I still feel guilty for murdering my little friend so many years ago. The sadness pops up periodically out of nowhere, and I have to push it back down to keep from crying.
It was finally Spring in Stuyvesant Town—the yellow daffodils had finally started to poke their way out of the soil, the pink buds on the bushes outside of my building were about to bloom, and the grass was turning from Winter brown to a beautiful deep green. I began to dream of long, lazy school free days where I could indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, digging in the dirt, burying ants and other bugs, and watching them burrow their way out, only to be buried again. Maybe I was a little sadist but it was weirdly fun.
One day, I discovered a large bug, and not being squeamish the way I am now, began to play with it. He crawled up and down one hand then the other and I was delighted. I put it in a little jar and kept him and fed him worms. One rainy spring April day, my friend Janet and I could not play outside, so we decided to play in the main hallway where I lived. I brought out my little friend and allowed him to crawl up and down my hands, when suddenly my mother was standing beside me with a look of disgust on her face. She said, “What are you doing with that big bug, that’s terrible. You shouldn’t be playing with it.” At this point, I considered this creature a pet of sorts and could not understand why my mom did not like him. She went back into the apartment and suddenly I decided to extinguish the life out of this little innocent thing. I placed this poor little guy on the floor and proceeded to smash the life out of him—the crack of his hard shell sounded calliopean to me, although I’m sure nobody else heard it. Then I discarded him as if he was nothing at all, when he was, after all, my little buddy. The feeling of remorse and guilt immediately flooded my little girl mind and I just kept thinking, “Why did you have to do that. You could have just let him go.” I tried to continue on with my day, as if what I had just done was meaningless; as if I had just killed a nameless roach, not my friend, but I couldn’t keep from thinking of myself as a murderer.
All these years later, when I relive that moment I am inexplicably brought to tears. I don’t understand it, but I know that sometimes friends come in all different packages, and I know he is in bug heaven and he forgives me.
I have come to the realization that no matter what I do, no matter how much money I send, it will not be enough. Kind of like alcohol for the alcoholic, there is never enough. But last weekend something came to me, something that my friends had told me for quite some time, something that I knew in my heart of hearts—that I just could not keep giving him money above and beyond what we agreed to. Initially, it started out with $100 a month, but that was not enough. Then his dad agreed to $200 a month to be doled out incrementally by me as I saw fit. Of course I would have saved money by giving him large chunks at once, but I knew the money would be gone within a week or two. However, it is usually gone by early in the month anyway, then the incessant, relentless, phone calls start—multiple in one day. Then last weekend I just stopped taking my boy’s calls, not listening to his messages, and deleted them. This has been very difficult to do this, but I know that the minute I listen to him or hear a phone message, my resolve will crumble. In speaking with my wise friend, Janet, she made a good analogy. When I told her that my giving him money relieves the fear, guilt, and anxiety. She said giving him money is like an addiction; the anxiety and apprehension build up and is relieved only when I send him the money he requests. It is a tremendous relief, and I feel better temporarily, but it starts to build again, and the only relief is when I send him money again. Although there is an overwhelming sense of relief, I also have a sense of tremendous resentment, which equals anger. Then the cycle starts again, over and over. Just like an addiction, I needed to just stop this cycle because it is no good for him because he will never get the help he needs and no good for me because I am continually being drawn into his chaotic world. It is a symbiotic, sick relationship. I have to be strong, and I pray to God that this is the right call and will not result in a tragedy because I will never forgive myself. I just have to trust in the Lord that He knows what I don’t and will some day lead my son out of this never-ending maze to a better life.
It is Sunday, and I am at West Town Community Church acquiring some much needed serenity when as usual and predictably, I hear my muted phone vibrate. I hear that there has been a voice message, and without even looking at the phone a sense of weariness and hopelessness descends upon me, blotting out any peacefulness I might feel. I breathe a quiet sigh, since I am now in a meeting about a VBS trip to Jamaica, and silently check the phone number, hoping that somehow it is not my tormentor. But, it is and I barely hear the remainder of the meeting because I am totally distracted. I greet other church attendees smiling and answering, “I’m good today” when asked how I am, all the while knowing that if I actually said how I really feel, their eyes would glaze over and they would politely drift away to speak to someone more cheerful. I am invited to lunch downtown and decline because I am so sick, tired, and troubled that I just cannot focus. I remind myself that we are keeping him alive and at least he is not living in the street, sleeping in a box, and robbing houses to survive. I remind myself that he is much better off now than 3 years ago, but is he really? When does “assisting” equal “enabling?” We have created a “monster” regarding his incessant requests for money. If he put just one once of the tenacity he exhibits in calling over and over and over for money into getting the right treatment and medication, and just doing the right thing, he might actually stand a chance of having something more than a day to day existence. He has absolutely no self-knowledge or insight into the possibility that his line of thinking is totally skewed. I have come to the realization that he will never be OK and that no amount of money will ever be enough because we are just putting a Bandaid on a gaping wound. He will continue to slowing leak blood, even when we think that we have “solved” the problem. He plays “mind games” by asking for a small amount one day, and after you send it he suddenly says that he is about to be evicted, as if he didn’t know this the day before. After screaming myself horse in the car, I arrive at my second home to send him the money that I don’t have to spare in my account. Then he doesn’t call back. No matter what I say to him, he has selective hearing and gives me lip service, saying he understands that he cannot call every few days for money. Yet, two or three days go by and that infamous 609 area code comes up. When I don’t answer the phone, he mounts a concerted campaign, bombarding me with phone call after call, playing the “guilt” card. I cannot continue living like this—being held in emotional captivity by my tormentor. There are days that I want to just let him be evicted and live in the street again. I am tormented by my tormentor because I both love and hate him simultaneously. I love him intensely yet I HATE what he does to my peace and serenity and can’t help resent him. I live in either love, hate, or guilt, never in tranquility because I know that there will never be an end to this until one of us dies.
Lost and never found so often describes the life of the chronically mentally ill. It can apply to their lives as well as to their personal belongings. One of the hallmarks of the mentally ill is that they seem to be unable to hang onto their possessions and are incapable of “thinking” in logical terms the way a “normal” person would. They are unable to think past the day, not thinking of the consequences of their actions. They drift from situation to situation, on or off their meds, sometimes homeless, sometimes working, sometimes in jail. There is no predicting what their situation will be from week to week, or day to day, and sometimes moment to moment. It is agonizing and infuriating all at once for the person who desperately loves someone in the throes of mental illness. I’m not talking about garden-variety neurosis (many of us are neurotic, in some fashion) but the gut wrenching, all consuming, disease of psychosis, such as schizophrenia, where rational thinking is impossible. It is a never-ending merry-go-round where you are always waiting to exhale; where when the phone rings, and you see the area code, you hold your breath and say a silent prayer before answering—wondering out loud, “What Now?” It is a world where no matter how many clothes or personal items you buy or send them, these meager possessions will disappear into thin air eventually. It is a world where they live in fleabag motels, and when they end up back incarcerated, they don’t think to ask anyone to store their belongings, so everything they had acquired (when you thought they were making progress) is lost, yet again. It is a world where there is no monetary limit to what is lost—be it clothes, phones, and even cars. When I remember that a diagnosis of mental illness does not define a person and that mental illnesses are brain disorders, I am more tolerant. But, often it is so hard not to be angry when your life is continually disrupted and have the anger turn to guilt at even being angry. We are all human and must give ourselves the grace to be so, which means accepting the emotions that are elicited from the constant stress of either waiting for the “other shoe to drop” or dealing with a current crisis. The definition of “insanity” is “doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” The average person learns (eventually) that banging your head against the wall over and over will give you a concussion and maybe they should not do it anymore. But the chronically mentally ill have short-term memory and seem to be doomed to repeat the same destructive patterns over and over. It is just so frustrating to see this happening, and be powerless to change it, just waiting around for the next crisis. It is a never-ending battle that just cannot be won and it is so heart breaking because you see the train wreck coming but you can’t get out of the way.
Acceptance and turning it over is never an easy thing to do, especially when it means losing “control” of a person, or situation you thought you had control over. In reality, the only thing I have control over is what I do. It is much harder to accept this when it involves a person you love dearly. But, I have to remind myself over and over that their logic and reality is not necessarily mine, and is often incomprehensible to me. I have been dealing with a situation that destroys my serenity, and no matter how much money, time and effort I pour into “fixing” this person, they never get fixed. This is beyond my control, and although I’ve said those words to myself, my heart still thinks I can solve this. If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, than I am officially insane. Today I resolved to be strong, and not give in, no matter how intimidated, guilt ridden, sorrowful, and fearful I feel. What I will do is pray as never before and keep trying to let go and let God. I do not have control of outcomes and I cannot try to play God; all I can do is put out in the Universe, in positive ways, to please provide a light to lead this person to get the help they need.