January 17, 2010
I bleed the people.
"I bleed the people."
When I asked her what she meant, she just laughed, and kept laughing as I tried in vain to get an answer. She eventually changed it to something about bleeding when she lost a tooth, but I don't know, when your little girl writes "I bleed the people", it's hard to let that go. When she embarks on her future as a brutal despot, don't say I didn't warn you.
Schuyler has been such a constant presence in my life for the past ten years that it's hard to remember what my life without her was like. It's strange, thinking that she never heard me play trombone in a performance (something that she should perhaps be grateful for), or that she never met my first wife (again, something... well, you know). The first thirty-two years of my life had no Schuyler in them, and in all the most significant ways, I feel like they were preparatory years.
But in the past ten years, Schuyler has changed, a lot. People who meet her now see a completely different person than the ethereal, sweet but disconnected little girl I described in my book. They probably think I'm a crappy writer, and they may very well be right about that, but it's not because I didn't describe her accurately at the time. She's changed dramatically in the last three or four years. She's growing up, and becoming the person she's going to be.
She's changing still.
Those of you who have met Schuyler and interacted with her for short periods of time might not believe this. Those of you who have spent a little more time with her may have an inkling of what I'm talking about. She's always been a happy kid, friendly to a fault and energetic to the point of manic, but for the past few months, maybe as long as half a year or so, Schuyler has had occasional but intense lows. She'll start crying for no apparent reason, particularly when I'm away on trips or at work late. She's always tested Julie in different ways from myself, and I suppose that's normal. But in these past few months, she's been sad, sometimes hysterically so. Recently, I've gotten to witness more of it myself, rather than just hearing about it.
Schuyler just turned ten; a few weeks ago, we bought her first training bras. (Yeah, you can imagine how well I took that particular milestone.) As her behavior became more erratic, I think we chalked it up to normal, hormonal changes. But in the past couple of months, and particular the past few weeks, the cloud over Schuyler's mood has darkened. Her emotional state, previously unflappable, has become more tenuous, even sensitive. Perhaps this is what most of you have dealt with in your own children, but it's new to us.
Sometimes when we asked her why she was crying, she would bring up some injury or slight from a classmate, but often these were from days before. I don't believe she was trying to hide anything from us. I think that she was grasping for an answer, trying to reach back to something that made sense, to herself as much as to us.
I don't know why it never occurred to me, of all people, that something a little harder than pre-adolescence might have been at work. The little red flag didn't pop up until I asked her why she was so sad, and she answered "I don't know!" Not defiantly or dismissively, but with real confusion, and a look in her eyes that seemed to ask me what exactly was going on inside her heart.
That's the answer she gives now, when she doesn't have an injury to fall back on. Earlier this week, after hitting her funny bone at school and crying on and off for the rest of the evening, she started off by saying her elbow hurt, but after a few hours and no apparent physical damage, she simply answered "I don't know."
"Schuyler," I asked, once it had occurred to me, stupidly late but finally, "Do you ever feel sad and you don't know why?"
She looked at me, quickly and wide-eyed, as if I'd said something wise, something that had been in front of her all along but had somehow escaped her own realization. "Yes, Daddy."
"I do, too," I said. "It's okay to feel sad. And you can tell me any time it happens, okay? You don't need a reason. I'll always listen to you when you're sad."
She's been hugging harder than usual lately, too.
I don't know much about hormones and little kids, and certainly not little girls. I think I'm probably overreacting, which is my fatherly duty in all things, of course. I do know that when I was Schuyler's age, I'd first begun to experience the dark clouds that came to visit me with greater intensity as I got older. I didn't know what it meant at the time, and none of my own family seemed to notice, which surprises me a little, in retrospect, since my own grandmother killed herself a few years before I was born.
But then, it took me a long time to accept the possibility that Schuyler might just possess one of my own monsters for herself, and that it might just be waking up.
So yeah, I have no idea if Schuyler's simply like every other kid in the world her age, and maybe she's just growing up and living more fully in a world that's not always very kind or easy to understand. It's hard, though, watching her find such emotional valleys now and again, especially seeing as how they contrast so sharply with the genuine highs that have defined her throughout the first decade of her life.
I've been reading a great deal over the past couple of days about childhood depression, and while it's easy to scare myself with the lists of symptoms, I also have to admit that they sound pretty similar to the normal behaviors of little kids who are standing on the edge of adolescence, staring into a future they can't possibly understand. I read about the circumstances in a kid's world than can trigger childhood depression, and they sound an awful lot like Life.
But I have to admit, when I read about depression being caused in part by physiological stressors and genetic vulnerabilities and, God, difficulties in successfully communicating, I feel a real squeeze of fear in the very center of my chest.
I've struggled to understand Schuyler's monster for seven years now. Now I'm facing the glimmer of a possibility that she might be carrying another monster as well, one that I may have given to her and which I understand all too well.
Understanding it doesn't help. I don't know how to protect her from this monster, either.