What is my role with my thirty-year-old child? I have been educated about the illness, and questions linger. What is it like for her to have auditory hallucinations? What is pain body, a term I learn from NAMI, the National Association of Mental Illness? A list of words had been written on the white board; shame, lying, worry, fear, and killing. As her mother, and her primary care-giver, where do I stand with what is aimed at me with a piercing arrow? I can no longer save her, only try to make peace with her symptoms. What is my threshold?

I walk a short way down a dead-end road in the damp, salty air. I head for the old playground that the school no longer uses. It is a dark night. The moon has not risen. This island is far enough from the shore that the only city lights on the mainland are dull and ineffective. Sometimes on the fourth of July, you can spot the fireworks way off in the distance. They are doll like, a little fizz of bright color on the horizon.

Before me is an old see saw with a wooden plank. I have had no place to put this information about her drive to kill. I hear her worry about it, “I am worried Dad is going to be murdered,”

I am shocked by the word, try to probe deeper, invade her private space, “Why do you think that?” I try to guard myself with an invisible shield. This is not my daughter; this is the illness speaking.

Here at the playground, I stop on one end of the see saw which is firmly pressing into a pile of shredded bark. This see saw is made of thick wood, a thick old oak joist that has been painted dark green. The paint is peeling, and veins of the wood are bulging where sharp flakes of paint have worn off.

My daughter has put the strap from her earphones around her father’s neck. How hard did she pull?

I place one foot in front of the other and begin to work my weight forward up the incline. I keep my arms out to the side, and proceed slowly, carefully. My knees are bent slightly to help my spine align with my gravity. My ankles tremble. Nerves spark lightning from fingertips to toes. I try to imagine a string holding up my head; a string pulling my heart forward. What do I share as a body with my daughter? We have been connected from birth, and I have always rescued her.

The board begins to shift. The end behind me begins to rise up from the coarse mulch. I stop, wait to steady myself, try to settle all the tensions. They twitch as if the oxygen flow seeps awkwardly through my channels of circulation. I creep slower, bending my knees deeper to keep my center low to the ground.

My daughter raised the pillow above her roommate’s head. This was reported to me from the hospital. How far did she lower it?

In front of me the high end of the plank wobbles lower in a kind of uncertainty. Behind me the ground end is up and inching its way higher. It is time for me to turn sideways.

My pain can stretch and spring back from the edges. The edges gain and lose volume with the tension it is fueled by. Sometimes pain grows and throbs, felt in the palm of my hand, then spreading throughout my body like a tidal wave. Sometimes it is small and deep and it aches. I slide my right foot carefully along the rough wood surface, glad that I am wearing thin worn shoes. I can feel the surfaces through the sole, but be protected from splinters My body twists to the left and I reach both arms straight out to either side as I gain confidence, easily distribute my weight. I take a deep breath, open my chest, raise my shoulders.

How do we connect to each other in pain? It is like a prevailing wind that blows through a village, lifting debris, building force, transforming the landscape. A safe harbor must be found. Deep, going deeper where the heart can expand and contract.

I slowly release, letting all the tension flow out, work its way slowly down my spine like a snake moving through long summer grass. I slowly release breath to undo snags of thought. They try to knot my confidence. I raise both arms up, stretch my fingers wide apart with palms facing the earth. A cold tear begins to make a thin path down my cheek.

How intentional are her actions?

I raise up on the balls of my feet and delicately shake out my hands. I am a five-pointed star mirroring a tiny light in the sky. I am also a conductor of heat and feeling. I feel my heart break free.


Mary Woodworth has been a poet and visual artist for 35 years. She runs the Turtle Studio and serve as studio manager for Tiger Lily Press, a fine arts print cooperative in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her poems have previously been published by Licking River Review and For a Better World.