A Toolbox for Christmas

I eased up on the gas pedal as I approached the stoplight. A choice lay before me. Turn left and drive north toward the airport where I could board a flight to anywhere. Turn right and follow my husband and son south toward home where I’d be forced to deal with the horrors dealt to me.

Her words were grinding in my head like oil and vinegar swirling about in a food processor, mixing together but not blending, and separating again due to their inability to stay conjoined. It’s December twenty-third and Christmas shopping isn’t on the agenda today. Or wasn’t until the doctor suggested it while sitting on the bench outside the elevators.

She spoke matter-of–fact after the grueling six-hour mental health evaluation, “On your way home today, stop by the department store and buy one of those heavy-duty, red, metal toolboxes. Keep it on your kitchen counter. Lock up everything you consider a weapon. Wear the key on a long string around your neck twenty-four hours a day so you can control its access.”

Gripped in fear, I clung to the steering wheel, systematically considering the weapons in our home. My husband’s hunting shotguns are securely locked in the gun safe in our garage. Knives, not of the hunting sort, but rather paring, steak, and serrated ones lay in the drawer above the dishwasher. Scissors rest in my computer desk drawer, in my bathroom vanity drawer, and in the gift-wrap closet. Hammer, screwdrivers, and pliers gathered in a plastic bin in the laundry room cabinet as well as on the garage workbench. Nail files and clippers, knitting needles, pens and pencils, shoelaces, angry hands. Weapons galore in my home that had gone unnoticed before today’s mental health evaluation.

The doctor just kept blinking and looking at me, our knees almost touching as our conversation continued on the bench. Questions rose in my mind. How will we live this way? How do I explain the new protocols to the younger kids? Will I ever sleep again? My head was spinning. We waited four long months for this appointment and we’re leaving with more questions than answers.

“Growing up, I remember hearing about people, getting, you know,” I stumbled over the words, aware that we were no longer sitting in the doctor’s private office. I lowered my voice and said, “committed.” The doctor, with the sought-after degree, full of wisdom from years of listening and prescribing, listened as I grappled with the idea, “Isn’t that what happens to people with severe, mental health issues that need round-the-clock supervision? Weren’t they committed, in hospitals, with staff and medicine, to keep them and others safe?”

Her mouth opened and I focused on her moving lips as she spoke, “I must have a crime to commit.”

Images flashed through my mind, my body paralyzed. “You need a bloody crime scene before we can do anything?” I blurted out. “You’ve just spent six hours evaluating him. Aren’t your findings evidence enough to get him, us, help?”

She stood up from the bench, alerting me that this disturbing, off-the-record conversation was coming to a close. I mirrored her movements as she took small steps, moving us near the elevator.

“Call 9-1-1 anytime, day or night, if you feel threatened. Just tell them his behavior frightens you. The authorities will take him to the emergency room and admit him for at least twenty-four hours,” she handed me her business card while delivering more rehearsed advice. “Let the hospital know that we have his file. If there’s a bed available on site with us, we can admit him into our behavioral and mental health division for seventy-two hours or longer if needed.”

I couldn’t help but ask, “In the meantime, we’re supposed to lock up our life in a toolbox and wait for the inevitable?”

Without responding, she depressed the elevator down arrow to summon my descent into the pit of hell*.

*It’s been nearly two years since this doctor’s appointment and certainly, there’s more to the story both before and after this particular day. Each time I hear of a tragedy at the hands of evil, I’m taken back to that bench by the elevators, wondering how many families, like ours, are sent away without real solutions. Our story is marred with dead-ends, county court, financial sacrifice, and unanswered questions. It’s also full of God’s grace and peace, and us yielding to His will. If you’re willing to go on the journey with me, I’ll courageously take you with me through a series of blog posts to follow.

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9 thoughts on “A Toolbox for Christmas

  1. Dear Natalie, I’ve been praying for people like you whose wounds and horrors have been opened again by the horrific crimes in Connecticut. I can’t even begin to imagine what you all have been through. Is it all over yet? Do you still have contact with him? have your parental responsibilities been legally ended yet? Praying for you my sweet friend!

  2. Natalie, your words are heartbreaking and soul-wrenching to me. I am thankful for God walking with you and many times carrying you through these last few years. Your wisdom, strength and integrity are inspiring.

  3. Hey, Natalie- your post has been sitting in my in box. I’ve been waiting to read it, because your words are always a such a gift, I wanted to make sure I had the time to think about and honor what you have to say. Instead your honesty honors me. It’s sad that you are not my only friend who has opened their heart and home to a child, only to find them far too broken and dangerous to stay. I can’t imagine what this experience has been like for you and your family. I can only hope that you all emerge from this flame tempered by God’s grace. Thank you for sharing your story. I am thinking of you and keeping you in my prayers. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  4. Hi Natalie, I too adopted 2 childred from Birobidzhan. I’m afraid my 10 yo son may be walking down a similar path as yours has done. I would love to connect with you offline if possible and find out the outcome of your last post.

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