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 70's when Ava burst onto the scene after her ten month incubation and astonished 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 form and turned her head from side-to-side with a look of disgust on her face, as if to say, "Who turned on all the lights?" 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 what he was wearing down to his shoes. It wasn't until fifteen years later that we knew without 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 dysfunction 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. 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 (I could afford) to anchor us both.
By the sixth grade, I realized the Christian school Ava attended was failing miserably to teach her on so many levels. The school set their curriculum for the teachers to cover and it didn't matter 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'd teach her myself.
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. My instincts were that it was going to be one rocky road and I needed to have as much time as possible to be emotionally and physically available.
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 in negotiation to new level. As she'd never been a morning person, I told her she could perform her schoolwork 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 her 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…thank God.
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 schooled children in metro Atlanta then).
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 who posed himself cleverly as a big brother type to thirteen year-old Ava, aiming 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 from him. I pushed hard to keep her away from the group but the 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, of which she wouldn't be diagnosed with for another fifteen years). I didn't know what her behavior meant then other than trauma, but it became all too evident to me later.
The strangest part of this whole experience was watching Ava internalize the pain this rapist continued to inflict upon her for two months. She refused to leave the youth group as she still thought of them to be her "friends." All the while, the pedophile bragged about his conquest to others in their "group" and Ava lashed her pain out at me. Her outward anger was so singly focused on me that she refused to speak about the incident.
I understood her fragility and didn't push to have the pedophile prosecuted as I was truly afraid she would kill herself if she had to face the humiliation of a trial as she had always been a very private person. She'd often berated me if I'd spoken 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 attempted to overdose on nonprescription pills. 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, we were in deeper than I 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, again, the brunt of her rage. She became more withdrawn and bitched constantly about living in my mom's very rural area.
My last ex said I liked being shot out of a rocket. I don't. I was simply doing what had to be done. I'd jumped off cliffs knowing God was my parachute so many times that it was my norm. 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 two months after we working fifteen hour days trying to update the 1972 paint and wallpaper with that nickel. Ava worked hard and was looking forward to being in a neighborhood and meeting kids. 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 to be a cheerleader 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 therapists.
By the time Ava was seventeen-years-old, she had unilaterally decided to quit high school, which kept me crying over two weeks. 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. 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 as Carl, too, had gone there years before. It was all a shell game...one where everyone lost.
As I was ripe for yet another nervous breakdown because Ava was convinced that she knew everything, I spent the next six weeks selling everything in the house and found a renter. I had put the oxygen mask on just as the airlines tell you to do. It was an all too familiar territory I had experienced with my still missing son years before but it was time for Ava to figure out how little she really knew about life and living as it appeared that I wasn't able to teach her in a way which registered with her. Plus, I felt like I was dying. I offered to pay her living expenses as long as she was working toward getting her GED and stayed in college. The world was going to 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 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.
Ava fought back to regain control of her life, 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. 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.
As Las Vegas was always where her husband wanted to live, he moved there while she stayed in Atlanta to finish her Associates Degree in music. Ava expressed her reluctance to move there but, finally in the fall of 2008, she finally agreed having run out of excuses to stay. As her husband sat in the loaded truck, he raced the engine. As she would follow behind in her car, 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. Just two weeks after moving her to this very alien desert region in a town away from everything familiar, her husband left to work in Japan for six months. At least he gave her the phone number of a woman who was from Georgia and lived in Vegas. However, when she was this fragile, it only took a small pebble in the road to cause Ava to fall back into her comfortable, self-destructive behavior. Abandonment was the pebble which caused a tsunami.
Desperate to feel better, she self-medicated. She called me on Halloween crying so hard I could barely 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 getting back into 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 made friends with the woman from Georgia who helped Ava regain 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 and the salve to the open wound of her failing marriage and tortured soul.
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, again, 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 toward a new resolve.
Fall semester of 2010 both recharged her dreams with success at UNLV but also exhausted her with disaster in her failed marriage. Everything was reached a crescendo of extremes. Domestic violence combined with intense operatic training for her junior year 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 how long it took to get the degree and suggested that she should take time off to figure out what she was going to do with her marriage and career.
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 attaining her dream, but also unbelievably strained with all the negativity from her spouse and fellow 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.
Ava was such a fatalist. 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 (she called me never aware of the 3 hour time difference). I excitedly said that she'd best hang up and call the school to tell them she was on her way to pick it up! That's when she got excited. The next morning, she woke up at 5:30 and got to the school and started texting pictures to me of her experience.
She was so happy that day. She insisted I cancel my flight so I wouldn't spend the money and, instead, for me to come out for a Senior Recital in May. I was sad that I'd gotten so caught up in her drama and at her insistence to cancel that I missed being there on her big day. But, with her constant updates, pictures and big smiles, it was the next best thing to being there. She was so very proud and happy that day. I believe it was the only truly 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.
I don't have to tell you that the wheels fell off the wagon rather quickly from problems with her work and her unhappy home life.
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 which 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 universal love. When she thought she couldn't hold on any more because of negative, hurtful things people said to her at home and work those last days, she imploded…not able to cope with a broken heart any longer. The shooting star faded into the darkness of the night.
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." As a child, she'd always said her "tribe" would come for her one day. 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 they 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.