The phone was ringing but I just didn’t get to it in time. The Caller I.D. was my niece but she didn’t leave a message. She’s supposed to be out with friends so maybe she just hit the wrong number. No harm. As I walked back to the living room, the phone goes off again. Susie’s number, so I better answer this.
I can barely make out the words between the tears. But all she wanted was for someone to come pick her up right away. Her father was about an hour away and I was maybe ten minutes? Driving wasn’t something I like to do much, but this was important. I sent Tim (her father) a text saying I was going to get her and I’d give him a call later.
It took twenty minutes for me to get there, caution being my inner voice these days. Susie was sitting outside of the house and her friend was pacing back and forth about 15 feet away. Something was very wrong as she ran to the car and didn’t even acknowledge her hosts. The parents looking out the window but not really showing any signs of friendliness.
Susie’s eyes were swollen from crying and she was shaking so badly I didn’t know what to say. I’m still out of my depth in helping out with a teenager, but I’m trying! My own anxiety about her safety was taking over and all of those “dad” senses that I fight came rushing into the space we both occupied. Words completely failed me and I just leaned over to hug her.
“You’re not going to see me graduate are you?”
Damn-it, what we’re people saying to her? After listening to her recount her dinner conversation. One that was made ugly by the parents saying that not only wasn’t I really her uncle, but that she needed to face reality about my being sick.
Why in the hell would someone take away the hope of any child? What purpose could it possibly serve? Susie knew almost everything that was going on, her family had insisted that we tell her the truth. Even when it hurt, but then the girl was sitting in the room sometimes when I was having work done. Hard to hide the obvious.
My worst fear is allowing my anger to take over and go ballistic on another person. Right then I wanted to take the tire iron and smash things. Scream at people, let them know fear. But staring at her face, Susie reminded me that this wasn’t about my anger. It was about her, her fears and most importantly her love. The anger left as I pulled into her grandmother’s driveway. By now Tim had made it to the house and we sat down together to listen. That’s when my shame came into play.
There wasn’t an illusion of hope for her anymore. While she had been telling her friend a story about how great she felt because she was allowed to help, someone decided to shatter more of her childhood. Tim was on the phone, livid. Susie was under a blanket still shaking. I was confused, and hurt, and more importantly I was trying anything I could to assure a scared little girl that while what she had been told was correct, she couldn’t be afraid. That was my job for everyone, I was the guy who had to wear that mask covering my fear so that she could be happy.
Breaking all illusions, removing the fog of hope and possibility was cruel.
We spent the rest of the evening talking about all of the options. All of the medical options, all of the options for me staying in Boston as opposed to heading back to Maryland, letting her know that she had a voice in all of this. Her opinion, her feelings had weight in the discussion. Susie was treated like every other adult now sitting in the room. We had made out choices, but right now hers was what mattered the most.
No one knew how much she had been hiding from us. That she was losing sleep, having troubles keeping her mind clear at times. She’ll turn 15 in two weeks and felt like she was twice that age. I had talked to a therapist about how to handle her if this ever came up, but boy was that advice wrong! Assurances didn’t matter, no matter who gave them. What she needed was just to be hugged by as many people as could fit around her. Some cocoon of adults sheltering her from life.
Tim and Kathy could see the fear in my eyes. They knew I was going to make a choice that meant leaving sooner rather than later. Whatever reasons I gave Susie, they would be well-meaning lies. They worried that I would go back to Maryland and not be around anyone ever again. They’re right, I have kept everyone there out of the loop. Made sure they know nothing.
For the last six months this family has given everything to protect me. Now I don’t know to protect them.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Do you Believe in Magic?.”