Emotional Body-Armor; Kevlar for the Soul


Her hands are cold and sweaty, a surprising revelation given the tension in her muscles.  Her feet are taught and drawn upwards, her hands are held in an exaggerated fin, her face is lifeless and upsetting to me, visually.  Her eyes are rolled so far back into her head that she looks more like a demonic mannequin than a 16-year-old girl.

We try to calm her anger with a weighted blanket, a 30-pound item that in some ways serves as an emotional body-armor, Kevlar for the soul.  It makes no difference as she continues to beat the side of her head.  We hold her at bay for the better part of 3 hours, trying to assuage the blows, occasionally letting go of one appendage so we could mop up the drool from her chin.  “Where’s God in all this”? I can only wonder.  Well meaning friends offer us the consolation that “yes indeed, God is in your very hands at this moment”; an answer that makes me want to cut loose with the most wicked, venomous, sarcasm that I can muster.  I’m ready to linguistically send them to the guillotine.  I know they mean well but please, don’t try to make Theological sense of this.  I’m way beyond what you can offer at this juncture.

Even more painful is watching my wife.  She’s been through so much, she’s so tired and she just gets more heaped on her emotional platter.  The death of her mother, the strain of her profession, the challenge that Bethany presents in day-to-day living, backfilling for adult children who belong to a generation of experiential idiots; rich in their understanding of all things, situationally cognizant and well functioning in few things.  She holds the wrists, sits on legs, affirms with soft and consoling words one moment and on the verge of angry tears the next.  I’m the lucky one – I’m holding the left hand.  Being right hand dominant, Sherry gets that “action” side of the mess we’re holding down.  After an hour, I reluctantly offer to switch sides.  I’m tired as well – after a long day at work, coming home to “relax” doing this is not a good match.  Knowing that this can go on for hours is no comfort either.  Know that his goes on for days, for weeks, for the rest of my life.  I reluctantly make the offer.

Somehow the hours pass and Bethany is stable enough that we can urge her to go to bed.  Our hope is that she’s not playing us, using this brief calm session as a way to get out of sight so she can beat herself more.  The last of her vision depends largely on our intervention; her cunning sometimes outwits our tired minds.  Sherry manages to get her into bed.  I go and hide under my pillows on the bed sleeping yet another night on the bed, fully dressed.

I awake in the morning, still dressed but now sleeping on the sofa.  Computer battery dead, cell phone dead, nothing put away from the night before, nothing completed, no emails attended to.  Plants unwatered and wilting, everything in my life crying for attention; little “giving”, all “taking”.  Sherry awakes Bethany for the school day only to find that the anger and muddled physical state is still there.  The hitting begins.

It’s with this context that I start my workday.  I’m cynical, critical, and impatient.  My career is based on the notion that I identify and exploit weakness and mediocrity, turning those attributes out into the full view of daylight, and today I’m sharp.  It wouldn’t be beneath me to ask a bride and groom the obvious question: why are you marrying in a church and making a vow before God, when you don’t believe in God anyway?  Few would even notice the disconnect, for me it screams like the voices in Bethany’s head.  

I think back on the night, remember the sweaty hands and the contorted feet.  I think of the neurologists, the psychologist, the host of specialists who in common hold the diagnosis of “I dunno, whadda u think”?  I recalled the "body armor" of a blanket that we covered her in and I recall the body armor I used while in Baghdad - the false sense of security it afforded me - I think of all that and once again try to muster the energy to get up, dust myself off, put on my face of compassion and prepare for another day.

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