Two Hard Days

The hardness of a day is entirely relative. I thought my first day at Prince William Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Center was the hardest day of my life, while I was living through it. Yet I also know that in years past, I have considered the day my first wife told me she wanted out of our marriage, then left for work, leaving me behind with a broken leg, as the worst day of my life. I have also considered certain childhood days, such as my earliest day of mental and physical torture at the bus stop waiting to be bussed to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School, as the worst day of my life. Or the day I told my mother I could not mentally handle another single day of junior high school, and that I would need to be home schooled, and she replied that I was simply being ridiculous and of course I would return to my school the next day. Or maybe the worst day of my life was the day I discovered my home in New Orleans might have been destroyed and my stepdad denied me, my wife, and my two baby sons shelter in their home in Albuquerque, an act of ultimately unforgivable parental betrayal. Looking back now, who is to say which of those days was truly the worst day of my life? Each of those days seemed like the worst while I was living through it.

These past two days I would not rank as among the worst of my life. Monday, however, was a day that Dara ranked as among the worst of hers, and so she called me to ask me to come home early and relieve some of the pressure on her. Levi had taken his medications on an empty stomach and vomited all over the back seat of her van. Slightly later, he descended into one of his worst anxiety fits ever, caused primarily by boredom (he has been out of school since his release from the hospital two weeks ago). He tried throwing a rocking chair down a set of stairs at his mother, then engaged in such violent acting out that she was forced to call 911. By the time the police officer arrived, he had calmed down to the point where the officer said he could do nothing for Dara (and this after Levi tried kicking the officer in the shin). Right after this incident, Dara got a call from Judah’s SAC Program (School After Care Program), saying that Judah had been throwing tantrums and had tried on several occasions to escape from the facility. So she had to take Levi, who had barely finished his tantrum, to the SAC Program to pick up Judah. Then they went to visit a potential private school for Levi, one which had indicated it would take Prince William County funds in lieu of private tuition monies. The only bright bit of the whole day was that this school seemed to be an appropriate placement for Levi, if we are able to convince the County to send him there and pay for his tuition.

After Dara’s panicked, exhausted call, I took the midday train home. I arrived just in time to see our ninety-pound hound dog, Romeo, muscle his way past Judah and escape into the neighborhood. This is significant because an anonymous neighbor has been reporting us to the County Animal Control Center and has demanded that we be assessed with a $325 fine, with the option of the dog being taken away from us (I can only assume that Romeo, a non-aggressive animal, has been running across their lawn and leaving examples of defecation behind). We have been utterly unable to prevent Romeo, a powerful, stubborn (but extremely lovable) dog, from escaping this way. Even building a fence around the front part of our home would not solve the problem, because we cannot count on our children to always latch the gate, and Romeo could simply push through two doors, rather than one.

So I made the difficult decision that we would have to surrender Romeo to the same adoption SPCA agency from which we’d acquired him a year and a quarter ago. I didn’t like making this decision; Romeo has been as much my therapy dog since my release from the hospital as he has been Levi’s therapy dog. But I saw no choice; these anonymous neighbors could keep reporting us and suing us until we are drained dry, and putting up a $1200 fence offered no assurances of solving the problem.

So, early Tuesday morning, I drove Romeo to the Stafford SPCA and surrendered him back to the folks we had acquired him from. They, bless their hearts, were extremely kind about this. They said they love Romeo and will do their best to find a more suitable placement for him. In the meantime, they are sheltering him in comfort. I was allowed to spend a final twenty minutes with him. Lots of tears on my part; it didn’t help when he came over to lick my face. Saying goodbye to him was as hard as when I had to put down Baxter, my favorite cat who had contracted feline leukemia. I took a fistful of tissues from the SPCA and cried most of the drive home.

Then, a half-hour later, it was time for me to pick up Levi from another school he was visiting, another possibility for placement. I took him out to lunch at Noodles and Company, one of our favorite restaurants, and then we spent the afternoon at the Air and Space Museum Annex of the Smithsonian Institution, the facility located near Dulles International Airport. I tried everything I could to keep him from getting bored, and I succeeded (we took the guided tour of the facility for the first time ever). All of the standing and listening, however, wore both of us out. Then we took the long drive home, and I immediately had to take Asher to tae kwan do lessons and wait for him. I had Judah with me, so I got him a snack at Taco Bell, and then we went to Second and Charles and browsed a bit (I treated myself to a Hawkeye graphic novel that had gotten great reviews in the comic book online press). By the time I got the boys home, I was literally too tired to butter a potato. I gulped down some food and then retired to bed while Dara attended a meeting and I allowed the boys to break the school-week rules and watch TV. I felt somewhat better after a twenty-minute rest and spent the next ninety minutes reading some of the original Len Wein Swamp Thing comics before finally surrendering to sleep.

This morning, I fought the snow and the bitter cold to get back into the office. The last two days feel like a bad dream (not all parts, but most). Even so, I got some writing done, some good work I am pleased with. How I managed it, I have simply no idea.

I just pray that things get a little easier from here on out. I and Dara have both been worn down by crisis after crisis, with no rest in between; like a pair of mountains being worn down by an inexorable glacier and unending storms.


  1. Fritz says:

    My heart goes out to you and Dara and the boys, Andy. Your salvation seems to be your prodigious brainpower, the way you can be present to all this and even write about it. This mindful acceptance is one of the best new therapy techniques–IMHO–and is empirically validated. But the pain is still there, and I’m sorry you all have to go through it. Did you see “60 Minutes” last Sunday, when they interviewed Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds? They discussed the sad state of our country’s mental health system, which you are experiencing first hand. Have you been able to connect with Senator Deeds?

    • Andrew says:

      Fritz, thank you for your kind and perceptive message. Dara and I heard about the 60 Minutes piece on Deeds, but did not get to view it. Dara did remark that it is instructive that even a man as connected and powerful as Deeds was brought low by failures of the mental health system. And if people that powerful and connected can be failed by the system, what real hope is there for the rest of us?

      There’s my optimistic takeaway for the day…

  2. Nyx says:

    Hi Andrew; This is Lori Nyx, friend of D. Dumars and of your old agent and friend, Dan (r.i.p.). I was suggesting your FWV books to a friend last night after a discussion on whether there really is wine in wine cake…LOL and I thought of you and your writing. This resulted in Googling you up, etc. Happy to see you’ve got a Steampunk series going. Having read your recent post, I just wanted to send my hugs and support to you and your family. I agree with Fritz regarding Mindful (Radical) Acceptance with a healthy dose of Self Compassion. You’re perseverance in the face of difficult yet necessary decisions is beyond admirable. Take care, may the universe provide all that you and your family need.

    • Andrew says:

      Lori, it is SO good to hear from you! Thank you so much for Googling me and for visiting my blog. I greatly appreciate your good wishes; the last several months have been extremely hard ones for me and for my family. When you next see or speak with Denise, please tell her I send my love and best wishes (hope she is doing well). Have you come out with any new books recently? I sure do miss Dan…

  3. Pei Kang says:

    Andrew and family- I can empathize with your situation- my neighbor(s) made multiple complaints against me and my service/therapy dog as well. Sam Sam is a retired greyhound mix and he is STILL very troublesome, if loveable. We did everything we could, built a fence, “trained” him with professionals, etc…he still escaped, barked too much etc… I almost gave him back as well, but, he had saved me many times…

    My mom finally caved in (high morals) and didn’t bad mouth my decision to purchase a golden retriever from a breeder. It was worth the money, he is a TRUE therapy/service dog, unlike my old fellow (who is still a good dog, if troublesome). Maybe if you have the time, you can search for a golden mix in rescues or shelters? In general, they are very tame and very good dogs.

    I have a few choice words about your neighbors, but, humans, am I right????

    Blessed to your family my friend, and hope better things come around the bend.

    • Andrew says:

      Pei, it is great to hear from you! Thank you so much for sharing your own dog stories. Romeo was not an “official” therapy dog, but he sort of served as one for Levi and for me. Unfortunately, I don’t expect any more dogs in our immediate futures. We had two negative experiences in a row with dogs (before we got Romeo, Ollie was a complete bust; we only held onto him for a week), so the replacement animal is going to be a sixth (yes, that’s right!) cat in the house. As soon as Dara recovers from the Romeo ordeal, she’ll do her usual efficient shopping around for a friendly cat from a local shelter, SPCA, or donation service. Levi has said he’ll be just as happy with a replacement cat as he would be with a replacement dog, and, honestly, right now we have enough stress in our lives without having to (attempt to) train a new dog. You take good care, Pei! I’m glad your second dog worked out great.

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