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The Hearing

I called every family law attorney in the small town I live in. No one was available on such short notice. I called Dylan’s P.O and told him what was going on. He asked for the attorney’s name and said he would come to the hearing.

When I arrived a woman came toward me. She seemed like she was in a hurry and was holding her right hand out as she approached. “Are you Jess? I’m Carla Liez, Bird’s attorney. If we can come to an agreement…” She held a stack of papers in her left hand and was looking up at me over her oh-so fashionable reading glasses. She put her hand out and I gripped it hard and then let go.

“I’m not talking to you”, I said, and continued walking toward the courtroom. She made some kind of a flabbergasted sound which I ignored.

I saw Dylan’s P.O. and went up to him. Apparently the attorney and Bird had negotiated a deal with him. Since Dylan was refusing to come home to me, or to return to rehab, they wanted me to agree to allow him to stay at the local  youth shelter. The P.O was urging me to go along with it.

I walked into the courtroom. There was Bird, sitting with her mousey attorney. I took my seat at the front table next to them.

There was all the usual crap that goes with court and then it was apparently Bird’s attorney’s turn. She burst out of her chair and said, “I have to stand up because that’s what I do!”

She began a long narrative that could have easily come off a show like Dateline. It began with the story of how poor Bird had been refused the opportunity to adopt Dylan because the state we had lived in prohibited same-sex adoption. That’s a flat-out lie, but that was her angle. She was playing the lesbian card. One thing that Bird was honest about was that Dylan had called her right after he ran on Tuesday and she had been communicating daily with him. She had lied to me for three days, pretending to be driving around looking for him.

Bird’s attorney was trying to do a whole bunch of things at once. She wanted Bird to be granted legal  parental rights, to be granted full custody and to make it an emergency situation so that Bird could stop Dylan from going back to rehab. She went on and on for a very long time. I wondered if I would get a turn since I did not have an attorney. Bird’s attorney was dramatic in her presentation as she described how Bird had been thwarted at every turn by a controlling, irrational birth mother (me). I did not interrupt as I had learned in traffic court to never speak unless you are spoken to. Finally Bird’s attorney wrapped it up by pleading, “Judge, please don’t allow the court to let this child down!”

The judge took offense (as did I) to the attorney’s suggestion that the court would let a child down and he reprimanded her. Finally the judge acknowledged me and I told him I was Dylan’s mother and I had the birth certificate to prove it. He wanted me to agree to allow Dylan to go to the youth shelter. I told him I wasn’t comfortable agreeing to anything without having an attorney present. It didn’t matter. The judge ordered that Dylan would go to the youth shelter and that I would remain the sole custody parent. The clerk handed me a stack of papers Bird’s attorney had prepared where she had crossed off some things and written other things in. It seemed unusual for a legal document.

The hearing was over. Bird’s attorney was in front of the judges desk, schmoozing, trying to make up for her misstep. I stood up and glared at Bird as she walked by.

Dylan’s court hearing was that day at 4pm.  Dylan’s PO told me that he was going to try to get Roxanne to bring Dylan to the hearing. I drove back to the courthouse about 3:30, unsure if Dylan would be there or not.

As I walked up the stairs I saw him. He was sitting in a chair next to Bird. Someone had cut all of his thick wavy shoulder-length hair off so that no one would recognize him. It was jagged and uneven. His skin had little color to it and he was sick and coughing. His lungs were tight with asthma. I’d never been happier to see him.

Dylan had his court hearing and at his PO’s request, he was given an ankle bracelet monitor. Bird was horrified and fussed about how uncomfortable it looked. I thought the ankle bracelet was a great idea. Now if he ran we would be able to find him. Plus I wanted Dylan to experience the full consequences of his actions so that he might be motivated to change. The PO thought we should  look into a different treatment setting. Dylan was adamant that he was refusing to return to the rehab he had been in. At this point he was not court ordered to do so.

The three of us walked out of the courtroom and Bird started crying, saying she wanted to leave. I’m pretty sure she thought I was going to send her on her way, for good. I probably should have. But I felt like Dylan was in a very vulnerable situation and that we needed to take care of him together. Dylan said he didn’t want to go to the youth shelter, that he wanted to come home.

There was no way I was prepared to manage Dylan on my own. He was volatile and easily triggered. Every few minutes he would beg us not to send him back to rehab, insisting that he would kill himself if he we did. He wanted me to promise him that and that he was going to get to live with Bird. Bird was also adamant that Dylan should not be sent back to rehab.  It was clear to me that according to Dylan and Bird I was still the enemy.

I invited Bird to come and stay with us until we could get things settled. She was hesitant at first but relented and brought her two little dogs as well.  For the next four days, until we could see Dylan’s substance counselor, we tag teamed Dylan so that he was never alone.

During those few days I found Bird to be domineering when it came to caring for Dylan. We disagreed about what time he should be woken up in the morning, and pretty much everything else.  I let her have her way, because I didn’t feel I had a choice. Dylan spent most of the time in his room in bed.  Bird started sitting in there with him and it felt very  clear to me that the division that had been established as Bird and Dylan against me was going to continue. My main concern was Dylan’s comfort and safety and so I allowed everything. I allowed Bird to wait on Dylan as if he was an invalid.

On Sunday I went out for some supplies and when I returned Bird told me that a process-server had attempted to serve me papers related to a separate lawsuit Bird was filing against me in an attempt to get custody of Dylan. Everything that came up over those few days I just accepted without argument. Bird told me that she had already paid her attorney in advance for mediation so that we could come up with a parenting plan and wouldn’t have to go to court.  I said that was fine because at that point I would have said yes to anything just to keep the peace. I had found an attorney but I wouldn’t be seeing her until the next day. So at that point everything was unknown. Dylan still needed treatment, but where? And how were we going to get him there and get him to stay? At that time those were my biggest concerns.

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Losing Dylan: Thursday

The next day I received a text from Bird about 11:00 am.

                           Hi Jess, Can I ask you a question?

“Of course,” I responded without thinking.

And then it occurred to me that this text message was nothing like any I had ever received from Bird in the past. For one, Bird rarely, if ever calls me by my name. She would never ask me if she could ask a question, because for her, asking a question signifies weakness. And third, Bird has never used a friendly tone in any of her communications with me.

Would you be willing to let Ian stay with me until we can sort this mess out?

I knew instantly who the text messages were from. They had Dylan written all over them. And I knew exactly what he and Bird were doing but I played dumb so that I could let them bury themselves a bit further.

“I don’t understand” I texted back.

I could visualize Bird grabbing the phone from Dylan. He had probably convinced her to let him text me and it wasn’t going as planned. The next text had an entirely different tone and was clearly from Bird.

I just heard from Dylan. He won’t tell me where he is unless I can promise him I can pick him up and he can stay with me. He’s willing to do outpatient care but he does not want to be put back in rehab. 

Was this suddenly a hostage situation? Let’s see…Bird and Dylan were asking me to agree to not put Dylan back into treatment and hand him back over to Bird. And in exchange, I would get to know where my son was! I was obviously in some kind of parallel universe of Bird and Dylan’s making. Still, I was relieved to know that Dylan was safe.

Bird kept texting me wanting explicit permission to pick Dylan up but refused to reveal his location. I wasn’t complying. The texts kept coming.

He said he ran because the director told him he couldn’t call me. He said she told him that everything had to go through you. He lost his lifeline and bolted. He wants me to take him home tonight so he can shower….rest….and deal with everything tomorrow.

His lifeline?” I recoiled at her use of the word. Suddenly the only person on earth that could help Dylan was Bird? Who exactly was I? Just the person who gave birth to Dylan and cared for him for the last 15 years. Apparently I had just been incidental to the process. My vagina begs to differ.

I called the police and gave them the address where Bird was staying. The officer called me back an hour later to tell me that no one had been there. I called Dylan’s substance abuse counselor and told her what was going on. She told me she had some time if I wanted to come in and discuss what to do next. I took her up on it.

We met and talked. I can’t recall now what was said. By the time we were done it was dark and rainy. I drove home and had just set my keys on the counter when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number but given the situation I answered anyway.

A woman’s voice came out of the speaker that I didn’t recognize. She asked for me by my full name. For a second I thought I had been caught by a bill collector.

“This is Carla Liez. I’m an attorney representing Bird. We are filing for temporary emergency custody of Dylan. There is a hearing tomorrow at 11, and you are invited to attend”.

Oh, I’m invited to attend?”, I said, my blood boiling. “I guess you must not look into your cases before you take them on. Did you know Bird has lived in a trailer she pulls behind her truck for most of her adult life? Did you know she is attempting to interfere with him getting medically indicated treatment?!!”

Her voice was annoyingly non-reactive. “You are invited to attend the hearing tomorrow, at 11 o’clock.”

“Oh, I’ll be there,” I said emphatically, and hung up.

 

Losing Dylan: the escape

Dylan was admitted to rehab on a Monday. That night Bird texted me, worried. She said Dylan had called and told her the rehab facility was horrible. The cook hadn’t shown up for dinner and they had to make themselves sandwiches. Bird told me Dylan was afraid, because many of the other kids in the facility were wearing ankle monitoring bracelets and tattoos.

I had much more faith in Dylan being able to navigate rehab than Bird did. Dylan made friends wherever he went. I suspected Dylan was embellishing the story trying to get Bird to rescue him. But I was also worried. I hadn’t met the other kids there. I wondered if I should have looked into other rehabs.

Tuesday at 4pm I received a call from the director of the facility. Dylan was gone. He’d taken off running when they went outside to play basketball. They had called the police to report him as a runaway. The director told me that all we could do now was wait.

I hadn’t anticipated this, although I probably should have. On some level I must have because it was indeed my worst fear. I called Bird to tell her the news. She was angry. “I knew this was going to happen!” she said before hanging up.

Soon after it started pouring down rain. I imagined Dylan out in the streets somewhere without cover. In all of Dylan’s 15 years I had never felt so desperate and powerless. I called the police and told them where I thought he might be. Surely he would go to his favorite hangout, the place where he got his drugs. The police called me back a short time later. The officer’s voice on the other end said he was at Dylan’s hangout.

“There is no one here that fits his description, Ma’am” he said matter of factly.

Later that evening I drove to his hangout myself. I talked to some of the people there. They all said they knew Dylan, and were surprised to learn he was only 15. No one had seen him for several days. Bird and I were texting back and forth, asking each other if there was any news. Finally it seemed there was nothing left to do except to go to bed.

I slept uneasily and woke to a text from Bird asking me if I had heard anything. There was nothing. Bird texted that she was driving around “blindly” looking for him. It was Wednesday and I spent the day in a state of despair, immobilized. Had I caused this situation by putting Dylan in treatment? I tried to push away the thought that I might never see Dylan again. Suddenly having Dylan home safe, even on drugs, seemed preferable to not knowing where he was.

Dylan was set to appear in juvenile court that Friday, but his probation officer needed to serve him the summons. Bird had the P.O.’s name and number. I wanted to call him to alert him to the situation. I texted Bird three separate times asking her for the information. Each time she responded with a vague response and would not give me the number. It was extremely frustrating. Finally I called Dylan’s substance abuse counselor and she gave me the number.

Dylan’s P.O. told me he couldn’t speak to Bird without my consent because she did not have a legal connection to Dylan. He agreed to meet with me that day at 3 to discuss Dylan’s situation. Because Bird had withheld the information from me, I decided not to invite her to the meeting. She called me right before the appointment and I told her where I was.

I told her if she was not going to cooperate with me, I wasn’t going to include her. She was livid. I held the phone away from my ear when she began raising her voice. “You don’t understand, Jess! This is much more difficult for me because you are the one who has all the control.”

I didn’t care about control at that moment. I wanted Ian safe and back in treatment. Bird had been pulling this kind of shit with me for years, making me prod for answers to simple questions about Dylan.

I began to notice a pattern that occurred over and over again with Bird and Dylan. One or both of them would do something that would be considered bizarre or out of line in any “normal” setting. Take for instance, Bird withholding the P.O’s number from me. If I then made a choice in response, for instance, not inviting Bird to the meeting, one or both of them would get angry at me. Individually or together they would blame me for the entire incident, acting as if their actions had no effect whatsoever on the outcome. It’s like how Bird was supplying Dylan with weed, and simultaneously blaming me as the reason Dylan was using weed.

The P.O. told me that unless we could find Dylan, he wouldn’t be able to serve him. Without serving him, the court would have no power to remand Dylan back to treatment. Things were looking bleak. Time was moving very slowly. I wondered how long this could go on for. It felt like torture.

I began to feel suspicious of Bird. Was she hiding Dylan from me? She had stopped texting or calling me for information about where Dylan might be. I knew that if she didn’t know where Dylan was, she would be frantic. It seemed odd. And then it occurred to me. Bird had Dylan’s phone, the center of his universe. Or… did she still have his phone? Had she possibly slipped it to him during the admission process?

I texted her.

I was thinking this would be a good time to look at his phone to see who he was communicating with most recently

                                 Forgot I had it. I have to charge it

I would do that asap

                                 What’s his pin

2529

                                 Nope

My suspicion grew. Your child is missing and you forget that you have his phone? I thought on this for a while, until later that evening. All of the recent communication between Bird and I had been via text. I needed the truth. At about 8pm I called Bird.

It sounded like she was at a gas station or something. I asked her what she was doing. “Oh, I just got done going to a meeting,” she said, nonchalant. Her voice had that softness it gets sometimes. “Maybe she was going to Alanon?” I silently hoped.

“Oh”. I said, awkward. “I just, um wanted to say, or ask…If you knew where Dylan was, you wouldn’t hide it from me, would you?”

“Oh, no. No, I would never do that to you,” Bird replied reassuringly.

Losing Dylan: the intake

Dylan, Bird and I were sitting in the intake office of the adolescent drug treatment program. The intake counselor was asking me questions about the admission when Bird interrupted. She asked the intake counselor, “Does Dylan have to be here?”

The intake counselor told Bird that they couldn’t hold anyone against their will. She seemed confused. In front of her were two female parents and Dylan, who was hissing and spitting like a feral cat. One parent wanted to admit Dylan and the other was trying to take him home. She hesitated and then said, “Maybe we should go talk alone for a few minutes?” nodding to Bird and I.

“Be careful,” Dylan admonished the intake counselor. “Jess is very manipulative,” he said, calling me by my first name.

The three of us went upstairs to an empty counselors office. I sat and said nothing while Bird went on about how she didn’t think Dylan needed treatment, it was only marijuana, etc. Bird wanted to know what Dylan’s rights were. I suggested we call Dylan’s substance abuse counselor, who I hoped would be able to set Bird straight. Luckily we were able to get through to her. The intake person put her on speakerphone. She told Bird everything I had already told her. He needed inpatient treatment. If he refused, when he appeared in court the following week, he would likely be sent back to treatment. Bird never takes my word on anything. But she seemed to finally be getting it that there was no way out of this.

We went back downstairs and Bird explained the situation to Dylan, again. Since it was coming from her he seemed to accept it. I started filling out the paperwork, which was at least 1/2 inch thick. Bird had not brought any of Dylan’s things, apparently assuming she would be taking him back to her trailer.

As I sat filling out the paperwork Dylan would occasionally erupt in anger, calling me expletives. He told the staff I was a drug addict, not him. He told the staff I had been giving him drugs. He told me over and over again how much he hated me, and that everything that was happening was my fault. It was clear that Bird and Dylan were in agreement that I had engineered this treatment experience as some kind of punishment for Dylan.

The admission process took at least a couple of hours. I said nothing to the verbal attacks that Dylan continued to throw at me. I was embarrassed by Dylan’s behavior, both towards me and the treatment staff. By now he had hurled expletives at all of them as well.

Once Dylan understood that there was no escape, he put his cigarettes and lighter on the intake counselor’s desk. Before she could take them, Bird reached her hand out and grabbed them, curling her long fingers around them as she slipped them inside of her coat pocket. As she did so she said, “Dylan!”, as if to correct him for wasting something valuable.

They gave us a tour. Bird kept making disparaging side comments to me about the place. She didn’t like the rules. She didn’t think Dylan should be subjected to the rules. The treatment center was an apartment building that had been converted into a rehab facility. As we walked through, I thought of myself when I was Dylan’s age. I didn’t think it sounded too bad to be housed with twenty co-ed kids who were fellow drug users. I also thought of my own treatment experience, which happened when I was 21.

It was finally time for us to go. Dylan was crying and clinging to Bird, still pleading with her to get him out of there. He hugged her and told her he loved her. He turned to me and said, “I hope you burn in hell, Jess.”

The big solid door of the facility closed behind us. Looking up I saw there were tears in Bird’s eyes. “I feel like we are locking him up and throwing away the key!” she said.

I tried to reassure her that we were doing the right thing. I reminded her that every professional we had spoken to had agreed that this was the right thing. He was safe and in fact, he wasn’t locked up.

Because my relationship with Bird had been strained for many years prior, we hadn’t touched in several years. Impulsively, I hugged her. “It’s going to be OK,” I said. “We will get through this together”.

That night I went home and I remember thinking that if I died that night, I would die happy. I felt like we had just done the most important thing in the world for Dylan. I honestly couldn’t believe we had pulled it off. Finally, there was a chance for him to find himself again.

I had no way of knowing that things were about to get worse, much worse than I had ever anticipated.

 

Losing Dylan, part 6

After I met with Dylan, I began to question myself. Maybe Bird and Dylan were right. Had I failed at my most important job, of being a parent? It seemed clear that the anger Dylan had toward me was not going away, and in fact seemed to be getting worse.

I called Dylan’s substance abuse counselor. I expressed my concerns and our conversation became heated. I was really worried about Dylan. I felt it was time to put him in treatment, but Bird disagreed. I felt as though the counselor had misinterpreted the situation in suggesting that I hand Dylan over to Bird. I wanted to convey to her that Dylan was now being cared for by his primary enabler.

“Bird is buying Dylan weed!” I blurted out. I was scared to say it. I didn’t want Bird to get in legal trouble.

“Well then why haven’t you called the police? That’s going to be a mandatory report to DHS, which will lead them back to you as the source of the information. You should know that Jess, you’re a social worker”.

My heart sank. What had I done? As I mentioned before, I felt complicit and it didn’t seem right to be calling out Bird if I wasn’t also going to implicate myself. Still I felt certain that an intervention was in order. If Dylan stayed in the situation he was in I knew that things would get worse.

I pointed out to the counselor that he was not compliant with the substance abuse diversion agreement we had signed. I wanted him in treatment, if nothing else than to give him some time off of drugs so that he could see himself clearly. The counselor agreed that he needed treatment. However, she warned me about the possible outcomes. The local adolescent treatment center was not a locked unit. Dylan would likely run. In addition if Dylan acted out as he had been doing, he would end up in a detention center. I was afraid of both outcomes. But I was more afraid of doing nothing.

The counselor explained that Dylan’s pending legal charges could be used as leverage in convincing Dylan to stay in treatment. Since the counselor’s recommendation was inpatient treatment, the juvenile court would likely remand him there if he refused to go on his own. She called the treatment center and made an intake appointment for Dylan the following Monday.

I called Bird on Sunday night to give her the news. I told her everything that the counselor and I had discussed.

Bird was not pleased. “I don’t think he needs treatment”, she said. “This is ridiculous. For marijuana? He is just doing what teenagers do!”

“I think he needs treatment,” I said, speaking as evenly as I could. “His counselor thinks he needs treatment. If he doesn’t follow through with the counselor’s recommendation, he will be expelled from school”. I told her about the intake appointment.

“What if I don’t bring him there?” Bird replied.

I was prepared for this. “Then you will be seen as interfering with medically indicated treatment.” I said, parroting the words the counselor had suggested.

A short time later I received a text from Bird saying, “I’ll have him there on Monday”. I was surprised. I expected much more of a fight.

Then I received a call from Dylan. I told him everything I had already told Bird. He was angry and kept talking in circles trying to find his way out of the situation.

“Dylan, I’m doing this because I lov..”

He cut me off. “You’re a stupid fucking bitch,” he said, hanging up.

 

 

Losing Dylan Part 5

Dylan and I met for dinner at a local restaurant. I wanted to see him because I missed him. I wanted to connect with him if possible. A few days prior I received a call from the school police officer. Dylan had been verbally confrontational with him and then spat on his police car.

The parent part of me felt that I needed to try to stop Dylan from where he was going. As a result of his actions, he was now facing charges in the juvenile justice system. His problems with anger and authority were likely to lead him to jail or prison, if he didn’t change his course. So although I was hoping for a connection, I also felt it was imperative to talk to him about his actions and the resulting consequences.

Bird dropped him off and Dylan strode into the restaurant with his usual swagger. He was wearing his long dark curly hair tied back in a man bun, and a tie-dyed bandana was tied around his forehead. His boots made him at least a foot taller than me. He was wearing beads around his neck and wrist. His eyes were dark and flashing. I could tell he was high on something. We ordered and he inhaled his meal quickly. We made small talk.

I mentioned the police incident. I tried to take the assertive authoritative role that had worked in the past. I expressed my concerns. And then it began.

“I’m not taking life advice from you, Jess“. Dylan had begun calling me by my first name instead of “mom” or “mama”. When he said my name he emphasized it. “You’re a horrible mother. You’ve never done anything for me.”

He began listing my failings one by one. I attempted to address each one, apologized and attempted to reason with him. His anger grew and then erupted. He jumped out of the booth and walked out the door.

I called Bird. “He just walked out. I don’t know where he went.”

Were you guys fighting? Bird said with an accusatory tone.

“I wasn’t fighting, but he was,” I replied.

“I’ll be right there,” she said.

Suddenly Dylan reappeared, reeking of cigarette smoke. The nicotine had diminished his edge by a small margin. He sat down and resumed his attack. Again I felt confused and unsure of how to respond. A lot of his complaints seemed to be related to the custody lawsuit Bird had filed against me two years prior. He was now claiming that during the time that he did not want to communicate with Bird it was because I had refused to allow him to. This story line and the distorted reality around it was infuriating to me. After trying to be calm and rational my anger boiled over and I said something flippant.

He flew out of the booth and walked to the door. Before he pushed it open he looked back at me and yelled, “Fuck you Jess!”

I sat there, shell-shocked. The other patrons in the restaurant were looking at me and squirming in their seats.

The woman who had been our server came over and sat next to me in the booth. She put her arm around me said, “I’m so sorry that happened. That must have been really hard.” She seemed to understand exactly what happened and had probably overheard some of our conversation while she was waiting on us.

I took great comfort in her gesture, a complete stranger offering compassion at the time when I needed it most.

Losing Dylan, part 4

As we left the counselor’s office Bird looked upset. I suggested we go talk in her truck. When we got there, Bird started crying. Dylan’s substance abuse counselor had mentioned that she was going to drug test Dylan. Through her tears, Bird said, “I feel so guilty because he is going to get in trouble for something I’m giving him. I’m like his drug dealer!” I assured Bird that although we had made mistakes, we could change what we did moving forward. She agreed to tell Dylan that evening that she would no longer provide him with marijuana.

The next morning I called her to ask how it had gone. She was vague, and finally said she couldn’t do it because it was late, and she knew it would cause a scene, perhaps leading to a sleepless night. I was disappointed but I attempted to be encouraging. I suggested that she could take him to 12-step meetings, as I had done so and he had enjoyed them. No, she said. Even if I stop giving it to him he will still get it from his friends. There is no way he is going to stop smoking weed. This is what teenagers do. This is what I did when I was a teenager.

We agreed on a few other things that also did not happen. The next time I saw Dylan he was angry and combative. There were dark circles under his eyes. He told me I needed to apologize for all the horrible things I had done to him. When I attempted to question him about those things he would take small pieces of huge incidents that had occurred during the two years prior. Out of context it did appear that I was a mentally unstable person unfit to parent. At one point he said, I talked with my counselor and she agrees that my problem isn’t weed, it’s you. 

I was honestly hurt and confused by all the anger he was throwing at me. He was painting me as a neglectful parent who never did anything for him. Just last summer I remembered feeling so good about where our relationship was at. But that was before school started, and his drug use escalated. But even right before he started staying with Bird, when he became so defiant, I still felt like we had a bond and that he saw me as his caring mother. I had never before seen this much hatred directed at me and it hit me to the core. I began to wonder if maybe he was right. He told me he wanted to live with Bird on a permanent basis. I told him he could do that if he wished.

Things were not getting better with Dylan. In fact they seemed to be getting worse. Dylan hated me and had convinced his counselor that I was the source of his problems. Bird was doing whatever she wished with Dylan regardless of my input. Dylan told me he was taking a break from psychedelics because he had taken “a lot” recently. I learned that the “structure” Dylan was referring to meant that he was still being given access to his favorite drug hangout every day after school.

I called the substance abuse counselor and she agreed to meet with Bird and I.

We arrived at the session and the first thing the counselor asked us was, “How did you two meet?” It seems like a good opening question. I don’t know if she knew that she was stepping on a land mine.

I looked at Bird, paused for a moment, and then told the story like I have for the last several decades. I should have let Bird tell it, but like I said, its automatic.

I was 19. She was 26. We both had girlfriends and we were all alcoholics. She and I would sneak kisses and gropes when our girlfriends weren’t around. Then we both got sober individually, met up again and had a year-long very tumultuous relationship.

Bird interjects, “And then we broke up….

Oh we broke up? I said with a head cock. She’d gotten me. It was decades ago that it happened but suddenly it seemed like a freshly opened wound.

Is that how you’re going to tell it? I turned to the counselor. She left me for my best friend, they got married and stayed that way for 15 years.

Bird scrunched her face in a scowl, “Well our relationship (meaning hers and mine) was really bad,” she said shaking her head.

At the time Bird and I had been living together in a house one block away from my best friend, Mel. I was working swing shift as a nurse. Mel was also a nurse and she was married to a cop named Berta.  Bird was unemployed as usual, and started spending her free evenings with Mel. I’m not the jealous type. Every time I’ve been cheated on I’ve been shocked because I missed all the signs. One night Mel called me at work. She tells me that she and Bird were having a dinner at a fancy restaurant in town and that Bird had gotten food poisoning and that I needed to go home to tend to her. That night definitely struck me as odd. But of course there were all the denials and We are just friends!

After that I think they knew the gig was about up and Bird said she wanted to talk with me. I made us coffee, we sat down and she announced that she was leaving me. Mel was leaving Berta, Bird and Mel were in love and they were going to get their own place. I’ll never forget that day. I said nothing because by now on some level I knew what was happening. But to hear her say it wounded me and I was hurt and angry. I threw my coffee cup against the wall and it smashed. She left. A few moments after she left I got a call from the person who had been Bird and I’s couples counselor. She told me that Mel and Bird wanted her to call “to make sure I was OK“. A few days later I came home to a house that had been emptied of Bird’s belongings.

Back at the time when it happened, Bird had said those very same words. “Our relationship was really bad anyway. It was uncanny. I could hear her saying it decades ago the same way she was saying it in the counseling session. The very same fucking words. It was like Deja Vu.

Oh, so that’s your justification?” I asked. I was really pissed by then.

“No, it wasn’t justification!” she says, her voice rising.

Next the butch appearing lesbian counselor says to the butch appearing Bird, “So you’ve been in and out of the picture with raising Dylan?” She said it in a non-threatening manner but I could feel Bird recoil and see her stiffen in her chair.

Then Bird turned to me and said, Would you like to explain to her why that is, Jess? her voice oozing with sarcasm. She had a look on her face like she had just Kinged me or something.

I was seriously flabbergasted. Bird never fails to surprise me with her interpretation of events.

Oh, wow! That’s where you are going with this? I was incredulous. She was going to start the “you kept me from my son story.” The one that isn’t true. The same one my son had begun telling.

I looked at the counselor and I said, Well, you’ve hit the mother lode here. This therapy isn’t for us, so I don’t really think we should go there.”

Counselor looks at me and says, “Well I think this is kind of about you two.” She gave us a few stories about how Dylan is a product of how we have raised him, etc.

And that’s when the shit really began to hit the fan.

I brought up how Bird had sued me in an attempt to gain custody of Dylan in order to return him to the drug using friends I had successfully moved him away from. Bird was communicating with Dylan on the fancy phone she bought him. She told him via text that she disagreed with my decision and that what I was really doing was to try to eliminate her from his life. Bird came to where we were for a visit. She came and took him two days in a row to spend time with him, which I freely allowed. A few days later I was served the papers. Looking further into Dylan’s phone and the text messages I discovered that Dylan and Bird had been planning this together for quite some time. To top it off Bird was posting things on Instagram indicating that her son was being cut off from her by her evil ex-partner.

The next thing I recall in the session was Bird saying, “Yeah, you took Dylan to Cali, and how did that work out for you!?”

Bird and I argued about what did and what did not happen in Cali. At one point I stood up because I was so angry and because the wound of that time period reopened. I didn’t yell, but I was very animated in expressing myself, perhaps lending credence to Bird’s characterization of me as being the “crazy one”.

The counselor pressed on, she turned to me, and said, “What about you, Jess? All I hear out of you is, “I’m ill, I’m sick.” She put her hands up in the air when she said it to give it a little dramatic flair.

When I mentioned that I had been disabled by an autoimmune disorder in 2013, she said, “Mm, hmm” and what I read from her was. “You don’t look disabled.” I bet I didn’t look disabled at all that day. I had put on therapist clothing, done my hair, put on my eyebrows and came prepared for battle. I stood for at least half of the session, until she politely told me to sit down. I clean up well. And if I was going to go down, I was going to look good while I was doing it. It is perhaps both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness that when the pressure is on I rise to it, even if the cost is the health of my body.

At one point when I was talking animatedly, Bird turned to the counselor, leaned in, pointed to me with her long bony index finger and said, “You see, this is why I can’t talk to her.” I recall the counselor saying, “Jess, I think what you just said to Bird was condescending. And then she turned to Bird and said, …“And I can see that you are already beginning to shut down”. Poor little big Bird.

The counselor mentioned her own relationship with her partner, and how they had always stuck together in their parenting styles. She also said that her kid had ADHD like Dylan and that they had addressed it with diet, “even though giving him a medication would have been the easy way out”. At one point she said, “It’s just like the straight parents, it’s not any different because we are lesbians”. She told us we needed to work together and that I needed to support Bird in being strong.

I looked the counselor directly in the eye and put my hands together resting my elbows on my knees.

I’ve been trying to make her strong for decades, and it hasn’t worked yet, I said in a flat tone. Later I felt bad for saying it, but it was absolutely factual.

 

 

 

 

Losing Dylan, part 3

At first I thought that Bird and I were going to be able to work together. I asked her to attend a session with Dylan’s substance abuse counselor and myself. Bird has always been wary of therapy. The last time we were in therapy together she walked out in the middle of it and never returned.

When I arrived Bird was sitting in the lobby. She looked weary and scared and I took some pleasure in that. She barely acknowledged me.

How’s it going? I asked. What I really meant was How is Dylan doing? Dylan was staying with her full-time by then. She had always asserted that she was the better parent and now she was getting her chance to prove it.

Busy... she says trailing off, shaking her head. Bird will never answer a direct question. She will respond with something vague, or ask why the question was asked.

Doing what? I asked.

Taking care of a 15-year-old, my mother, and trying to find a place to live….

I said nothing. Bird is always beleaguered with some issue or another. She’s been living in a trailer she pulls behind her truck for at least six years. If you ask her why she will tell you she did it for Dylan. She wanted to be close to him and was forced to move to California to do so.

In spite of Bird’s obvious limitations, she holds a certain power over me. I know she wouldn’t have it if I didn’t give it to her. When we first got together I was 19 and she was 26. Because of abuse I encountered when I was young, I’ve always been afraid of anger that comes from an intimate partner. When they get angry I go into overdrive trying to prevent the rage and violence that will surely follow. It happens automatically and I’ve never been able to control my response. It’s as if it was programmed into me. Don’t let Daddy get mad. When Daddy gets mad, bad things happen. 

My first relationship was with a boy in high school who had a drinking problem that led to domestic violence. Later, my first relationship was with a woman who was also abusive. I’ve always been attracted to darkness. I was attracted to Bird the first time I met her. It was like two magnets locking into place.

Bird’s father had made a huge impact on her. He did not accept his gay daughter or her masculine tendencies, which presented at a very early age. Bird’s father was the chief of police of the town she grew up in. Once Bird told me about an incident in which her dad had held his gun to her mother’s head during an argument.

In the early years of our relationship I would never have considered Bird to be abusive. I came from relationships where that had taken place and she was different. She had a drinking problem, yes, and when she drank she would sleep with other women or disappear for days at a time. Once she threw all of my belongings out of her house into the front yard. That was the extent of it.

Years later we were living together again. It was about a year before Dylan was conceived. Bird was working over the road as a truck driver, which meant she was gone for extended periods. This worked well for our relationship because it also was a bond formed out of desperation and fear of abandonment. When she returned we would have heated reconnection sex. A few days later she would leave again.

As a result of her absence, I became more independent. We heated our house with a wood stove and I was used to making the fires, and doing any other things that were required around the house. When Bird returned we would get in arguments because Bird felt that she should be in charge of things like starting up the stove. Tensions grew, and one night erupted.

We were in the guest room at our house for some reason. Perhaps the argument started in another room. It was late and I can’t remember what the argument was about. At one point Bird was very angry. She got close to my face and yelled, “Is this what you want? Do you want me to hit you?” Then she drove off in her truck.

I never spoke of the incident until now. I thought it was probably my fault. After all, I was unreasonable. It was my pattern to become involved with people who were abusive. Maybe I did want her to hit me. I wasn’t sure. Maybe I provoked her, I cannot recall.

But years later, after the relationship ended, she admitted that she used anger to control me. It was a rare admission for Bird, who normally keeps her real self hidden away. She isn’t comfortable with emotion and I channeled and expressed hers as part of our relationship. The relationship carried many unspoken contracts. I would make Bird feel like a man and protect her male ego. She needed me to need her and I did. I needed her to take care of me and she did.

So as we prepared to enter the butch-appearing lesbian counselors office, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wanted to be able to be non-reactive. But I’ve learned now that to attempt to be non-reactive to Bird is the same as trying to prevent the knee-jerk reaction that happens when I sense anger. Maybe it’s because I gave control of myself over to Bird at such a young age. Maybe because of her height she can appear daunting. Maybe because she abandoned me in favor of Dylan after he was born. Maybe because she has been overly critical of my mothering in an attempt to gain favor with Dylan.

Whatever the reason, interacting with Bird leads to me feeling reactive. Even now, when we are alone, I am subdued and submissive in her presence. Even if she is in my home. I trip over myself trying not to upset her, knowing that if I assert myself I will be suppressed. I choose my words so carefully because I know if I tell her not to do something, she will make it her mission to do just that. If I criticize her choices she shares it with Dylan to prove how mean I am to her. It seems as if I should be able to stand up to Bird. But as soon as she gives me that one look of disapproval, all of my reasoning melts into the ground.

She is my Dad, she is mad and bad things are going to happen. 

I came to the therapy session determined not to let the stick of dynamite I carry inside me to get lit. I did ask the universe for help in maintaining my cool, and in not feeling threatened by Bird. I knew if I was triggered by her and started yelling the battle would be lost. She would sit there smug and satisfied.

The lesbian therapist appeared and ushered us into her office.

She started telling us about Dylan’s substance abuse which we were both well aware of. Bird’s gifts to Dylan after their visits now included several grams of marijuana and a pack of American Spirit Cigarettes. I knew I couldn’t stop Bird so I didn’t even try. So yes, I was complicit. The counselor stressed the importance of intervening now, before Dylan graduated to IV drug use.

Then she sat back in her chair, legs spread wide, and said, “So, Dylan tells me you two hate each other“.

My explaining self jumped in, suggesting that we had differences in the past but we had worked through them. I’ve always been the designated speaker in the relationship. Especially in situations like this, I should talk less and force Bird to reveal herself. But again, it seemed automatic.

The counselor started talking about how happy Dylan was to be living with Bird in her trailer and that he had the structure now that he so desperately needed. She told us how Dylan had come to his session so thrilled that Bird had made him a sandwich to take to school. I’ve always hated making lunches. This one goes to Bird, she’s quite good at it. She used to make them for me.

For awhile after that it was like a Butch-on-Butch conversation. Bird was enjoying the praise. Bird practically pounded her chest while she declared that she was capable of setting strong boundaries with Dylan. The counselor told us that Dylan staying with Bird was the best situation for him and that it should continue.

The counselor asked Bird, “Have you seen how he treats her?” nodding her head in my direction. Bird said nothing. The counselor went on, telling me that living with Dylan was the same as being in an abusive relationship.

I felt somewhat validated by her words. For the first time, I felt seen.

 

Losing Dylan, part 1

Like so many things, it began with a phone call. I was in a therapy session and I had forgotten to silence my phone. Seeing that it was my son’s school, I answered it.

A school administrator’s voice informed me that Dylan arrived to class reeking of marijuana and was refusing a backpack search. Would I agree to the search?

When I arrived at the school the police were already there. I wasn’t surprised that Dylan was using marijuana at school. By now, Dylan smoking marijuana all the time had become normal. The only time I would see him not high was in the morning when I took him to school. I would give him 5 bucks for lunch which he would then use to purchase marijuana, mushrooms, or LSD after school. I suspected this but at the time I didn’t want him to go hungry. He had gotten so thin that at one point his pediatrician wanted to put him into an eating disorder unit.

The principal informed me that if Dylan did not agree to the search he would be presumed guilty and be put on a substance abuse diversion agreement that would prevent him from getting expelled. I did not permit the search because I had no idea what they might find. I also had no idea what would happen to Dylan as a result of what they might find. They insisted that by refusing the search I was enabling him.

We signed the diversion agreement which required Dylan to meet with a substance abuse counselor for an assessment. I felt it was useless because I knew Dylan had no interest in stopping his substance use. However, I wanted him to avoid expulsion. When we arrived I was somewhat relieved to see that the counselor was a butch-appearing lesbian. It gave me hope that this visit was not going to be a complete disaster.

She began to question Dylan about his substance use. He began to get angry and I interjected something, afraid of where this was going. He said something to me, I can’t remember what, telling me I needed to shut up. The counselor continued to press him and I warned her, again fearing Dylan’s impending outburst. She told me she could handle it and kept going. I took what by now had become a familiar position in medical appointments with Dylan. Head down, hands over eyebrows like blinders. Try not to get hit by flying shrapnel.

Dylan began to close his eyes, breathe loudly and clench the arms of his chair. He flew out of his chair and threatened to destroy her office. She told him to leave and he did, slamming the door behind him. I apologized for his behavior. She said she was shocked by the way he had spoken to me. To me, it had become normal. She told me he needed treatment and I told her I didn’t think he was ready. She agreed, and told me that if he acted like that in treatment they would throw him out. However, she insisted that some kind of an intervention was in order. She told me that by not allowing the search to take place at his school I had made things worse. She suggested that I should welcome the intervention of the juvenile justice system. She said I needed to set strong boundaries with Dylan and call the police or send him to the youth shelter if he didn’t comply. I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t want to be one of those Dr. Phil parents who called the police to discipline their children. And I couldn’t imagine sending him to a shelter, no matter what the circumstances were.

There was a knock on the door and Dylan reappeared, seeming to have gained some composure. I was surprised she allowed him back in. She told him she was going to make an exception and take him on as an outpatient to see if she could prepare him for treatment. If he attended the sessions with her he could avoid expulsion. I thought it was a great solution and agreed wholeheartedly.

to be continued

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