It is not uncommon for a young person to be independent, to be on a trajectory toward success, and for the momentum to stop. For the generation that came of age with social media and the great Pacific garbage patch, anxiety plays a big part. Eliot might have seen or heard something on the bus, and once he stopped setting foot in the world each morning, those fears spiraled into depression. It was as if life were his guitar teacher, who could pick up any instrument and fire off a riff, and it was easier to fail than strive for stardom.
The hardest part for Eliot was coming home to get well. Even though we were looking for a subsidized apartment –for which he had earned a voucher after nearly a decade on the waitlist– and even though he would always be part of the CALI Project, CALI was where he’d become independent and found his second family, and missing CALI only made him sadder. He didn’t like returning to a house where I’d packed every room in boxes to make space for the remodel. For a while locks on the doors were once again the only way we could safely coexist in the house.
A good day was one where Eliot went for a walk two times around the block. Shaving was an accomplishment, his hair grew longer and longer, and his guitars collected dust in a corner. He hid in his man-cave of a room from the painters and the contractors, all of whom were understanding. Every day George the floor guy asked Eliot if he wanted to walk around the block with him and his two Chihuahuas. Eliot kept saying no until finally he said yes. When the floors were done, George left him a Chinese coin he’d found on a solo dog walk.
On a visit home Carly encountered the same upheaval. “Life is scary,” she told her brother, “But it’s also fun.”
In her room George had laid hardwood flooring over the brown-painted boards, and I’d placed a queen-sized bed where her childhood bed had been, the same one where we’d moved her from the crib before Eliot was born. Her first assigned night in the little bed she’d climbed back in the crib, rolled up in her blanket, and fallen asleep. And on her visit home she briefly considered sleeping on her childhood bed in the family room before sinking into the comfort of the new queen.
They weren’t the conditions under which we had begun the renovations, yet it was only upon Eliot’s unexpected return that any residual anger or resentment I had melted away. I blew a fuse plenty of times, but the overriding principal was patience and kindness. There was simply no other way.
He still had to get up every morning, take a shower, and do his chores, but beyond that any motivation had to come from him. Our expectations were what had gotten him this far, and now only letting go of our expectations would keep him moving forward. The one thing we didn’t let go of was our faith in who he was.
We fell back on the research we’d done with Dr. Traver and put him on the Prozac that had helped before. And we started to see signs of life. Cissi came over in a lacrosse helmet to shave his head. Shaving his head was a weight off, like Frodo shedding his orc-shield, his helmet, and his heavy belt on the road to Mordor.
“Sam did likewise, and put aside his orc-gear; and he took out all the things in his pack. Somehow each of them had become dear to him…
‘Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr. Frodo?’ he said. ‘And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir’s country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?’
‘No, I am afraid not, Sam,’ said Frodo. ‘At least I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire…'”
Soon after their unburdening, Frodo got rid of the ring and turning back toward the Shire, stopped to see his friend Bilbo, who had grown old and spent his days in Rivendell dozing by the fire. Bilbo holding court from his chair reminded me of my father at ninety-seven. Dad never lost the ability to ask questions, even if they were the same questions whose answers he’d forgotten. Every morning he got dressed and sat in his chair by the fireplace, napping until one of his children or friends came to visit. Being an attorney, he would draw out his visitors, probing for news of the outside world, and in those last months I was not the only one of my siblings to read aloud to him from The New York Times.
When he asked about the ring and Frodo told him it was gone, Bilbo said,
“That’s what you went for, wasn’t it: to get rid of it? But it is all so confusing, for such a lot of other things seem to have got mixed up with it: Aragorn’s affairs…and caves and towers and golden trees, and goodness knows what besides.
“I evidently came back by much too straight a road from my trip. Anyway it’s too late now; and I really think it’s much more comfortable to sit here and hear about it all…” Bilbo said before dropping off for another nap.
For Frodo the stop to see his old friend was as important as the journey to Sauron, and while my siblings and I hadn’t always been taught that growing up, by the time Mom reached ninety we knew it to be true, that nothing was more important than being with them. Such is the truth of family and friends. I may spend the day happily by myself, but nothing lifts my spirits like running into a friend in the ocean lineup, at the grocery store, or one lane over at the pool. So Eliot, if you’re reading this, do not forget what saves us from day to day, what holds us together is our community, our CALIs and Georges, the parents who are there for us, our family.