Adapted from my book, WHY DID SHE JUMP? My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder
I once owned a 175 year old slave log cabin that was tucked away in Avery County in a small village called Matney. It was located off Highway 194 between Banner Elk and Valle Crucis, North Carolina. The cabin was nestled in a pasture that was adorned with multiple trees indigenous to the Blue Ridge Mountains. There were North Carolina pine, chestnut, evergreen oak, maple, white birch, spruce, and more. To borrow a phrase from Isaac Beshevis Singer in his book, THE SLAVE, he writes, “the trees were as tall and straight as pillars and the sky leaned on their green tops. Brooches rings and gold coins were embossed on the bark of their trunks. The earth, carpeted with moss and other vegetation gave off an intoxicating odor.” It’s hard to imagine that two places on earth, so far from each other, could be so alike.
To reach the cabin, you had to hang a left off the two-lane crooked highway, onto a dirt road, and drive about an eighth of a mile past two ponds until you reached a pasture where the cabin stood since the mid-nineteenth century. I made the tragic choice to give it up in a divorce settlement in 1997– a decision I have always regretted.
That cabin has never left my heart. It was the only piece of property that I ever had an attachment for and have always had dreams of owning once more. Everyone who has ever lived in Avery or Watauga counties knew about that cabin. It looked like a piece of sculpture in space. Thick old logs, hand-hewn, ducked tailed, and devoid of nails revealed the cabin’s authenticity. A shanty sloped roof line covered with weathered shingles shared space with the porch that bore old vertical logs serving as support beams. I had spent the best years of my life in that cabin in the glen, set in an apple orchard long before it became a small development and lost some of its charm soon after I left. There are some things in our hearts and minds that no matter how many years go by, never leave you. I would sit on the porch of that cabin in a very old swing I had purchased from a very old couple who had had that wing since they were first married, given to them by the woman’s parents who had had it since they had been married. That wing stood untouched, frozen in time, weathered and worn since its beginning. I would sit there and rock in that swing for what might have been hours, facing infinity, mesmerized, falling into a trance watching the golden finch flock around the feeder near the brook that surrounded the pasture where my cabin lived in history for perhaps more than a century and a half. I could feel its age on my pulse, as if I had drifted back in that time.
Peacocks would race across the meadow, the males flaunting their impressive crests and vibrant plumage. I can still hear the wind whistling through the trees and the clinking of the chimes above the swing, coupled with the singing brook and the birds chirping, creating a symphony of melodic tones throughout the pasture. The sounds were reminiscent of Beethoven’s Sixth symphony, the Pastoral, a perfect soundtrack for what nature had provided effortlessly. Across the front lawn I would gaze upon the spectrum of violet rhododendrons marking the entrance to the cabin as if announcing what was yet to be seen. Wild flowers grew along the roadside and shared space with the grasshoppers, beetles, and assorted colored butterflies that covered the terrain. There were daffodils on the hill across the road and impatiens surrounding the front porch, mixed in with gladiolas and peonies, when they were in bloom. A hone-hundred-year old apple tree stood leaning over like an old man adjacent to the porch, bearing down, heavy with too many apples spilling onto the ground, waiting until winter for the deer to come and feast on them. I stockpiled pictures in the windows of my mind of that cabin, and not a single memory shall ever be forgotten. It was there, by that pond on the other side of the road that I had a profound spiritual awakening. I still dream about it. If there had been a past life, it I certain I had lived in that cabin before I was born into this lifetime.
My children and I would celebrate Thanksgiving every year at the cabin in the glen. The girls and I would create recipes and prepare a traditional holiday menu that outshined the previous year, which none of us thought possible. The cabin was too tiny to host a sit-down dinner on a standard dining room table, so we spread the food onto a mahogany, drop-leaf antique table covered with an old Victorian lace tablecloth acquired at a flea market. The scent of the turkey and trimmings, coupled with the wooden logs burning in the old stone fireplace would arouse our appetites. “Ooohs” and “ahhs,’ moans and “ Mmmms” would blend with sound of the Nutcracker Suite as we each found a place to sit, choosing either the braided throw rug that partially covered the knotty pine floor, the stairwell, the sofa or the upholstered orange, corduroy rocking chairs. The kids and I would gather round that old stone fireplace, savoring the blended aromas of the burning wood logs, while we smacked our lips and enjoyed what we all thought was the pest of all possible thanksgiving dinners. With the exception of the music, the only audible sounds that were heard were the “ughs” and “ohhs”, lamentations of having overeaten, after we consumed at least two portions of everything and had stuffed our bellies until we could hardly breath, cherishing every morsel of food and every moment shared together.
The best of times of Pami’s life were there, during those Thanksgivings in the cabin. It was there she would orchestrate our family sessions clearing out old cobwebs, hurts and pain that had been accrued by each of us unwittingly over the course of the year. She took on the task of cleaning up the polluted space that interfered with the quality of our family relationships. Pam conducted family therapy, using her honed, therapeutic skill, weaving a process with clarity, sensitivity and safety that compelled us to look at ourselves openly and honestly. A wizard therapist, she was able to help us claim our own stuff, without shame or judgment, thereby cleaning up and contaminated space between one another. After the tears and apologies came the hugs and kisses that put everything behind us. The level of intimacy would rise as she restored our sense of togetherness, our bonds and paved the way for the year that would follow. Pam was the engine of the “fabulous five,” a name assigned to her by her siblings. She would lead us into a deeper place of trust, bringing us all to our essence, where time stood still.
Several times a year Pam and I would co-facilitate a retreat for a weekend at the cabin. We would reserve a local lodge for housing, holding our sessions in the cabin. We would each invite our own clients from our respective practices, hers from Los Angeles and mine from South Florida. We witnessed transformation over the three days that would change lives forever. Pam drew the lightening to herself to compel our clients to break down defenses that were keeping them stuck. The cabin in the glen provided the perfect environment for change work, coupled with our skills and resources as therapists. It was during those retreats that we would heal the wounds and traumas of childhood sufferings. We, as mother and daughter and highly trained professionals, worked effectively together to exemplify a healthy relationship. Our efforts and commitment nurtured what they had been missing all of the lives.
It is often said we should have no regrets by the time we reach my age, seventy-eight—yet I do. Giving up that cabin is perhaps the only regret in my life. It was there, in that cabin that Pami was the happiest that I had ever seen her. It was in that cabin that she sang, danced, shard time with her siblings, healed her clients and found joy with the promise to stay alive. But, as we all know, there are no guarantees in life. Time and change are inexorable. I lost the cabin, yet worst of all, I lost my daughter.