The past week of my life has been spent bouncing from the joyous occasions of wedding ceremonies to the shock, despair and disbelief of my personal life.
Last Thursday, a stunning revelation that would rattle my entire family. How did we get here? My grandniece, Makenna had “met a new friend at school a few weeks ago” and was spending more and more time on her phone.
Cindy and I had no idea that this “new friend” would result in my grandniece being hospitalized after an overdose of her antidepressant medication due entirely to bullying from “her new friend.” Her new friend would literally push and keep pushing my beautiful grandniece into taking all of her Lexapro. Her new friend was doing this on the cell phone Cindy pays for. Yes, we are angry this outsider got to Makenna and yes, we are devastated about it but, our focus is on getting Makenna healthy mentally and physically.
Looking back over the past week, I wish Cindy and I had taken time to view text messages prior to finding ourselves in the ER with Makenna reading text messages that ended with RIP from her new friend “Michael.” How could we have known what was going on? Still, we blame ourselves. Our busy schedules. Our inability to see “trouble with Makenna.”
My highly intelligent grandniece took her entire bottle of Lexapro Thursday at approximately 4:15PM while Cindy and I along with Leigh Ann and Madyson were in Abilene, Texas with my Roberts Unit bride, her daughter, mother and grandmother.
We could have had no idea that while Cindy’s Husband, Steve was outside mowing and Makenna’s twin sister, Maryssa was filming a makeup tutorial and the twins mother, Stephaney was making dinner that Makenna was texting Michael that she was “so depressed over their break up that she was going to take her entire bottle of Lexapro.” Michael had egged Makenna on. Teen suicide is real. If your teen is talking or texting someone you don’t know- get involved. Ask questions.
At 4:19PM last Thursday, the last text from Michael had read “RIP.” At 4:20PM, Makenna had sent a text to Cindy and I both while in Loves Truck Stop with Leigh Ann and Madyson that read “I took my bottle of Lexapro. I’m scared. I need to go to the hospital.”
If you are a parent, grandparent or guardian, you would have been as horrified reading this text as we were. Our straight A student. Our beautiful Makenna with the heart of an Angel had just taken an entire bottle of Lexapro? We were over an hour from Cindy’s home. I called Cindy’s Husband then Maryssa while Cindy called 911 in Parker County from Abilene.
Maryssa had found her twin sister convulsing on the bathroom floor and also called 911. Thankfully, Medstar arrived within minutes and transported Makenna to Cook’s Childrens Hospital. Steve was devastated and too shocked to compose himself and stayed behind at home with Maryssa. I drove 95-100 MPH from Abilene to Cook’s with Cindy, Leigh Ann and Maddy.
My brother in law, Steve has only cried three times in 27 years that I’ve known him. The first time was when his mother died. The second time was while under attack at Baghdad Airport immediately following the roadside bombing on Good Friday. The third time was last Thursday.
Makenna was incoherent when Cindy and I walked into her room. She was also on an IV and “under suicide observation.” Due to Serotonin Syndrome, Makenna was also on oxygen.
Nothing and I mean NOTHING prepares you for a moment like this. Had Makenna NOT sent those texts to Cindy and I, we or someone else at Cindy’s house would have found Makenna dead in the bathroom Thursday. Thank God Makenna sent those texts prior to going into convulsions.
Living in a hospital with clinical observation while wondering if Makenna’s heart would recover since Thursday has been stressful, terrifying and a literal family affair of “tagging out and tagging in by family members due to our booked clients.” From sending my son to Collin County to running to Bridgeport Unit Friday as well as Green Bay Unit and Belltower Chapel Saturday, clocking in and out of the hospital has left all of us emotional basket cases.
Over the past two plus years, my niece (the twins mom) Stephaney has been involuntarily committed. Makenna’s twin sister, Maryssa played the choking game and was also committed. My father thought intruders were living in his attic and was also commited. To say this merry go round of Psych Ward visits has left Cindy and I with pom poms missing streamers would be an understatement. We have circled our wagons, walked into visits as cheerleaders lost, confused and hopeless. Walked into client meetings confident and with direction. Smiled when we felt like crying and juggled work and family with the fluidity of a triathlete. But, we had no choice. Our clients and our families are priorities. We had prayed for Stephaney and Maryssa to straighten up and they both finally had. We never saw an issue with Makenna coming and wonder if it’s our fault that we didn’t?
It takes a village and thankfully, we have one. Going over the events leading up to this past week has run through my mind over and over again. What did we miss? We should have asked more questions about Michael. Instead, we found it cute that Makenna had a boyfriend although they had never went anywhere together alone and this “relationship” was mostly via her cell phone. Cindy and I didn’t see the red flags. We wish we had but, we didn’t.
On Monday night, Cindy stayed with me to leave at 4AM for Torres Unit in Hondo, Texas. We checked in frequently with the twins and their mom from the road. Everyone seemed fine. We finished our photo shoot in Hondo, Texas and headed back to Fort Worth. Cindy and I stopped at a meat market for her husband, Steve who had frequented this meat market as a child. I took several calls driving back as I had several prison weddings last week with traditional and county jail weddings this weekend. My days and nights are filled with client questions and bookings. I rarely have a day off in season.
On Wednesday, Cindy and I had several county jail weddings with meetings for traditional clients. I also took my secretary, Virginia to lunch to celebrate her birthday.
Everything seemed normal. Makenna had opted out of going to the movies with her mother and twin sister but that wasn’t unusual. Makenna was working on her 9th grade schedule for school. Makenna is and always has been a stellar student. Makenna has always been driven, dedicated and focused on school. Maryssa never has.
Thursday, I left my home office to drive to Weatherford and pick up Leigh Ann, Cindy and Madyson. I checked on the twins before hitting the highway and asked “if they wanted to join us?” Since Steve was home after two weeks of driving for Ryder, he had a list of chores and Stephaney was washing clothes and cleaning. It was a normal day.
On our way to meet Jennifer and her family, we stopped at The Smokestack for breakfast. Again, we checked in at Cindy’s house. I also checked in with my husband, Matthew.
Maddy was a fireball at breakfast and kept jumping up to go sit with other diners. I.E. dining out with Maddy is always an adventure. Leaving the Smokestack, I checked in with Jennifer as we were meeting her early to do photos since we were on the schedule at Roberts Unit at 3PM.
At 12PM, I pulled into the address Jennifer had given me to meet her at Jacobs Dream at Abilene Christian University.
Meeting Jennifer in person and excited about our location, I begin unloading tiaras, furs, bouquets, fascinators and other props from my SUV with Cindy.
Again, we would have no idea that Makenna is even contemplating taking her entire bottle of prescribed medication, Lexapro. I WISH WE HAD KNOWN.
We are on location and enjoying a great day with Jennifer and her family. We believe that our family at home is fine. We are also sadly and profoundly mistaken. Maddy (as usual) jumps in on a few wedding photos. Leaving the university, our caravan heads to Walmart. Cindy checks in with Steve. We decide to buy Jennifer’s granddaughter a pair of shorts because hers and Maddy’s were both wet from the pond.
Checking my watch, we still have an hour before we are scheduled at Roberts Unit. I decide to go to McDonalds and buy the kids happy meals before heading to the Unit.
Our mood and vibe are relaxed and happy. Cindy and I are convinced everything is fine back home and we are enjoying our new friends.
Jennifer and I walk into the unit leaving our families parked side by side to wait on us.
Arriving in check in, the chaplain leads us to the visitation area. Jennifer is excited and nervous. This is completely normal for my clients. I’m every Clients mother. The handwritten vows are emotional and beautiful. It’s 3:00PM.
At exactly 3.30PM, Jennifer and I will walk back to our families and our cars parked side by side. After showing our families the Unit photos, I escort Jennifer back to her car beside mine and visit for a few minutes before heading black to Fort Worth.
At 4:11PM, we pull into Loves. Maddy wants milk. Maddy is also going nuts inside the truck stop and we spend at least five minutes longer than we planned to chasing her around.
At 4:20PM, we are loaded back into my SUV when I first see the text. Sitting in the Loves Truck Stop parking lot, Cindy, I and Leigh Ann are NOW in an all out panic.
By the time we arrive at Cooks, we are emotional basket cases. Cindy and I cannot stop crying. We are crushed. Devastated. Broken.
Friday morning, Cindy and Stephaney are at the hospital with Makenna. Leigh Ann, Maddy and I are headed to Bridgeport, Texas.
It’s difficult to put Makenna out of my mind and focus on the client but, I do. I’m an excellent actress. I’ve had 38 years of experience in front of a camera and I’m not going to ruin Michelle’s wedding day by being upset.
Instead, I must put Makenna, my twin and Stephaney as well as my fear aside. It’s an invisible box in my mind. I put things away I can’t deal with until I can. I’ve done this since I was a child.
Michelle had wanted a hair and makeup artist but, we couldn’t find anyone available. I decided that I would do her hair and makeup myself.
Leigh Ann and I arrived at 9:30AM at Michelle’s hotel room. The wedding was scheduled at 11AM. No one looking at these photos could see my heartache.
Again, I’m an excellent actress and have often had to put away or compartmentalize issues that would otherwise affect my demeanor or performance “on duty.” While Leigh Ann chases Maddy in the hotel room and checks her equipment, I realize that I have no idea how to apply false eyelashes. Luckily, Michelle accepts this and we pack up the room to head to Bridgeport Unit.
Leigh Ann and Maddy wait in my SUV. Walking into the Unit to check in, Michelle is nervous but wearing red Air Jordan’s that go perfectly with her wedding dress.We have 20 minutes “inside the Unit.” Michelle is so nervous that I read her handwritten vows for her.
Walking back out to my SUV, I’ve already chosen photography locations and head there with Michelle behind me.I’ve checked in with Cindy en route to downtown Bridgeport. I had packed furs and tiaras with numerous other items for fun photos. Leigh Ann is still working on the edits.
Leaving Bridgeport to Cook’s Childrens Hospital. I stop at a corner market for hospital snacks and milk for Maddy.
I’m weary. I’m mentally exhausted and I can finally cry away from my client. Leigh Ann knows my fear. My uncertainty. My inability to know what lies next for Makenna and my family. Leigh Ann and I are both crying driving into Fort Worth. We are scared. I know everyone in my family is terrified and questioning how we were unaware of this situation? Guilt haunts us.
Arriving at Cook’s to relieve Cindy and Stephaney to go downstairs and eat, my grandniece is still on the heart floor and under observation. Maddy runs and jumps onto Makenna’s bed. Makenna is happy to see Maddy. It’s the first time since Thursday I’ve seen Makenna smile.
Cindy is obviously exhausted and can barely walk after trying to sleep in a straight backed chair. Cindy has 13lbs of steel fusing her spine and nueropathy from an accident that nearly killed her in our 20’s. Cindy and Stephaney refuse to leave the hospital at night.
I’ve offered to stay overnight at Cook’s but my sister and niece won’t give up a night shift. They are weary and disheveled. My sister forgets what day it is? They are running together. Lack of sleep has affected my entire family. I forget where I park over and over.
My sister is beyond exhausted. I read Makenna a story while Leigh Ann takes Maddy to the playroom. I then begin a rotating written schedule for my family members to tag in and out while giving everyone sufficient time for my son and his wife as well as Leigh Ann and myself to get to client events throughout the weekend. My tears run the ink on my day timer. I had no idea the energy to cry was still in me.
I’m terrified. I’m always in control but I cannot control this situation. I’m OCD. I’m a planner but nothing prepared me for this. Cindy and I have spent two years visiting our relatives at Psych Wards. Once Makenna is released, we will continue to do so. This time at Mesa Springs. We are equally apprehensive about having the capacity to walk in happy, hopeful and positive to visit Makenna.
We must prepare and get our act together. Deep breaths in the parking lot. Know your mark. Hide your fear. You are ON. We’ve done this at 4 different Psych Wards over the past two years. Cindy and I have been screened in as if we were entering a prison unit. Entering a Psych Ward is remarkably similar. The vending machines are a focal point to inmates as well as patients. Bring quarters.
Cindy and I are now professional Psych Ward visitors. We’ve had plenty of practice. Cindy’s daughter, Stephaney has been involuntarily committed 16 times.
The family members visiting Psych Wards are similar to visitors at Cooks. Everyone is uncertain. Shell shocked. Battle worn and weary. We all walk hunched over. A building of zombies. Our fear leads us through the days, nights and afternoons. Haunted eyes and grimaced faces walk the halls.
Saturday morning, I feel my blood pressure go up. I have low blood pressure but, I’m a mirror image twin. I know Cindy hasn’t taken her blood pressure pills. I can feel it. I call her. I’m right. She’s forgotten them and my key to her house is in her bathroom. The same bathroom Maryssa found Makenna in. I call Tom Thumb Pharmacy and explain why my twin doesn’t have her medication. Medication I just filled less than a week ago. I’m crying on this phone call. Explaining where Makenna is hurts me deeply.
The pharmacist agrees to give me four pills to get Cindy through the weekend and I will call Dr Richwine to get a refill on Monday. The pharmacist tells me her son committed suicide and she will never recover. She’s crying too.
Leaving Tom Thumb, I see an elderly lady being mugged a few blocks away. I pull over and grab my mace to scare off the attackers. I put the woman, Ginger in my SUV and give her water while calling 911.
The police arrive. They ask “weren’t you scared getting involved?” I answer “not at all. You don’t know where I’ve been or what I’ve been through.” I describe the assaulants fully and completely from their clothing to height and weight descriptions. I also fill out a witness report and I wait on an ambulance for my new friend, Ginger. I text Cindy and Leigh Ann to let them know I’ve been delayed. Ginger is elderly and fragile. She’s also homeless. I discuss where I can find her shelter after treatment and give her my business card. Medstar transports her due to the head injury she’s suffered at the hands of two thugs.
Arriving at Cook’s, Makenna’s heart is still struggling. It’s now been 3 days since our lives were changed forever. My Pampas Unit bride calls me. I put her on my schedule. My Ellis Unit client calls me regarding being removed from visitation. She’s crying and upset. She drove to the Unit only to be turned away. I explain the appeal process and timeline to file an appeal just outside Makenna’s room.
I will also help Naquitia file with the DRC and Courts on Monday. I’ve memorized TDCJ procedure. I know things that surprise my clients. I must. It’s my job.
I take another call from a Belltower Chapel client and the “observers” in Makenna’s room wonder why my phone never stops ringing to each other. They talk about my family and Makenna in front of us. I view this as highly unprofessional. No one has sent a psychologist. No one has bothered to check on Makenna’s muscle spasms. I go out and call the administrator. I file a complaint about this “openly discussing Makenna in front of her.”
My clients and my family and now even Ginger are all a part of my life. My life requires multitasking. Cell phones and electronic devices are not allowed in Makenna’s room.
Apparently, observers watching Makenna are failing to document her legs uncontrollably shaking or the fact that a clinical psychologist has never even entered her room continue to infuriate me. I continue to bring her depression and muscle spasms up to the observers. I continue to ask where the child psychologist is? I continue to ask the observers not to discuss Makenna, her story or her family in front of her. I want her moved as soon as her heart stabilizes. I continue to call Mesa Springs myself.
My sister now has her high blood pressure medicine. I worry this stress will give her a heart attack and I fear losing Cindy. It is my greatest fear. My twin is my best friend. My twin is my partner. My twin and I have never had an easy life or path. There have been times that we have lost our faith. There have been times we’ve felt that God was testing our faith. There have also been times that we’ve realized that hardship rather than defining us instead empowered us. Ours is not an easy life. We must hold steadfast.
Sunday morning, I check in with Leigh Ann before meeting clients at Belltower. I’m stressed but I shake it off. I’m a professional. I dig deep to find peace and remind myself that it’s my clients day. They deserve my best. All of them do. I give it to them. Show girl smile ready, I enter the Chapel, officiate the wedding, smile for photos and run back to Cook’s. I also cry in my SUV. I don’t know how much longer I can act normal.
Sunday afternoon, the doctor comes in to talk to me. Cindy and Stephaney are home bathing and changing clothes. I’ve just “tagged my husband out.” Makenna’s heart has stabilized. It’s time to send paperwork to Mesa Springs. Makenna will be moved to a Psych Ward for depression and suicidal ideation. The “Psych Ward Visit Cycle” will begin again for the Texas Twins.
I call Mesa Springs again and explain what happened. I then put Makenna on the list for a bed. Cindy and I will be back bouncing from a Psych Ward to work and clients while trying to act normal. We will be actresses on our marks and taking our cues. We will pray that Makenna realizes her value. We will cry alone away from clients and family. We will move forward putting our painful past behind us and we will find hope that one day we are never visiting another relative in a Psych Ward but, we will also be prepared for the possibility. We now know that life and mental illness are chaotic. Unpredictable. Unplanned. Frustrating.
I roll into a parking space to relieve Cindy and Stephaney for dinner AKA to tag them out. A family member must be present at all times in the room. Tagging out is the only break. Beside me, I see a woman crying in her vehicle. I walk over and ask “what’s wrong? Can I help you?” I’ve realized that many parents and grandparents cry in public bathrooms at Cook’s or the parking garage. No one cries in front of their loved ones including my family. We wear a mask. We hide our pain. We shuffle about in wrinkled clothing from sleeping on chairs or roll a way beds and we are effectively prisoners of war to save our children. Everyone is the same here. The despair. The grief. The anxiety.
The lady in the car next to me opens her door. “My daughter is here. I’m divorced. I’m afraid I will lose my job. My ex won’t come and sit with her.” I open my trunk and get her a bottle of water. She has a heavy cross to bear.
I get in her SUV and ask “when was the last time you ate?” She can’t remember. She’s been struggling to save money for parking. I tell her “drive out and drive back in. Get a new ticket. Parking is free on weekends.” This surprises her. But, it’s something I’ve shared with others. Not refreshing their parking ticket runs into hundreds of dollars. The cafeteria is expensive and the food is nothing to write home about. My new friend, Mary joins me at Camelot Court. I buy her dinner and sit with her. I also give her my card. We will be moving to Mesa Springs and I worry about her.
My other new friend, the victim of a mugging on Saturday, Ginger is at Harris Hospital. I’ve been feeding her feral cats since Saturday night. I call her and let her know they are okay.
I’m bone weary but also help a man find the B elevators who is lost, uncertain and afraid. When we get to the third floor, he turns to me and says “I’m not ready. I’m afraid. I don’t know what I’m walking into.” I grab his hand and tell him “I will walk with you. You aren’t alone. Everyone here is afraid. Everyone here is tired and anxious. Everyone here has a child they are concerned about.” I walk him to the room where he “tags out” his daughter and show him where to find coffee. Tell him the hours of the cafeteria and get him a blanket and pillow. He’s going to be okay. I will check on him again and my new friend Mary tomorrow.
Hopefully, Ginger is released from Harris tomorrow as I’m at Coffield and Beto Units in Tennessee Colony Tuesday. I’m also meeting a pregnant woman in Corsicana who contacted me about letting Burt and Deanna adopt her baby. She’s not in a position to keep her baby and heard I was trying to help my former clients find a child to love. Burt and Deanna don’t care what color the child is. They know that any child is a gift from God. They are good people. I married them four years ago. I baptized Baby DeLilah and officiated her memorial.
The tragedy of losing a child isn’t lost on me. I’ve witnessed the pain. I’ve prayed with the families to find strength and I’ve cried silent tears alone in my SUV. I don’t understand why children are taken far too soon. I never will.
Being a parent teaches you resilience. You will jump in front of a train to protect your child. Parenting doesn’t end at 18. In fact, it never ends. Being a parent, grandparent of guardian is the hardest job you will ever have. You will become stronger for it. You will become more resilient and you will become dedicated to forsaking your own needs in order to care for another. Trust me.
Cindy and I are everyone’s mother. From clients to strangers, there isn’t anyone we wouldn’t try to help. Why? Because we’ve never had anyone to help us aside from each other and our husbands.
Hardship can define you or empower you. Love is sacrifice. We pray Makenna learns to love herself. We pray that others won’t take advantage of her and we pray thanks that she sent those texts to Cindy and I. We pray for strength in the journey ahead. We pray for guidance and finally we pray we can find it in our hearts to forgive Michael for pushing Makenna into thinking her life wasn’t worth living. Over someone she knew less than two weeks? We will though pursue criminal charges against Michael to prevent this from happening to anyone else’s child.
Teenagers are fragile. They are impressionable and they are easily hurt. Please check your children’s phones. Find out who they are talking to and more importantly, what they are talking about.
Seventh grade was too stressful for Makenna. Her twin, Maryssa is social. Makenna isn’t. Cindy and I homeschooled Makenna in 7th and part of 8th grade. Makenna asked to return to public school a few months ago. Had she been safe at home away from bullies this wouldn’t have happened to our family but Makenna felt isolated in homeschooling.
Tomorrow I’m up at 4AM to tag Cindy and Stephaney out. Tomorrow, I’m helping my Ellis Unit Client file an appeal with the Courts and DRC. Tomorrow I’m packing for a day back in Tennessee Colony and tomorrow I’m praying Mesa Springs has a bed for Makenna…