Teenagers! Black and white photo of a teen screaming, wrapped in tape that says "fragile"

Published on June 7th, 2023 | by Danielle Huggins


Oh Where Oh Where Could My Baby Be

Oh where oh where could my baby be?” is the first line of a Pearl Jam song called Last Kiss. It’s a remake of a song from 1961 by Wayne Cochran, about a girlfriend dying. To me, it’s more literal. My love, my baby, is my 15-year-old daughter. She is in a psychiatric day program. How did my baby become this person with slashes up her forearms? How did she become someone who pulls out chunks of hair, gnaws on her lip until it’s so swollen it inhibits her speech, and bites and picks her fingers until so much blood has seeped onto her hoodie, it looks like a chocolate ice cream stain?  

Last week, I was hammer curling 15-pound dumbbells at the gym. The song How Far I’ll Go from the movie Moana came through my ear buds. Astrid played Moana in her sixth-grade play. I envision the enormous, curly brown wig with a pink plumeria flower over one ear on Astrid’s face. Her blue eyes and dimples were visible from my seat and I marveled with pride at her lack of stage fright. Astrid sang, “I’ve been staring at the edge of the water, long as I can remember, never really knowing why.” My eyes well up, and I turn off the tunes.

On my drive home, Dave Matthew’s Dreaming Tree comes on. The lyrics hit hard. “Remembered Mother’s words / You’ll always be my baby / Mommy, come quick / The dreaming tree has died / Can’t find my way home / I have no place to hide / The dreaming tree has died.”

I want to “come quick” and help Astrid, but I don’t know how. I lose it. My eyes are burning. Tears are mixing with the salty sweat from the gym, and I can’t see. I pull into a parking lot and weep so hard my sedan rocks. She used to be so happy. Anytime she played by herself, I’d hear her humming.

I picture Astrid and me going to her preschool in our black Honda CRV. She is behind me in her car seat, pink with white daisies. She has shoulder length hair with bangs and a mermaid on her shirt. We are belting out the words to Born This Way by Lady Gaga. “Don’t hide yourself in regret / just love yourself, and you’re set / Whether life’s disabilities / left you outcast, bullied, or teased / Rejoice and love yourself today / ‘Cause, baby, you were born this way.” The lyrics prove prophetic because Astrid was (and is) bullied, and she has disabilities. She does not rejoice in herself, however. In fact, she’s admitted she hates herself.

Astrid was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) at 12 and since has been identified as having all the acronyms: Besides GAD, there is ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), SPCD (Social (pragmatic) communication disorder), unipolar depression, and most recently ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

She had a four-day stay at an inpatient psychiatric facility at 13 because she was cutting her wrists with a box cutter and planning on swallowing all of her Lexapro. She says she wanted to die because of bullying, which took various forms. She was called toddler and flat. Classmates refused to let her sit with them on the bus or in lunch, often placing a band instrument or backpack on the seat to signify there was no place for her.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Once at an activity night, a girl asked if Astrid would take a selfie with her. When Astrid took the picture, the girl stuck out her tongue and licked the whole side of Astrid’s face. The girl cracked up with her actual friends and Astrid spent the rest of the night crying and hiding in the bathroom.  

That bullying happened in middle school and now, when not in the day program, Astrid is in a vocational high school where she majors in Graphic Arts. She has actual friends, but they joke with her, sometimes at her expense. They ridicule her because she can never tell if she’s supposed to be in on the joke or the butt of it. Even at the psych program, she is known as the girl who can’t take a joke. “I’m a misfit even amongst misfits,” she says.

Astrid says she cuts and picks until she’s bloodied because people are mean, and the world is unfair. Besides her self-hatred, she despises income inequality, bigots, homophobes, and ableists. I feel utterly helpless. I can’t solve these world problems. My forever humming, once carefree child is in crisis.I can’t convince her she’s “on the right track baby you were born this way.” I can keep reminding her of what a therapist at her program said, that she’s perfect as is, and the world is a better place with her in it. But every day that I sign her into this program, take the elevator down to my car and turn it on, I try to find a song that won’t make me cry. And the truth is, there isn’t one.

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About the Author

Danielle Huggins is a writer and former math teacher from northern New Jersey. She is a contributor to Writing Class Radio and has written for the Washington Post and GOMAG.com.

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