There's a First Time For Everything

January 26, 2010
What if the car doesn't start? She'll be happy, for a little while. I won't be happy though. What if I got the time wrong? Again, she'll be happy. I begin to panic. I stand at the front door and push the little button on the black automatic car starter-thing. The car beeps. Thank God. I pull out my Iphone in the purple zebra striped case my daughter bought me, a long long time ago. Ok, maybe it was only a month or so ago. As I said, a long, long time ago. I push the button on the top, and search for the calendar. My finger seems to touch the screen of it's own accord; is it possible to be addicted to an electronic? I scroll down the list of things to do today, and find the highlighted one I'm looking for. Yes, Okay, 4:30 pm. I take a much-needed deep breath.

As if on queue, Scarlett comes to the top of the stairs, too big sweat pants, stained t-shirt and all. Her face is as stained as her shirt, her eyes red and puffy.

"Mom!" She says, her voice performing its usual quaver that makes me want to cry as well. "Please! I really don't want to go!" I'm this close to caving, but I take another breath and remind myself, this is what she needs.

"I'm sorry sweetie, but the decisions made." I try to make my voice sound strong, in control. It's hard, but I manage it. "You're going. As soon as we get home, you can relax." Scarlett sighs, and spreads out the bracelets comfortably on her arm. "Please wear a sweatshirt," I plead. Scarlett makes a noise, somewhat like a growl, and walks slowly down to hall into her room. I wait, for a minute, two minutes. I'm about to go upstairs when she reappears in a grey sweatshirt from one of the camps she hated, but kept the stuff from it because it was fashionable. I smile and beckon her down. She walks down so slow, you would think it was deliberate. It's not.

I take her hand, and smooth down the skin with my thumb. She pulls away and puts her hand back in her pocket. I blow the simple gesture away into the back of my mind, and step outside. Scarlett walks foward with me and though the door that I'm holding for her. She forgets to say thank you. We walk across the frozen lawn and to the car, which I put the key into, before I remember that I already unlocked it. Scarlett slides noiselessly into the passenger seat; her recently underweight body fits easily through the door. I clamber inside too, and start the car.

The radio, already pre-set to classic rock, immediately blasts a Rolling Stones guitar solo. I forget which one, but it's my favorite. It was Scarlett's favorite too, but today she covers her ears, and I turn it off just in time to save her from tears. It surprises me how much noise upsets her now, as I remember a happy night when she came home from a concert with her cousin last summer.

I back out of the driveway, trying to keep an eye on the road behind me, and my daughter who is pulling her hood up over her head and clenching her hands together at the same time. She leans back in her seat as if she was about to ride a rollercoaster. Something else she used to love. "Mom, why do I have to-"

"Scarlett!!" I say, beginning to lose my temper and raising my voice. I catch myself and say in a calmer tone, "I know, you don't want to," she glares at me, "You really don't want to, but I'm almost positive it will help. Her glare gets more pronounced. She almost has a skinny uni-brow, and once again, it looks like she is acting, and once again, she is not. "Ok, I am totally positive this is going to help!"

We drive in silence for a few minutes. I glance over to my right, almost as much as I look at the road. The sleeve of her sweatshirt is slipping higher and higher up her tiny arm. I flinch the next time I look over as I see the red marks on her wrist and up. Hang on a minute... "Is that one new?!" This time it's harder to keep my voice controlled. Scarlett quickly pulls down her sleeve, but I reach over and pull it back up, accidentally grabbing her arm.

"OUCH! MOM!" Scarlett begins to cry. I retract my arm almost mechanically.
"Scarlett! H-how- how did you do that?"

"Wha'd'you mean, how?" She wipes the tears frantically from her eyes, but more stream down at once. "You're not very good at hiding things. You never have been. And you take a lot of naps. Or at least, fall asleep while your working." She stops talking, looking anxiously at me as if I might explode. But I don't.

"Well then you really have a good reason for going today. I think you'll really like her," I said. Trying to change the subject to a slightly lighter note. "We're almost there." Scarlett's crying gets heavier and heavier as we turn up the street, and she sees the brown building with the too bright blue shutters at the top of the street that I told her about.

The time, which seemed to be flying by faster and faster as we had driven, was almost up, and Scarlett still hasn't relented. My mind wonders, and I wonder if she had used the scissors again this time. But I hadn’t hidden the knives as well. But just because she had never used them, doesn't mean she couldn't have started. Right? Had I really seen a heart on her arm? My thoughts became so jumbled that I missed the turn into the drive. Scarlett looked at me with such an expression on her face, a hard to describe mixture of un-trust, and hope, that I kept right on driving until I got to the end of the street and realized what I had done.

"Ohhhh, I’m so sorry Scar! Yes. Yes. You still have to go, sweetie."

I turned the car around, probably illegally, and drove up, and parked on the opposite side of the street from the building. I got out, and rushed over to the other side of the door to help Scarlett out. At first, she refused, I begged silently. She did that half-growl thing again and pushed me aside so she could get out of the car. I clicked the remote lock-thing again, and the car made its usual comforting beep.

I don't try to take Scarlett's hand this time as we walk across the street. We reach the opposite side, and my daughter's breathing is getting faster and heavier. I'm trying to think of something to say to make it all better as we walk up the path to the building, when a young woman, maybe thirty, thirty-one or so, walks out the door and toward us. She takes one look at my face, anxious and apprehensive, one look at Scarlett's face, scared, and much more than apprehensive, and seems to know something that even I don't.

"Hi, I'm Delilah, you're Scarlett right?" Scarlett doesn't say anything. "Look, I know you don't want to, I get that all the time. But I promise, I really understand what you're going through." Scarlett glares at her, and I think I even see her shake her head a little. I think Delilah sees that too, and I can almost see her make a decision, in her probably over-crowded brain.

Delilah sighs, and pulls up her arm. I look, and received a shock at the thin, very faded, but completely there lines on her wrist. "I really do understand." I immediately became uneasy, but as Delilah takes Scarlett's hand, and she doesn’t pull away, as they start walking up the path, I could swear, as my daughter looks back at me, she gave me the tiny ghost of a smile.





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