I decided that the most likely explanation, given her random study habits, was that she'd been grounded again. Still, we usually manage to connect, even when she's in home detention. I thought about phoning to check in with her, but that would have been a breach of our communication protocol. So I waited—until I couldn't wait anymore. I sent John a breezy, low-key e-mail. I mentioned that I hadn't heard from Em for a while, and hoped they weren't all down with the nasty flu bug that was going around.
John answered quickly: "Your radar must be pretty good. I was going to write. We've been waiting to see how things shake out. And FYI , we're not sharing this with anyone else. But you might as well know that Emma has been having a pretty rough time lately. And on Monday night, she swallowed some pills. We rushed her to the ER and it was touch-and-go for a while. We almost lost her, Mom. She's a little better now. But she's going to spend some time in the mental health unit."
I believe I may have vacated my body as I tried to grasp what I was reading. Emma! Suicide? Why didn't she tell me she was in such terrible trouble? Of course: John's girls have been trained to keep family secrets. But I'm family, aren't I?
"She's refusing to see Rosie," John wrote. "And she's asking for you. Dr. Harris says you're probably therapeutically appropriate, since you two seem to have a pretty strong connection. Rosie and I won't stand in the way if you want to go see her."
Won't stand in the way? Chances are, I'll never know what it cost him to extract permission from a furious Rosie to extend that olive branch. No doubt she would have been surprised to know that at some level I understood her anger. And John? I wanted to comfort him. I used to know how.
I wrote back: "I'm so sorry, John. Of course I'll go!" He e-mailed directions to the hospital and to Emma's unit: "You have to ring the bell. They'll let you in."
Entering a lockdown ward leaves an indelible impression. I rang the bell. I was admitted through the first door by a nurse who searched my purse and asked me if I had anything in my pockets. As the second door locked behind me, Emma came running full tilt down the long hallway and dived into my waiting arms. For such moments was the word bittersweet created.
We were ushered into a stark little room where there was nothing sharp, nothing hard, nothing breakable; where there were no drapery cords and no access to electrical outlets. There were just a few beanbag chairs and some large, well-used floor pillows.
Emma was pale. Her pupils were hugely dilated. Prescription meds, I supposed. For the first time ever, we were awkward with each other. We plopped down on the pillows and simply held hands for a while. And then Em dragged her pillow closer to mine and curled up with her head on my lap. I stroked her hair and told her how much I love her, how much I believe in her.
She looked up at me and said, "Do you, Gramma? Do you really?"
"Oh, Emma, I do."
She sighed. Her voice was nearly inaudible. "I'm always disappointing people, Gramma. I try and try and I just can't get it right. I don't fit in anywhere. I don't. And I'm just so tired." Then she began to cry.
I wrapped my arms around her.
"I hope you're not disappointed in me, Gramma," she said softly.