The Gate

May 2, 2019

The other day, I accidentally drove by the state prison. Right in my line of vision, there were those giant steel gates again.

I don't think I exhaled for a full minute.

But you may be wondering how this happened by accident. Here's how: I had been blindly following my GPS directions to a workshop on Trauma. 

I know. The irony is not lost on me. 

Without thinking at all, I just hopped in my car, plugged in the address, and began to drive. Before I knew it, I was right there looking again at those giant, steel gates topped with swirls of barbed wire.

Seeing them brought lead to my belly and metal to my tongue.  

And, though my car windows were rolled all the way up, for just a moment, I could almost hear the inmates yelling, banging on the window bars, calling out their last-minute declarations to their visitors headed to the parking lot after visitation time was up.

A whirred blend of dread, anticipation, fear, hope, and love made up those Sunday afternoon visits to the prison.  With ever-varying amounts of each ingredient in this recipe, the concoction was never quite the same from week to week.  

Seeing those gates again triggered me. 

And they reminded me what it felt like to be on the outside looking in, not able to alter the reality of what I knew was on the other side. I could only show up to visit and hold the telephone receiver, stare into my boy's eyes and utter mother-ramblings and anecdotes about the family cat, ignoring the reality that a thick wall of plexiglass divided us.

But this post isn't about driving by the prison gates the other day and feeling triggered.

And it's not even about Trauma, though I should mention that my state officially declared May as Trauma Awareness Month. That, paired with the national observance of Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May ought to give us plenty to talk about.

But no, this post isn't about Trauma, either. Not exactly.

When I was teaching middle school, I read a great book with my students that included this quote from an old poem:

"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage."

It appeared in the book when the young protagonist was pondering whether or not to help break someone out of jail. No, this post has nothing to do with breaking someone out of jail. 

But that quote matters. I can't stop thinking about it. Some people can physically be inside prisons, yet feel emotionally and spiritually free. And, some people may put themselves in prisons of their own making. But what about the walls, or gates, or bars that exist between us and the ones we love that we can't seem to penetrate? 

A barrier still stands between my son and me. It's thicker than the plexiglass and fiercer than the barbed wire-topped fencing. This barrier exists because of his illness and because of his repeating pattern of agreeing to and then refusing treatment.

I'm sitting on one side of the barrier and I can see him there on the other, but I just can't get through to him. I can almost hear him calling out a declaration of hope and acceptance, but then I realize I'm only dreaming.

For now, I wait. And gently stir my new recipe: equal parts anticipation, fear, grief, frustration, and love. And, I hope that someday he'll break through that stone wall, say he's ready, and this time, he'll mean it.

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