicable. Return to examining room while husband remains in waiting room, and, after seeing at least three people he knows, says something about visiting a sick friend, folds his arms, closes his eyes, and pretends to doze.
Shift to decision-making mode as ER visit has been an exercise in futility and humiliation.
Decide that husband will return to work and that you will take son home, where he will evidently “just sleep it off,” which he doesn’t.
Hold son as he weeps every twenty minutes for the next three hours.
Tell him you will always love him, always, no matter what. Ask him why, as you believed the two of you had a trusting, honest relationship, you─did─not─know.
Because I didn’t want you to know, Mom.
Turn oven on again and bake cake, which has waited patiently all morning in its batter-state.
Take son in your arms and rock him, as you have not rocked him in more than a decade, as he slips in and out of paranoia.
Insert toothpick into center of cake. Determine it is done. Remove from oven. Frost cooled cake.
Put on pleasant face and entertain company, a dozen neighbors, invited several days ago for dessert and small talk. Play attentive hostess while you listen for son’s every move as he wanders aimlessly downstairs, the weeping and paranoia having subsided somewhat. Sigh in relief when the neighbors, gracious folks who never overstay their welcome, leave with pleasant goodbyes and compliments on the cake.
Slip into sleeping bag on the floor beside son’s bed because he is too terrified to sleep alone and because the wallpaper is moving.
Try to shut out the soft music he says his brain must have, and pull on winter stocking cap, though it is early May, to protect yourself against the chilling blasts of air from his fan, which he insists must blow full force.
Search Yellow Pages for options after sleepless night. Tell your story over and over again to faceless employees of insurance companies and substance abuse programs.
Take copious notes. Enroll son in outpatient treatment program.
Say goodbye forever to June and the Beav, and hello to Twelve Steps.