Sunday, November 2, 2008

What We Do When We Can Do Nothing Else.

I must admit I had dreamed about the moment. We're in an enormous seminar room with twenty observers. Kayla is on one side of the table, I'm on the other side with the college's Dean, a representative of counseling, and someone is officially taking notes. It's a proceeding for expulsion.

Flashback to the classroom: Kayla throws a half of a submarine sandwich against the wall with enough drama to win an Academy Award. Everything she says is punctuated with wild hand gestures. She raises her hand in the middle of a truly rocking discussion in an otherwise totally dead class and asks: "What do you think it feels like to have metal skin and the heart of a frog?" after which all breathing stops because we're all just a little bit afraid. And that's a good day.

On a bad day, she picks at her fingernails as though she's trying to pull each one clean out, mumbles and chuckles under her breath, and rolls her eyes when I shush her direction. On a really bad day, the day that brought us to that table moment, she threw her tennis shoe across the room. She screamed that there was water running into little pools in her brain. Her ever shaky demeanor melted. We were more than a little frightened.

Flash Forward: It's an otherwise sunny afternoon. Kayla seems to understand she's been expelled. She recognizes what she did was wrong. She can't make the connection that she's trapped in a repeating cycle of being a little odd and being totally whacked out. There are meds in her purse, we've seen them. It's better when she takes them, but it's never good.

When it's over, there are no victory dances even though there will not be another moment when I have to try to avoid asking probing questions that might just set her off. I will not have to cringe when I watch the other kids laugh at her. I will not have to wonder if this is the day she stands up and takes off her shirt.

It was a day when the downside of open enrollment slapped me in the face. Anyone can sign up and be a college student. Anyone. And when it goes badly, sometimes really badly, no one wins.

Pass the bottle. It was a long, long day.