We dropped Lily off at her new school, a “step-down school,” just 40 students with half coming from a residential treatment center and the others a wilderness therapy program like Lily. The town is in somewhere Utah, a town like a teenager, where you can see its potential but it needs more time to develop still.
I walked the curving road past the new development to the nearby trailhead, past little roads with names like West Topaz Drive and Pyrite Lane. A big field of sage as yet undeveloped, with real estate signs and numbers to call if you’re interested. Only the sound of crickets and crows from the rooftops cawing. Pure potential from a developer’s point of view. And that made me think of Lily and what they’d said about her at the graduation ceremony, that she is pure potential too. Maybe better left to her natural state though, that natural beauty like a field of sage in the morning when the sun first lights the foothills, the purple-lavender of mountaintops at dawn.
We got into town early so Lily could settle in. We hit the thrift store where she loaded up on cheap shirts with ironic slogans and bought her a plant at the Walmart. It was like going off to college but the goal was to actually make up what she missed in high school so she could go off to college. But that was sad and hard, because as parents we hadn’t prepared ourselves for that yet. Instead we had a patchwork of memories leading up to her sendoff that were painful and strange. She had gone to the wilderness program just after Easter and now we’d have a week together before she started this new school, a minimum six month stay.
We spent a few days in Durango reintegrating Lily into the “real world.” That was hard for students who’d lived outdoors for 12 weeks with no access to phones, clocks or mirrors. They ate only organic food and slept about 11 hours a night, on the ground. Showered once a week. No artificial light or screens, no sugar.
Durango is a good town for that reintegration, better was the nearby town Mancos, where we stopped for smoothies. We had our ups and downs but Lily practiced her new coping skills when needed and we moved on to Moab, a resort half an hour out of town with a pool and exercise room. They played old western movies on Friday nights in a large conference room with free popcorn. We sat in the front row and lost ourselves in that weird world on screen, with the fading light of the real canyons in the background. We left the film early and went back to our room to unwind; I counted down how many nights we had left and got up early each morning for a solo walk, sometimes with Lily. The days unspooled and we moved from town to town, closing the gap between where we’d been in Colorado and Lily’s new home in Utah.
We moved her into her dorm room, with Hello Kitty blankets and her belongings from wilderness, the bowling ball-sized geode she’d found somewhere and we’d wedged in the back of the rental car, with the luggage. It was exciting and sad as I imagine those times are for parents seeing their kids off like that. A hot desert wind and me keeping track of time, calculating how much we needed to get to the airport and for our last lunch together.
At the graduation ceremony I first heard of this phrase “the world of clocks and mirrors.” And it had an ominous sound, the world of clocks, the one our kids would have to re-enter after they’d had a few months removed from it to work on themselves and start recovering from whatever required them to leave it in the first place. We got heartfelt advice, to share what we were grateful for at dinner every night and to slow down, because life goes by fast.
We took our keepsakes and Lily arranged them in her room on the chest of drawers. We said our goodbyes and I put the music on and drove off, set the navigator and air conditioner. We had lots of time still I said, our whole lives in fact. And we drove west on the 15 following signs to Las Vegas.