Drew lives with mental illness. I love him the same way I do my other five sons, but he and I get along better when separated by a state or at least a river and a half-dozen towns. Yet, there is always this honeymoon period when we are first reunited.
This time, he called from Ashland, Oregon. I had to tell him over the phone that his grandma (my mom) is dying. Within a couple of minutes, I was on the Greyhound ticket site purchasing a one-way ride to Olympia. Drew left Medford, Oregon at around 3 a.m. arriving in Olympia at Noon four weeks ago.
When he arrived, we drove straight to the community garden he built last summer so we could harvest kale, beets, and Brussel sprouts. We stopped at the Eastside Coop for groceries. This is how the machine works for a couple days, well oiled. Drew cooking gourmet meals heavy on the garlic, us reminiscing about his past crazy behavior. We talk about writing projects. This time I worked up the nerve to read him my poem, “How To Talk To Your Schizophrenic Child.” He loved the poem. He laughed. I think he got a kick out of being immortalized on the page. It made him happy.
The poem wrote itself. It is an imaginary conversation with Drew the morning after he stole my car in the fall of 2012, drove it and abandoned it at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountain range in Washington State. For days, we did not know if Drew was dead or alive. To get through this period, which ended up with Drew in a Louisiana jail until after Christmas for stealing a car from an Iowa train yard, I wrote.
During his most recent visit, Drew was here at my house. After a few days of “normal,” I started to notice my son was starting to “spin out.” He stayed up writing until nearly dawn a few nights in a row. Something changed in his eyes. His breathing was rapid. He got paranoid. He believed his Facebook page exists solely for and was scrutinized by the CIA and those in charge of national security. Everyday appliances and other household items had magical powers attributed to them. This time, it was the portable typewriter he was carrying after he left my house and still in his hands when the police picked him up.
The morning I called the police, Drew was in my face. He threatened me. He told me that there were cameras in my apartment. Cameras and recording devices watching me. As always, I told him to leave and not come back. I think I even said, “You are fucking crazy.” I’m sure I did. But the weather was turning, and it was getting cold, and I could not stand the thought of Drew sleeping in the woods or sitting on a corner downtown. So I called the police. They came and took a report, saw that he’d violated a non-contact order between us, and picked him up later that afternoon. He was still carrying the typewriter.
I found out two days ago that “How To Talk To Your Schizophrenic Child” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editors at Crab Creek Review, the journal that published the poem last spring. I am over-the-moon honored, and I think Drew would be excited as well.
I’ve not been able to talk to Drew since he’s been incarcerated. I did find out last week that instead of arraigning him they are sending him to Western State Hospital for a mental health evaluation. This is what my family and I have wanted to happen for a couple of years now, but still, it does not ease the picture burned in my mind of my son sitting in a cell wearing orange clothing wondering if we have all turned on him.
I live with bipolar myself. After taking meds for years, I now keep the symptoms of this disease at bay with proper nutrition, adequate rest, meditation. and massage. Drew suffers from psychosis, something I’ve personally not dealt with. He has breaks from reality and delusions of grandeur. I mainly gravitate toward depression if I don’t take care of myself.
If “How To Talk To Your Schizophrenic Child,” something as simple as a poem, can help one individual or family get through another day or hour of coping with mental illness, the stigma of it all, the craziness, then so be it. Bring on the nominations and the awards. Take them into the jails and institutions so the mentally ill know there is someone out there telling their story, feeling happy about the work but horrible about them sitting behind bars like the criminals they are not.