Broken Promises


Talk To Me In early May, I get a panicked phone call from Linda twenty minutes before I’m scheduled to pick Alice up from her office. I leave work and drive over immediately, arriving ten minutes later to find the therapist  slumped on the couch in her waiting room, with the inner and outer doors to her office wide open. She sits up abruptly when I enter.

“She stormed out of here twenty minutes ago” Linda blurts out, “She punched the emergency callbox in the hallway and disappeared. She was in a mood when she got here. Like really agitated. I got her settled down enough to talk and asked a couple of questions, then she just lost it.” Linda runs her hands through her spiky hair and exhales heavily.

“The estrogen can bring emotions closer to the surface, that’s one of it’s side effects.” I tell her. “What were you talking about when she ran out of here?”

“I’d asked her what was bothering her, if it was school or home, or if it was this girl thing, if she just wanted things to go back to the way they were. I wanted her to know that it was ok, if she did.”

Immediately, I know that last piece was enough to set her off all on its own. I also know that I need to go and find her, but I’m having a hard time disengaging from Linda, who looks absolutely crushed.

“She just screamed ‘You don’t get it AT ALL’ and she started crying. In the eight months we’ve been working together, I’ve never seen her cry. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s ok” I say, when it’s so obvious that nothing is ok.

I leave Linda’s office and rush down the stairs outside the building to find Alice pacing in circles around my car. I recognize her expression as the one she wears when she cuts herself or slams her body into walls. It’s the one she was wearing that day she sat in the windowsill last year and threatened to let herself fall.

We get in and drive away in silence. I’m honestly afraid to speak and she is radiating sparks like a frayed wire. Two blocks from home, I make a right-hand turn instead of going straight and wind my way through the hospital parking lot, finding a spot right in front of the Emergency Room. I turn off the engine and just sit quiet for a moment.

“I think we should go in.” I say, leaving room for an argument or discussion.

“Me too.” she says quietly.

And just like that, fifteen months after our first psych visit to the ER, we walk through those doors and submit ourselves to the process. Within an hour of our arrival, the doctor has seen her, a psych consult has been ordered and a nurse in lemon yellow scrubs comes to give her a sedative. Alice has been pacing around the cramped exam room for most of the visit but she hops right up on the bed like a well-behaved patient when the nurse comes in with a med tray.

“We’re going to give you a low dose of Ativan just to calm you down a bit.” The nurse says, spilling the pill into Alice’s palm and handing her a paper cup of water.

“What’s the dose?” Alice asks.

“One milligram, it’s really just to help you relax.”

Alice pops he pill and empties the cup.

It’s another couple of hours before the on-call Social Worker arrives. I’m half-hoping we’ll get the same blocky woman as before with her calming presence and super-efficiency. Instead, a slight man with thick glasses comes into the room with the lemony nurse and introduces himself as Jim.

He pulls a stool up beside Alice’s bed and fusses with a notebook for a moment. The Ativan has done it’s job and Alice is calm, curled on her side under a warm blanket.

“How are you feeling?” Jim asks.

“Sad … tired”

“Angry?” he prods.

“I was. I’m not now.”

I take this moment to step out and run down the hall to the restroom. While I’m in there, I call home to fill Max in and ask him to find something in the freezer to cook for himself and Jay for dinner. When I return to the exam room, Jim motions for me to join him out in the hall.  We sit a few feet from Alice’s room and he glances down at his notes.

“Who is this Dr. Deborah?” He asks first, catching me off guard.

“She’s one of Alice’s doctors.”

“And she’s an actual licensed physician?”

“Of course.”

“Frankly I’m surprised. I can’t imagine any ethical doctor putting a child through something like this.”

“We’re not putting her through anything sir.”


‘I don’t know what you know about Gender Identity Disorder, Jim, but …”

“This is very adult stuff, Mrs. Vilmur. Most people don’t decide to become transsexual uuntil in their thirties or forties.”

There is so much wrong with what he just said that I laugh out loud, which I’m sure does nothing to improve his opinion of me since he immediately begins scribbling in his notebook again.

“Look Jim, your ignorance of trans teenagers isn’t really important. There’s something else going on. I don’t know if it’s drugs or depression or both. I just need to know if you’re going to admit her or not.”

“I’m going to recommend we admit him to one of the nearby psychiatric facilities and get him some GOOD mental health care. Hopefully they can help sort things out.”

“Great” I stand up and walk back into her room without another word.

“Jim’s an ass” Alice whispers when I sit down beside her. “He asked more questions about Dr. Deborah than he did about me.” Then she closes her eyes and pulls the blanket up to her chest, one arm lolling out, upturned with a row of tiny razor cuts from elbow to wrist.

I sit and watch her sleep for the next three hours and then the ambulance arrives to transport her to Sacramento. She wakes long enough to be strapped onto a gurney and hug me before they roll her out the door.

I don’t care if Mr. Jim of Social Services thinks I’m a terrible parent or if Linda still thinks that this gender transition is just a phase. All I really care about right now is taking away whatever pains Alice.

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4 Responses to Broken Promises

  1. Abby says:

    I have nothing except 🙁 and to tell you that I’m sorry.

  2. At one stage we thought our daughter suffered BiPolar, it runs in our family, and she mirrored the symptoms I’d lived through with my sister. Daughter was a mess, but the medical profession seemed hell bent on proving we were just over reacting hypochondriac parents. Ended up being severe teenage hormones and I strongly believe she is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but the help just wasn’t there for either of us. I just wished they’d appreciated how scared we were for her and treated us with more respect.
    Although very different to yours and Alice’s story, I can really relate through your sensitive writing.

  3. Debra says:

    Ugh. Doctors like the ‘Jim’ guy…..I’m glad you could keep a cool head around him….I would have had a tough time not lashing out.

  4. Margaret says:

    Hmph! My first “therapist” really had no idea about gender issues and asked me why I “didn’t just admit that (I’m) gay”? Needless to say, I never returned, My second spent hours and hours wasting my time telling me everything would be alright if I learned to “love myself”, (and for the low price of $9.99, I could have a copy of her book to help me do that). My third therapist saw me once and then quit his practice and moved away and no, I’m sure it wasn’t because of me! After that, I was pretty much done with therapists until I found someone who actually dealt with gender identity issues. It cannot be stressed enough that a doctor can do much more harm than good if clueless about gender identity disorders.

    As for the hormones, OMG can they screw you up if they are out of balance! The drug manufacturer stopped making what was originally prescribed to me and some knothead at my Endocrinologist’s office wrote the substitute down wrong and was giving me roughly a third the dosage. A lot of people still tremble at the memories of what I was like at that time. I eventually took off work and told the Endo’s staff that he was going to have to make time to see me and that they could either let me see him or they could have me arrested for trespassing. Glad they picked the former! It can be a mess.

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