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Why Parka?

evan today

evan today

The Story of Evan

After three nights of no sleep–my daughter is radiant. Luminous. Her eyes sparkle. Her glossed lips shine. Her legs–with fresh red cuts on the thighs–go on and on. Her fingers are cold. Her belly is bare. Her arms have stars scraped into the skin–and this exhortation penned in permanent magic marker just above the elbow:


Evan is 16 years old.
Evan Goes Back to the Psych Ward

3/2003 I worry. I worry that Evan is doing the school thing for me—that for everyone in the family she is trying to be happy–but in fact she’s running out of steam.

We came home from therapy last night and Evan–who had curled up in the car and gone to sleep–headed straight for the bedroom and–dressed in her red wool pea coat and my red parka–because she is ALWAYS cold–dressed in her Doc Martens and her black scarf and her favorite jeans–dressed in her crusty bed head hair gel–collapsed on top of her bed and fell into this deep sleep.

It’s hard to wake her up–impossible to get her undressed and re-dressed in PJs. And if there had been a hospital bed available last night? Or last Saturday? I’d have put her in it.

So I let her sleep while I fed Jess and helped her get dressed for the elementary school dance over at Merrymount–hashed out Johnny’s plans for “going out”–delivered Jess to Kerry’s–gave Johnny a ride out to the Wollaston School–issuing several death threats regarding what happens to teenage boys who drink and smoke and swear. And listened to his concerns about his social life–

When I get back–I did wake Evan up–somewhat–and I asked her if she’d go to the hospital if I could arrange it.

“Oh Parka,” she murmured–“the hospital is like a bad relationship–part of you wants to go back, but you know it isn’t good for you.”


Blue Room- by evan

there is a paperweight on my heart.
my mother called this my blue room, and said maybe
id visit all my life, the body remembers. i said no,
my body sits on my heart,

i am bent old and used like a tree,
wrapped as a trunk, wrapped in anniversaries, my rings,
anniversaries, your days. there are no clocks here,
the photo albums are rusted
in the way that only paper can–cracked, brown, old.
old every day, trees upon trees.

there are open doors here,
where all the breath is caught and fast,
years and years in a blue room,
where every root pours back to you, you are the leaves,
and you grey and drop from me like fruit, autumn always.
i usher you in and carry you out on lungs-full of leaving.
its windy with you, fists of wind around my trees,
through and through until i choke.

choke on a hole in my blue room, sandy, hourglass,
wicked witch of the west — dorothy’s trapped inside. all there is–
the only sound–
is the slide of sand through the hole in my blue room.
the trees bend, bend, bend, bend, bend.

Truth in Advertising

Evan is curled up in a ball on the floor of her bedroom. The windows are like three black boxes against the wall. All around her are notebooks and textbooks and homework study sheets and crumpled gum wrappers and damp towels and clothes that never seem to make it all the way to the laundry pile in the hallway.

But Evan isn’t doing any of her homework. She’s on her side and her eyes are closed and her long hair half covers her face. Her fists are pressed against her chin.

“Why don’t you move into my room,” I tell her, stepping around the mess. I’m annoyed that her room is always so chaotic—but really I’m scared and worried because Evan herself is so chaotic and difficult and untidy. She crude and rude—she snaps at Jessie and me and Johnny—ask her where something is and she’ll ride down the question with her stock response—“up my butt.”

Three of the four walls are plastered with pictures that Evan has torn out of magazines—pictures of faces and underwear models and pictures with slogans and brand names:

Got Milk
dr. Raven


When I woke Evan up the other morning she said I interrupted a dream
she had that she was sledding down a mountain. Oh I said–you were
having a dream about LIFE! Oh Parka she said–your love of symbols
kills me–it really does. I just had a dream about sledding.

see–that’s what I want. I want dreams about sledding back. I’m tired
of dreams about Life.


The Best Cut is the Deepest

4/13/2003 I wrote this after finding Evan in the bathroom cutting her wrists. It’s nothing! she said. It’s just a scratch mom! Are you angry with me?”

We went straight to Westwood where Evan stayed a week and was diagnosed with bi-polar II. She was taken off the Prozac and put on Lamictal and Abilify. She was heavily medicated during that hospital stay. Without all the agitation and irritation that had surrounded her like a nimbus– Evan seemed small and even frail– I remember how cloudy her eyes looked and how dilated her pupils were.

“I feel like if I could cut myself deep enough just once, I’d be able to stop.”

The Last Cut

Only a scratch! Only a scratch! she cries out–
as the blood wells in bright drops along the four new razor cuts
in her left arm–the arm of choice for this cutter–
the arm that tells her in lines that run from north to south,
from east to west, from faint to fresh– the story of her days,
how it was cold the night her father left, but clear,
and how the stars were out, and she saw them, such a bitter winter!
but she didn’t remember the stars until weeks later–how the night
passed through her mind a hundred times and a hundred times
it was different, until she cut it in place on her arm, along with a ladder,
etched in the Spring, of 79 scratches climbing from the milky white inside of her wrist
to the blue vein below the bend in her elbow–the asterisks
she made that evening in her father’s first apartment
where the radiator leaked and the carpet was wet and smelled bad–
the cuts that she made in the smoky bathrooms, the after school cuts–
the rainy day cuts–the cuts she could hardly wait to make!
until she began to plan them with fond and fevered anticipation—
this excoriation of her flesh–trading her broken CD case for a razor blade,
and then her razor blade for a box cutter–How she drifted like smoke
through the drugstore assortment of band-aids and gauze pads,
a connoisseur of tagaderm and steri-strips–of long sleeves and deception–
ready to vanish with one sure, deep stroke–Oh she could feel it!
how the blood that thundered through her heart, how the thoughts! endless!
that raced through her head, how the breath that never quite found its way
out of her lungs, that felt as solid and heavy as stones, how it would all
just let her go–not for a moment, not for the cheap thrill of a three inch
strike along the surface of her skin, but for good. Which is how she thought of it–
how she thought of it that morning when she pressed the tip of the blade
into her arm–for good, she thought, closing her eyes, imagining the cut.
For good.


Evan at Westwood April ’02

“Parka! You didn’t bring me any flowers!” “Parka! I can’t see out of my glasses!” “Parka! I’m agitated!” “Parka! There is nothing wrong with me!” “Parka! They made me eat raisin bran!” “Parka! That’s a secret and I’m not going to tell you!”

Teenagers just keep being teenagers. There is simply no stopping them. Mary–Evan’s roommate, is at Westwood because she overdosed on just about every drug–prescription or otherwise–in her house– but she is a vegan! She agonizes over her food choices–she is ecstatic when her parents arrive with soy mac and cheese and tofu pups! In every way except for her tendency to want to KILL herself! she is fully committed to this life!

Same with Evan. Why invest in 89 dollar jeans unless you actually hope to wear them? Why worry about the physics test unless you plan–or at least you DREAM of the day– you will take it?

“Tell Sue Kim to send me her rough draft–I will edit it. Tell her to stop killing the English Language or I will have to bite her toes off one by one. Did Amanda call?
Parka–tell Jody she is your BITCH! Tell her you look ripped in your monster blue dress. Don’t go to work Parka! Stay here with me. Because it’s loneeeeeelllllyyyyy
here Parka and I miss you.”

Frankly–I could relax at Westwood Lodge. The beds are comfortable–the lights are dimmed–there is very little to do except sit on your bed or sit in the common room/dining room under the dirty skylight and watch the rain fall or the clouds clear or the sun shine.

Certainly cooking is far too dangerous for any patient there to attempt–and let’s face it–those kids aren’t in charge of anything except maybe their toothbrushes. Yes–the soporific effect is overwhelming and I go there and all I want to do is lie down on the bed and close my eyes.
Short Story: Seventeenth Summer
I Want Somebody to Love

An 18 year old girl named Evan goes down to the boulevard by the ocean late at night to smoke cigarettes and meet guys. She’s a beauty. Red hair, Hollywood Tan. Looks like a model and then some.

She meets a boy named Gramos that she knew in high school. Not well, but enough to think he’s an OK guy.

Next to the sea wall–under hot heavy clouds–Gramos kisses her. It’s exciting–because he tangles his hand in her hair and pulls her head back hard and I mean–he really kisses her. Well–it’s exciting–and it’s something else too–but for all her skimpy shirts and low slung jeans–Evan is pretty new to the hooking up scene–and she doesn’t know that the something else–the way–well, the way it HURT– is a bad sign.

So a few nights later Gramos calls Evan and says get on a goddamn train and come out to fuckin’ Malden Circle! I’ll meet you and we can hang out.

It’s pouring–a skank of a night. Evan’s mother argues against the plan–Who is Gramos? she wants to know. What kind of a plan is that? That’s NO plan–that’s meet some guy in Boston and get into his car.

GOD mom, says Evan–her legs practically bucking in agitation and impatience–it’s GRAMOS! You know–he helped with the Science Project–I KNOW him. He’s OK. He’s not going to DO anything.

But Gramos DOES do something. Gramos sits with Evan in the back seat of his 30 year old cousins car on a dead end street and while the cousin goes to get shots–Gramos is drinking–Gramos begins to kiss Evan–

and he doesn’t just kiss Evan–he pulls her shirt and bra off and tells her he wants to have sex with her. He licks her breasts. He tangles his hand in her hair and this time he pulls it hard, and he undoes her belt.

No Gramos, she says. What are doing? You’re being an asshole–let me go. I have my period anyway.

To herself she’s thinking–he’ll stop when his cousin comes back.

But when the cousin comes back–Gramos doesn’t stop–and the cousin just turns the radio up and swivels around so he can watch.

Can I join in too? he says. She’s hot, that one.

Gramos sticks his hand down Evan’s pants and finds the string of her tampon.

Bitch he says. At least you could give me a blow job.

Evan says No Gramos–I don’t want to do this–I want to go home–I want you to drive me back to the train station–or let me out and I’ll call a cab.

She starts to fight–but not too much–because there are two drunk men in the car and she thinks What if I make them angry? what will they do?

How about we just kiss gramos, she says. Then you take me back–cause I’m feeling sick. I don’t feel good. I have cramps.

An hour they are in the car.

Then they take her back to the train. Gramos gets on the train with her. She gets off at Wollaston–and Gramos grabs her and says suck it!–and he pulls her into the shadows behind a scrubby bush–

Evan sees a taxi. Get the hell off me Gramos! she says–and she runs for the cab.

Fifteen minutes later, Evan walks into her house. It’s midnight, maybe quarter past. Her mother is sitting at the kitchen table with her sweetie Thom.

How was Gramos? Evan’s mother asks. Evan slings her hair back. Her face is flushed. She looks pissed. Gramos is an idiot she says.

What did he do?

He’s just an idiot–we sat in his cousins freaking car for an hour and half listening to Jammin 94.9. I’m going to bed.

Her mom looks at Thom and shrugs. No more Gramos, she says, smiling. Mom of course, has no clue.

But when Evan’s mom goes upstairs for the night–she sees that Evan has forgotten to take her medication. Evan, she says, shaking her daughter awake. Honey–you have to take your pills.

So what was the deal with Gramos? Evan’s mom asks, hooking a tendril of hair behind her daughter’s ear.

Evan shakes her head. I hate that radio station–is all she says. I hope I never hear it again in my life.

Well, her mother thinks, relieved. Then it couldn’t have been that bad.

Ten days later, Evan tells me what happened. She wrote it down in an email to her friend Dawn–to Sue Kim–am I making too big a deal about this? she asks them.

Tell someone, they say. Urgently. Tell your mother.

But it goes badly. I’m scared. I tell her father–something Evan had said NOT to do–but when your daughter describes a sexual assault?–you WANT to tell her father. You want protection. You want her dad to say to his daughter–you’re OK. I love you. Now let’s go kill Gramos.

Now Evan is furious. Furious that I was so angry and freaked out–more furious still that I told her father–

You don’t get it mom, she says. I DON’T think of him as my DAD. He’s a dick. And when he talks to me–I want to throw up. And I can’t believe you told him.

You can hear the words in the air–like a smoke ring from her cigarettes:

I hate both of you.

Besides, she says, defiant lift to her chin–arms crossed across her chest. Megan already called Gramos. She told him if he ever touches or calls me again she will personally kick his ass.

Megan, I think. Oh Megan. Both these girls have Moxie–and maybe it’s
true!–maybe Megan can kick Gramos around the block. But honey, I say–i
wouldn’t bet on it–

and suddenly, Evan’s security detail seems tragically inadequate. Two girls out bombing around in Megan’s junker of a car–smoking, laughing, radio blaring–painting their nails, getting double bacon cheeseburgers at Wendy’s, picking up two dozen Krispy Creme donuts at midnight, hitting IHOP at 1 am.

Megan with her razor blade cuts and tattoos–Evan armed for self injury with her handy dandy box cutter.

My daughter leans toward me from her place on the living room sofa. It’s late. We are tired. She’s angry.

Just so you know, she says. I’m done talking about this, OK? No last names. No phone numbers. It would be his word and his cousins word against mine. I got into the car. No one made me.

Guys are fuckers anyway.

She turns her eyes in that way she has, and looks at the television. Channel 248. ESPN Sports highlights. Like she’s really interested. She clicks the volume up loud with the remote–click click click.

She stares at the screen. Something about baseball.

I’m sorry Evan, I tell her.
She nods.

Turn out the lights when you’re done.
She nods.

There’s a guy throwing a fastball 92 miles an hour reflected in her glasses.

Her face is completely still.

I love you Evan.
She nods.
A Mother’s Hope: Evan turns 19

—for Evan turning 19, on the occasion—one of many—when a
dear friend of Evan’s mother comes over with flowers for
the Birthday Girl

Someone is always bringing you flowers. Roses
when you were born. From the women I swam with
who lined up every winter on a cold clear day–
topless you understand!–in front of a camera
on a timer–for the picture that would go on that years’
Christmas card–Roses. I was the first to break ranks
get married, get pregnant, start a family. All those swimmers
arms, holding you, that morning in May, roses in a vase,
a hundred hopes that you would be faster
than all the rest of us, that you would swim far,
and–here’s a wish! that you would keep your elbows high.
19 years later, with pink tulips not red roses on the kitchen table,
and this card in your hand, you look up at me and smile,
and ask “what does THAT mean?” You who only swam if
compelled, you who never kept anything anywhere,
at least not that your father and I could tell and we’ve had
plenty of time to watch you. What it means is that you
roll through the water, and if you hold your elbows just right,
if you let each one in turn lift your shoulder, your arm;
let each one in turn draw your wrist and then your hand
so your fingers almost skim the surface of the pool–but
not quite–your course is effortless; elegant; a stroke
that takes you wherever you want to go–
at least that’s how it seemed, to those women who gave you roses
and that’s how it seemed to me, your mother, the 28 year old
new-to-all this–who took you swimming every day
for nine months–who couldn’t put together a layette
to save her life, but who was certain of this one thing:
that the baby who filled out my Speedo would never be afraid
of deep water, of shifty currents, of the cold, the wet–
or the shock of those near drowning experiences
without which–you cannot grow up. I should have saved you
one of those cards, a picture of us laughing, half naked,
strong and ordinary women, long since scattered to other pools,
the clothes pins like birds on the line behind us, our hair wet,
our skin cold, and hopes for each other–and for you!
that only swimmers—with flowers– could understand.

Shorter story still: Evan turns 20

That Blue Linen Dress

Twenty years ago today–big day. My swimming friends were stopping by the hospital to give me roses. None of us had a clue. I look back on twenty years of being a mom and I have been everything from a great mom to a bad mom–but along the way I learned to cook and keep house and grow basil and make simple repairs.

I found out I can be a bitch. I found out I can be a delight. I found out I can be patient. I found out I can be stubborn and inflexible and cranky. I found out I can be very funny, and i found out I can be resentful and angry. I found out I can read a book anytime, anywhere, anyplace– except in the two years following my separation. I also found out i cannot follow directions but I can always find a swimming pool. I found out I love dancing. And that I’m a bad dancer. The lord giveth and the lord taketh away. For the first time in my life, I have an all over tan. I don’t care too much about traveling, but I’m glad i had a chance to travel when i was in college.

The day Evan cut her arms so badly I had to take her right in to Westwood–we stopped at Caryn’s Corner and i bought a dress for 52 dollars.

It was like a terrible party–Evan manic and laughing and her legs bumping up and down like a drumroll, blood soaking through the bandage on her arm. me shopping on the way to a psychiatric treatment facility–where they say–your daughter should have gotten stitches.

Too late now. Had to shop.

That was the place where the high muckety muck doctor told me: She isn’t cutting herself–she’s cutting you.

I still don’t know what to make of that. I don’t tell people, because it seems like I must be some kind of monster mother if that–literally–is true. Or at least as
literally true as a metaphor can be.

I cried on my way home, and I never wore that dress.


One year later: We’re good for now

May 13, 2007
Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s a beautiful day, and you looked superfly going to work (to make everyone your bitch no less). You’re going to be finished school soon — a hard summer in front of you, maybe, but you’ve certainly had harder, and you’ve got three smashing kids and five very driven cats to help you out. I think Mother’s Day this year falls right on the cusp of great things — scholastic and professional and feline achievements in sight.

How wonderful! I think that we live in a house full of people who are making it, and it’s so exciting. I’m so happy. Seriously — the big complaint about Johnny has gone from run ins with the police to the fact that he mows the lawn every day, which seems like too much and is maybe not good for the grass. Jessie has transitioned into middle school with more grace than I could imagine having, at that age or this, and is looking more and more like a teenager whose boyfriends Johnny will beat badly. We’ll keep tellng her she’s not a real person yet, but secretly we all know she’s growing up in a suddenly noticeable way.

And I love living here. I love the company and the goofiness of Johnny and Jessie together, I love the cats, even when you rant about Fenway (What kind of a cat throws up while running?! She is SO RUDE). I love your FutureShoes and the collection of horse themed vests you have. You are the only person on the planet who can wear equestrian print clothing and rock it, so it’s good you’re getting it all off the internet, and out of the hands of those who cannot similarly make it shine.

So look at that. Mother’s Day coincides with the blooming of the three people you’ve mothered so fabulously, with patience and humor and more patience. You’ve given us strength and empathy, and you’re the person I try to imagine in my situation when I don’t know what to do. Because I bet if you asked any of your patients at the library, they’d tell you they feel mothered by you too, protected and safe and important when they’re with you, which is a wonderful gift. It is a gift you’ve given me every day, and it is a gift that I try to give everyone else in turn.

If only you could really get through to Fenway.

I love you, mom, and this Mother’s Day is special. I’m finally not writing about hardship making us stronger– instead I’m writing about just being stronger. Which we all are. Here’s the other side, we’ve all come out, it’s spring and it’s a beautiful life.

Love Evan


8/1/2007 Life goes on:

Your ‘stache is so big you could go live in Texas and be an oil baron. You’d sit in a big leather chair and thoughtfully twirl the ends with your right hand. You’d smoke a cigar and pet a menacing cat. Your hat would be 20 gallons.
Love veeve


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