"Mom?"I instantly recognized the odd tone in my daughter Maura's voice.
"Mom,one of my friends in the dorm tried to kill herself.
She took pills.We made her throw them up,
then sat up with her all night,talking. She's tried this before,Mom."
"Did your friend get medical attention?"
I asked,trying to hit the right note in my own voice.
"No,she's okay now, and she doesn't want us to report her."
"You kids can't handle this kind of problem by yourselves,"
I warned."Your friend needs professional help.
Tell your resident adviser what happened.She'll know what to do."
What a load for an 18-year-old.
"I was scared,Mom. You can't imagine how scared."
Yes,I can,Maura.I'm scared too--for your friend and for you.
"All we could do was to hold her hand and listen."
If only I could hold Maura's hand that very moment.
After hanging up the phone,
I thought of all the right things I might have said,and didn't
Ours is an affectionate family,
but we are inclined to show,not tell our feelings.
How do you hug a child long-distance?
I had copied a poem to send to each of my college daughters
when,as now, the occasion warranted.
It was from a little book by Susan Polis Schutz called Don't Be Afraid to Love.
The jacket flyleaf said her poems strike a responsive chord with readers.
This one did for me:
I am always here to understand you I am always here to laugh with you
I am always here to cry with you I am always here to talk to you
I am always here to think with you I am always here to plan with you
even though we might not always be together
please know that I am always here to love you
Maura called the day she got my letter.
Her friend was all right,she said,and got counseling.
"I gave her a copy of the poem you sent
and she is carrying it in her wallet for moral support.
I put the original on the message board on my door."
My tongue tied again as it reached for something to say.
"About that physics grade,"I changed the subject abruptly.
"Now that this crisis is over,
you have to buckle down and work harder Maura."
on and on I went, playing the taskmaster,the preacher--
at no loss at all for words in those roles.
The following Saturday,there was a letter to me from Maura.What now?
She never wrote letters.Maybe I was too tough on her.
Is something so bad that she's afraid to tell me on the phone?
The note was short:
"Dear Mom: In case you were wondering,
'I am always here to understand you.' Love,Maura.