Junebug always wanted cool boots. She sat in the back of the pickup truck on the way to the barn to ride horses with the other kids and hoped no one would notice her shoes. Her bowl haircut and Buster Brown lace-ups and Levi‘s paled in compared to the pretty riding boots, cute jeans and braided hair of the other girls. She put one foot in the stirrup and pulled herself up on those horses anyway. Often she felt like the leap was big, but she never stopped trying.
She had been pulling herself up for as long as she could remember. She pulled herself out of bed the night she heard her dad dying. She put her foot in the stirrup as she walked back into her first-grade classroom, and threw her leg up over the saddle as she rubbed ice cream on her face to make her classmates laugh so they would not see her sadness.
And while she proved to herself that she could do it again and again, eventually it took its toll, and by 7th grade, she was too exhausted to pull herself out of the house to go to school. She preferred staying home with their housekeeper, Mary Katherine, and catching up on Days of Our Lives and As The World Turns. After many rough mornings, her mom took her to a psychiatrist who gave her two choices: school or the hospital.
A couple of days later when she knew she could not face school, she wrote her sister a note saying goodbye and looked out the window during the short drive a few blocks away to a psychiatric hospital. It was so close she could almost hear the neighborhood kids playing kick the can without her in the evenings.
She loved playing with her neighbors, collecting stickers and Friday night TV. She was afraid of Ouija boards, scary movies and slumber parties where they told stories about the Bell Witch. She made it through very few sleepovers successfully. As you can imagine, the first night with a roommate at the hospital who said she was the devil was enough to scare her back on the saddle. She knew she had to find a way to pull herself up because crying and begging to go home led to a decision where she could not talk with or see her family.
So at age 13 and three months, Junebug made the biggest leap of her life. She closed her eyes and planted her feet firmly on the ground, and using all of her might; she sprung herself as high as the kites she used to fly with her dad. Her stickers flew through the air and scattered to the wind, and when her body hit the saddle, she stuck her feet back in the stirrups, and from this height, she knew what she needed to do.
At this time, adult and teenagers were together because there was not a separate psychiatric floor for adolescents and only a handful of teenagers. Although she was the youngest by a couple of years, she knew the only way to soothe her soul enough so the tears would stop was to find a way to belong. Junebug often found the most comfort in the company of others. Quietly from her saddle, she found herself under the wing of older teenagers and as she settled a little with her new crazy clique, she slowly began her trot back home. Along her side was a gentle social worker named Mike who knew the hospital was no place for a thirteen-year old whose only diagnosis was separation anxiety. She was out in two weeks. Giddy up Junebug.
On the way out, she learned about a world beyond sticker collecting, neighborhood games, and The Brady Bunch. She heard stories about LSD trips and tried to understand one girl's refusal to eat. She saw an elderly woman receive shock therapy and overheard whispers of people being sent to isolation. She avoided the adults who either were frighteningly angry or eerily quiet. She went on field trips in a van where she hoped she would not run into friends from school with her new clique, and she lined up single file to go to the park which was only a stone’s throw away from her house. The adults would have a smoke break outside and Junebug swore she heard her mom calling her home for supper as dusk came and another evening of kick the can was coming to an end.
It’s been a long ride and I have pulled myself up to strong in many hard moments of my life. I share my story because while some may see words that suggest shame, I think that casting out my truth is where I catch real hope. Junebug preferred fishing alone in the sewer behind her house but we are learning that healing happens in the open with others. I am writing my way back on the saddle and I am grateful to have you reading by my side.
Vivaldi, Nulla In Mundo Pax Sincera