In October, my best friend hit her breaking point. She had been watching me slowly decline physically and mentally for months. It came to a head when she saw me doubled over in pain, sobbing and unable to breathe in a Metro station under the streets of Washington D.C. as we waited for the train that would take us back towards our college campus.
I had known for a while that it was time to tell someone with a little more life experience than my twenty year old friend how much trouble I was in. That night in the Metro was the first time I had left my dorm room for more than a run down to the convenience store on the first floor of my building in weeks. I was missing classes. Makayla was the extent of my social interaction. Shameless binges were my only source of entertainment, and even with Netflix on a steady stream, I was sleeping about eighteen hours a day. All of this was because the exhaustion was too much for me to move. Digesting any solid food was becoming impossible. I was having four to five debilitating migraine days a week–the kind where you pull the covers over your head and hope that no cars on the street get into a honking war. My skin was bruising and tearing for no good reason. My heart was racing even with my beta blocker on board, and my blood pressure would not get up to 90/60 no matter how much Midodrine I put in my body. Then there were the seizures that were coming frequently and fiercely enough that I was breaking ribs. It was bad, y’all. I was dying.
So that night in mid-October, Makayla got me back up into my dorm room, I threw up my dinner, and then I laid on my bathroom floor and called home. In tears, I confessed everything. I was terrified to tell my parents that I wasn’t going to the classes that we were paying so much for. I was scared to tell them how sick I had let myself get before finally asking for help. I was afraid that they would be angry–or worse, disappointed.
I don’t remember now what I was expecting from my mom. I’d guess it was for her to be the voice of reason. She would tell me which doctors we needed to get in touch with, how I could better be taking care of myself, and how we would move forward with school–just like she had done dozens of times throughout high school when my health and my education just couldn’t match stride.
For my whole life, my dad and I had had a plan that I would go to a top school and then on to do great things, so I remember vividly knowing that I was letting him down. I just knew that he was going to be upset with me for failing. He had always stood by my side and or behind me to push when I needed it. He encouraged me to make perfect grades and excel all the way through middle and high school. He put the best books by the greatest authors in my hands and started conversations on topics that would inspire me to think deeper on subjects most people my age would not give the time of day. There were times when this came across as tough, but my mom likes to remind me that my dad only ever holds me to the high expectations I set for myself. Which is true.
So when I got into American University in Washington, D.C., seven hundred miles from home and all of my medical team, he told me that if that is what I wanted I should go. He supported me every step of the way even though the school’s ideology does not match up with his. For the first year that I was there, he debated my professors through me, and for Christmas that year I gave him an entire semester’s worth of readings from one of my classes just because I thought he would find it fascinating. When my health got bad that first year, he talked me through it, and I managed to stay. I guess that’s why I assumed he would do that same thing when I reached out halfway through first semester my second year.
But my daddy. My daddy surprised both of us that night when I called. He told me to start packing my bags. He very calmly announced that if I was that sick, it was time to come home and regroup. In that moment, my daddy began protecting me from myself. He stopped the panicking voices in my head that were fighting over whether or not American University or my life were more important. He stopped the very persistent voice that was screaming about how I was letting him down. He stopped my tears. He provided a solution to the problem that I felt I had been facing alone. Suddenly–we were a team of three.
And we have stayed that team of three for the last eight months.
My father has watched over me, carefully taking in the subtle changes in the color of my face because he knows what flush and pallor indicate. He has picked me up off the floor every time that I have needed it even though it’s been too many. He has found ways to help my mom get me out of the shower while maintaining both of our modesty. He has talked me down from those moments of intense panic that my life is spiraling out of control or over completely. He has told me in the flashes of intense fear that I am not going to die because he won’t let me.
We joke around. We talk about all of the issues of the world. We share our ideas on how to fix them. We amicably disagree in some areas because I have learned to form opinions that are not my fathers since becoming somewhat of an adult. We listen to music and watch movies. We spend time out at our pool. Sometimes he sits close by while I nap because that’s the only way that I can spend time with him that day. We are friends just as much as he is my parent and mentor.
My dad protects me from myself because he knows that I am my greatest danger. My dad provides me with every single thing that I need to be successful in this life. And I am so grateful that life has shaped us into the people that we are for each other.