Chapter 10: Invictus

Finals were over and obviously Grace had missed them; summer school started on the upcoming week. Grace’s outpatient school did not end until mid-week the following week. If I pulled her out of the outpatient school if she were allowed to attend summer school, I was told it would be AMA – Against Medical Advice. The outpatient school told me they would be forced to call CPS. It was only a difference of days – so in hindsight, I think it was more about insurance dollars that the outpatient school would be missing. And, I did not even know if summer school was going to be an option for Grace.  She might have to repeat her entire year.  And, what would repeating an entire year - and all that accompanies that with peer groups -do to her?


This is one of the few times that I remember a specific date: On May 28, in the morning, I was fretting about summer school - the cost, if it would even be allowed, how the schedule conflicted with her outpatient check out date, the threat of AMA if I  pulled her out on Friday to be able to enroll and start school on the following Monday - and having to talk to stepdad about it who still believed she needed to repeat the grade, regardless of what the school said. Then I caught myself about two hours later and realized this was consuming my entire thought life, especially this morning. I stopped, confessed to God that I needed to trust that He already had it worked out. I confessed my lack of faith, and that I just gave myself over to anxiety for well over two hours; I prayed a prayer of confession. I truly laid this issue to rest; whatever He has planned is what will happen. End of issue. How did I know to do this? I don’t have an answer.  Probably from devotional readings, or hearing enough sermons on it – I don’t know.  But, it is what I did in that moment. And the thoughts did leave my mind, and I did get mental rest from the issue.


At about 2 in the afternoon, the thoughts about summer school returned.  But this time it was different. I had an overwhelming feeling of hopefulness. Not sure why - but I did. I shared it with Grace when I picked her up. I told her that at about 2 p.m. - I had a sense of optimism - that things were going to work out for her in general.  She said: ok. No emotion, as if I had just said – put your seatbelt on. Maybe it was because she no longer felt like she controlled what happened to her? Or more likely, she didn’t care what I thought.


At 5 that same day, I received an email from the school: No repeating of 9th grade. No summer school. Grace could work on her finals over the summer, take them when ready, and be done. They would work with her schedule and get her work to her.   This was a solution that I didn’t even think was an option!


I’ll state the obvious: What a testament. I never even dreamed that she could just prep for, and take her finals this summer and be finished! I thought summer school was the best shot we had – and even that was a long shot.

In hindsight, because I certainly did not see it at the time or know it at the time, this was Ephesians 3:20-21 in real life. And – I only know this now – years later. I don’t think I even knew this Scripture then. It was years after this event that I read a book by Priscilla Shirer just on these verses, that I realized we had literally walked that Scripture.  All I knew was that I had trusted that He had it all worked out - regardless of what “working it all out” would look like.

Here are the verses:  


Ephesians 3:20-21


Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


If I could only recognize that I was living out Scripture right when it was happening… not years later!


I share this fantastic news about no summer school with my parents on a phone call. I don’t tell Grace just yet. I want to surprise her. What a blessing! She will be able to start fresh her sophomore year! I didn’t face any AMA, no summer school fees and trying to coordinate transportation with my job. I am happy, for the first time in a very long time.  My parents have wanted to help – in any way – and offer to let Grace come stay with them Monday-Friday to prep for her finals. They will look for tutors, if any are needed, and this also satisfies the supervision that I need to have for Grace during the day while I am at work.


Grace’s last few days at outpatient means that we are nearing the end of a really terrible period of time in our lives. I wanted to make this a celebration for her. We have finished with the psych hospital stays, the outpatient school, and she is about to get another new start opportunity! On Sunday morning, I asked my parents to make the hour drive into town on the next day so we could all go to a coffee shop, surprise Grace with the good news, and then talk about next steps. It is mentally and emotionally a great weekend.


On Sunday afternoon - Grace asks if she can play Mario Kart. I agree - she had a good weekend, and she has been entirely off electronics for close to 6 weeks. No cell, no laptop – I had kept mine locked in my home office typically – no video games, and not even television without me present.  I am confident we are heading to recovery and a sense of normalcy again. I had no reservations about her playing a video game.


About 3 hours later, a friend from her previous middle school shows up at the front door with a Slurpee for Grace. I stand at the door with both girls and ask the friend how she knew Grace was here? She said... she just figured. I told her - gosh - we just got home having been gone for a bit. What a wonder she took a chance and got something that could melt, in the Texas heat ... and brought it over. When the girl left - I asked Grace again - how she could have known Grace was even here? Grace claimed she didn't know.


Later that night, we were watching a nature show in my room, when Grace tells me around midnight, after I had fallen asleep, and was awoken by her leaving the room, that she was going up to her room because she couldn't sleep.

So - I rolled over and then again, felt a pull to go upstairs  - about as strong as I did the night of the phone call a few chapters back. I ignored it. It persisted. I told myself - whatever happens, happens. Its Grace's decision now.


The next morning, I ask Grace what time she fell asleep after going upstairs. She said around 1.  I asked what she did. She said she journaled. I asked her what did she journal about? She said she wrote a story. I told her that was kind of a surprise because doing that kind of creative writing generally keeps me awake.


After I dropped Grace off at the gas station for school, I went back home, and upstairs to see what she wrote. I knew she was writing things and tearing them out of her folder. I knew she was tearing up notes from the other kids at the facility.

I found nothing. There was zero evidence of Grace writing anything. So - the question was... where was it? Did she take it to school?


I get a call later that day from her therapist that Grace had gotten online on my laptop and contacted some of her friends. She told the therapist she wanted to see who had missed her.


I was angry, disappointed, sad, betrayed - she defied me again. She got into my office and got on my laptop when we were so close to being done with all of this. When I was convinced that we were coming out of the shadows. And today was the day that we were going to celebrate and tell her about not having to repeat a grade or even do summer school.


The therapist suggests that I be matter of fact and tell Grace I knew and would think about a punishment, two things I would have done anyway. Yet, I will tell you, the day was now somehow marred in my mind.  


After we arrived home from the gas station pick up that afternoon, I asked her what she wrote last night. Partly as a way to make conversation and partly because I was curious.  She instead asked me if Kari, the therapist, called. I told her she had, and that I would need to come up with a punishment.  Grace was silent.  In that moment, I had not put what the therapist told me together with what happened with the Slurpee. I thought the Slurpee was truly a coincidence, because I guess we all want to trust our children. Even when they show us they are not trustworthy.


Grace spelled it out for me. She said she was bored because I won't let her do anything and got on my laptop. She thought I would have changed the password, but I hadn't. She also contacted someone with the Wii when she played Mario Kart.


I said, to make sure I understood all of it now because I was just piecing together that Slurpee girl and the “journaling” at 1 in the morning were two separate lies to cover up the internet activity:


So, when I was asking you how your friend knew you were here...

Grace interrupted me, and yelled:  I lied!

I said: And so when I asked you what you did last night…?  

I lied!! Ok!?

She went to immediate anger. No apologies. Just anger. At me.  


I didn’t respond – frankly, I didn’t know what to do. We went from a question to a yelled answer.  Almost as if she was proud of the fact that she lied and I didn’t see it.


I didn’t address the lies or the anger but told her calmly that there were chores she needed to do and to be ready to go at 540 to meet her grandparents at a coffee shop.

She was so rude. When I say rude - believe me - rude.  Ugly. Disrespectful. Hateful. Hate in her eyes. She slammed things in the kitchen as she did her chores. She stormed upstairs.  


When she came back downstairs, I asked her what was going on with her behavior and she told me I was mean and annoying.

I reminded her the occasion for the questions: She lied to me.

Her response: Nothing but a stare with hate.


I also noted when she had returned back downstairs that she wore a long sleeved shirt when it is 93. I know this scene.

I ask to see her arms. She says she didn't cut. I asked her to raise her sleeve - she raises her right sleeve - no cuts. I ask to see her other one. Cuts all over on that one. All the way from the wrist to the upper forearm.


I ask her - when did you do that?

I don’t know why I asked. It was clear they were recent. I am sick to admit that I can now identify fresh wounds from older ones – a skill I wish I never had the occasion to learn. No parent should have to learn this. She backs up to the door and eyes me like a mad, cornered animal.


Just now.

When just now?



With a razor?

That you got where?

From Caroline’s room.



End of discussion.


She had done so well for weeks. This was such a blow. And on the day before her last day of outpatient school, and on the same day that she was to find out about not needing to repeat an entire year.


We go to the coffee shop, Grace is sullen and quiet. I tell her the news, although it was not the celebratory event I thought it would be. My parents told Grace they would help her in any way they could. I felt badly for them driving all the way here for what turned out to be a 30 or 40 minute meeting. And, there was a definitive somberness over the meeting. Grace was civil to them – more than she was to me – but did not display the jubilant emotion that I had previously hoped for.  In that moment, when she was so wrapped up in herself, she did not recognize the gifts she had been given: no summer school, staying with grandparents and working on finals, no repeating a grade.


The next day was her last day at outpatient school; it was discharge day. The patient is discharged when they are deemed stable. This is their area of expertise. They counsel kids and families in crises, they teach them healthy coping methods, they teach them to avoid “triggers,” they get the child to a point where they are ready to go back to resume their lives.   Recall, I could not have discharged her the week prior, because they said they would be forced to notify CPS. But, they are now discharging her – and the irony is that she was probably more stable last week than this week. I’m angry.


I arrive for the discharge meeting. It is myself and one of Grace’s counselors, who I do not know but Grace does. The counselor starts by stating that we are here for the discharge meeting. I ask:


I was told Grace could not be discharged until she was stable. I could not discharge her last week for this reason.  How can you pronounce my child stable when her lying and admitting to lying leads to her trashing her arm – to an extent that she has not done in a while?


The counselor says, while casting a disapproving look at Grace: “Well, I would rate her as borderline right now…”


I interrupt her: I have adjusted my life and her life for the past 6 weeks, doing the homesheets, showing up at the counseling meetings, following through on everything this facility has told me and us to do. I have spent an enormous amount of money here, I have been fearful for my job for the time off needs to make your schedules and appointment times.  What has been accomplished here?


The counselor just repeats that Grace is borderline. She asks me to sign a discharge document. I do – and I tell her that I want copies of every homesheet that we ever filled out.  She tells me she is not sure she can do that. I tell her I am not leaving without them.

She leaves and about 10 minutes later comes back with them. And – Grace and I walk out. Just like that. The 6 week outpatient stay is over. The meeting with counselors is over. The nightly homesheets are over. The twice a day drive to the gas station is over. 


We got through outpatient school in spite of them, not because of them. And a post note here – this particular psych hospital has been sued, and shut down – for now.  But, remember, once they get you in the juvenile mental health care system, your rights as a parent are limited. And by way of intimidation and coercion and fear – they will keep you there. In the worst of scenarios, it is a money grab when parents and families are at thier most vulnerable. 


I call my parents and share with them the events of Sunday evening with her cutting again, and the last outpatient session that I had earlier that day. Grace’s grandfather, who still believes that if he can just word things the right way, he will get through to her. He asks me if he can talk to her later that night. I told him absolutely. He said he know that she respects him and thinks he is smart, so he wanted to tell her that this “was serious stuff,” and that her future was in the balance. He said he had memorized two lines from a poem for her. While I had lived in that place where he was currently -  thinking that using just the right words will make the difference – I no longer believed it.  He asks me to have her call him.


Later that evening, the phone call happens. She makes the call in the backyard and is on the phone for a while. I see her walking around with the phone in her hand, listening mostly and talking some.


She comes inside, hangs up, goes to her room.  I learn later from my dad that the line of poetry he memorized for her was from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley. The full poem is below, and it was the last stanza that he had memorized for their phone call.


Out of the night that covers me, 

      Black as the pit from pole to pole, 

I thank whatever gods may be 

      For my unconquerable soul. 


In the fell clutch of circumstance 

      I have not winced nor cried aloud. 

Under the bludgeonings of chance 

      My head is bloody, but unbowed. 


Beyond this place of wrath and tears 

      Looms but the Horror of the shade, 

And yet the menace of the years 

      Finds and shall find me unafraid. 


It matters not how strait the gate, 

      How charged with punishments the scroll, 

I am the master of my fate, 

      I am the captain of my soul. 


I’m overcome with so many different emotions at knowing this. I know he probably spent a lot of time looking for the right thing to say. He is hoping that Grace will say: Oh! Yes, I get it now! There is something both endearing and maybe naïve about this. He was encouraged by their call. I had been burned so many times by her, I was jaded that any phone call would do anything. I was also still stinging from the foolish hope I had heading into that weekend.


My newest schedule now will consist of taking Grace to a halfway point to meet her grandparents every Sunday afternoon and Friday afternoon. She spends M-F with her grandparents reviewing missed work, meeting with tutors for those subjects she is struggling with and helping her grandparents with whatever they may need. She cannot have a phone or laptop. She can watch television with them. These were limitations put in place to prevent triggering and to help her get focused on her one goal for the summer: prepare for her finals.

This routine required me to be in daily communication with them and also with the school. I would ferry work between the school and my parents, and they would parcel out the work to her. My father would send updates:


Kate is a quiet child. Seems to me thats OK.


She's been compliant with every request I've made.


Her mood has been even. She laughs at my stupid jokes.


She's shared nothing of a personal nature, but then I've asked no questions of a personal nature.


I see my immediate goal to provide an atmosphere in which she can concentrate on her finals. She & I also think it important to work in an hour-long exercise session daily and we exercise vigorously.


She's reading her assigned books rather than coming in to the living room to watch TV.


Once finals are behind us, successfully I hope, we'll begin to find organized  activities to keep busy.


She does do better when she is with them than with me. It could be a respect issue, or it could be that she is keeping herself bottled up and on her best behavior there and waiting to explode when she sees me. Either way, it indicates to me that she is in control of her behavior… when she wants to be.  Toward the end of the summer, she gets to where she does not look forward to going – possibly because she is tired of adhering to house rules.


I start looking forward to the weekdays because I won’t have the continual tension with Grace in the home, defying me, being rude, isolating herself from everyone, lying, and then me in turn having to walk a line between stepdad and her, or even defending her to stepdad when I felt like he had overstepped. Weekdays were me and Caroline, and occasionally stepdad. Weekends were chaos, depending on who was there, and how Grace felt like behaving that day.


After two plus months of the above routine, and driving an hour one way, twice a week on Sundays and Fridays, Grace took her last final at the school and passed her freshman year. She was ready to enter her sophomore year back at school like a regular child.


Next: Chapter 11

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