That fall, he just kept disappearing. He ditched school a lot. Sometimes he rode the school bus into town and never went into the building. His grades sucked. His clothing and other belongings disappeared all the time. I bought him new shoes, he stayed away for the weekend, then came home with another person’s broken-down shoes on his feet. I didn’t get it until later. It didn’t occur to me what was happening because my mind couldn’t fathom it. I bought him new stuff and he took it and sold it or traded it for drugs, but I believed the stories he told about loaning stuff to friends, or forgetting to bring things home. He told me he wanted a Swatch, which were all the rage at the time. I bought one and it stayed on his wrist for mere hours and it was gone, but I still didn’t connect the dots. My son was only fourteen, far too young to be scamming his mother and using the money for drugs.
We argued all the time.
All. The. Time.
One day, he came home on the bus after being gone for a couple of days. A huge row ensued. I was yelling about all the missing stuff and his grades and his room being a wreck. He burned a cone of incense on his dresser, making a round, black cinder in the wood. There were small punctures all over the top where he stuck his pocket knife into it. The bottom drawer was filled with coffee cans full of greasy bicycle parts. Why did he destroy property like this? There were dirty clothes (someone else’s) and snack wrappers and notebook paper all over the floor. Clean your room! Go to school! Stop leaving your stuff all over town! Stop disappearing for days at a time! Stop tearing stuff up! On and on it went until he had enough. He slammed the door behind him on his way to the garage.
The house was suddenly quiet. Shawn and Brandon were subdued in front of the television. Skeletor was cackling onscreen, his laughter echoing the juvenile malfeasance in the house. Carey toddled over to me and crawled up in my lap, smiling. I rocked him for some minutes while I tried to calm down. After a time, the droning of the cartoon and the creak-creak of the rocking chair lulled me and I relaxed.
As Masters of the Universe came to a close, the door opened and Micheal staggered into the room, his face flushed blood red. With the rush of cold air through the open door came the overpowering odor of gasoline. The intensity startled me and I looked to see if he was wet. The fumes were so strong he had to have been drenched in it. I set Carey on the floor and approached Micheal. I touched him and no part of him was wet. His head wobbled a bit as if he was struggling to keep it upright. I was immediately in a panic.
“Oh, my God! What happened, what happened? Why do you smell like gas? What did you do? Did you spill it?”
“I don’ thinso.” He spoke as if his tongue was numb or swollen thick.
“Oh, my God, Oh, my God! What were you doing? What did you do?” I shrieked. “Oh, my God! Did you drink it?”
“Naw…jus’ sniffit.” I hung onto him as I guided him to the bathroom. He was stumbling, but he didn’t resist.
“Take your clothes off and throw them outside the door. Get in the shower and wash off. Your hair, too.” When his clothes came out into the hallway I grabbed them up and put them outside to air out. The whole house was filled with fumes. I opened a window. Minutes passed and he was still in the shower. I knocked on the door, then let myself in. He was sitting in the tub with the shower running. “Are you ok?” I asked.
“Yea.” He answered, still groggy and disoriented.
“Micheal, something has to happen here. Huffing gas is dangerous. You can damage your brain or worse. You have to get some help. I’m going to make some phone calls, try to find some treatment for you.”
There were several treatment facilities around at the time, all of them 12 step based, twenty-eight or thirty day programs that insurance paid for with little hesitation. I got the number of one in Anderson, a friend of my brother had been there. They had helped him and he recommended them highly. Luckily, they accepted clients as young as twelve. I drove Micheal there and within a day or two he came down with strep throat. They treated him for that, but he was down for a few days and fell behind in the program. He wasn’t participating, or even cooperating much. During family therapy I asked him outright, “Why do you not want to be a part of this family?” It seemed a central issue, but he refused to answer. They discharged him early because he didn’t respond to any attempt at therapy. Chris and the boys went with me to pick him up after work. It was dark driving home, all the boys talking and being normal, like it was a new beginning, or like we were driving home from an outing, a movie or something. I was riding in silence because I knew my voice would crack if I tried to speak. I was thankful it was dark so no one could see the tears that just kept coming and coming. The atmosphere in the car was nothing like the atmosphere in my head, because I knew. I just knew. This was only the tip of the iceberg. This was only the prologue. The story hadn’t even begun yet.
January 12, 2019
He’s staying with the girl again. She’s living in a garage. It has heat and running water and a toilet. It’s finished but it’s still a garage. They are doing meth again, but they both say they want to quit. What stops a person from stopping is still a mystery to me, but it isn’t a bolt of lightning from the sky, and it isn’t any bystander, or any lack of bystander wanting a person to stop.
Micheal’s new parole officer, Graham by name, says Micheal needs treatment. He says he’s had him work around his office a bit, and he can testify, Micheal is a good worker and he does a good job. The PO thinks that if he goes to treatment and can stay busy and find purpose, Micheal could get off drugs and get a life.
God, if that could happen!
I want that more than anything, but as I’ve come to realize, God isn’t moved by bystander wanting.
Micheal and the girl inject their meth and they stay up for days. Paranoia sets in and they fight. The girl throws him out. This is a pattern they keep repeating.
The pattern repeats again on a Saturday when I’m at market. I’ve only been there an hour when the phone rings. Damn phone, it always fucks me over. It’s Micheal.
“Mom, can you come get me? I need some clothes. I could use something to eat, too.” Most of his clothing is at my house. He showers there and eats, usually when he is on the outs with the girl. He stays at my house until they text for a while and then he is back in the garage again.
“I can’t right now. I’m at the market. Mac just dropped me off. I’ll try to catch him before he gets home. He’ll come get you. Where are you?”
“I’m at The Wheel.” I know it isn’t The Wheel anymore, but apparently, he hasn’t gotten the news. He isn’t a veteran. They’ll be asking him to leave soon, I’m thinking. I make the call to Mac and he agrees to turn around and head to the legion. He’s Micheal’s third stepfather, but he’s been the most tolerant and sympathetic. He loves me and knows where I am; his son, Paul, is a recovering heroin addict.
It seems a minor problem has been solved, but a small knot of unease settles in the back of my mind. I get caught up in business and conversation with customers and my attention to the knot subsides…until, damn phone. Damn phone. It’s Mac this time.
“Jane, you have to come home. Now.”
“What’s going on?”
“It’s Micheal. He’s out of his mind paranoid. He thinks there are people outside watching the house. He thinks they are going to break in. He is standing by the back door with a butcher knife right now, hiding and peering out the window. He’s scaring me. I don’t know what he’ll do. Come home.”
I think to myself that my husband is over-reacting. Micheal’s never been violent. He’s never been physically aggressive with me or any other family member. Sure, he and Brandi had their moments. They fought, blacked each other’s eyes, were abusive with one another. The story is he choked her a time or two, but I’d never witnessed anything like that. I didn’t see it with my own eyes, and neither of them has ever admitted it, so I can doubt. No matter, I pack up my business and I head home, thinking all these things on the way there.
I walk in the door with my leftover baked goods and Micheal asks me why I’m home so early, did I sell out? No, I say, it was slow and I didn’t want to just sit there for hours with no sales. He is satisfied with my answer. He seems nervous but otherwise normal, except for the obvious weight of some object, or objects in the pouch of his hoodie. I notice the magnet strip where we keep our knives. The paring knives and the bread knife are there. Missing are two chef’s knives, a filet knife, and a butcher knife. Four knives on his person with only two hands on his body. Hmm…
Mac’s brother and sister-in-law are here. Why are they here? I have been in the house maybe a half minute and the tension in my body has risen exponentially. I am beginning to sense Micheal’s unease, and the extra people are adding to it dramatically. I try to signal Mac to get them out of here when Micheal goes upstairs and shuts the bathroom door behind him. I sit with the family and make conversation without knowing what I’m saying. My mind is moving rapidly, flitting through thoughts like shuffling cards, trying to figure a way to deescalate this situation that feels like it could get out of hand in a heartbeat.
Minutes pass. I hear my phone go off. It’s a text and I ignore it. Then, another one comes. And another. I find my phone. It’s Micheal, texting me from the bathroom.
Mom can you come upstairs
Mom come upstairs
I go upstairs and knock on the bathroom door. He doesn’t answer. “Micheal,” I say, “are you in there?” Still no answer. “Micheal, are you ok?” No response, but I don’t open the door. I go into the room he’s been using to change clothes. I sit down and wait for him to come out. I hear our company leave, thank heavens. Finally, I send a text to him.
Are you ok?
Do you want to talk?
In a minute
Ok. I’m waiting right here.
I’m sitting in the chair.
It’s ok. Come on out.
I will in a minute
Several minutes pass. Finally, he texts again.
There’s someone in the garage attic.
I can see them behind the blinds.
They are watching me in here.
There’s no one up there.
It just looks like there is.
There’s a Christmas tree with
ornaments on it. They move
sometimes with the air current.
No one is there. I promise.
We text for several minutes more and finally I convince him to come out and get something to eat. While he makes a sandwich, I go downstairs into the basement. Mac is there.
“What the fuck??” I mouth to him. I sit down and he whispers to me.
“I was sitting down here watching t.v. and he comes to the top of the stairs and says, ‘Mac, come quick, there is someone upstairs!’ So, I go up and I tell him, ‘No, dude, there’s no one up there. This is an old house; it makes strange noises all the time.’ Then he says, ‘No, really, I just heard something.’ So, I go, ‘Noo, look, I’ll go up there and check. You’ll see. There’s no one up there.’ Then I go up, open all the closet doors, one by one, and I yell down to him, ‘See? No one here. Really.” Then I come downstairs and he goes back and forth between the front door and the back door, again and again, all while holding a knife in his hand. He’s losing it.”
I’m about to tell him I don’t know what to do, when Micheal is at the top of the stairs again. “Mom!…Mom, come up here, someone is trying to get in the house.”
When I get upstairs he’s in the living room looking out the window at the dumpster in the neighbor’s driveway. “Stop.” He says, “Just stand there and watch. There’s a man in the dumpster and every few seconds his head comes up. He’s looking in the window! Now, wait…” seconds pass, “There! Did you see him? Did you see his head pop up?”
“No, Micheal, I didn’t see that. I didn’t see anyone. There’s some old potted plants in there. The leaves move in the wind. That’s all it is.”
“Come here, come look at this,” he pulls me into the dining room. “Now, watch the edge of that garage, over there across the street. See that downspout? There’s someone else around the corner of that garage. He’s signaling to the man in the dumpster. They are both watching the house, and in just a little bit, they are going to bust in here.” He backs into a corner as he’s talking, so his back is against a wall, and he can see through windows in both the living and dining rooms, plus he can see the front door.
“No, there’s no one there, son. This is in your head. It’s a hallucination, it’s all in your head. It’s the drug; it’s not real.” I try to convince him.
“Are you sure? But, look. Look at this.” He points to the front door glass. “You see that? Over there by that bush? That’s another one. I’ve been watching all these guys, these here,” he points out the windows to where the guys are stationed, “plus the one in the garage attic. They are signaling each other, and I’m telling you, they are going to bust in here.”
“But, why, Micheal? Why would they do this?” I hope some sense will sink in somehow, I hope he will see reason.
“I don’t know, Ma. Maybe they think I’ve got a stash in here or something. I don’t know! Maybe they just want to kill us!”
“No, Micheal, no. None of this is real. This is ALL in your head. Remember that time we drove around for hours because you thought all white cars were agents out to get you? That wasn’t real. This isn’t real. It’s the drugs, or the lack of sleep. How long have you been up?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a couple of days, maybe more. Yea, I know, this probably isn’t real, but I just gotta make sure. Come upstairs with me a minute.”
“I’ll go upstairs with you, but give me the knives first.” He hands me all but one.
“I need to hang onto one, okay. Just in case they come in.”
“What happens if you begin to think I’m one of ‘them’?” I ask. “I don’t want you to hurt me or Mac by mistake.”
“You don’t really think I’d hurt you guys, do you?” He sounds truly befuddled, “You gotta know I’d die defending you and Mac from those people.”
“I know you would, as long as you know who we are. But, you’re hallucinating. You could make a mistake.”
“I won’t do that. Come up here and let me show you.” We go room to room, looking in closets. All are clear, and we stop in the smallest bedroom. He sets the knife down on the bed and bends over at the window, hands on his knees, scanning the garage, then the bush and dumpster, checking the sentinels at each. “They’re still there. See ‘em?” He peers through the window at the ground directly below. His back is completely turned to me, so I grab the knife on the bed and quickly shove it under the mattress. I text Mac and tell him to gather up all the knives and hide them somewhere, including the three I left on the dining room table. I don’t know what to do, but I need to resolve the situation somehow. I want to call the police, but I’m afraid they might shoot him if he gets his hands on a knife or other weapon, but maybe if I isolate him where I know there are no weapons they can arrest him and he will be safe. I concoct a plan.
“Let’s get out of here.” I say, let’s go for a ride and shake these dudes. Maybe your mind will clear.”
“Yea,” he says, “I’ve got some things at a friend’s I need to pick up. You can take me by there.” As he moves to go down the stairs I notice him limping. I realize he’s been limping and kicking his right foot the whole time. I ask him what’s wrong and he says he doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember doing anything to it, but his leg has been hurting just below the knee and it’s getting worse. I ask him to show me. He pulls up his pant leg and I see a dark blue-red bump at the top of his shin. There’s a small cut, nothing really, but the skin is inflamed, hot and tender to the touch. I tell him we will stop at the drugstore while we are out to pick up some peroxide and Bacitracin™. Before we walk out the door, I give some instructions to Mac. I kiss him goodbye and walk out the door, hopeful my plan will work out.