She is my first-born child. My first-born baby. The first baby I carried in my womb, having conversations silently and private moments that meant nothing to the world but meant we are bonded for life. The first child with whom I experienced the joy, and horror, of labor and delivery. She was born in two short hours, with much a-do, and with little fuss from her. She was the first baby I learned to feed, dress, bath and diaper. The first baby that had an ear infection, learned to sit up, roll over, and later to walk. We experienced our first Christmas being parents, the same year she was born, her first Christmas also. She was the first to dress up for Halloween for trick-or-treating.
Later, on a crisp September morning, with a freshly cut hair smoothed into a perfect bob and a backpack bigger than her, she walked out the front door to head to her first trip on the bus to Kindergarten. She was fearless. No worries about a big school, new kids, or riding the bus. We waited at the bus stop with my parents, taking 90 pictures of her standing there, clutching her lunch box in a way that said maybe she wasn’t as confident as implied. Tissues in hand, and my heart in my throat, I stood anxiously both willing the bus to come and dreading its arrival. Six years later, she was the first of my children to walk across the stage graduating from elementary school on her way to middle school. Middle school shared its series of first. First time I was called to the principal’s office, first time I spent a small fortune on making a cookie in the shape of country, the first time she went to a dance and the first time she went away with the school, and not with me or someone in our family. Three years later, she was the first of my children to graduate from middle school and head to high school.
Her freshman year was rough. To say the least. It should have been an indication of what I was in for. I should have realized by telling her not to be afraid to take chances, to be herself and not be sorry for that, and to stick up for those that can’t stick up for themselves, that I was creating a fearless-daredevil-hell be gone monster. She was a boulder rolling down the mountain side, gaining speed, and chipping off pieces of her true self as she went. However, hindsight is 20/20 and I did not see that at the time. I defended her, made excuses, and was proud that she was independent and outgoing. Those traits are wonderful, if that is what it really was. Unfortunately, she was the first of my children I was blind to seeing her self-destruction and instead saw a bright future. What was really defiance I saw as a strong personality. I thought that she may have a wrong approach now but with time and maturity she would turn into the kind of women we read about saving the world, a woman anyone would be proud to call their daughter. I’m not saying that I am not proud of her, but what I am saying is that is not what was churning beneath the skin of that adolescent girl. Undiagnosed disabilities and personality disorders were whispering in her ear that being right is what mattered the most and following the ill-advice of those around her whom did not have best interest at heart were smart moves.
She was the first of my children to adorn the white gown, rose in hand, and walk across the high school lawn on a steaming hot New England day in June, swaying in time with classmates as Pomp and Circumstance laid the musical back drop for an emotional day. I was proud, I was sad, and I was a basket case. What I wasn’t was scared. Or inquisitive. I didn’t wonder what the next steps would be, or where we go from here. She graduated, without getting pregnant-something high on my accomplishment list-and she was to attend community college in the fall. I had hoped she would go away to school, or at least to a 4 year school, but that wasn’t in her cards and at least she was doing something, was what I told myself. She was the first of my children that I let down, in a massive way. I did not push her to what she could have done. I supported her decisions even though I ignored the advice I gave her, listen to your gut, and let her make decisions on her own about her future. She was the first child that I completely misjudged my role as a parent as she bounced from adolescence to what I thought was adulthood which was really just an extension of adolescence. Eighteen years old is not a magic age where all people begin to think like adults. I let her down by not parenting enough. Something AC reminds me of, every single time she relapses.
Instead of being my first child to graduate college, a day I have dreamt about since she was a small child, she is the first child I dropped off a detox. She is the first child I dropped off at detox a dozen times. She was the first one I picked up from detox clean and naively, I thought the first child to expel the drugs from her body, her mind, and pick up where she left off in school. She was the first child I attend an N/A meeting with, and the first child I heard take the burning desire, admitting to a room full of people that she would do anything to get rid of me so she could go use, and mean it. She was the first child I picked up at a detox for using while in there. She was the first child I dragged more than half way across the country to deposit at a rehab that was going to make her whole again. She was the first child that ran from said rehab and thus began the first time I ever had to search for a child in a state I knew nothing about. This had many firsts. First time I called hospitals and police departments looking for her. First time I lied to a probation officer to get him to help me. First time I made a deal with a scumbag and paid an extortion fee to get her back. This was the first of many “worsts” also. As in worst Thanksgiving we ever had, worst birthday I ever had, worst Christmas we ever had.
Lots of relapses, many worse than the last, brought us to the worst Christmas we ever had which ended in the first time I ever sectioned one of my children. I hope to Christ on a Cross that she is the only child I ever have to section, but I won’t say that it will be the last. I’m sure my first-born child will continue bringing me to places of the firsts. I imagined, as most mother’s do, that my first-born daughter would allow me to enjoy watching her get married. Spending time being the mother of the bridge, picking colors, invitations, flowers, and location. At some point after that, or before in this family, my first-born child would birth my first-born grandchild. I would be amazed how well pregnancy agreed with her, I would be thrilled at how well the two of them (that being her other half) were balancing pregnancy, togetherness, life in general. I looked forward to the middle of the night panicked call about being labor, being afraid, and come quick. I would throw on mismatch clothes, two different shoes, and run out of the house. My job would be to pace in the hallway, waiting to hear that infant cry, listening to the cries of my baby. When I held that baby in my arms for the first time, I would introduce myself to my first-born grandchild, welled with pride.
Instead of those memories, I am afraid I will have a completely different encounter. A completely different rush to the hospital, pacing in the hallway, waiting to hear if my first-born child survived her latest overdose. Will she be able to breathe on her own? Will she have brain damage? Or will I be picking out her coffin, limping through a wake and a funeral in a church so filled with despair the paintings on the wall were crying tears of grief. Our battered heart and tattered soul will be present but our minds will float to a peaceful time, a happier time, a time in which our first-born child lived, happy and healthy. And not a time when heroin stole our first-born child and she became our first born child to die before us.