Raising Ava...what doesn't kill you makes you stronger...
sui generis - Unique. [L, "of one's own kind."] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
The Gifted Development Center, www.gifteddevelopment.com, has a Tab on the left entitled "What is Giftedness?" I thought it poignant
and telling as to Ava's journey, which was/is mine as well. Their introductory paragraph reads: "Every gift contains a danger. Whatever
gift we have we are compelled to express. And if the expression of that gift is blocked, distorted, or merely allowed to languish, then the
gift turns against us, and we suffer." (Johnson, 1993, p. 15)
Well said! Too bad it wasn't available in the 1970's when Ava burst onto the scene after her ten month incubation and by astonishing family, hospital staff and onlookers by doing a push-up while only minutes-old in the incubator. Her grandmothers, father and brother watched in disbelief as newborn Ava reared up on her hands in perfect
push-up from and turned her head from side-to-side with a look of disgust on her face, as if to say, "Who turned
on all thelights?" When my mom and son excitedly entered the recovery room reporting this incredulous event,
I knew I was in for some serious parenting challenges, and I wasn't wrong.
The blind blessing was that I didn't know then the extent to which I would be challenged. Ava exhibited even more
powers of perception, intuition and psychic ability than her brother, Carl, although Carl was certainly an Indigo kid
as well. He just came with different psychic and artistic talents.They both "saw" energies early on and spoke
openly of their communications and visions. With eleven years separating them, Carl wasn't around much of her childhood; however, they instantly adored each other unconditionally.
Ava sensed when something was wrong with Carl even before I did. And, when Carl disappeared without a trace
(Ava was six years old - he was eighteen), she was the first person to "see" him. She was playing outside at my mom's when I heard her yelling "Carl! Carl! Wait!" As soon as I heard her panicked voice, I ran to see what was wrong. Ava told me Carl had just walked up the steps where I now stood! I frantically looked around calling his
name telling him we love him and to give us a hug. Ava said he'd walked toward the woods behind Mom's. We ran through the woods for about an hour calling his name. She described everything he was wearing down to his shoes. And, it wasn't until fifteen years later when we knew without a doubt that he had presented himself to her that day as if to prepare us for the fact that he was gone. I never "saw" him until his burial service but Ava "saw" him on many occasions.
Although Ava's years between birth and puberty weren't easy, I always felt the extenuating circumstances of my divorce from her dad, Carl's own emotional issues and ultimate disappearance exacerbated her own instability. I often dismissed her early symptoms of separation anxiety and disfunction as stemming from these outside influences and tried to give her what she needed emotionally by literally spending all my time with her when I
wasn't working. Even though we always started off with me staying in her bed until she fell asleep, I woke up with her snuggled next to me in mine! When she was ten, I insisted on her staying in her own bed as mine was just getting too small for the two of us...she would command the whole bed! But, even then, I'd almost step on her as she slept in her sleeping bag positioned as close to my bed as possible. After Carl disappeared, my life focus was
on giving her stability by moving into my mom's and finding a good Christian private school to anchor us both.
A few years later as puberty knocked at the door, I quit my job of twenty years and started my own consulting business so I could be with Ava during those very difficult years. After all, it was that age when Carl veered off the right track and she surely had already
proven to be a much greater challenge. My instincts screamed that it was going to be one wild ride and I needed to have as much
time as possible to be emotionally and physically available for her.
By the sixth grade, I realized the Christian school Ava attended was failing to teach her on so many levels. The school set their
curriculum for the teachers to cover regardless of the fact that some kids were left behind. Not only was I spending a great deal of
time helping Ava with her school work but her teachers lacked empathy for this emotionally struggling child. I gave the principal an
ultimatum...change your methods or I'll teach her myself. Watch what you pray for!
During Ava's year of home school, she fought me like a hellcat. She hated me for removing her from her social life. In truth, she hated me for everything...the divorce, her brother's disappearance, the Christian school, home school, Desert Storm and everything in
between. It was a true test of my faith to keep steady and give her structure amongst her rantings, ravings, threats and tantrums. So,
I took our lessons of negotiation to a whole new level. As she'd never been a morning person, I told her she could perform her school work any time of the twenty-four hour day that suited her best. After all, she was a seventh grader and didn't need me sitting
over her shoulder all the time plus I could have my days to work or write and she could have hers to sleep. Every Monday I handed
her the weekly lessons she was to perform and gave her all week to get them done. Each week, if she got them all done correctly,
she could choose between a field trip or lunch at her favorite Chinese restaurant on Friday. It gave us a small level of peace.
She still harped at me constantly to find friends for her...like they magically appeared at my command. And, believe me, I searched
everywhere for them.There weren't coveys of them like there are now (no less than 50,000 home schoolers in metro Atlanta today).
Not a single group at the local church or ice skating rink were kids she liked. In the spring of 1991, I introduced her to my then best
friend's daughter who was an "A" student, cheerleader and all around great kid. She was involved in a Unitarian church and, as Ava
had always been in private Christian schools, this youth group was the plus I was hoping for as Ava was always faith challenged.
Little did I know that the youth group was infected with an eighteen-year old pedophile. He posed himself cleverly as a big brother type
to thirteen-year-old Ava, hitting directly at her greatest childhood pain. She was so starved to have her brother back in her life that she
let this creep step in her big brother's shoes not realizing the disaster that would come to her through him. I pushed hard to keep her
away from the group but the insistent pedophile won. The day this man raped my daughter, she dissociated for the first time. It was
the blow that threw her into full-blown BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) but I didn't know what that was then but it became all
too evident later.
The strangest part of this whole experience for me was watching Ava internalize the pain this rapist continued to inflict upon her for two
months for she refused to leave the youth group as she had found "friends," or so she had thought. The pedophile bragged about his
conquest. Ava lashed out at me without warning. Her outward anger was so singly focused on me that she refused to speak about the
incident but I innately understood her fragility so I didn't push to have the pedophile prosecuted. I truly was afraid she would kill herself
if she had to face the humiliation of a trial. She was always a very private person berating me if I spoke too loudly on something she
deemed to be a private matter. By the end of that summer and just six days before my father died, Ava did attempt to overdose on
nonprescription pills we had at the house. As much as she hated hospitals and needles, I thought taking her to the emergency room to
have her stomach pumped would snap her out of her episode of self-pity and self-destruction. Wrong!
Ava had already been going to different therapists over those last three years as my concern for her mental well-being continued to
increase. Now, with this event, I was sure we were in deeper than ever imagined. It would take a woman she trusted to open her up
enough to show her vulnerability. The woman therapist she was seeing recommended group therapy as well. That BOMBED and, as
usual, I was the brunt of her rage. She became more withdrawn and bitched constantly about living in my mom's very rural area.
My latest ex said I liked being shot out of a rocket. I really don't. It's my doing what must be done when its called for. I'd jumped off cliffs
knowing God was my parachute so many times that it was my norm. So, with God by my side and a nickel in my pocket, I negotiated to
buy a house with no money down and seller financing. We moved into our new house after we worked fifteen hour days for two months
just trying to update the 1972 paint and wallpaper with that nickel. Ava worked hard and looked forward to being in a neighborhood
with kids her age. I didn't have the money to keep her in private school, but that was fine by her. She was ready for a change. She tried
out for cheerleading and everything else available. She made friends and things looked okay for ten minutes or so. Then everything
began to unravel...again.
I'd learned the value of therapy in 1972 and used it wholeheartedly to unlearn some unhealthy childhood teachings, cope with my son's
antics and work on how to help Ava. She was still in therapy as well but it didn't seem to be doing much and I had very little "extra"
money to throw away on her playing games with the therapist.
By the time Ava was seventeen-years-old, she had unilaterally decided to quit high school (which kept me crying
over two weeks). You might ask WHY didn't I know she had quit school? Because she got up and drove to pick up
her girlfriend every morning. I don't recall how I found out that she was going to her girlfriend's and was getting stoned
instead but I did find out that during their play dates they had cooked up a plan to go to the local adult education
school endearingly and rightfully called "Tokewood." I was already familiar with this school. Carl had gone there years
before. It was all a shell game. One where everyone lost.
As I was ripe for yet another nervous breakdown and because Ava was convinced that she knew everything, I spent
the next six weeks selling everything in our house and found a renter. I had to put the oxygen mask on my own
face first as the airlines tell you to do. I was in an all too familiar territory I had experienced with my still missing son
years before and it was time for Ava to figure out just how little she really knew about life and living. I certainly wasn't able to teach her in a way which registered with her no matter what I tried. I felt like I was dying. I offered to pay her
living expenses as long as she was working toward getting her GED and in college. The world would do the rest.
And boy did it ever. The world taught her all sorts of things like how to take her self-destructive nature to a whole new level with her
best friend's discovery of how to make easy money as an exotic dancer. She learned that cocaine just helped her concentrate better
(she was off doing school work while her friends partied), that marijuana made her paranoid (more than usual), that drinking was her
relief from the intrinsic pain in her soul, and that she could sign up for school and make me think she was taking classes so I would
continue to fully support her. This radical self-destructive mode lasted until she was about twenty-four years old when I'd gone as far
as a human could go. I let my fury fly on her about her behavior and said I was through. I was selling out (yet again) and she'd better
find a place to live and a way to support herself.
I fought to regain my own sanity and stability, started working full time again and got into a what turned out to be a longterm
relationship as Ava fought back to regain control of her life. She joined a church and found where she wanted to live...Little
Five Points near downtown Atlanta. It was perfect for her. It gave her the community spirit she needed...drum circles and a
sense of well-being, friends, renewed love for learning opera and a job. She still struggled, but not like before. She focused
on her studies, got a job, married and got her Associates Degree by 2007. She was finally on the right track. It took every
bit of my earnings to support us both in our respective homes but it was worth seeing her blossom in her little apartment
that cost twice what I paid for my own home.
Ava in "The Mikado"
Then, in 2007, while she finished her Associates Degree in Music (Vocal Performance), her husband relocated to Las Vegas. It was where he had always wanted to live. Ava expressed her reluctance to move there but, finally in the fall of 2008, she followed. As her husband sat in the truck we had just loaded with her worldly possessions and impatiently raced the engine, she ran back inside the apartment for one more hug and said, "Mom, I'm afraid to move to Las Vegas." Naturally, I asked why and her answer still makes my heart stop, "Because I think I'm going to die there." I told her, "No, baby; you're going to LIVE there."
The first year in Las Vegas was not just hard...it was bad...really BAD. I truly didn't believe she would live through that
first year in Vegas for so many reasons. For example, just two weeks after moving her to this very strange town away
from everything familiar (including drastic time and climate change), her husband left to work in Japan for six
months. She quickly became unraveled so much so that she had a hard time grasping the three hour time difference
between us to the point that we jokingly called Las Vegas to be in the "Ava Specific Time Zone!" Her husband's
parting gift assurance was giving her one phone number. It belonged to a Georgia woman who now lived in Vegas and
worked at Cirque du Soleil as her husband did. When Ava this fragile, it only took a grain of sand to cause her to fall
back into her comfortable, self- destructive behavior. Abandonment was the grain of sand and no matter how many
times I flew out there to be with her, I knew it was never going to be enough.
Desperate to feel better, she self-medicated. She called me on Halloween crying so hard I could hardly understand what she was
saying. Finally, I got the message. She wanted me to pray with her so she could flush it all down the toilet. I stayed on the phone with
her as she performed her exorcism...yet again. I encouraged her to think positively and move toward her studies again. It was 2009
and her already rocky marriage was getting worse by the day but in true BPD behavior, she clung to it relentlessly...yet forever
tortured by its failings.
It was then Ava's new friend (from that one phone number) helped her gain balance and become aligned more closely with Ava's first
tribe. Her new friends accepted her openly and lovingly. She was finally keeping company with an amazing group of performers who
were family to her. It was the emotional nutrition she desperately needed. The salve to the open wound of her failing marriage and
By the next January (Spring semester 2010), she had registered at UNLV to push herself again toward her Bachelor
of Music Degree in Vocal Performance. She dug deep to find the energy she needed but had to withdraw from
school as her mental health wasn't where it needed to be. It was exactly what she swore she wouldn't do again, but
knew she had to if she wanted to live...and she did. She was placed on probation from the college which
embarrassed her but also charged her into a new resolve.
Fall semester of 2010 both recharged her dreams with success at UNLV but also exhausted her with disaster from her failed marriage.
Everything was reaching a crescendo of extremes. Domestic violence combined with intense operatic training for her Junior Recital
wore her out. In fact, that December, she told me she didn't think she could finish her degree because she was so sick and exhausted.
I told her I didn't care about school and that she just needed to take time off to figure out what she was going to do with her marriage,
getting rest and finding work. School would always be there for her later. I'd come out to help all I could.
The next day, UNLV told her she could graduate in two semesters and that if she didn't finish her course work by December, 2011,
she wouldn't be eligible for any more student loans. It was the best and the worst news. She was excited to know that she was so
close to reaching her goal but also unbelievably strained with all the negativity from her spouse and from some of the students in the
Music program at school. But she pushed back hard to be successful getting domestic counseling, creating study groups and playing
as much as possible to relieve the many stresses of her existence.
The day before commencement in December, 2011, Ava called me to say that she'd completed all her course work and finals but was worried that she wouldn't be able to participate in graduation exercises because they were to be
next morning and she didn't have her cap and gown. I reminded her that it was only 2:00 P.M. "Ava Specific Time"
and she had better hang up with me and call the school to tell them she was on her way to pick it all up instead of
being on the phone with me!
But, she was ever the fatalist. She knew I'd already booked a ticket to come be at her graduation and also to see her Senior Recital
for her brother's birthday in early May, she insisted I cancel my graduation flights as she was too exhausted and that graduation
which might not happen. I was sad that I'd gotten so caught up in her drama and her insistence to cancel that I missed being there
on her big day. The next morning, she woke up at 5:30 and got to the school and started texting pictures of her experience. She was
so happy that day! With her constant updates, pictures and big smiles, it was the next best thing to being there. She was so very
proud and exuberant! I truly believe that was the only genuinely happy day of her life.
For graduation, I gave her a trip to come home for Christmas. It was a promise we'd made to each other the prior
year. We were both so horribly miserable Christmas of 2010 that we were determined to have it together in 2011. And
we planned every minute to be with each other, close family and friends. It was surreal. She was calm, even more
adult-like and confident knowing she had an opera singing job waiting for her in Vegas even if her estranged husband
was already emotionally divorced from her.
It takes very little abuse for the wheels to fall off the wagon rather quickly for a sensitive soul especially with it being home and work.
Ava's gift was music. From very early on, she craved a broad spectrum of it from heavy metal to opera but opera was her greatest
passion. Her voice had a rich, soulful tone that set her apart from others. Ava's dream was to become so famous that she could help
save helpless animals from being tortured in labs, circuses or zoos, to feed the children, save them from worldly pains and give
When she thought she couldn't hold on any more because of negative, hurtful things
people said to her at home and at work those last days, she imploded...not able to
cope with a broken heart any longer. The shooting star faded into the darkness of
Although Ava had a great sense of humor, was intelligent and loved courageously,
she felt like she never fit in...not in kindergarten, first grade, high school, college or
Las Vegas until she found her "tribe." She had always said the tribe would come for
her one day, but she had one part of that detail wrong...she had to find her tribe;
actually, several of them. She was that complex. Each tribe wholly embraced the
part of her uniqueness the understood and appreciated. And in the end, through her
death, Ava brought her tribes together.
Literally hundreds of people who would have never met had it not been for Ava's love
and appreciation for their own sui generis found lasting friendships in each other.
Dictionaries will need to add "Ava" to the definition of this Latin term.