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«return to storiesTyrone, 2009 Baltimore, MD

Tyrone, 2009 Baltimore, MD

The hardest time is the dead of winter when it’s 20 degrees outside or colder. And guess what — I’m snugged in a warm bed and my mind races to where my son might possibly be. Now, it seems Nature would kick in for him and force him to be normal and avoid the suffering of being on the streets in the winter. Yet I’m sorry to say I know that not even Nature would yield itself to prove his healer because this is his fourth year, his fourth winter on the streets. Oh well, I will go back to sleep but I will have the hardest time doing so.

Yet again, would that really be the hardest time? I can remember many times when my son has been out of control. The police have been called and in the confusion that mental illness causes I have found myself sitting in jail wondering what just happened.

For a number of years my son had shown bits and pieces of defiant and difficult behavior. I didn’t see too much of it because he was living with his mother. When he was with me, we were always busy with playful or community activities. But when he was sixteen, he came to live with me. That’s when I started to see how agitated and disrespectful he could get. It was hard to get a diagnosis. Doctors said though they thought he was bi-polar.

Still only 17, my son started living on the street and I started living from crisis to crisis. On many nights around 11:30 pm just when I was thinking about sleep, it seemed the war would break out. He would call with the latest puzzling adventure. At 2 o’clock if the conflict was still going on, I knew it would be a long and serious night. And there were those nights.

The very worst night, of course, was when he got shot. He got hit three times, one bullet going directly into his heart. That is a story in itself. That’s when I had to start explaining to the extended family what was going on. Before that, these relatives just knew when my son did something outstanding and he did many outstanding things — like when he videotaped my music concert. Or when he constructed a gun at school out of paper clips and notebook paper for which the school didn’t know whether to put it on exhibit or expel him for having a weapon on school grounds.

Again I thought that getting shot like that would get him to change his behavior but his injuries only gave him a short reprieve, then he was back to what must have been his norm – on the move, on the streets again.

The hardest thing is that no sooner I’d figure out what needed to be done or who he needed to see, the problem itself would completely change and my son was off some place else.

Then there were the times, I’d find a place for him to live. I’d scramble to get the money, get some clothes or furniture or whatever he needed and get him to this place but a few days later, he would be back to his norm, back on the move, back on the streets. One day, his sister and I spent five hours painting a room for him but he never stayed there. It seems like he can’t stay anyplace no matter how nice it is. He’s got to get back to the streets. I cannot understand why.

I gained a new sense of what the hospital could mean. Not just a place for a person to go who had broken their leg, but a place of refuge. Whenever things were as bad as they could get, getting to the hospital represented hope. Once my son was there, there was physical safety and warmth in the winter.

The hospital was a relief for me too. There would be someone more skilled to relate to our problem than I, even though I had learned some skills too. At least initially there was a feeling of hope, before the hospital started discharging him way too prematurely, I thought.

In fact, I was so confused once when the hospital actually told me they were going to discharge him because if we kept him one more day he would get so antsy we wouldn’t know what to do. Well, that of course was a big part of the problem that I had hoped they’d help me with.

How is it that I can be so willing to sacrifice as much as necessary, take weeks off of work, contact seemingly all of humanity on behalf of the problem. All to realize that the problem is now worse than it was before I started the process.

What I found out is that despite my skills, my talent, my intelligence, this issue of mental illness is beyond my abilities to break down, manipulate, maneuver or control in any kind of way. And boy that was a hard lesson to learn.

My son is vulnerable to the weather, to street traffic, to other people who at night might take advantage of him. Still none beats the fear of my son succumbing to the fate of a traumatic injury inflicted by persons of evil who do exist in the world though I don’t understand why.

His state of vulnerability keeps us glued to hope and vigilance. To me it’s like the 4th quarter of the football game. The action is frantic much like my activity when I’m desperately trying to get my son on track before the clock runs out.

He is at a crossroads now. He is seeking help and staying in daily contact for the first time in five years. My hope is some time soon my son will come out of the cold.