By James Buchanan

Her mother and I sit in a small, ecru-painted room just outside the locked ward.

Voices echo into the room from down the hall. They are a man and a boy. They are loud and rough, not angry, each trying to show the other toughness, but there is a tickle of empathy in the man’s voice. This is how men and boys speak to each other when one is in charge of the other. Each generation and men and boys knows that loudness and swagger accomplish something that kindness alone is unable to do. They establish a zone of safety around the body, around the person, around the feelings.

Our sixteen-year-old daughter comes into the room. Her mother looks from her phone. I refused to fall into the cliché of the parent lost to their cellphone. We are quiet as our daughter sits. Her arms are pocked by scabs where she’d scratched so deep her brain released enough endorphins to ease the pain of being locked in this place on her first night. They weep and the deepest are covered by gauze with reddish-yellow stains.

She cannot, or will not look at us.

It is more than understandable she does not want any part being with us. One at a time or safely in my home, where she lives, is okay, but this is overwhelming. Why shouldn’t it be. Between her mother and I there are years of unresolved anger and recent accusations. “You’re a liar.” “You need mental help.” “Don’t gaslight me you prick.”

These weren’t my words, but because her mother and I are her parents and inextricably linked, they might as well be mine, too. Over more than twelve years, they have created a history of pain that a little girl cannot wick away or beat back and evade with make-believe.

Nor could they be undone by a very depressed, suicidal, and self-harming teenage girl.

Why can’t my parents be better to each other, she wonders. What I know, but fail to express adequately is that no amount of nonviolent communication and collaborative problem solving can release these pains and stinging hurts.

I inhale a shallow breath to speak and feel the pull in my upper left lung of the surgical scar where the tumor resided, but a nurse walks in. Our daughter’s eyes don’t move. I feel some relief that this moment, this awkward moment is broken. I believe our daughter is relieved, too.

The nurse carries a bag filled with clothes and another with a CPAP machine, toothbrush, shampoo, and a white, stuffed rat for me to bring home.

This is the first time our daughter has seen her mother and me in the same room in a very long time. A wisp of conflict floats on the air and is enough to hurt her. She feels the heat of it in her body and wants to escape, to take flight, but she cannot. Instead, she hides in her body, deep in her pill-clouded mind.

From the outside looking in, she is like a soft stone, mumbling and dissociated from the room.

“Are you okay?” her mother asks.

Our daughter nods in quick, little tilts of her head. A whisper of air passes through her lips meant to be the words, “I’m okay.”

Our daughter will go home with me today, to our home and her room she resides in as some baneful sanctuary.

Her mother and I had agreed she would leave before our daughter came in so our daughter would not feel the stress of the three of us together. But her mother didn’t leave. Pride? The fight? Worry? I don’t know.

All I know is a few moments ago her mother called me a liar and accused me of playing games with our daughter’s wellbeing.

I didn’t respond. I rarely do. What’s the point?

When our daughter and I sit in the car and she feels the security of the closed door, she cries. Her head does not drop nor does she cover her eyes. She stares forward with tears rolling down her cheeks and sobs rise from the back of her throat.

“I’m ready to go home,” she says.

About the Author:


James Buchanan  is a fiftyish writer living in Exeter, New Hampshire. He attended Quaker schools and his first love has always been storytelling. In addition to his own writing, he works as a ghostwriter of memoir and creative nonfiction and reviews of his recent work suggest that he’s becoming a better writer. His website is