It’s 2:30 Monday morning. We’ve been tossing and turning all night. But it’s finally here. Time to get up and prepare for their arrival. We’ve been planning for this day for over two months. First, our visit with consultants in Portland, Oregon. Then, waiting for their recommendations. Finally, the best fit for Chloe would be at a therapeutic boarding school in Utah, an hour south of Salt Lake City and a 10 hour drive from our home.
The consultant advises me to call the school immediately to hold a spot and fly out to interview the program as soon as possible. I arrive there 10 days later. It’s a contemporary beautiful two-story home with an open kitchen and dining area, large living spaces with vaulted ceilings, small group class sizes, and what Chloe will love most, 15 horses and an equine program that is part of the curriculum. It doesn’t take long before I’m sold on the academic, recreational and therapeutic components of the program, as well as the warm and engaging staff.
Though initially in denial, we’ve known since January that this time would come. She had been doing so well. She was on track with school, focused and getting good grades, and there was finally hope that she would graduate high school.
Then winter break hit and too much idle time spells trouble for Chloe, whose brain lacks executive functioning, good judgment and impulse control. Poor decisions lead to more poor decisions and the reality for many of the “friends” she hangs with was that there is little structure and no expectation for them to attend school, work or plan for a future.
Then, one night, towards the end of winter break, Chloe is set up for a fight with a girl that is supposed to be her “friend.” Most likely, because of a comment she unknowingly and flippantly made. The video of the fight goes viral. Between the betrayal of her friends and the social media frenzy, it is enough to set Chloe back two years. She falls into a deep depression and funk. Her behaviors are reminiscent of when she was 10. She can’t focus at school and eventually drops out in late January for the remainder of the year.
Her 15th birthday in May is our next sign that she needs help. She has another set of friends. This time, one has a bad home life and stays at our house for refuge. She also uses drugs (not in our house) to escape her horrible home reality. Chloe feels bad for her friend and wants to help her, unable to see that the friend only uses her for money and to steal from our family to exchange for drugs. It takes Chloe about a month for her to realize that her “friend” will choose drugs over her every time.
The third and final indicator occurs in July. Again, new friends; every time one relationship goes wrong, Chloe desperately seeks new ones, hoping to find people she can trust, who are loyal and accept her for who she is. Unfortunately, the outcome is always similar. This time, she has unknowingly invited a dealer into our home. My younger daughter witnesses through an outside window suspicious activity among a few of the boys. Upon my arrival to the house, my youngest frantically tells me what she’s seen. I race into the house and into Chloe’s room and immediately find the evidence I need to kick these kids out of my house.
Again, feeling defeated and hopeless, Chloe writes a post, “…I’m always put down and I am never ever happy with myself. I always find a way to F@#% something important up and I don’t know how to stop it. I just wanna have a nice life but I can’t because I’m a mentally-challenged person. I didn’t even ask to be mentally-challenged, I was born with it…I’m literally so close to ending my life, you don’t understand. Yeah, I look happy on the outside but on the inside I’m just a disaster and disappointment.”
The next morning, Jeff and I have a session with our therapist and for the third time, she tells us Chloe needs intervention, otherwise we can look forward to a future of probable drug addiction, legal problems or worse, suicide or death.
We know this round of treatment has to be different than last time. One that’s specialized, focused on Chloe’s Asperger’s traits, bipolar diagnosis and all the other co-morbid diagnoses that come with it. We also know an equine component will be critical for her healing and learning. And, our family’s therapy and education will also be instrumental to her success. Though the $11,000 monthly tuition is daunting and almost cost-prohibitive, it’s the step we must take and we’re more than willing to sacrifice our retirement savings to make it happen.
Chloe is absolutely worth it.
I broach the subject with her after another fight in which she gets jumped by an 18-year-old girl. Again, there is a video that goes viral and the shock and trauma she experiences makes her once more question her life and existence. I tell her there are options. A school where she can study her unique learning style while experiencing an equine program. Raw from the attack and emotionally unable to cope, Chloe freaks out at the fact that we would even consider sending her away to a boarding school, “You don’t love me! You just want to get rid of me and my problems.” I tell her that’s not true and try to explain our fears for her future. But her neurological Asperger’s condition leaves her unable to understand my point or see the eventual consequences of her behavior.
At 3:15 a.m. that Monday morning, two intervention specialists arrive in a car to take Chloe to the Utah program. We give them her backpack and then head to her bedroom. My knees and hands are shaking, my heart pounding as I turn on the lights and introduce her to the two escorts that will take her to her new school. “I told you I don’t want to go, mom,” Chloe says. “I know,” I say, and the intervention specialists instruct Jeff and me to say our goodbyes and leave the house. We drive a mile to Jeff’s parents’ house, who are on vacation, and sit on their bed crying. “It’s not her fault she has this condition,” I say, painfully. “It’s no one’s fault, Andrea,” Jeff responds.
That Monday was miserable. Jeff and I sat in each other’s arms crying most of the day, wondering how she must be coping in a new state, a new place with people she doesn’t know. We hear from Chloe’s therapist that she’s doing well and is determined. We won’t have contact with her for two weeks and we will see her for the first time, face-to-face, six weeks into her program.
As I’ve said before, some of the hardest decisions in life are also the best. My oldest sister, Kelly, sent me an appropriate Christopher Robin quote the day before Chloe’s departure that I wrote on a note and put in her backpack, “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”