Bird's Eye View
Greenwater, WA, 1987
Right: Christmas Eve, 2010
Lately I've been thinking about Greenwater, and about the camping trip
we took there during the summer of 1987.
Do you remember that weekend? You were four; your sister was
year and a half older; your baby brother stayed home with Daddy, while
the three of us "girls" went off on a weekend adventure with family
friends. We camped in the woods, next to the river,
and spent three days fishing, collecting pine cones, going for
long walks along the riverbank, riding four-wheelers with Terry and
Rickey. After dinner, we roasted marshmallows over the campfire.
At night, we slept in Tammy and Terry's big RV ...
you in a
top bunk, Jamie and I smooshed together in a bottom bunk below you.
Jamie was originally offered the upper bunk, since it was
slightly bigger -- as was she --
have afforded her more wiggle-room. But when bedtime rolled
around, the first night we were there, she suddenly decided she was
"afraid" of the height. You, on the other hand, clambered up
there like a little monkey, without hesitation, and claimed the
bird's-nest bunk as your own. I felt some normal maternal
trepidation about you sleeping up there by yourself --
if you needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?
What if you had a nightmare? What if, god forbid,
out of the bunk? --
but you were happy as a clam,
a bug, and (most importantly, it seemed at the time) sound asleep
within thirty seconds of
your head meeting your pillow. Everything seemed perfectly
Until, of course, you actually DID fall out of the bunk.
I can still hear the sickening 'thunk' you made, as you hit bottom.
It's funny how I knew exactly what had happened, even before
started to cry ... I was coming out of a dead
the interior of the RV was dark as a tomb, it took a couple of
seconds to even remember where I was ...
instantly knew that
you had fallen, I knew
were in trouble, and I was fumbling my way in the darkness to you
before you'd even drawn enough breath to scream. Luckily, as falls go,
this one turned out to be fairly minor -- we're
talking five feet, tops, and you landed mostly on the end of my bed,
not on the floor, so your fall was at least partially cushioned
-- but it was still scary as hell, for you AND for
else in that RV. Terry and Tammy, sleeping in the back, heard
commotion and scrambled to turn on the lights. There you
face-up across the end of my bunk, with one arm and one leg hanging
over the edge, screaming your lungs out. I folded you in my
and held you tight for a while, until the sobbing lessened,
the shuddering stopped, until we'd all caught our breath and regained
some sense of calm. I quietly examined you,
there didn't appear to be any broken bones, any head injuries, any
bleeding ... nothing much worse, in fact, than a
an otherwise happy adventure.
"Scoot over," I said to a sleepy/grumpy Jamie. "Sissy's going
sleep with us for the rest of the night."
But you weren't having it. "Noooo!" you shrieked, your cheeks
still damp with tears, and you scrambled out of my arms and up the
folding ladder, back to your little bird's nest, and there you slept
for the rest of the night, and for the two nights that followed,
peacefully and without incident, while below I kept the Sleepless
Mother's Vigil until dawn each night for the remainder of the camping
I've had decades -- literally, decades
-- to think
about that weekend, and about your plunge from the bird's nest.
As always, I usually turn the events around and
them all about me, and about my shortcomings as your mother, then and
in the years that followed. Why did I allow you to sleep on
top bunk in the first place? You were four years old,
forcryingoutloud. Why didn't I force you to sleep in the bed
me and Jamie? Why didn't I squeeze my own fat self into that tiny top
myself, and put the two of you together in the safety of the lower
And then, when you hit bottom: why wasn't I right there to catch you?
But here's the thing. Turning that weekend around and making it about
me, and about all the ways I have failed you over the years, actually
does you a disservice. It overlooks the fact that you
were the one who claimed that
top bunk, for one thing, without hesitation or fear. It
the fact that you
one brave enough to climb right back up there, even after hitting
bottom ... that you
were the one with the nerve, the confidence, the outright fucking GUTS
to pick yourself up from the bottom and climb back to the
If it had been up to me, you would have been stuck in that
bunk for the rest of the camping trip, squished between your
grumpy/sleepy sister and
your nervous/sweaty mother. You made the choice to climb back
the top all on your own, and you were successful, and it had very
little to do with me or my parenting skills (or lack thereof), and everything
to do with you and all
the things that make you the person you are.
I realize that as anecdotal metaphors go, this one is pretty
given the current situation. All I can tell you
that sometimes hitting bottom is hitting bottom, whether it's falling
out of a
bunk during a camping trip when you're four years old, or trying to
reclaim your life and your sobriety as an adult. This, at
least, is something I know about. Hitting bottom sucks.
bottom hurts. Hitting bottom is embarrassing, and sometimes
everything about yourself and your life and the people you love, and it
a lot of time and hard work to fix, and most of it is not very much fun.
But here is the other thing I know: that if anyone, and I mean ANYONE,
has the sheer fucking guts to dust herself off and climb back up to a
bird's-eye view ... it's you.
Happy Birthday, my dear, darling, much-cherished daughter. You can do
believe in you. I love you.
to throw a rock?