Originally Published Febuary 8th, 2015
I don’t even remember how long it’s been since the call came. Five years, maybe longer. Between my wife and I, it’s ‘the call’, the one that changed our lives, impacting our relationship with each other, with others, and changed how we view life.
In the middle of a long ago, dark night, our world changed.
Tired, groggy, foggy and irritated I answered the incessant ringing and tried to bear with the excited, trembling voice on the other end trying to tell me my son was in police custody for his own safety, that he had been found wandering, playing in interstate traffic.
That Sunday afternoon, I, and my youngest son had driven the hour to visit my 19 year old son in a treatment center. A treatment center he had decided on, on his own, to deal with his growing marijuana problem. While I didn’t see or share the concern my son had with his smoking weed, I appreciated his self concern, and respected the fact he was willing to get help on his own.
What started as a road trip with my 10 year old son to vist his older brother ended in a feeling that something was horribly wrong. I no sooner pulled up in the treatment centers parking lot and was disgusted by the run down, broken and tattered appearance of the place. Setting right off the curb of a busy street, there wasn’t a lot of room to park and I worried how the hell I was going to back out in all that traffic. I also started wondering if I was in the right place because I couldn’t find anyone and in fact, the building was deserted. After wandering around and not finding a soul, we decided to leave, and with a little luck navigated our way back into traffic, where my youngest spotted his brother lazily walking along the sidewalk, rambling toward his treatment center. Caleb yelled out and Sean returned his shout with a grin and a wave
Threading traffic to the narrow lot, we found my son standing alone, waiting and as typical, asked if I had a cigarette. He also insisted in setting in the jump seat of my Ranger to smoke his cigarette.
Something was wrong, I thought he was as high as a kite, and I was more than a bit pissed. His speech was broken, he wasn’t making a lot of clear sense and he wandered from topic to topic. I asked him where I could find staff and we looked. Looked for an hour, toured the ramshackle, dirty place and found no one. I asked another young man where the staff were and his reply was that staff didn’t work weekends, that he and others were on the merit system over weekends. Sean volunteered that almost everyone was down the street at the bar.
I left that afternoon, anguished, scared, worried and not sure what to do. Sean wasn’t himself, and he wasn’t in a safe environment. I resolved to making some phone calls the following day, Monday.
And then that damn phone rang in the middle of the night, telling me that my son was incoherent, had been found playing dodge the cars on the interstate, and the Emergency Medical Technician was suddenly asking if my son had a drug problem, if this was typical behavior, and some other unremembered health questions.
We had to wait a full 48 hours before we were allowed to visit my son who was now in a secure mental health center. We had been updated, and we were assured that no drugs were involved. We were also warned to be prepared.
How do you prepare yourself to see someone else living in your 19 year old sons body. And not just someone else, but a wild, crazy, incoherent paranoid who believes he’s super chicken, blanket for cape, in tune with the cosmic universe. Yea, I prepared myself for that.
The next four years were a nightmare; courts, social workers, police, institutions, group homes, meetings, doctors, psychiatrists, hours traveled north, and south for visits. Sean finally settled down in a group home just down the road a year and a half back. He has a great sense of humor, a cool personality, echoes Arnold to a ‘T’ and has a love of music. He’s also on a lot of meds, with a lot of possible side effects. Because of those possible side effects, they change up his meds every once in a while. Sometimes there’s no noticeable change in my son, sometime there is. His meds were changed just before Christmas and it was noticeable, so much so that we intervened and made our concerns valued.
On a cold lonely Wednesday evening in January, my son wandered off. Left his tobacco bag in his room with his MPG player, and disappeared.
He was found two days later by an officer, 28 miles away, barefoot, wearing 2 pairs of pants and a ragged shirt. Incoherent and frostbitten, and he was transported to Hennepins burn unit thinking his feet might have to be amputated.
He was lucky, we were lucky, this time.
You have to know that I have tears as I write this. Yes, tears of joy in that he’s back home, all is well, but know this, they are tears of sorrow as well, because I know there very well might be a time, when we are not so lucky.
There is no fault in his recent disappearance, no one did anything wrong, not staff at the group home, not the psychiatrist who changed his meds, and certainly my son had no intention to do anything other than what he thought was normal, for him. Indeed, I have nothing but complements for people who helped, staff members who spent their own time looking for my son. People did what they could, because they cared.
And this is the thing. You probably know someone who has some mental health issues. You might not be aware that afriends son is a schizophrenic or that a co worker is horrible depressed. You probably don’t want to know that there are tens of thousands of people all over our Nation that need all kinds of help with their mental and emotional challenges. We would rather not talk about it, and I think it’s because it’s a topic that is pretty close to home, and one for which we don’t have a lot of answers.