A Charmed Year

A Charmed Year
John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci (1513-16)


A Charmed Year

Twenty links of stainless steel; it sounds like a simple, inexpensive thing. That a bracelet could represent a lifeline, a thread of hope that strengthens as time goes on, I find difficult at times to explain.

After sliding downward for months—some friends would say years—I crashed. I crumbled. I melted.

To be honest, I now believe that my friends were right and that the decline began somewhere around 1997. By then I had been in a relationship for five years, had witnessed the birth of my daughter, and had, in general, tried to make one life out of three somewhat-attached lives.

But the person I loved began drifting away, finding her comfort, her solace, outside of our apartment, in activities that I found very uncomfortable.

I tried joining in organized civil war reenactments. I helped pitch a tent and tried talking to others at these events, but never felt like more than an outsider. Eventually, I opted out entirely.

When Chris wanted to join a nudist club, I went along. Contrary to myth, the behavior was neo-Puritanical. But for a variety of reasons, attendance at the club became more and more unpleasant. While she was busy socializing with members, babysitting our toddler daughter fell to me. When I said that I’d rather take on this duty from the comfort of home, I made it clear that I didn’t want my nonattendance to dampen her participation. Ensuing summers found me as a single parent while Chris chose to go off to be among “friends.”

Noticing that happiness seemed to be flowing in one direction only, I began—belatedly, I admit—to reach out to the community around me, in search of a sense of belonging.

But the search for connection occurred almost exclusively beyond the door of the apartment. I made many friends in the GLT community through outreach programs I joined. Some of these friendships are the strongest, and longest-lasting of my life in the Bay area.

Meanwhile, inside the apartment door, Chris created a cocoon. By not taking action to keep the place clean, she justified keeping the world at a distance: she didn’t want anyone to see where or how we lived. Where I wanted to open the door and bring the world inside, to make meals for neighbors and friends, I found my efforts continually thwarted.

Long-time friends—both men and women—now fell under suspicion: what was I doing when I was with them and not with Chris?

Early on in our relationship, I was asked to break off contact with one female friend because of insecurities. Though there were at least a thousand miles between us, to keep the peace, I stopped—for a while anyway—writing or talking to Alexis.

Another example: someone I’ve known since preschool, whose choices I admired, became someone that Chris didn’t trust? Was something going on that she didn’t know about? What about the frequent phone calls, emails, and trips to northern California?

The isolation bred frustration, which in turn created an anger that would, without expression, become an all-consuming rage.


December 8, 2002

Early morning found me sitting on the couch in a silent living room. Both Chris and our daughter were sound asleep—I thought. In my head, a replay of the tensions reverberated. I wanted to fulfill holiday plans, but the thought of another waiting game to see what bills got paid riled me. Feeling trapped inside a very small box, I went to the kitchen and found a steak knife.

I practiced running the blade up and down my arms, across my wrists—always with the flat side on my skin.

Then, as I turned the blade inward, Chris emerged from the bedroom. (I don’t remember what her question was.)

I froze.

Had she seen the knife that I quickly tried to hide?

Did she know?

Was she coherent enough to know somehow, what I was contemplating?

Two weeks later, at a friend’s house for Christmas celebrations, the two things that kept me from killing myself were the unfamiliar surroundings, and not knowing where I could locate a suitable weapon. The gathering of people, the joy of my daughter as she played with a good friend: it all washed around and over me, but left me feeling incredibly empty.


January 28, 2003

While emailing back and forth with a friend of three decades, I told him about my feelings—about being isolated. (The home phone had been turned off for nonpayment that morning. —I told him that the support system I depended on was becoming unreachable, and I didn’t know if I could keep this up.

And then I told him about December’s two close calls with a knife before the holidays. An annual tug-of-war was underway: financial responsibility versus holiday celebrations with family and friends. I wasn’t against going to be with loved ones but did object to elevating the holiday to a higher priority than paying the bills. In the past we had gambled with bills—sometimes losing, sometimes, surprisingly, winning. But that game took its toll—on me at least.

Robert’s response: “Call for help.”

I emailed a second friend, a psychologist. Traci and I were planning on getting together for dinner that upcoming Sunday. It was just to talk. Our intent was just to have a nice evening. But when her email came back, the message was the same: “Call for help.”

The first call proved frustrating. The therapist I called could see me, but the office visit fee, plus the train fare, was cost prohibitive at that time.

The second call bore fruit. Talking to a member of a Crisis Team, I was questioned about my mood, the danger I might prove to be to myself. An appointment was scheduled for the next day.


January 29

I arrived for the appointment early, knowing I would have paperwork to complete beforehand. I had come alone and was working my way through the forms when Chris, showed up unexpectedly. I handed the forms to her, and together we completed the requisite questions.

When the therapist appeared, Chris hugged me and watched as I walked off to my appointment.

I was asked to agree to an oral No Harm contract.

Was I strong enough? If it got too difficult, too dicey, would I be able to call for help?

Though I felt shaky, I thought I had the strength to abide by this.


January 30

I went to my daughter’s school to read to her class from a Braille copy of James and the Giant Peach. This event had been planned for a few weeks, and both of us were looking forward to it. I had already read the book (three times) to Aunoria. Now I would read to her class. I would get the chance to tell a story, and educate the class about Braille as well.

The reading and discussion went off well. I passed the book around to the class, and basked in the positive energy of the kids.

When I finished, and headed into work, I felt strong, and managed to navigate through that day.

But that night: I was starting to prepare dinner, cutting up some chicken. I put the knife to my wrist, and froze.

What was it about this ordinary chore that I wanted somehow to rebel against?

I went to Chris, told her what I was feeling. She volunteered to take over dinner preparations, but I insisted on finishing. She came to the living room and stayed nearby till dinner was served and eaten.


January 31

I woke up with the alarm clock, only to find that the electricity was already running at high voltage. The urge to cut was incredibly strong, so I stayed in bed. I didn’t get up and go to the kitchen till I thought it had passed

When I went to catch BART and head into the city, I was met with the urge to jump, whether to land on the third rail, or to be hit by the train, it didn’t matter.

I glued myself to the wall, and didn’t move till the train arrived.

The workday was normal: lots of running around, answering the phone, doing normal court business. And yet?

As the afternoon progressed, I got shakier, less in control. The break, when it finally came, occurred during a phone call with my best friend. A supervisor came and insisted I hang up the phone, and that was all it took.

Any barricades I might have erected were swept away as I lost control, began crying, screaming.

In an effort to give me some privacy, my supervisor led me into an empty courtroom. Through tears that wouldn’t stop, I called home, connected with Chris and explained what was happening, and that I was about to call Kaiser.

When I called the mental health clinic, they told me to get to the emergency room as soon as I could. They would let them know I was coming.

My boss, the Court Administrator, stayed with me, walking by my side through San Francisco streets, down flights of stairs to the BART platform, even on the train. All the while, he’s talking, trying to keep me as together as he could until we reached my stop, and Chris met me on the platform. My boss continued on to his destination, and I headed for the hospital.

Looking back now, I know it was a matter of a couple hours–five, I think–of being under guard, before I was transported to a locked facility and placed under suicide watch. But the time seemed to crawl as I sat there with Chris and Aunoria.

The holding room was small, but with enough space for the three of us. The guard assigned, who introduced himself as Trevor, sat on a stool right beyond the door, keeping an eye on me while granting me as much privacy as the circumstances allowed.

When I needed to use the bathroom, I had to be escorted. And the guard waited patiently outside the unlocked door.

When the guard noticed that our daughter was both bored and scared, he found her a coloring book and some crayons to help her pass the time.

As I waited, not knowing what the outcome would be, I alternately listened to the sounds of the hospital, or talked nervously.

When the world began to move again, and a bed had been found, I was walked out of the hospital by two paramedics. I kissed Chris and Aunoria, and then followed the paramedics to the ambulance.

Strapped down in the back of an ambulance, I watched the world retreat as I was taken to a safe haven where professionals knew what to do with people like me. With each block, then each mile, the nervousness subsided.

It was around midnight when we arrived at the psychiatric facility. The paramedics escorted me in; a guard buzzed us through the locked doors to Unit A. Here, the nurses took over, leading me to their station for intake.

The station was not much bigger than a large closet. I sat, half-listening to the formal recitation of what I already knew or had surmised: I would be held for seventy-two hours or until I was stable; he explained the visitation schedule and applicable rules.

Taken to a room that faced the nurse’s station, endured the mandatory ritual of inventorying of my personal belongings. The pants I wore that day had a drawstring that would need to be removed. Most any jewelry–except my earrings–were removed and logged in. I was given a quick, perfunctory tour of the room, then left to curl up under a light blanket and try to sleep.


February 1

When the nurse woke me to take my blood pressure, the day was just beginning for the unit. Somewhere nearby, a TV was on. As the blood-pressure cuff squeezed, I heard the news about the shuttle, Columbia’s explosion during re-entry. I would spend most of the rest of the day safely in my room, lights out, curtains closed, and the door as closed as was allowed. Not even a visit by Chris and Aunoria, or the possibility of visits from friends drew me out of this dark space.

That first day, I refused breakfast and might have refused lunch as well, but for the possibility of having the hold extended.

A nurse came in at one point to talk. She took a seat in the chair next to the bed.

“Why are you here?”

I thought that obvious, but I said it anyway: “Because I’m thinking of killing myself.”

Somehow, the topic of reasons to live came up.

“I can only think of two,” I admitted. “One: I want to get to have my gender reassignment surgery. And second: my fear of God’s wrath.”

“Hold on to those,” she encouraged.

In this unit, I interacted with people with a variety of mental illnesses. As ill as we all were, the compassion shown by other patients proved a soothing, stabilizing force. The professionalism of the staff was balanced by an intimate knowledge by other patients of the pain and disorientation I was experiencing.

Every ten to fifteen minutes, the door was pushed open, and a nurse poked his or her head in to check up on me. From time to time, they would claim the one chair in the room and engage me in conversation. Sometimes, their efforts were more successful than others. Sometimes it was just a matter of which nurse.


February 2

The second full day found me venturing out of my cocoon, talking with other patients, and reaching out to members of the staff. When the time came for a smoke break–a privilege no longer available when I returned ten months later, we were led into an enclosed patio.

The previous day, I had refused the offer of time in the sunshine, but Sunday I took each opportunity to soak up the light and warmth. By dinnertime, I was invited by one of the staff—the nurse I had spoken with on the previous day—to join a group of patients for dinner in the cafeteria, which was off the unit–a privilege I was told by another patient that was unheard of for someone under suicide watch.

With the nurse and three or four others, I navigated my way through the Adolescent Unit, then the Children’s Unit. As we passed through, the call went out: “Adults coming through!” (We weren’t allowed to interact with the children.) That trek, both to and from dinner, broke my heart. All I wanted to do was reach out, to pick up a child and hold them close. But I followed the group obediently.

When I spoke with my assigned doctor, and he asked about motivations to survive, he was less than pleased when I failed to mention either my partner or my daughter as motivating factors. While other staff indicated it was okay to grasp at whatever straws I could reach, this psychiatrist had other ideas.


February 3

Though my confidence was shaky, I thought I was over the storm, and discharged. I had spent most of the past 72 hours crying and huddled in my room.

Breakfast brought a second invitation to venture off the unit. Like the day before, our presence was announced in each unit as we made our way to the cafeteria and back.

In truth, the psychiatrist I was assigned didn’t understand why I was even confined: “You’re smiling.”

This phrase, this assertion, became annoyingly frequent from strangers, family and friends over the next several months.

The first stop was at our daughter’s school, where I surprised her during her lunch.

I spent the next days, then weeks, fighting to regain some semblance of normal life. I went for long walks–one trek reached eighteen miles before the will gave out, and I had to call home from my cell phone.

Another day, another degree of control.

But it was an illusion, and reality would come crashing down on me in the coming weeks.


March 12

In the next ten months, this routine became uncomfortably familiar.

On this day, when I was admitted for the second time–a different facility–I already knew the drill.

It was here, my second confinement, where I hit rock bottom. I had been feeling bad all day, and had been unsuccessful in shedding the emotion. Work didn’t do it. Talking to people didn’t work.

I called home that afternoon. I told Chris how I felt, and what I

wanted either to find someplace warm, dark, quiet, or to go for a long


She suggested the latter.

Normally, a long walk worked wonders to clear my head. Five minutes after I began, I would find myself slipping into a trance-like state: the body’s mechanics worked; the legs moved; the ears let me know the condition of the traffic around me.

After work, I commuted back to the East Bay, going past my stop by one station, and began walking.

It’s a five-mile walk, and normally takes just over an hour.

But I made only about a mile before I disintegrated, and tried for the third time that day to end my life. Seeing two cars preparing to turn left onto a freeway onramp, I stepped purposefully into the crosswalk against my light. I was daring them–anyone for that matter–to hit me, to kill me.

I took my cell phone and called first my sister, and talked to her until I thought I could move on. Then I called home.

Chris arrived, finding me huddled in a liquor store parking lot, crying uncontrollably.

Before I went back to the ER again, I went home to change. One thing I had learned the first time was that I needed to be comfortable. So I changed from jeans to a skirt, and switched from shoes to sandals.

Back in the ER, in the same holding room, with the same guard, I wondered if what I had done–in coming–was wrong. But it was too late now.

A therapist visited me. I told her about the three suicidal periods I’d endured that day, how I’d wanted to cut myself when I woke up, how I had wanted to jump from the platform in front of a train, and how, finally, I had run across a freeway onramp in front of two cars.

I said I didn’t feel like I could abide by any contract.

Once again, a bed was found for me, though the wait seemed twice as long as before.

Something was different this time. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew that this experience, however long it stretched, was different. A new hospital, new nurses, new doctors. Whereas before, I had principally stayed in my room, that behavior wasn’t going to be allowed here.

It was close to four a.m. before I finally lay down and went to sleep, only to be roused by a nurse who came to check my blood pressure. It was six-thirty, and I had gotten only two and a half hours’ sleep.


March 13

When breakfast came, I didn’t want to get up. I was greeted by a team of nurses who did everything short of lifting me off the bed to get me to go to breakfast.

Looking back now, I can’t remember the sequence of events of those first couple days. Somewhere in that collage, a group of us was gathered and led to a quiet place. Instructed to close our eyes, then systematically concentrating on, then releasing, parts of our body, I found myself liking this experience. The image of a butterfly came to mind–larger than life. It was gold and blue and it lifted my mood.

Each day, when it came time for meditation, the butterfly would be there when I closed my eyes. I began looking for ways to keep that image center stage.

Another thing I do remember: we were shepherded into a room for Group. At this point, though upright, and having eaten, I still found words painful to say. So I let the others, already veterans of this situation, to speak. I was content to let them use up all the oxygen.

But one other patient found herself excluded from the session and spoke up. When she included me in the complaint that time was being monopolized, I cringed.

“Dana,” the facilitator said, “How are you feeling?”

Unlike the previous hospitalization, where my daughter was allowed onto the unit, here she was barred by virtue of her age. At eight, she was deemed too impressionable to be permitted inside the locked doors.

Of course, this wasn’t disclosed until Chris arrived with Aunoria in tow. And it led to a shortened visit, with Aunoria unhappy and angry outside, and me unhappy and frustrated inside the ward.

I told Chris one day about the butterfly, and how I wanted to have a permanent reminder–maybe a tattoo to help center me. She suggested a charm bracelet instead.


March 14

Another day, another series of routines. I still wasn’t talking very much. But the struggle over nutrition was over. The hospital staff had won.

When visiting hour came, it was a relief to find the doctor’s notation on my chart giving me the privilege to go outside to unit to the Family Room. At least I could see my daughter.

The Family Room was a small space where patients were allowed to visit with family members too young to be allowed on the unit. Access required the doctor’s permission.

For forty-five minutes or so, Chris and I talked—mostly about what was going on outside. She didn’t know which questions to ask, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to answer, when it came to talking about my need to be here.

Finally, having distracted my daughter with toys, I drew her to me and we had a quarter hour of horseplay before the nurse came to escort me back to the unit. I kissed first Aunoria, then Chris, before I willingly returned behind locked doors.


March 15

The seventy-two-hour hold was about to expire. I had gone to therapy whenever the group met, and had spoken frequently with the staff in between times.

As dinnertime–and the end of the hold—approached, I was taken aside by the doctor. He said that he was unwilling to release me. He was reluctant to send me home as I still exhibited symptoms of instability. Instead, he presented me with a form that would extend the hold–possibly as long as 14 days. I willingly signed where he indicated. At least here, I felt safe.


March 17

My fifth day began as others had. The rituals were comforting, in their repetition. Quiet time, personal time, found me sitting in the common area outside my room. I stationed myself here so I could answer the pay phone whenever it rang. I had appointed myself the unit’s unofficial receptionist.

When the phone rang that morning, it was my partner on the other end of the line. She had received notice from the phone company threatening, once again, to suspend our service.

“Can you call them,” she asked.

Rage: it ran through me like flames, like the all too familiar high voltage electrical charge.

Didn’t she realize where I was? Didn’t she know, or even suspect, why I was here and not at home?

I made the call, with the current running through me. In fact, the feeling of electricity remained with me for the next several hours.

That afternoon, after visiting with Chris and Aunoria, I retreated to one end of the hallway; to a window-seat where I tried to slow the thoughts racing round and round in my head. I wanted to silence the words that were fighting to be screamed aloud.



But I wouldn’t say those words. That would be tantamount to committing treason, and I would rather hurt myself than hurt her.

Next to me, separating me from the window was a heavy wire-mesh screen. Without even thinking about the act, I began using the friction of skin on metal to try to draw blood. If, I thought, I could feel physical pain; maybe I wouldn’t have to deal with the emotional pain of being abandoned by someone who wasn’t ready to occupy the adult world.

I stopped my movements, got up, and went to the nurse’s station.

“I need help,” I told the charge nurse.”

Maybe, if someone kept an eye on me, the emotions could be safely–though definitely not painlessly–released.

In the next couple days, other patients came in, and others discharged. One woman, knowing that she had maybe half an hour before she would leave, asked if she could braid my hair. When she finished, I wished her safe trip to the wedding she was eager to attend.


March 18

A small group gathered for therapy after breakfast. Five or six of us sat wherever we could be comfortable in a room with a stereo, a piano, and little else.

“On a scale of one to ten,” the facilitator said, “how do you feel?”

When it came my turn, I surprised everyone–including myself–when I proclaimed myself to be at ten.

“That’s great, Dana. Do you know why you feel so good?”

“Because, I figured out what my trigger is,” I said.

“So what’s next,” the facilitator asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted.


March 19

I was surprised to find myself being discharged. It was only two days since a major suicidal mood had swept over me, but here I was, walking off the unit, being buzzed through locked doors, and ending up on the street.

The agreement was that I wouldn’t go “home.” In order to be discharged, I had had to scramble to find alternate living arrangements.

A friend had offered to take me in (at least temporarily), and had given me a key to her house. Now I was on my way to Berkeley to see where I would be residing while I went into outpatient therapy.

I met up with Chris later that day, and we went looking for my bracelet–appropriately–as it would turn out–we found it at The Anonymous Place, which caters to AA and NA members and others.

The recognition of the previous Monday that I had anger bubbling inside me contributed to the creation of an emotional DMZ that neither of us now wanted to cross.

It started with just one butterfly, and nineteen empty links. My fingers were tracing the image frequently as I tried to regain equilibrium when I felt suicidal.


Palm Sunday

The church was packed. Maybe it was the crowd, the sensation of being squeezed, but as Mass proceeded, I wanted more and more the cry my heart out–to the point that I almost got up and walked out.


Easter Sunday

I no sooner walked into the church and sat down among an overflow crowd, than I turned around and left. I was afraid that if I stayed, I would kill myself at the altar. Instead, I fled.

A parishioner, finding me walking down the shoulder of the road crying, offered to take me home.

Months passed, with the solitary butterfly keeping my heart above water. As the relationship with Chris failed, the butterfly was right there. As we made plans for alternate living arrangements, then prepared for separation, the butterfly was there. The bracelet never left my wrist.


July 18

Separation. While I was at work, Chris and Aunoria packed and locked a portable storage unit. When the storage company arrived, they departed.

When I arrived home that night, the apartment felt abandoned. Much of what had served as home was gone by mutual agreement. I had chosen not to cling to possessions, and allowed much of what had filled the apartment to either go with Chris or sit in a warehouse. I had asked only to keep my desk–which I’ve had since childhood–-my bookshelves, and a place to sleep.

For the first time in eleven years, I faced the world, and all its challenges, on my own. The freedom I asked of Chris was now mine.


November 22

It was after a visit with my daughter, after having her with me for just a few hours before re-boarding Amtrak’s Capital Corridor train, that it became too much to handle. Visitations ended each time with both of us in tears. It was too much to handle, but I didn’t want to implode in a public place. I’d done that twice already, but there would be no familiar faces if I lost what little control I could muster.

Safely home, I screamed, I cried, I slammed my fists into the wall: I wanted to break every bone in my body.

When the rage subsided to the merely painful, I called for help.

This time, the whole journey, to the hospital, and then being discharged, was accomplished alone.

The time spent in the ER this night extended to fourteen hours. Instead of keeping me in the same small room, I was given a bed and checked every ten to fifteen minutes till I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of the night.

With morning came news that a bed had been found.


November 25 Thanksgiving

Discharged from the hospital, but not at home by doctor’s orders, I found myself among a small group of other patients in a similar circumstance. Making the best of it, we formed an ephemeral family, taking on household chores, then gathering to talk, to listen, to cry, to console.

For most of my stay we had a family of five: four women and one man–not including staff. One woman told me about cutting, explaining how and why she did it. Another stepped forward and held me when I fell apart one afternoon in casual conversation.



Two days earlier than was expected, I got into a car with a social worker and left the shelter for good. The ride home was quiet, wordless, but not without its tension. I wasn’t allowed just make my own way home. Instead, here I was, a passenger heading northward toward my empty apartment.

It was after discharge, after staying in a crisis shelter for Thanksgiving week that I talked with my doctor.

We talked about the things I wanted, and how impossible it seemed that I could reach those dreams: gender reassignment surgery, publication of a book, world travel.

“I can’t sign the letters you’ll need while you’re suicidal. I want you to prove your stability,” she said.

When I asked what that meant, she said: “I want to see you stay out of hospitals for one year.”

The date of my last discharge was November 30, 2003. To prove stability, I had to get to November 30, 2004 without being confined.

That feat, like the others I had previously been chasing, seemed impossible. But if I was going to get my life back together–put Humpty-Dumpty back together again–I had to find a way.

I began counting the days out of the hospital: one, two, three–eight- twelve. It was, for me, like an alcoholic building a foundation of sobriety. And I realized this would be the only way I would make it through the 366 days I needed.

I went to the mall one day just before Christmas, some twenty days after coming home. I found a place that sold the charms, and bought several: one for each of the months between the second and third–and last–admission.

March was out: I’d been in the hospital.

April was out, because of the suicidal Easter.

I awarded myself charms for May, June, July, August, and October. (September had seen a close call with the ER. It came down to my word: could I go home and be safe, or did I feel too unstable and in need of being watched. I chose, ultimately, to go home.)

But now it was December. With these new charms on the bracelet, I began the long, painful, seemingly endless, climb back to life. Day by day, I began looking for the joy in life. Where once, I had only two reasons I could think of for staying alive–surgery and a profound fear of God’s wrath–I began finding others.

People I had known socially, and professionally, came forward. Those who would become trusted friends, who didn’t want me to stumble, gave me cell phone numbers, office numbers, even home phone numbers


December 30

Thirty days’ stability.


January 29, 2004

Sixty days.


February 28

Ninety days’ stability.


March 29

One-hundred-twenty days.

Those first few months, I bought charms for the other patients with whom I had shared Thanksgiving. I put their initials on the bracelet so I would remember them: J K and M. (I couldn’t find a G, so I designated one of the FRIEND charms for the other woman in our family.)

I added a charm for my daughter–a kangaroo, since that was her nickname.

Three FRIEND charms came, too

I put the LIBRA charm on, because of a friend I met whose energy I craved to emulate.

Maura was/is incredible. A first-year law student, she became my loudest cheerleader, and I hers. Like me, she chases dreams.

We met at a church-organized gathering, and an hour later, bathed in her energy and confidence, I knew she would be a part of my life.


April 28

One-hundred-fifty days!


May 28

One-hundred-eighty days!]


June 1

My birthday—one-hundred-eighty-four days’ stability: I had reached six months. I was halfway to my goal.


June 27

Two-hundred-ten days!


Each month I conquered brought a cheerleading email from Maura

As months passed, and we talked, she became the only person who could tell you how many days I had achieved, and how many remained. I found this out around July. I had begun to count down the days. Instead of saying I was two hundred fifty days stable, I began saying that I had one hundred sixteen days to make the year.


August 18

One day I went to check my email, and there was a message from Maura. She reminded me that I only had one hundred four days to go.

Until then, I hadn’t thought anyone was paying attention. But that email, and subsequent messages and conversations, proved otherwise.

Because of the depression and the suicidal moods, visitation with my daughter was tightly controlled. At first, it was just an edict from Chris, paralleling the terms of the stability agreement I had made with my doctor. Later, it was codified when we went to court over child support and division of property.


September 1

Ninety days to go!

It was September 2004 when Chris and I talked about the upcoming holidays. She would be going to see friends at Christmas, and visit with my siblings and their kids. But Thanksgiving?

She told me: “If you can stay stable until Thanksgiving, you can take her home with you for the long weekend.”

In the preceding fourteen months, I traveled by train for visitation. And overnight visits meant staying in a hotel. But to bring Aunoria home: that would be incredible. That Thanksgiving fell five days short of my year of stability was waved away.


October 1

Sixty days to go!


The closer I came to Thanksgiving, the stronger my desire became to stay on track.


October 31

Thirty days remaining.


November 25, Thanksgiving

With five days left before I would complete one year of stability, and Chrissie’s dispensation, I boarded the Capital Corridor train for Sacramento to pick up our daughter and bring her home with me. The entire trip, that day felt surreal: I had done it—kept from hurting myself, kept myself from being hospitalized.

Now, one of my rewards was at hand. I would be with my daughter for four whole days before I would repeat this process, reversing direction, relinquishing my prize—but with promise for the future.

In August, I had bought charms for most of the remaining months, but withheld getting anything for November. I would make it to December first. Only then would I complete the bracelet

Thus far, I had waited for my mid-month paycheck–when rent wasn’t an issue, to look for charms. So it was when it came December. I thought about running out immediately and buying the last charms, but I didn’t.

Instead, I thought about the people who had been there for me. Friends, professional colleagues, and even strangers had all been part of my fight. Many of them were represented now, so what to do for the final charm(s).

By December, there were only three blank links on the bracelet.

Three butterflies–including the original–were bordered on each side by blanks. And there was one other empty space.

I thought about the people who had kept me moving, and those who had taught me invaluable lessons.

One friend, knowing my religious commitments, reminded me that I didn’t need to have my rosary with me; I could just use my fingers.

The Pastoral Associate at my church told me to think of climbing into God’s lap when I felt bad.

And one patient I came to know during my second admission had spoken up for me when I couldn’t glue two words together on that first morning.

So, how to finish the bracelet?

Days before Christmas, I went shopping. I decided on the final three charms: a charm of two entwined hearts, to be a second charm for Maura, a cross, and another charm of hearts for R.

The bracelet is complete now. In fact, I joked with a saleswoman one time about what I should do when it was finished, and she told me to start with a watchband. (But I haven’t worn a watch in more than a decade.)

Now, I only remove it from my left wrist for two reasons: my daughter’s curiosity or airport security.

The climb back to life continues—complete with its joyous moments and its moments of utter despair. As I write this, I’m by no means home free, but I’m learning. Along the way, I’ve had my definition of friendship repeatedly confirmed: someone who will be my cheerleader when I’m pursuing a dream but will also be there to hold me when I cry.

Daily, I run my fingers over the charms, reminding myself of those who’ve shared my journey out of the pit of Hell. For the fellow sufferers of depression that I met, whose charms are here, I pray daily that they’ve found some happiness. But for all of them, I give thanks.

P.s. The charms for my daughter are: two BOOK charms, a LITTLE GIRL charm, and the KANGAROO.

1 Comment
  1. Avatar of Angelica Pastorelli
    Angelica Pastorelli says

    Great seasonal tale!

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