More Foolishness

Without a plan, or even a clue, I did my best to make a family. Things got much better before things got way worse. I was hired by the Post Office and the increase in income gave us a tremendous boost as our family had expanded quickly. After Shawn and Brandon came to live with us, Chris and I got married and we had Carey, who in time became the glue that held all our dysfunctional parts together.

And we were plenty dysfunctional. Every one of us was wounded, and none of us realized how our individual wounds affected the others, but it didn’t matter, we loved one another and we stuck together anyway. Chris was traumatized by an alcoholic father who was physically abusive. I was molested at nine and raped at 17. Shawn and Brandon were children of divorce, then their mother moved away leaving them with us. Carey was too young to be aware of the many wounding opportunities ahead for him. Micheal had grown up with a drunken mother he suddenly had to share with three other children. He had a verbally abusive father…oops…no, he had a verbally abusive stepfather he thought was his father, then he had another stepfather, Chris, and then, of course, there was the father who never got talked about anymore.

We all muddled along with this setup until one night an old friend, Cindy, was tending bar at Mack’s when the *least likely candidate, who was visiting from out of town, came in for a few drinks. It had been ten years since the candidate had left Richmond so there was a LOT to catch up on, like why had he left town, did Jane have a baby, and who the child’s father was, all things that had been settled in my mind, as much as they could be settled, for forever. But Cindy, always the skeptic, decided things weren’t all that settled.  She rang my phone sometime around midnight, rousing me from sleep.

“Jane,” Cindy said, “You’ll never believe who is here at Mack’s tonight.”

I was beginning to really hate phone calls. “Let me guess, Joe Nuxall?”

“Don’t’ be silly,” she said, “it’s the *least likely candidate visiting from out of town. He says he knew you were pregnant before he left Richmond. He wants to know if it’s possible he’s Micheal’s father”

“Yea, it’s possible,” I answered, my pulse suddenly beating a drum in my brain, “it’s just not likely.”

“He wants to know if you will talk to him.”

“I’ll talk to him, but not right now. Give him my number and tell him to call me tomorrow.” I needed time to think about what to say. I knew a day of reckoning was coming, but it was coming about a decade sooner than I expected. The *least likely candidate’s appearance was something I had not even considered. Why did he want to know now? If he knew I was pregnant before he left town and had questions, why didn’t he ask me then? He told me several times during our short relationship he had no interest in children, saying outright that if anything happened he would be down for an abortion and nothing else. I remember him telling me about the abortion he had financed for the girlfriend before me. Understanding his attitude from ten years ago, I figured this would be an easy brush-off.

I was wrong. *Least likely told me he was very interested in knowing if he was Micheal’s father. He wanted to have a DNA paternity test done, which was expensive at the time. I am still torn about whether I should have agreed to it or not. One thing I am certain of, I am desperately sorry for the way I handled it with my son. Looking back, I can feel his confusion, his fear, his anger in a way I was incapable of at the time. I wounded his tender heart deeply not just with the information, but with my cavalier attitude.  

“Micheal, you remember when I told you that you had a daddy before Dave?” My talk began.

“No. I don’t remember that. I have another father besides Dad?”

“Yes. I told you but you must not remember. He didn’t want you, so when I married Dave he became your Dad.”

“Okay.” I could see my son struggling to grasp the information, but I wasn’t worried. He had always managed to roll with the punches.

“Well, a man who could be your father wants to find out for sure. He wants us to do a test.  A nurse will need to take some blood and it will hurt a little bit, and then we will know in a few weeks.”

“Are you sure you’re my mother?” Micheal asked.

“Of course!”

“But, how do you know?” I didn’t grasp that my son’s foundation was crumbling underneath him.

“I know because I was there when you were born.”

“I don’t want to have another Dad.”

“Don’t worry sweetheart. I would never stop you from seeing your Dad. If the test says this man is your father, then you’ll have two dads. How great is that?”

As it turned out, the *least likely candidate was only .01% less likely to be Micheal’s father than any other man on the planet. I was good on my word. I continued to let Dave see Micheal while *least likely was getting acquainted with his new son. *Least likely went all in, I have to give him credit for that. After I gave him my assurance I wouldn’t sue for back child support, he moved back to town. He asked that Micheal take his last name, which Micheal refused, but *less likely began paying child support and seeing Micheal regularly anyway. It might have worked out if they had some help establishing a bond, but Micheal kept his new dad at arm’s length, and *less likely, having no experience with children at all, couldn’t seem to make any headway in getting close to him.

Micheal’s relationship with both dads limped along for many months. I lost patience with Dave’s irresponsibility when he brought Micheal home well after midnight on a school night. It was the final straw that convinced me it was in my son’s better interest to have one father instead of two. The problem with this, of course, was Dave was the dad Micheal was bonded with. Even with Dave out of the picture, the relationship with *least likely did not improve, and after a couple of years he gave up trying and moved away.

In a matter of two short years Micheal went from having two dads and a stepdad to having just one stepdad who was becoming more and more dissatisfied with his behavior, which was beginning to spiral out of control.

Christmas Day, 2018

Every holiday I wait for my boys to call me or send a message. One by one, they make contact. Today the first text comes from Shawn, “Merry Christmas! Love you.” He posts pictures of his baby son opening presents. His daughter was in high school when his son was born. He is experiencing fatherhood in a way he didn’t when he was young. I can relate. The older you get the more you appreciate the role you play in your children’s lives.

Brandon sends me a video of his kids opening presents. I laugh and smile, not only at their joy, but in remembering Brandon’s joy with his brothers on Christmases past. He is home for the day from rehab. He is finding his way back to his family and is learning to love them in a new way. I am grateful to God for his sobriety and how his spirit has become more open and loving.

Carey sends me a “Merry Christmas! Love you Momma” text from Europe. I can’t wait to hear about his adventure. He will be home soon and when he is I’ll breathe easier.

Micheal phones in the evening. As I wait for the recorded instructions to finish, I try to count how many Christmases he’s been in lockup, but I can’t remember. The years have run together until they are all a confusing jumble. I wonder what it would be like to have an endless succession of Christmas prison memories instead of the normal family joys and sorrows. Even though I’m glad to hear my son’s voice, I’m still sad.

The search light in the big yard turns ’round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes like the dust in the sun
It’s Christmas in prison there’ll be music tonight
I’ll probably get homesick, I love you, Good night

-John Prine, Christmas in Prison

*When I began writing this blog, I asked all persons mentioned for permission to use their name. All agreed except for Micheal’s biological father. Instead of using a pseudonym, I chose to not name him at all.


How can you describe the fear in your heart when your thirteen-year-old goes missing? Missing, you think, on some lark, some challenge to your authority…but, what if that isn’t it? What if some pervert picked him up? What if he went to some crazy party and used a drug that left him unconscious or unable to call home? What if he’s been hurt and is lying somewhere, cold and in pain? What if he’s lying in a ditch with his throat slit, or has suffered a hundred other horrible fates limited only by your imagination?

Well, you don’t sleep at all that first night. You sit awake in the dark waiting for the phone to ring. Your husband, your other children sleep, the house quiet, a muted light from the kitchen illuminates your spot by the phone. You smoke cigarette after cigarette, say prayer after prayer, “Please, God, let him be safe…let him be safe…let him be safe. Please…please…please.”

You will every car to slow as it approaches your house, to turn into your drive, to deliver your son to you, safe and sound, but your will is weak and it doesn’t happen.

You want to call the police, but your boy is already involved in the legal system. He’s on probation for vandalism, for destroying public property. You wonder what kind of consequence there would be for running away? Would they say he’s incorrigible? Would they send him to Boy’s School?

All your son’s friends say they don’t know where he is. They don’t act scared. They aren’t concerned. They know where he is, they just aren’t saying. You want to shake each of them until they give up the information. No, you want to pound them until they do.

In the morning you call Brad, the school principal. Your son has had some problems in school, so the two of you have talked a few times, almost enough to be on a first name basis. You call him “Bra-ad” derisively behind his back because you think he is such a pussy. “Bra-ad” already knows your boy is missing. He heard it from a kid who is friends with the kid that your son is with, but Brad isn’t giving any names.


Brad tells you he’s sure his information is solid. The kid that your son is hiding with comes from a good family. He knows there isn’t anything crazy going on. Your boy is probably safe. Brad’s tone suggests that maybe he’s even safer than he would be with your family, or maybe that’s your own guilt you’re hearing, but…


The principal is covering for a runaway child?


Your mind struggles to comprehend what you’re hearing. You ask if the parents of the hider know your son is being hidden. Brad thinks not. Your mind boggles anew at how an adult in a position of authority over your community’s children could be this deceptive. You imagine the potential liability for the hider’s parents and you wonder what miracle keeps your head from exploding.

Your hands are tied. You have no choice. It’s either involve authorities and risk more legal consequences for your son, or go with Brad, who has offered to persuade your son to come home using his student back-channel.

Jesus Christ.

Four days. It takes four days of back and forth with Brad and his team of juveniles to secure a surrender. In the meantime, you learn through the grapevine that the kid your boy is hiding with is named “Jesse”, as in “Jessica.”  

Jesus Christ in a sidecar, Brad.

You pick your son up and bring him home. You want explanations but you aren’t getting any. Your house is full of concerned family when you get home, but you manage to find a private place to talk with your son. He has no answers for you. He begins to cry as you tell him how scared you were and how glad you are he’s safe. You ask about Jesse and he cries harder. You ask what about Jesse makes him so upset. You move to comfort him; he buries his face in your shoulder and sobs, his thin body heaving. You tell your baby it will be ok. You ask if something bad happened between him and Jesse. You feel him shake his head ‘no.’ You ask did they do something they maybe weren’t ready for. His head shakes ‘yes’ this time, and he clings to you harder, he gasps between sobs as if stricken with some terrible grief.

Jesus Fucking Christ, Brad. Just what does ‘safe’ mean? And you, yeah, YOU… just what do legal consequences mean?

You decide it’s time for counseling.

December 28, 2018

The phone rings again. The caller ID says it’s Agent McDonald, the one I helped to arrest Micheal. I am hoping for good news so I answer quickly. I expect her to say the Parole Board has agreed to treatment instead of sending him back to prison. That isn’t what she says. She gets right to the point.

“I just got a phone call. Micheal has been released.”

“What?” I’m incredulous, “Why would they do that? I just sent a letter asking them to allow treatment,” I am beside myself. I don’t see reason in releasing him. Why did she arrest him to begin with?

She has no explanation for me, but I suspect it’s because someone dropped the ball. They have a finite number of days to decide. The clock ran out so they did what they must. They put an active drug addict back on the street to continue stealing and drugging.

I pull up my letter to the Parole Board which I addressed to each individual member. I wonder will any be moved by my words which now mean less than nothing, if they ever meant anything at all. I have struggled for years to move heaven and earth for my son. Neither one has ever budged one mite.

December 28, 2018

                                                                    Indiana Parole Board Member                                                                                  

                                    RE: Micheal B. Townsend, #921490

Madam and Sir:

The above-mentioned offender is my son. He is currently incarcerated at Wayne County on a parole violation. He has violated his parole three times. His repeated lack of compliance with parole stems from his drug use. In fact, all his life problems stem from his drug use. His drug addiction and resultant crimes have created emotional problems which have been further compounded by his repeated incarcerations. He is institutionalized, virtually unemployable; he lacks any life skills and is nearly incapable of maintaining a meaningful relationship with any other human being. He needs a tremendous amount of therapy if he is ever to be a functioning member of society. The kind of services he needs are unavailable in prison, a place not designed to be a therapeutic environment. For these reasons, another six months in prison will be a useless exercise. He will be the same person released again on parole. Society would be better served by at least an attempt to provide the therapy he needs. Otherwise, it is nearly certain that he will eventually offend the law once again in his pursuit of drugs, furthering his victimization of innocent persons and his burden on society.

Micheal has now expressed a willingness to submit to a recovery process, particularly if it keeps him from going back to prison. He refused the treatment arranged by Agent McDonald when released in October because he viewed it as an extension of his incarceration. If it must be that Micheal is sent back to prison, please consider sending him to treatment at Meridian first. If that is not possible, I would like to ask the board to consider allowing a private family arrangement for drug treatment away from Wayne county. Micheal is deeply entrenched in the drug culture in this area and a change of venue might aid in his recovery.

Please understand I am not minimizing or excusing Micheal’s crimes, behaviors or attitudes. His problems have been lifelong, intractable, and have caused me a level of anguish I can’t adequately describe. My plea for drug rehab is a last-ditch effort to help him redeem himself before his drug use causes a devastating harm to himself, or worse, someone else.

Thank you,

Jane McDaniel

Cc:  Agent McDonald

Meant To Be Here (not)

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.

What’s Done Is Done

During Micheal’s adolescence, I learned many things I never wanted to know, like throwing a bit of ceramic from a spark plug against a car window would immediately obliterate it, or an even better bit, homeowner’s insurance will cover damage caused by your minor child. Homeowner’s insurance will also cover theft by your minor child. I never learned how many incidents like this the insurance company would pay for, because the incidents were increasing and I had to make something happen again.

Problems involving police were increasing. Disruption in the household was increasing. Pressure from Chris was increasing. Pressure from juvenile court was increasing. Micheal was running out of chances everywhere. He’d already been to Henry County Juvenile Detention. Soon, there would be nothing left but Boy’s School, where I figured the lessons would focus on how to be a more successful criminal.

I was being catapulted from one catastrophe to the next, before one ended another one would begin. Nothing I did was working. I was trying to control a tornado and it was pounding my spirit and draining my resources.

Counselors didn’t help. Micheal wasn’t the least bit interested in therapy. Beyond that, there wasn’t much help to be had, that is, help that didn’t cost more money than I could dream of having at one time. So, with few choices at hand, I made a bad one.

Walt and mom had found, through a friend of a friend, a farm in Jennings County, Indiana that took in troubled boys. It was a religious organization I was told, and the boys were required to go to church and study the Bible. They also attended school and were required to do chores. The farm was in a very rural, heavily wooded area, with the Muscatatuck wildlife refuge and several parks and recreation opportunities close by. It sounded like a place Micheal would love. Except he didn’t.

He had good reasons. He hadn’t been there more than three days when he was calling me, begging for me to come get him. I wanted to. I just couldn’t, but I promised to come see him as soon as I could.

Days later, I pulled up next to an old brick farmhouse set in the middle of a wooded, hilly area. The house had been painted white at one time, but that was many years ago. There were huge swaths along the chimney and at various places where the guttering had given way and moisture had lifted all the paint from the surface, exposing the red brick underneath. The back-storm door opened onto a porch that functioned as a hallway. It was a room reduced to a hallway by the boxes filled with books and miscellaneous junk stacked head high. This walkway continued into the next room and then the next. Unfamiliar with what hoarding was, I was shocked, not the least by the intense scent of mildew that was nearly overpowering. I was comforted to know that Micheal didn’t stay there. The boys only came to the main house at mealtimes and for church. They had a bunkhouse a few yards from the main house. My hope of a better condition was quickly diminished by the discovery that what the bunkhouse lacked in mildew, it made up for in filth. The day was very warm, early fall, and the doors and windows were wide open, allowing a multitude of flies into the building. I stepped inside, my shoes crunching on the dried mud that had been deposited on the cement floor. The main room was long and narrow, maybe 15’x 30’. Along one wall was a woodstove, and next to it was a pile of wood at the ready for the cool nights and mornings that came with the change of season. Bits of bark and wood were scattered along with the clumps of dried mud on the floor. Off this room was a bathroom that had a stained toilet and a sink whose faucet had been leaking so long the ceramic was eroded underneath. The shower was a cement floored, mildewed stall that had been painted over. Specks of peeled paint littered the cement, which sloped down sharply toward a narrow drain. It was so sharp and deep a person would need to straddle the drain to take a shower. The two sets of bunkbeds in the main room were made from 2×4 and plywood, used at the time by three boys ranging in age from fifteen to eighteen, with Micheal being the youngest and newest resident. The beds were unmade with soiled sheets and pillowcases. Micheal lay on the bottom bunk of one of the beds, sick with a fever. I sat on the edge of the bed beside him. Crying, he begged me to take him home.

I could give a million excuses for why I didn’t take him home that day, beginning with there was no other place to send him; there was no other “help” available, but the truth is I wanted peace in my household more than I wanted to take care of my son, more than I wanted him to have a clean environment to live in. I wanted peace in my relationship with Chris, I wanted a home for the other three boys that wasn’t constantly disrupted and influenced by the behavior of the one boy. The truth is it was easier to bear the guilt and grief of leaving my sick child in those deplorable conditions than it was to bear the disapproval of my husband and the friction from my stepfather for bringing him home.

So, I got in my car and left.

January 12, 2019, cont.

After instructing Mac to call the police, I walk as slowly and casually as I can to the car. I want them to have plenty of time to find me and pull me over. Micheal is waiting for me in the car, knifeless. I hope he has nothing else that could be used as a weapon. I am far more afraid law enforcement will shoot him unnecessarily than I am he will attack me. My hope is they will pull me over and arrest him after I explain the situation. Strangely, the paranoid spell has all but dissolved. Micheal’s conversation and demeanor is rational and sane. It’s as if the continual movement of the car has shifted the focus of his mind. I follow the exact route I told Mac to give to the police, but I have still seen no sign of them as we reach our destination. I park in a lot a few doors from the friend’s house as Micheal instructs me to do. As soon as he gets out I call Agent Graham, his parole officer. I leave a message describing the situation, and as I hang up the phone a police car pulls up beside me. I think Micheal surely must have seen this happen and my plan is fucked. I imagine he won’t come out of the apartment.    

The officer comes over to my window and asks me questions. Where is Micheal? Has he been threatening me? Has he been threatening to harm himself or anyone else? Does he have a weapon? I answer his questions, saying Micheal is at a friend’s apartment on the corner, and no, no, no, no to the others. I explain about his parole and the drugs and how his parole officer will likely violate him. As three other cruisers pull up, Agent Graham returns my call. He tells me unless Micheal has committed a crime he can’t violate his parole for his drug use. The jail is full and the system is overburdened with hundreds of other Micheals. He throws me a bone by telling me he will require Micheal to go to treatment. He will have to get help or go back to prison. I’m disheartened my plan is a bust, but at least there’s that.  I hand the phone to the officer when Agent Graham asks to speak to him.

Meanwhile, the other officers have Micheal stopped in the alley between the friend’s apartment and the parking lot. I marvel that he could see several men hiding and signaling to each other outside my house, but was unable to see four police cruisers outside his friend’s apartment. The police lecture, they search his backpack, they treat Micheal and me with the usual suspicion and contempt I’ve come to expect, but in the end, they cannot arrest him. One of the officers, a woman, gives me a quick, sympathetic hug and sincerely wishes me the best. Out of earshot of the others, she tells me sincerely that all policemen aren’t like the ones she’s with. Some understand how the drug problem is for families. She knows firsthand herself, her own brother is a drug addict. I thank her sincerely.

The police leave the scene. Micheal is angry, no surprise there, and I have failed in my intentions. I drive for a while and try to explain my motivations, but he doesn’t understand. He can’t comprehend how a paranoid person with a knife would make someone nervous. I stop at a drug store to get supplies for his leg. While inside I call Mac to update him. He says I can’t bring Micheal home. I tell him I’ll drive around for a while to figure something out. Micheal says he has nowhere to go. I don’t either. I’ve been in this place before and there’s no escape.

I bring Micheal home anyway. He goes into the den where it is dark. There are two windows and a door to the outside. He can monitor the hiding men and he can escape if he needs to. It’s okay with him if I draw the blinds, so I do. I leave him sitting in the dark.

Micheal took this selfie in my car

He stays in there for more than an hour before I check on him. When I do, I find him sleeping. Beside him on the end table I find a pocket knife, open, blade exposed. I leave the room with it and place it with the others we have hidden.

Mac and I have a conversation about what should happen next. We don’t want to wake him. We don’t want to go to bed and leave him there. What if he wakes up, paranoid and hallucinating again? If he hears us in the house, but can’t see us in the dark, will he think we are intruders? Will he find something to attack us with? It’s not likely we will sleep anyway, so we decide to stay up in the living room with all the lights on and the tv going. That way he will see us and know we aren’t the ones who intend him harm. We stay up all night. It isn’t hard. Mac and I are both imagining what could happen and that awful scenario is enough to keep us wide awake. As for Micheal, he doesn’t come out of the den all night. He doesn’t come out for fourteen solid hours. When he finally does emerge, he can barely walk. The leg with the tiny wound is inflamed much more than before, hot and tender from the bottom of the knee to mid-shin. It’s obvious this problem will not be solved with a little bit of peroxide and ointment.

The catapult is drawn back and I am in it, ready to be thrown into the next crisis.

No Recall

The mind is an amazingly resilient thing. As a means of protecting itself, it can take memories beyond accurate recall, or any recall for that matter. This is the way it is with my memory of how Micheal left the farm. I think I got a phone call from the farmer saying he had been arrested. I know something happened that made him no longer welcome. I don’t remember who went to get him or where he went, but I have no memory of him ever living in my home after that. The next memory I have of his life he is in Boy’s School, a now defunct institution and once last resort of the juvenile justice system. He was at the Boy’s School for a few months before he was transferred to a juvenile facility close to where the *least likely candidate lived. It was agreed that Micheal would live with him after his release from the juvenile facility.

The least likely candidate’s home was in a remote area, yet close to one of the bigger cities in Indiana. Micheal always loved the outdoors, with hunting and fishing two of his favorite activities. I was hopeful that he and his father could finally develop a healthy relationship in that environment. It seemed to me having his dad was a crucial element in setting his life right. Things went well initially. Micheal got a job. His dad taught him how to drive and helped him get his driver’s license. All reports seemed to indicate a change, except the relationship between father and son wasn’t improving. They functioned more as landlord/tenant than as family members. The stubborn and deeply suspicious nature they both share could not be overcome, and after little more than a year, his father threw him out. Micheal stayed in the city for a few weeks, but after his father’s home was burglarized and threats were exchanged, I went to get him.

He had turned eighteen during his time away from Richmond. His life now completely his own, there was no thought of him returning to live with me. He got a job at Shoney’s and tried sharing an apartment with a friend for a time, but no living arrangement lasted long. The job didn’t either. There was just too much drugging to do. He began a relationship with a young woman who had an infant son. She lived with her mother and sister. It wasn’t long before Micheal was staying with them.   Soon after, I got a phone call from his girlfriend. She needed to talk to me. I agreed to meet her for coffee, but I already knew what the topic of conversation would be. I became a grandmother on April 25, 1998, when Micheal Brice Townsend II was born. I was almost forty, Micheal was nineteen, the same age I was when he was born, and my mother turned sixty on the very same day.

January 13, 2019

He’s asleep again. The hallucinations seem to have passed, but I’m concerned he will not agree to see a doctor. The infection in his leg is spreading and walking is becoming more painful. I allow him to sleep for a few more hours in hopes his mental state will improve and he will agree to let me take him to the hospital.

I knock lightly on the door mid-afternoon. He’s awake but drowsy, his forehead warm. There’s a fever starting. I impress upon him the importance of medical care for his infection. This won’t get better on its own. I’m surprised when he agrees to a trip to the emergency room. I figure this will be the best place for him to be if he starts hallucinating again. Perhaps they will admit him if he is delusional.

I’m surprised when he is reasonable and responds helpfully to the doctor as she examines him. He explains the small cut he received when his bicycle slid on the ice, causing him to wreck and fall on his knee. The doctor diagnoses cellulitis and prescribes antibiotics. She tells him to take the medication exactly as prescribed and to report back to the emergency room if the infection doesn’t respond to treatment in three days.

I think perhaps this time he will stay with me and rest, but it doesn’t surprise me he wants to be dropped off at a friend’s house. I drop him off, but I’m hopeful he will stay put given the amount of pain walking causes him. I don’t hear from him until after the three days pass. He sends me a text message that includes a picture of the infected leg. He drew a line around the edge of it at some point, and now it’s spread well beyond that, extending from his knee down the entirety of his leg, including his calf and half of his foot. The area is swollen twice normal size, leaving the skin taut and slightly dimpled.  He doesn’t need to be persuaded a return to the emergency room is necessary.

When I pick him up at the friend’s house, he hobbles to the car on a homemade crutch. He has a narrow board cut to length with a rag-stuffed work glove taped to the end that fits under his arm. He tells me he needs to go by the girl’s garage so that he can drop off something that belongs to her. I already know she is angry with him and wants her phone back. She has been blowing my phone up, informing me that not only has he stolen from her, he has been physically abusive as well. The greatest insult, she tells me, is that he has been using her phone to hook up with other girls. Despite his misbehavior, in a voice message she declares, “Oh, GAWD! I love that man!

“Oh, GAWD!” I echo back.

I drive down her alley and stop at the garage. I honk, and moments later she comes out. Micheal rolls down the window and extends his arm out, phone in hand. I watch her walk to the car; her expression is one of unabashed contempt and pure rage. She grabs the phone with her left hand as her right fist enters the window. Bam! Bam! Bam! She hits Micheal three times, fast, right in the face. As she retreats Micheal begins to open the door to pursue her. I grab the shoulder of his coat and pull him back into the car.

“No, No! Don’t you do it! You shut that door!” I yell at him. He gets back in and before the door is completely closed my foot is on the gas, causing the tires to spew gravel and mud behind me as I drive away.

I am completely stunned at the audacity, the utter lack of respect, and, of course, the demonstration of gawd-awful love. I decide the incident warrants no discussion so I say nothing, but I determine within myself that absolutely nothing will persuade me to come near the girl again.

At the hospital this time, Micheal sees a different doctor. This one says that some IV antibiotics are in order. Micheal’s been out of prison less than three months and this is the second time he’s been admitted to the hospital. He doesn’t argue with the doctor. I can see that he is worried about the infection. He is concerned about losing his leg. Over the course of next day, they give him several bags of antibiotics, then try another round of a different drug when those have no impact. His worry increases. He asks the doctor if he will lose his leg. The doctor assures him he will not, but the infection doesn’t look to be getting any better. At least it doesn’t seem to be getting worse.

I do what I can to make him comfortable. I bring candy, a suspense novel, and some puzzle books to ward off boredom. On the third morning of his stay I knock on his door, then wait a few seconds for a response. When none comes, I figure he is sleeping so I draw the curtain aside and enter the darkened room. The swift movement of someone away from the bed startles me. I recognize the girl.


Apparently, my choice of reading material wasn’t enough to alleviate boredom. I murmur something about coming back later and quickly leave the room.

No sooner than I arrive home, Micheal calls me back. He’s been released. The doctor thinks the infection will not spread further and oral antibiotics will be sufficient treatment going forward.  When I pick him up I flatly refuse to take him to the girl’s garage. He wants to go to a friend’s house, but he asks me to pick him up the next day. He has an appointment with his parole officer and a nurse to help him find an inpatient drug rehab. He says the months since his release from prison have been the worst of his life and there needs to be a change.

No kidding.

I hold back on being happy. This is welcome news but it could mean different things. He could genuinely want to stop using. He could want to manipulate his parole officer. He may want to impress me so I’ll keep helping him.

Time will tell.

*When I began writing this blog, I asked all persons mentioned for permission to use their name. All agreed except for Micheal’s biological father. Instead of using a pseudonym, I chose to not name him at all.