Moryt Milo, journalist and former Silicon Valley Business Journal Editor, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She turned to mental health advocacy after her son became ill. She writes and speaks about mental illness to fight stigma and existing laws that stifle fair treatment for those who suffer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author changed her son’s name to protect his privacy.
Mid-morning Sunday, September 7, I walk down the narrow driveway, my sights on the arbor with its cozy seats. I know he will be out there smoking. I wave. He nods.
He looks sleepy, with his long, unkempt hair shooting out in all directions. Wearing two gray hoodies, a pair of black basketball shorts, white anklet socks and no shoes. He doesn’t look much different than his days in the hospital.
Except he does.
The anger in his eyes gone.
“I just woke up, can you give me a couple of minutes,” he says.
“Sure, no problem. How about if I wait outside in the car? I’m just across the street.”
“Yeah that works.”
I sit in my car on the quiet tree-lined street grateful we have made it this far. A short time later he comes out the front door. I stick my hand out the car and wave. He heads my way.
As promised, I had texted earlier in the week to see if he was up for a hike at Rancho San Antonio Park, an open preserve in the Los Altos foothills.
“Sure, why not,” came his reply.
The park a place we walked many times during Nick’s childhood, where encounters with deer, woodpeckers and gaggles of wild turkey often broke the silence with their presence.
Nick, his sister and I would stop to listen and observe. Each experience, as if it was our first. Sheer delight. Soaking in nature has forever been an escape for my son. Comfort, peace, solitude unwinds him while trekking the woods. I understand the pull.
I hope today brings the same.
In the back seat, a backpack stuffed with snacks. Cut apples, carrots, nuts, Cliff bars–all reminiscent of our frequent hikes to the park’s Deer Hollow Farm. At first Nick traveled by stroller, then walked the distance to see the animals and vegetable gardens. Now the hike will be about recovery for him and closure for me.
We enter the park parched from drought. The smell of sun-scorched grass and arid, dusty dirt brings a familiar tug. We find a parking spot near the empty horse trailers.
My son’s 6-foot-2-inch frame shadows mine as we head to the trail in silence. The crunch and cadence of our steps rhythmic. The beat carries us down the path.
I don’t know the right moment for my confession. I just know it will come.
We hike the park’s open preserve, as Bay and Oak trees provide us with a canopy of shade.
And then, I turn ever so slightly, staying in stride and say, “Nick, I owe you an apology for never understanding what you were going through. I am truly sorry.”
His initial reaction a subtle head tilt in my direction, surprise in his eyes. Nothing said, but I know that look.
“That’s okay,” he answers.
“No, it’s not Nick. I am so sorry, and I want you to know,” holding back tears.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
We walk a few more paces in silence when he stops mid-step, turns to me and says, “Can I have a hug?”
“Of course,” squeezing him tight.
I am apologizing for all my actions. The times I accused him of being lazy, unfocused, unmotivated. For not understanding the invisible war he battled for years. I am apologizing for all my years of ignorance. For not understanding mental illness.
He needs no explanation. He understands, and I know it.
My son having fallen victim to a diabolical brain illness that seeded itself during middle school, grew through high school and turned his life into hell once he entered college. This illness escaped everyone’s notice for more than eight years, while my son struggled to hold onto life’s third rail.
I finally see him. I no longer judge. I accept him and acknowledge the trauma and pain he has been going through.
I finally get it.
A lightness replaces the deep tension that had gullied its way into our relationship. An energy shift, only a mother and child’s love can feel. The moment transformational.
My guilt starts to subside. He quietly has forgiven me with a gentle thank you and deep, loving bear hug.
We walk for several hours, a simple hike to a familiar farm that turns into a forgiving milestone.
I have found my way back to him, and he to me.