It was every parent's worst nightmare: Claire Fontaine came home one night to discover her 15-year-old daughter, Mia, had vanished.
That night began a long struggle for both mother and daughter, one that took them through drug abuse, self-mutilation, depression and nearly 20 months of separation while Mia was enrolled in two different "behavior modification" institutions to try to help her overcome her drug problems and other difficult issues.
While Mia searched for herself, Claire struggled to figure out how this could have happened to her family.
Both Mia and Claire recovered and have now chronicled their family's struggle in, "Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back."
You can read an excerpt of their book below.
To protect their identities, the real names of both mother and daughter have been replaced by pseudonyms.
It is its own religion, this love. Uncontainable, savage and without end, it is what I feel for my child.
She signs everything she gives me, "Your one and only daughter, Mia," or, "Your One, True Child, Mia." Curled into my lap, she reads about the baby bird that fell from the nest and can't find her mommy. Mia squishes into my chest, "I'm glad I came out of your egg, mudder."
From the moment I take her out into the world, we hear it, every day - those eyes! Mia has huge, blue-gray eyes, with pale blue whites, framed by a mass of amber curls. But the brows leap out above them - they're thick, wide, shiny dark swoops. Like the brows of ancient Persian women, painted in profile. "My God, where did she get those eyes -- is she adopted?" "Are those brows real?" "She's not yours is she"' This we hear often; it frightens her. She has no idea we look nothing alike. She thinks we are identical.
My fear that the constant ogling will make her vain seems confirmed when I overhear her, at age 4, at the bathroom mirror, murmuring, "Those fabayous eyes! She is so gordzuss." I wince, moving to the door to have a little talk on the importance of inner beauty, then stop, still unseen by her. She's referring to Betty Ann, the doll that was once mine, smiling down at her. She then scowls at the imaginary idiot who'd dare question their relationship, "Of course, she's mine! Mine, all mine!"
I step back in silent mirth, happy that what she takes from those encounters is how much I love her. Before I had Mia, I had never deeply loved, nor felt loved deeply. I was unshared.
Mia is fifteen now and she and I are in the clouds above Austria. The sun has not risen and she is spread across her seat and mine, asleep. I watch her sleep, as I have done nearly every night of her life. We are on our way to Eastern Europe. Not to see castles or rivers or onion-domed villas. Not to see long-lost family. Not even to see each other. I am leaving her there.
Mia will be locked up. She is broken now. Thin, pink scars beribbon her thighs and stomach, her ankles are bruised by a felon's leg shackles, her wrists by handcuffs. She is medically malnourished and made up like a whore. Inside, she is dark and damaged and gone. I don't know if I'll ever see her again, my one true child. My desperate hope is that she can be repaired, even badly patched. Mostly, though, I simply hope they can keep her, that she not escape, as she has done again and again and again and again. Each time to do worse things with worse people, criminals finally. The only thing left would be death, hers or someone else's.
I look down at her, both of us just skin and bone and thin, little breaths. What's left of me staring at what's left of her.
January 30, six months ago to the day, I am absurdly happy. I'm adapting a book I love into a screenplay for an Oscar-winning producer; my husband, Paul, is my best friend and tomorrow we're putting in a bid to buy our first home. Most of all, I'm Mia's mom. The wise, funny, sparkling Mia who still wants lullabies and butterfly kisses each night. My mother is flying in tomorrow to visit; Mia hasn't seen her Bubbie in two years. It's a cold, gray day. Mia woke early with a sore throat and fever. I made her favorite soup before I left because I know I'll be working past her bedtime tonight for the first time in her life. The story outline of the screenplay is due tomorrow.
The book I'm adapting is beautifully written, but has no dramatic structure, no story to film. Creating one has been my task. It tells of a woman who has lost a child and found herself in another world, foreign and hostile.
Mia calls my office twice to tell me she loves me. There's something in her voice, subtle. It's not her usual, comfort-me sick voice. This voice is tender, as if I am the one in need of comfort. She calls again at nine in the evening to ask for a lullaby. I've sung them to her across the nation. Hushabye, my little darling and I'll see you in the morning.
I have no idea.
I drive home after midnight, feeling a sense of good fortune. I'm pleased with what I've written, I'm buying a house tomorrow, I have the weekend free to spend with my family. The rain has cleaned LA's dirty sky and the moon and stars are brilliant. As I walk to my back door, I see that Mia's bedroom window is open, the one by her bed. It's freezing outside. I come in asking Paul about her. He's still at his drafting table. He's a graphic designer and has a deadline tomorrow, too.
"I checked her twenty minutes ago, she's sound asleep."
"With the window open?"
He looks up from his drawing, puzzled. "Of course not."
We walk back to check on her, wondering if she opened it because of her fever. Her room is dark, ice cold, the curtains billow softly at the open window. Paul goes to shut the window as I go to her bed to check her forehead - but she's not there.
"Paul, where's Mia?"
Paul checks her bathroom.
"She's not in here -- "
We're suddenly a tornado of fear and sound -- hollering Mia!Mia!Mia! -- slapping on lights -- whipping through rooms and closets -- ohmyGodohmyGod, she's gone, someone's taken her -- someone's kidnapped my daughter, my baby girl!
The laws of physics and biology change. Air thickens, has substance, like oil. Light is suddenly crystalline, astringent, my pupils screw down. Paul falters, he sits on the bed like a dropped marionette. I run to call the police but nothing cooperates. Bowels and knees collapse, lungs shrink, lips move but my tongue is sand, useless. I can't stand up or walk, but suddenly I can float.
From above I see this: a Polaroid by Hieronymus Bosch, a tableau with two figures agonized and contorted, reduced to an animal state.
We see it at the same time, on her desk. In her tiny writing. My call to the police will be different. No one has taken Mia. She has taken herself. I can't breathe.
"Dear Mommy and Paul,
Please read this with an open mind and don't freak
out or worry. I need to experience real life...People out there are more real, they'll take care of me. I'll be okay, I have a Swiss army knife and mace ... Please don't feel guilty, I couldn't have asked for better parents ..."
I'm not freaking out, I'm wild. I am dancing with shock, I'm terrified. What people, what life, out where?! This is madness, delusion, it's the fever, she's lost her mind! My precious child is alone on the streets with a Swiss Army knife and no mind. Back off rapist with HIV, go away drifter with a blunt object, I have a retractable corkscrew and nail file!
I want to holler, pound, smash. I have sprung back to life, my synapses are on fire, my legs feel bionic, my lungs could amplify her name across Los Angeles. I want to fly over the city with infrared Mia-seeking vision.
The police officer in my kitchen stares at the letter, saying, "She doesn't seem angry, she seems to love you very much."
Of course she loves us, we're great parents, she's a great kid, why do you think we're in such shock! I want to grab him and shake him, I'm already doing the math: Time = Distance! Every minute we stand here, she gets farther away!
He looks at her photo and we know what he's thinking. Girl like that on the street. She is striking, exotic. She's a target is what she is.
"...I'm sick of life, everything seems so pointless...I've
been pretty screwed up for a while, this will solve stuff.
"Solve what?" the officer asks.
We don't know! She saw a therapist last year, struggled through some issues, but nothing that would even hint at anything like this, nothing. She doesn't do drugs, she doesn't disobey us, she's a good kid, a great student.
"Can you get some officers to help you look for her?" Paul asks softly.
Can you be less polite right now, Paul?
"Oh, she's long out of Beverly Hills," the officer says matter-of-factly.
I want to vomit.
He asks about her friends. They're great kids, too, no drugs, good families. Wait. There's one. Someone new.
Paul grabs the phone first. Then hands it to me, he can't bear to ask the father who answers. I can. I'd said all along. Go check your daughter's bed, I tell him. Check for your weirdo witch girl. It's wicca, mom, Mia said. She found Talia unique, she felt badly for her because she had few friends at school.
When he returns his voice has shrunk. I can hear his wife crying.
By sunrise our friends start arriving. Favors are called in, a DA says use his name or the police won't do anything, they don't looks for runaways, LA's crawling with them. Paul throws together full-color missing posters. We argue about putting REWARD on them. Will it make people more alert, make someone call us? What if it gives someone the idea to kidnap her for the reward? The police won't touch the question.
All the while, "This can't be happening, this can't be happening" is hammering inside my skull. I start calling every kid she knows, every parent.
Mia told her best friend Hilary and swore her to secrecy. But, she didn't tell her where she was going. Hilary's a mess, inconsolable, she never thought Mia would actually do it. She's furious at Talia. All her friends are. She never fit in, with her, like, valley-speak and wicca crap, she corrupted Mia.
One of Mia's classmates is lying, I can tell. I demand to speak to her mother. She calls back in five minutes with the first information I get, a name, some suggestions. I am so grateful. But, I hope she beat it out of her.
I begin a succession of cagey phone conversations, maneuvering between threats and cajoling. I've never heard of most of these people. This one says call that one, that one says she may be here, another one says she may be there. Finally, someone says, someone said, they said, she said, something about Venice on Saturday. Maybe. That's tomorrow. She could be dead by tomorrow.
My friend Karin helps me dress, she practically shoves food in my mouth. It tastes like wood chips. She's a writer as well, she reads through my work, puts it together for me. I can't miss this meeting, can't let the producer know anything, can't lose this job. Because I know instinctively that whatever has happened to Mia is going to cost a lot of money to fix.
Forget the new house, call the broker.
I drive to the producer's house in the hills, overlooking this huge city where Mia is doing godknowswhat. Or being done to - no, no, stop thinking, just knock on the door. I know this book so intimately, I can respond to questions with some intelligence, even in this wretched state. But, my skin is twitching, I feel like packaged panic trying to sit still and say the right things, like, "The character's awareness of the savagery beneath the surface," and, "This society is a dead organism." Instead of things like, "My child is missing, I'm terrified."
"Claire, it's very important the audience knows that she wanted to go."
He actually says this. Of all the art my life could imitate, not this book. Just keep writing, make your head nod.
The sun breaks through and his hillside patio blazes with light-flickered leaves. We've covered everything, I'm dying to dash out of here. But, he's feeling relaxed, sociable, he says, "Let's enjoy the sun before it goes away," as he motions me to follow him to the patio. It's something he knows I enjoy and I don't want to do anything to make him suspect anything's wrong.
"Sounds lovely," I hear myself say as my body somehow locomotes itself outside. The sunlight sears my eyes, they're so raw from tears and no sleep. He sinks back into his chaise, I sit bolt upright in mine. He closes his eyes, smiles a Buddha smile. And breathes.
After fifteen minutes, the time it takes to strangle a girl, to rape a girl, to push her into a dented blue van, he sighs and purrs:
"God, life is beautiful, Claire - isn't it?"
I've driven home from Coldwater Canyon a thousand times, but I can't find my way home. I'm crying and driving from one street to another like a drunken tourist. Nothing is familiar, someone switched worlds on me. The giant red circle I keep passing finally makes the trip from retina to brain and registers. The Zen Grill, we eat there all the time. I've been driving in the same one mile around my home for two hours.
My mother's waiting for me when I get home. She knew immediately something was wrong when she saw our friend waiting for her at the airport instead of Paul. She's a Holocaust survivor, she has a nose for disaster.
She hugs me but doesn't say much. She's in shock but she insists on helping. She wants to help me look, this tired woman who has already suffered the unspeakable. I take her with me to Hollywood Boulevard. Tonight the neon, fog, and drizzle have draped this world in a pearlescent, dreamy light, like a fine tulle veil over a hard-favored bride. We cruise slowly, me looking left, her looking right, like johns looking for action through the buzz and glow. My God, all the kids. A city full of baby addicts and hookers. I had never noticed. I never had to.
We go into police stations, with my posters and questions. Police here are buried in scum and vice and angry humanity. Ranting crazies in dreadlocks, pouting whores in leather bras and purple boas, seething pimps - I've never seen so many burgundy warm-up suits. I plead with the officers for their help. They look at me like I'm nuts, like take a look around, lady, do I look like I can help you?
Please, I insist, she's not a street kid, she's a good girl, something's snapped, she's a Hopkins Academy student. This last one raises brows. It is a conservative all-girls school, one whose girls do not end up on missing posters.
When I post them, my skin crawls. The looks on the faces of sleazy bastards when they see her picture. A mother could kill them with slender, manicured hands.
I have a gut feeling she's not here. I race home to drop off my mother, then drive to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. It's an outdoor mall, blocks long, a favorite haunt of Mia and her friends. A sub-culture of street kids is always camped there around a fountain. Dirty, loud, addicted, faces full of steel rings, missing teeth. They've no money to buy food, but they buy hair dye, sporting cockscombs and plumages of every color. Some are smart, some drug-fried, some just "not regular" as we West Side moms say, we respectable families who cut this cobbled family a wide berth without interrupting our conversation, like stepping around dog shit. They're just part of the urban landscape, as if the fountain spawned them, as if they'd swum upstream through the sewers and came spouting out while we slept. Now, I realize there are weeping mothers from here to the Atlantic.
I push through the Friday night crowd, looking, looking, looking. I give posters to store owners, pleading have you seen her, can you watch for her? It is so easy to know which ones have children.
I give posters to the street kids, I say the reward is big, no questions asked. One girl says she's seen Mia around, a week ago maybe. She gives me nothing useful, but she cares, they all do, one actually pets me and says don't worry. These kids I've avoided and pitied are pitying me. Many won't live past twenty, twenty-five. A girl with fat, shiny cheeks and a shaved head hugs me and says she wishes her mom was nice like me. She can't be more than thirteen.
Paul and I lay in bed a couple of hours, not like people resting, like felled trees. We don't hug or cling. One touch and I will fall apart. My heart hasn't stopped beating like a chased rabbit since I saw her empty bed.
I go over the last time I saw her, Thursday morning. She followed me to the door, shivering with fever, hugging me with her little stick arms. She already knew then. She said, I'm glad Bubbie is coming. Why, Mia, so Bubbie can comfort me, provide minor distraction?
"Don't let this disrupt your lives, just think of me like when I was on my student trip in Thailand."
Right, I'll take Bubbie to Las Vegas as planned, see the Cirque du Soleil and pretend you're hailing a tuktuk in Chiang Mai. Mia left before my mother came because she knew Bubbie would see through her charade. She knew her grandmother would have seen what her mother was blind to.
Paul and I have gone through a thousand possible scenarios, explanations. We have no more guesses left. We lay on our backs, whispering into the darkness.
"It's so cold tonight." "She must be soaking wet - her raincoat is here." "Her fever will get worse."
Neither of us says, "Don't worry, we'll find her tomorrow."
Before sunrise, I raise a glass of water to my lips and find that all of my teeth have loosened.
We meet early to strategize, five teams, each taking part of Venice. My brother Henry will search on foot. The Beverly Hills police have sent two off-duty officers on bicycles. By now, I know how rare, this is. Even more so because it's raining and cold.
Venice is Hollywood Boulevard on the beach. Every slimeball who made their way west seems to end up there hawking something - string bikinis, incense, drugs, sex. I'd corner every one of them but the rain's cleared the streets. I'd follow them into whatever holes they crawled into, if I knew where they were. I'd follow them and figure out what they want more than they might want my daughter. Shop owners here shrug off my pleas and posters. They earn their livings off kids like Mia.
My girlfriend drives me through the tourist areas. It's hard to see behind Dumpsters or into doorways, the skies are so dark with rain.
"Maybe she's inside somewhere," she says hopefully, trying to cheer me.
"Inside is bad."
I don't speak much, I can't manage whole sentences. My brain's looping images with short captions: defense wounds, dental records, kitchen knife, coroner.
I search the rooms in Venice's skuzzy youth hostel. I walk into a dank room with a picnic table and fake trellis. A scruffy, pony-tailed guy in leather pants sits there smoking. European for sure. I show him my poster, asking if he's seen her. He waves me closer with the cigarette, his eyes narrow as he scrutinizes Mia's face, nodding slightly, as if she looks familiar. My heart starts thumping with hope.
"She's only fifteen, she's sick, we'll pay anything!"
He looks up at me for a moment and then because he thinks I don't understand him, he says in French that she would make a nice little fuck.
Henry has been walking for hours in the rain. He's tall and massive, a body-builder with a deep, booming voice. His sheer size and sound are frightening, thank God, because when he turns out of an alley to go to home for a rest, he frightens a grubby guy named Rain when they practically walk into each other.
Rain is walking arm in arm with Mia and Talia.
It takes but a second for Henry to recover his surprise, Rain to backpedal and Talia to take off running. Mia is so stunned to see her uncle, she hesitates long enough for him to grab her. He yells for Talia but she's already down the block.
They were walking to the old school bus Rain lives in. He was about to drive the girls to Haight-Ashbury. His bus-house was parked a block beyond Henry's car. If Henry had turned that corner a minute earlier or later, we may never have seen her again.
Henry has taken Mia to his fiancée Margaret's apartment. I call him on the way there, breathless with questions, bright with happiness! He's evasive, just saying that she's not, uh, happy. That's okay, we've found her, she's safe, I can fix whatever's wrong, I'm her mother!
Henry and Margaret hug me as soon as I come in, a little too tightly. The look in their eyes makes my stomach sink. His manner on the phone only now kicks in. Mia's in the bedroom. They don't accompany me.
Mia's hunched over on the bed, turned away from the door. Her amber curls are lank and matted, her feet are bare and muddy, she's got on wet clothes I don't recognize.
"Mia?" I say softly as I start to put my arms around her.
She twists away and darts to the bathroom.
"Mia!" I rush after her and jam my body into the doorway to keep it open.
"Leave me alone," she hisses hoarsely.
"Mia, what's wrong, tell me what's going on!"
"I didn't want to be found! Fuck off!"
I am too dumbstruck even to cry. In this speechless moment, I get my first real look at her. She's higher than a kite, she has a strange reek, her creamy olive skin is streaked with grime, her nose and cheeks are bright red. Mia's eyes are big and clear. These eyes are slitty, dark and puffed, they're glassy and bloodshot. But, the animal look in them - what drugs can do this? I can't reconcile who I'm seeing with my daughter. It's like she spent the night in Frankenstein's lab next to a savage little beast and someone hit the switch.
I didn't think anything could ever be worse than seeing her empty bed. I was wrong - this is. And a cold fear is setting in that after this, there might be another worse, that this worse might just be the frost on the grass before winter falls.
I drive to the Venice police station with Mia to report her found. Paul's waiting in the parking lot. He looks so small and hapless against the lead gray ocean behind him.
Mia gets out of the car sullen and nasty, sidestepping the stepfather she adores. I stare at the ground to avoid seeing the look on his face when he sees her. He says Talia's father was upset that Henry only caught Mia. I feel sick for her parents, though there was nothing Henry could have done, unless he let go of Mia. He had to choose.
Officer Carol handles our case, a no-nonsense blonde who is harsh with Mia. Mia denies knowing anything about Talia's whereabouts. She looks sharply at Mia.
"You don't know how lucky you are, young lady. Very few parents look for their kids and even fewer ever find them."
She takes me aside to show me 8x10 glossies she shows runaways to scare them. Crime scene shots of girls who weren't so lucky, photos the tourist bureau doesn't show. I've seen enough of them doing research to know those images never leave you. Face-down, twisted-legged girls behind garages with their panties in their mouths, rat-eaten girls in Dumpsters, charred girls in bathtubs, in the pugilist position, as if they stood a chance. Because I still think Mia's too sensitive, that this won't happen again, I tell her not to show her.
Paul stays to help Talia's father look for her while I drive Mia home. I realize how stupid it was to drive alone with her. She could jump out at any stop. I'm careful and sweet, talking about little things, something the cat did, the hat Bubbie knitted her. I don't know what else to say, I'm so scared and bewildered.
Mia just stares out the window, then suddenly demands to use a payphone on the way home. Because I'm afraid to make her mad, I find one and obey her command to stand far away. But not so far I can't catch her if she bolts. Whoever she calls isn't there, thank God, because I don't want any Venetians showing up outside her bedroom window. For all I know she was trying to call Rain's brother, Thunder, to come spring her.
I'm so wasted and shaky, I can hardly pull the car in straight. I rake it along the carport wall. Getting Mia in the back door proves just as difficult, because whatever drugs she took in Venice must be time-release. She suddenly switches from surly and mean to grinning and unsteady. I help her stumble to her bedroom, drop her backpack, sit with her on the bed.
"I like sleeping on the floor," she rasps and slides to the carpet.
This is creepy, but I just stroke her hair and say cheerfully, "Okay, I'll make you a bed there."
"No, it's cool just like this. It's just for tonight, anyway."
"What? Mia, you're home, you live here, you're not going anywhere."
She lets out a squeak of a laugh, "Yes, I am! I belong out there, mom. They're waiting for me."
"Out where, Mia, what are you talking about, who's waiting?"
She tucks her knees up under her chin and looks up at me. I cup her little face in my hands. And then her face goes slack, her milky-pink, swimmy eyes pop open wide and she looks right through me as if she's just been possessed.
She starts a trance-like croaking, "I have to go, I have to go, I have to go?"
This isn't Mia, this is science fiction, this is a Pod. I'm in Kafka's Metamorphosis, gaping at a giant roach-Mia chanting, "I have to go, have to go, have to go?"
I grab her and shake her, yelling at my child who is here and not here. I sink to the floor in front of her, crying like a broken animal, howling like only a mother can howl.
"Don't cry, mommy, don't cry," she coos back in her ragged voice, wrapping herself around me. "It's okay, Mommy, don't cry."
But, she doesn't say, "Don't cry, Mommy, I won't leave again." She comforts me with, "Don't cry, Mommy, I'll be okay out there, they'll take care of me."
Winter is burying us already.
Paul comes home to find Mia asleep on the floor curled around me. He lifts her into her bed. I don't tell him what happened, I don't have the words yet to describe it. We drag ourselves to the living room, two dazed parents who have no idea what they're fighting or how to fight it. But, we better learn fast, because we suspect the battle's just beginning.
First, we shove the piano in front of the front door. Then, Paul starts screwing her bedroom windows shut while I get her backpack and empty it on the dining table. I scour every corner of it, I even smell the lint. I'm treasure hunting for Mia, for clues to whatever is "out there."
I find three packs of cold medicine capsules and a journal, one I haven't seen before. It's obvious why she kept it hidden. It seems our bouncy, bright Mia, the A student, the daughter who never said a disrespectful word to us, who laughed and cuddled with us, has led a double life for nearly a year. She kept another Mia hidden from us, one several shades darker.
Paul sits beside me as we read poems and entries about whips and chains, broken glass, gutters and blow jobs. Phone numbers of homeless shelters, of people we've never heard of. Are these the people who will "take care of her?" Out there where she has to go, has to go, has to go?
There are quotes by street kids doing revolting things with revolting people. I remember a library book she brought home last year, for her photography class. A photo essay of LA and San Francisco runaways and addicts, Raised by Wolves, by Larry Clark. Apparently, she thought it was a guide book.
I cannot comprehend a Mia who wanted this. We close the journal. We'll have to read the rest in small doses. The pages themselves feel slimy, repulsive. How could she possibly hide this so well?
"She's either very smart or very sick," Paul says.
The word we've been avoiding. Sick. Like the TV commercial -- "This is your brain on drugs." She's scrambled her eggs permanently. Or maybe the chicken came first - she felt "pretty screwed up" first, then took drugs to feel better.
Enough shock and horror, Claire, think, think of what to do. Okay, right, yes. Detox. Get the drugs out of her system. Get us all into counseling. Take her on a trip, make new house rules, have family meetings. Of course, she'll come to her senses, we're a resilient bunch! Who knows, this may even lead to better communication!
But. That journal. What if we detox her and when she comes down she isn't the same girl that went up? What if she's the journal Mia? What if Mr. Hyde never returns home to become Dr. Jekyll again?
Ooowww. Too bright. And too early. I stuff my face under my pillow to block out the sun. Now I can't breathe. Fuuck! I go to get up but I feel like my muscles have turned to gum. Oh, forget it. I pull the covers back over my head. The sun lights up the pattern on the blanket and it's actually kinda pretty. Those big blue flowers, they're somehow comforting. And, somehow, strangely familiar. I'm awake in an instant.
Shit! I can't be back here. How did this happen?! I'm not supposed to be here!
I make a mad dash across my bed to the window. I shove it up but it won't go higher than four inches. This is impossible! I crawled out this same window four days ago. Then I see the screws. Motherfuckers!
Wait! There's a screwdriver in the utility room. I creep down the hallway, skipping the creakier floorboards. I slip into the utility room, slide out the drawer, lift out the screwdriver and tiptoe back to my room.
I hear Mia creeping around and jump up, "Paul, she's gone for the screwdriver!"
But Paul's not the least alarmed. I stop, suddenly realizing --
"You hid the Phillips."
He nods. I know why he did it, but it seems cruel to trick her. I don't want to do anything to anger her. Too late.
"Mooooommmmmmmmm!!" comes Mia screaming down the hallway.
We run to block the back door, she stops us in the kitchen, clutching the screwdriver.
"You can't keep me here! Let me out of here!"
"Mia, calm down, we'll -- ," Paul starts to say.
"No! I'm not staying here," she spits, "I hate you!"
I touch her arm softly to calm her, which only enrages her.
She raises the screwdriver over me. "You better let me go!"
Paul grabs her arms and she fights him like a biker chick. He wrestles her to the floor, uncurls her fingers from the screwdriver. She wriggles and yells as he yanks the screwdriver out of reach and stands up quickly.
Mia lies on her back with Paul standing over her. They stare at each other and time seems to stop. For an eerie moment, we're all frozen in place.
Then Mia's face crumples as she starts to cry.
"Eat, Mia, eat. Just one little slice of pear," she says. I have no appetite. I just want to curl up into nothingness.
"Come on, honey, just one piece. Mia, you're probably just depressed, that's all. We'll pull through this."
I stare at her through a fog. "We?" I was about to fix everything, not we. All her so-called help did was ruin everything. She still doesn't get it, doesn't realize I'm beyond her now.
I walk behind Paul and Mia to the car. We've gotten her a bed in a hospital psych unit for teenagers with problems. Somewhere she can't escape until she's better, whatever "better" means now.
I walk behind them as I did a few days ago, on the way to school. I held her lunch bag. Her uniform hung crooked from the way she rolled the waistband like all the girls did. She took Paul's hand, swinging it as she joked with him. Now, Paul's holding her hand to make sure she doesn't get away.
I remember the first time Mia took Paul's hand, when she was four. I suddenly stop, because I remember something else. Another memory surfaces from the deep end of our history.
I have borne witness to another metamorphosis just as surreal as Mia's. In another lifetime, one I thought was long behind us.
Excerpted from COME BACK: A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER'S JOURNEY THROUGH HELL AND BACK by Claire and Mia Fontaine. Copyright © 2006 Claire and Mia Fontaine. All rights reserved.