This Is the Room Where My Hopes Were Dashed

This is the room where hopes were dashed; where I sat beside my husband; where I eyed your framed diplomas and credentials from leading universities and the rest of the evidence before me; where your sparse furnishings were carefully arranged, and bright spotlights heated my skin; where I eyed my daughter’s name printed on the edges of your thick folder; where we sat on sticky red leather chairs; where you, Doctor Steely-Eyes, tapped the thick folder with your pen, where your monotone voice announced there wasn’t anything else you could do because there was no cure; where you studied me like a specimen under a microscope; where I squirmed in my seat and reached across the table to pluck tissues from your mega-size box.

Mother with her special needs daughter
My daughter taught me so much (via Catherine Shields)

This is the room where I imagined a tidal wave crashing through the windows and stark white walls of your office; where the last thing I heard before funnels of water sucked me under was your voice; where the words irreversible brain damage and profoundly retarded swirled in foam-lipped eddies; where I clawed my way past the wreckage and swam to the surface; where my imagination carried me back to my chair; where I sobbed uncontrollably; where I forced myself to remain attentive when all I wanted to do was drown.  

This is the room I return to every time I remember how my sobs echoed, how my husband took my hand and looped his fingers between mine, where you droned on saying you hoped we would consider counseling; where I blamed myself, where I recounted everything, all the reasons to blame myself: the fertility treatments, the C-section, the results from every single test that pointed to the same conclusion, where guilt tightened invisible fingers around my throat; where before I fled the room, I refused to shake your hand or say goodbye. 

This is another room. A silent room in the house where Jessica grew up; where I now lie on her old, rumpled bedspread with the printed yellow daisies, where the Sesame Street wallpaper has peeled off in the corners; where stacks of empty video boxes, loose CDs, magazines, and crumpled pictures are scattered over the top of her nightstand; where she and her sisters entertained themselves for hours with pretend play; where I read her books, cuddled her to sleep; where I just swept away the broken pieces of souvenirs and keepsakes she refused to throw away; where, if she were here, she’d repeat the same thing she has always asked, Mommy, where we go today? Mommy, what we do? Mommy? Why you no answer me?

This is the room where I remember you and your words, words that yank like an invisible chain, where I hear your prophesies and understand they were only half true. 

My daughter accomplished so much more than what you predicted.

This is the room where I often cried, misunderstanding the role my daughter played as my teacher when I worried whether she would ever be normal; where I learned what I didn’t understand, where I practiced the art of acceptance, and where I uncovered the truth; where my daughter taught me to see she didn’t need to change; where I grew along with her, where she set me free; where your words no longer hold power over me. 

More Great Reading:

My Son Has Autism and I’ll Take Care of Him for the Rest of His Life

About Catherine Shields

Catherine Shields writes about parenting, disabilities, and self-discovery. In her debut memoir THE SHAPE OF NORMAL A Mother’s Journey from Disbelief to Acceptance,(Vine Leaves Press 2023), Catherine explores the truths and lies parents tell themselves. Her stories have appeared in Mother Magazine, 50 Give or Take, Kaleidoscope, Uncomfortable Revolution, Write City, and Manifest-Station, and her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2019. She resides in Miami, Florida with her husband to whom she’s been married forever. They have three grown daughters and love taking their four grandkids on bike rides and kayaking in Biscayne Bay. You can follow her here or find her on Instagram.

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