Tonight I am struggling with guilt, remorse, and regret. I’m having memories of Zach exhibiting signs that he was playing the choking game. I believe he did not just try it once, but had been doing it for some time. He may have been addicted to it and I had no clue. I am trying not to fall into that guilt pit filled with depressive muck, but it is a slippery wall and I’m so easily ensnared.
Zach showed so many signs and I missed them all!!! It's true that hindsight is 20/20, but knowing that sometimes just doesn't help. I remember one time Zach and I saw a snippet about the choking game on some news show. They talked about how it's the intelligent kids who seem to have it all together that do this. I'm ashamed to say that in an offhanded effort to dismiss it and show disapproval, I said, "How smart can they be if they're doing something like that?" How many times have I heard someone say or seen someone write that same thing since Zach died??? It was a horrible thing to say, I should have talked to him about it and asked him about it, if he knew of anyone who did it. But, I didn't. I dismissed it and forgot about it. Zach's response to my comment was a nod and "Hmpfff." I should have known with that response - that was his "I strongly disagree with you" response. That was Zach arguing!!!! Was I a lucky mom or what!? How many moms of teens would like to have a kid that argues that way? I was lazy, I didn't pursue it.
Another time, Zach's step-brother told me that Zach had ropes in his drawer that he didn't want me to see. He told me that Zach didn't want him to tell me about it. I asked Zach about it and opened his drawer and there were ropes from his dad's camp (his dad was the Boy Scout camp ranger) and there was duct tape in strips and on rolls and broken plastic bags. They were all there in a drawer right next to his head!!!! How stupid was I??? I just said, "Zach, why didn't you want me to know about that? I don't know what the big deal is, I know you boys tie each other up to see how long it takes to get loose, it's no big deal." I feel sick. I was so gullible. Another thing he said that should have been a clue - and this really makes me sick - was when Suddam Hussain was sentenced to death. I said, "What a horrible way to die. I think suffocating would be the worst." Zach quietly said to me, "People don't suffer when they hang. It's actually quite humane." I looked at him, very puzzled, and said, "You really think so?" He just said, "Yeah, that's what I hear anyway."
Oh, God, please forgive me!!!! I feel numb. Nobody understands when I tell them what a horrible mom I was. I'm so sorry, so so sorry. I've offended every victim. I don't feel like I can ever be forgiven. God gave me the most precious child and I made so many bad choices. I didn't cherish him enough. It hurts. It sucks. It's indescribable. I wish I could say something to help us all feel better. I will never feel better. I will never forgive myself. Zach would. He was that way. But I can't.
In addition to the above, Zach exhibited some of the “classic” warning signs that I tell kids about at presentations. He had daily headaches. He had red splotches on his face, which I passed off as eczema. One major danger sign came when I was called at work by the school nurse. It was near the end of the school year his freshman year. She told me that I needed to come and take him to the emergency room immediately because they thought he had a stroke. He was found in the locker room in his gym clothes. He was extremely confused. He didn’t know the names of some of his friends. He didn’t remember changing clothes. He thought it was the semester before and he was suppose to be at a different class. She told me his face was very flush but he didn’t seem to have a fever. I raced to pick him up and took him to the hospital that specializes in heart and vascular problems. He was checked out right away. Everything was fine. The doctor, an older gentleman, asked Zach what he had to eat for breakfast. Zach informed him that he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink. The doctor diagnosed hypoglycemia and told me to take him out to lunch.
Most nights I went into Zach’s room after he was in bed just to tell him goodnight. I liked to “tuck him in” even though he was 15. We had a few minutes of quite time together to talk and plan. I would “pet” his fuzzy head once and a while – when he let me get by with it. One night I had a sore leg and didn’t feel like climbing the stairs so I told him I’d just say goodnight downstairs. He seemed disappointed. I decided to go on up and ignore the pain. I went into his room unexpectedly. I couldn’t see what he did, but I noticed that he moved his hands very quickly when I came in the room. His face was flush and I thought I embarrassed him. I noticed that he had a mark on his neck and I asked him what happened (I didn’t notice it earlier). He said, “Oh, out at camp I got clothes-lined. Some guys were messing around and I didn’t see the rope and I ran right into it.” I was appalled. I said, “Zach, something like that can collapse your windpipe and kill you! You guys really need to be more careful!” It scared me and I got angry at his father for not providing more supervision. In hindsight, I think Zach was lying to me. Zach had this endearing quality. He was a horrible liar. When he lied, his ears turned bright red. Luckily for us, he wore his hair in a buzz cut so we could always see his ears. I didn’t notice that night that Zach had red ears, probably because he was already flush. Another example of my naïve, gullible nature and just plain stupidity.
The summer before Zach died, we went to a hardware store. We went down one aisle and Zach was intrigued with the large variety of ropes. He commented on how soft one was and he wanted to buy some, he claimed, for practicing knots at camp. I told him that I knew that his dad had lots of rope at the camp and he could use that. If he wanted something special, he should ask his dad to buy it for him. I’m very glad that I didn’t buy him any rope that day.
The more I write, the more I am remembering about the signs I missed. How many other things have I missed? How many other behaviors were there that were signs of dysfunction? Was I such a horrible mother that I drove him to need to find an escape? Some of these things are signs of quite a crafty person. Was he addicted to this and I was blind to it????
Why did I chose myself over him so many times? I really hate myself. These are some examples of how I chose myself over my own child:
1. Zach enjoyed St. Alban’s Church and they loved him. He was baptized there and chose to be baptized. He wanted it more than anything. He was 3 ½ or 4 at the time and answered the questions himself. He was very emphatic in his answers and meant every word. He was proud. A year or so later, he stood up in front of a room full of people at a dinner and told everyone that his favorite memory of St. Alban’s was “I was bathatized by Kafoleen and now I’m a children of God!” Kathleen Milligan, the minister who baptized him had tears in her eyes. Everyone else melted, including me. Because of some conflict between some parishioners and I, I chose to stop going to St. Alban’s. Many people asked us to come back, most people who talked to me asked if I would drop Zach off at church because they missed him. My own pride, stupidity, loneliness, extremely poor choices led me to not take him back. He asked me to go. I just slept. I wouldn’t get out of bed until after church was over. I let my bad choices and depression get in the way of what Zach needed. It was important to him. I should have ignored the petty disagreements with two women.
2. Many times when Zach was young, he asked me to play with him outside. I was depressed and alone and I told him so many times that I was too tired. Yet I made time to go to the bars with my friend Patty at least once or twice per month.
3. Because of my insecurities, I often (actually most of the time) wouldn’t take Zach to new places because I was afraid to be around all the people. I would make excuses and so when we did do something, it was the same old thing.
4. There are many, many, many more examples. I just can’t remember any right more right now.