Faded Photos

I spend a lot of time during my workday fighting the question away: “What if this is my future?”

I visit clients in inpatient units, or living in one-room apartments with a shared bathroom and living space. And I wonder, “How are we different? How can I draw some clear distinction between you and me so that I can assure myself we’re not the same and that I won’t ever end up like this?”

What if the worst happens? What if I can’t make myself be okay and everything spirals out of control? What if I become my clients? What if I end up being deemed “unable to live independently”? What if I lose my dog and my car and my home? What if everyone I love leaves me for the third time in my life?

I don’t have parents who will let me live with them. I would end up in that linoleum floor bedroom, living in a house with people who hear voices and have been in Western State and have tried to kill their parents because they heard God tell them to.

I’m so scared.

And also, I look into my client’s bright green eyes- the only thing about him that isn’t dirty, and before I leave I hear him say, “Drive safe. And make sure to buckle up. And don’t talk on your phone while you’re driving.”

And there’s the client who was so excited about getting to pass out Halloween candy that he was already sitting in a chair by the door when we came to see him at three o’clock this afternoon.

And, dear God, they’re PEOPLE. People with hearts and minds and desires and joys and fears and a need to be loved. People created in the image of God.

And there’s the client who plopped his twenty-year-old family album on my lap and had me flip through it. “That’s my family,” he said. And he pointed them all out, naming them off.

He carries this album with him from hospital to transitional housing to hospital again because it reassures him he belongs somewhere. It helps him believe he is part of something that matters.

And yet, while I smile at the faces of his family members and thank him for sharing this with me, secretly my heart aches for him. Because the faded pictures from twenty years ago are all he has of his family, really. They rarely come see him. They never call.

And I also feel like I can relate to that in a sense. How often am I falling to sleep at night, metaphorically clutching a photo album to my chest and telling myself, “I’m loved. I matter. I belong.”?

It’s a poor substitution for the real thing. And yet, what else do we have, he and I? If we let go of that, we’ll be gulping pain like a drowning person gulps water.

So we cling to what we have. We take what we can get and we try to stretch it over us and make it be enough, like a blanket that’s too small to cover both my shoulders and my toes at the same time.

And so here I am tonight, tears streaming down my face. It hurts.

But there are good things.

How excited Arlow is to go to daycare in the morning.
How I think I’m going to like my job.
Clients who say funny things.
Coworkers who are kind.
A good book.
Coming home at the end of the day to discover someone (my neighbor?) left a box of dog biscuits and toys on my porch.

And yet, I would give anything to be eight years old again, even if just for tonight. I’d give anything to have someone tuck me in and kiss my head and rub my back and ask me about my day.

And yes, I will close my eyes like I do every night and imagine God bending low to do that. I will imagine Him kissing my head and loving me better than any earthly parent ever could. And I will tell Him about my day.

But it’s still a faded photo album. A too-short blanket.

And I’m so scared my ability to tell myself, “This is enough,” isn’t going to last.

And then what?

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