It was still early spring in 1985 when my dad dismantled my grandmother’s household. She had died just a few months before and all her goods were being divvied up among the family or sold. Being the neediest among us, I was the happy recipient of not only her large, comfy sofa, but her pantry and freezer as well. Spam, Vienna Sausage and Dinty Moore beef stew filled my cupboard. My freezer became crammed with Green Giant vegetables in boiling bags, creamed spinach, peas and pearl onions, broccoli with cheese sauce, and shoe peg corn in butter sauce. It felt like an incredible bounty. For a few weeks Micheal and I had what seemed like luxurious meals. One evening, I invited my step-brother, Chris, to join us for supper. Recently separated from his wife, he was living with my dad and stepmom. Since we both were coming out of painful relationships, I thought it would be nice for us to have someone to commiserate with. Even though our respective parents had been married for five years and we had been to the same family functions, we really didn’t know each other well. That evening, after Micheal went to bed, our conversation recounted our history, how we met and married our spouses, and how our marriages collapsed.
“So,” I said, after he explained his current living situation, “what do you do next?”
“Well, I guess I’ll go back to the house once my wife moves out. If I’m going to be making the payment, I might as well live there. I’ll have to sell it eventually, though. I can’t afford it by myself and she will want her part of the down payment back.”
“Would you consider renting it? I have a girlfriend who wants to find a roommate. We both have kids and neither of us can afford to live on our own. She and I have been talking about finding a place together.”
“Maybe. I’ll have to think about it. The best thing is probably just to sell it.” Chris was dubious about my idea, but I could see possibility there. What we both saw as possible was the two of us spending some time together. Over the course of the next few months we dated and spent time in each other’s homes. Our children already knew each other from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They fell in together like everything was normal and not at all on the creepy side. When the school year was over for Micheal, we made plans to move in with Chris. I didn’t ask Micheal how he felt about the prospect of living with another man besides Dave, the father he had known for most of his life. It seemed obvious to me that this move was a perfect situation. Micheal would have a ready-made family that was almost a real family. The connections were there for it to be like a real family. It provided a security I had been yearning for and I assumed Micheal had been yearning for, too.
One thing was certain, my little boy was used to moving. He barely paid attention as I brought in boxes from the liquor store and packed things up. I put several boxes in his room for his toys, but they sat empty. Each day that week, I would urge him to box up his things, and each day he would leave the job undone. By the end of the week I was losing patience so I told him sternly the toys must be packed for the move over the weekend. Later, when I went to check his work I was shocked to see several toys destroyed. I was enraged my son had vandalized and disrespected his own property.
“How could you do this?” I yelled at him, “Most of this stuff you got for Christmas! Your Dad, your Grandmas and Grandpas spent good money for this stuff and you’ve torn it up!”
“I don’t want this stuff anymore.” He said, “It’s stupid. It’s just a bunch of junk!”
I couldn’t see it then, but looking back he was trying to tell me with action what he didn’t have words to express. What I thought was ideal, even predestined, was evidently a bad idea to him. Had I been able to recognize and decipher this message of his, all the agony that followed might have been avoided. As it happened, the louder his actions spoke to me, the deafer and dumber I became.
December 13, 2018
He stays at an address in the 1200 block of North ‘C’. Occasionally, when I check the phone he is at a 12th street address close by. Rarely can I locate it anywhere else, except for one evening when he appears to be walking somewhere. I check every couple of minutes as I witness his progress from North 12th street to South 7th street. He is a fast walker and it doesn’t take him long to get from one place to the other. The phone appears as a carrot on the map screen. I think to myself this icon is appropriate on more than one level. The South 7th street address is where his drug dealer lives. Meth is evidently one hell of a carrot.
He doesn’t seem to be using much, though. I check the phone several times a day, and only this one time do I see him go to the drug house. I don’t know his dealer isn’t bringing drugs to him, and to the girl, I guess, but the lack of movement comforts me somehow. He is telling me the truth when he texts and says he hasn’t been going anywhere. He is being good, so for a couple of weeks I am complacent, happy just to know my son is not locked up. Suddenly, though, things change and he is at one address, and then another. He bounces around for a couple of days and I begin to worry. He texts me asking for money. He asks for food. He says he and the girl had a fight. She made him leave, but he’s ok.
He doesn’t sound ok. I know when he’s desperate he does desperate things. I decide to call his Parole Officer to get him off the street before something bad happens. She tells me she will text me when she is in a patrol car and can pick him up. Soon, she is driving around and I am sending her his locations. He is walking, down this street and up that, changing up blocks by taking side streets, west for one block, north for three, east for one block, north for four, then east again and south, circling a block. He is walking as if he suspects he’s being followed and wants to confuse his pursuer. He is paranoid, but he isn’t wrong that someone is watching him. He goes to the address of what I know is a drug dealer for just a few minutes, then leaves and goes to another address that I’ve never seen him visit. I give this address to the Parole Officer. I tell her he’s within a few yards of the address I gave her, but I don’t recognize it. He’s never been there before.
I check his location again, and again. He’s on the move now, fast. He seems to be in a car, except he goes through 10th street park where a car can’t drive. He must be running! Again, I check his location and he is stopped around the alley at south end of the block between 9th and 10th streets. I send a text. No reply. I call the number. No answer. They must have him.
The adrenaline is surging through my body and my breathing is quick. I take a half hour or so to calm myself before I check his current location. He’s at the hospital.
Now, I panic in earnest. Did he resist? Did they shoot him? Has he overdosed or had a meth induced heart attack? I call the phone. It’s been turned off. I call the hospital; they tell me nothing. I call the Parole Officer, no answer. I leave a message, pleading with her to call me as soon as possible. When she returns my call she is coughing. She can hardly complete a sentence.
“He ran,” she coughed, “he jumped out a second story..” more coughing, “window and ran…”
“He jumped out a second story window?” I repeat in amazement. It was astonishing to me that he could do this and still be able to run.
“Yes,” she answered, coughing still, “He ran for five blocks before we caught him.” She stopped talking again to cough. “That’s why I’m coughing. I was completely winded. When we caught him he was barely out of breath, he was so high.”
“Why is he at the hospital?” My main concern was that he was okay.
“He’s not,” she coughed, “He’s at the jail. We took him to the hospital to get him checked because he was complaining his foot was hurt from the jump.”
“I can’t say that I’m happy, but I am grateful. Thank you,” When I knew he was safe the tears started. It’s a defeat to have your child put in jail, but it’s a two-sided defeat. It’s the loss of a battle, but it’s also a guarantee the war will at least continue. All is not yet lost.