Yesterday was Emma's first day of high school orientation. She is going to Boston Arts Academy. A couple weeks ago she mentioned the orientation dates to me. Susan and Emma were staying in Rhode Island and they were there on Monday and I was not sure if I should say something about the orientation in the off-chance they had the dates wrong or forgot, and I wasn't going to and then I did and this turned out to be a good thing because they did have the wrong dates. Susan drove Emma back and then I guess she had to return to Rhode Island. I helped Emma plan out her schedule to get there on time, what she should bring, what questions she might ask (for instance, about the provision of a T pass), then I got up early and took her to Starbucks and made sure she had something to eat and I walked her to the train at Haymarket. She looked a little nervous when she was about to go through the turnstile so I promised her everything would be okay and just to be herself. (I say that refrain, or a version of it, to her a bunch. "All you need to ever do, my little friend, is be yourself, and that will carry the day. Some people don't have that luxury. You do. You're smart, you're funny, you don't have to try to pretend to be anything, ever.") Then I texted Susan and said that Emma had been in good spirits and was on her way. Moments later my friend John called and asked me what I was doing and I told him and he said he would be asking me for advice with his girls when they are that age and I did not say that is cool, if I am still alive, which I might not be unless things improve, change, because John would already know this. It is always the omnipresent undercurrent of this historically unique hell I am in right now.
But the big news of the morning--for one of us--was that Emma had heard from her friend Molly. We each have a Molly in our history. Obviously my Molly is, well, there are not a lot of people who teach you that there are always other forms of evil out in the world that you had yet to experience. That's what the Molly in my life was.
Emma's Molly was a girl at Boston Latin, where Emma used to go to school. It was there that her problems really manifested. She was falling apart. She was scared, broken, depressed, not functioning, not taking care of herself in any way, not feeling able to. She stopped being Emma, even, changed her name. Everything was caving in on her; even her posture was like she was folding back in upon herself. Then she stopped going to school, and her parents got her out of there and restored her to a school she used to go to, here in the North End.
That was last fall. Emma and I really began knowing each other in February. Anyway, she had a friend named Molly at Boston Latin, and Molly stopped being Emma's friend. I always have a pretty good idea what is up with Emma. We are tight, of course, and I have mentioned before that we share a particular wavelength. I am no big fan of children. Although children, animals, and the elderly usually like me a lot. Some people default to liking types, but I default to liking intelligence, character, someone who stands out from a million other people you might encounter. That's why I like Emma. (Well, obviously I love Emma a great deal.) That's why I'd like you if we were going to be friends. Whomever you may be. Emma really liked this girl and she was clearly very hurt by her disappearance. Of course, I thought about what the Molly I knew--was married to--had done, when she disappeared entirely, without any warning, indication that she might, or explanation after. It was the raping of a life, is what it was. I would say that really hit home, but there are certain kinds of pain that never stop stomping on home plate, if you know what I mean.
I asked Emma why she thought this happened with her friend. She didn't know. I suggested she ask. She wanted nothing to do with that. Look of complete fear and aversion on her face. She didn't want to get hurt again, you could tell. I said, look, Emma, this probably has nothing to do with you, and you didn't do anything wrong, you're a good person and a good friend, and I'm sure you were a good person and a good friend to this girl. Ask her. Knowing is better. It'll be okay.
So, she asked, via text. She got a lengthy reply. She didn't want to talk about it for a day or two, and I said that was cool, but if she ever wanted to, she just had to say so. She didn't share this with her friends, she was internalizing it, and also trying, I think, not to deal with it just then, but eventually, without me saying anything, she sent me the text. The words were obviously written by a girl in a great deal of pain, dealing with a lot of issues, dealing with matters of self-harm, a number of things. And she said that some of those feelings became more intense because of how she felt about Emma. She was scared. She had a lot to contend with. I said this to Emma. I said that this is not about you, this girl is struggling. I suggested that she consider leaving the door open to a friendship, pointing out that in this life, there are not a lot of people who can truly help other people, but that she, Emma, was one of these people, and that is what life might more truly be about than anything, or it is up there, anyway, helping people. I didn't add--she'll see it in time--that some of us are tasked with helping our friends in ways they could never help us, or start to. I said that I knew she was a brave and strong young woman, to let it sit a while, but to just think about this later. Just let it be what it is, as John would say.
The night before her first orientation, we were sitting in the hallway. This is us here. It's me with a migraine. I was at the Brattle for a screening of The Woman in the Window--a fine Fritz Lang noir from 1944--and was going to stay for a second picture, Mask of Dimitrios, but the migraine was too much, I felt light-headed, and as I wrote earlier, I have been passing out lately (having had a nervous breakdown, maybe now I am moving on to random blackouts because the constant exposure to pain is too much), to go along with the panic attacks and bouts of vomiting, so I did not want to run the risk of that happening in a public place--I'd be embarrassed--and I came back.
I asked Emma if she had heard from Molly over the summer, and she said no. I could tell that she was sad, that she wanted to hear from her. I told her that I thought she would again at some point, and again gently floated the idea of being her friend again, but just be aware that this kind of gap, hiatus, retreat, call it what you will, can happen again, and it's not because of you, it's not because you did anything wrong or are lacking or not good enough, but take care of yourself, too. Well, come the morning, she heard, by strange coincidence, from Molly, and Emma was very excited. We were walking to Starbucks, and I said, "I thought you didn't wish to hear from her," and Emma said, "I wasn't lying. I wanted to hear from her, but I was scared, so it was both." I told her I was happy for her, and to remember what we had talked about.
It was a couple hours after this orientation ended. I did my climbs in the Monument, wrote a new piece for work, talked on the radio, pitched, proofed a short story. Emma phones, excited, saying she is almost home and do I want to walk Benny with her, but guess where she had been? I say I have no idea, don't say the back of a van, please, and she informs me that she met Molly at South Station and they hung out and then Emma walked home. We walked Benny, then she went upstairs to rest, and I went to Starbucks and back to work.