Sunday, December 30, 2007

Chapter 13 ~ Observation

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

I called the three psychiatrists Dr. Hu had recommended. One of them sounded like a pompous ass on the telephone. A second had no openings. A third suggested Eddy come into his San Mateo office to communicate with him over a television monitor while he worked in his office in San Francisco. I asked if Eddy could come to his San Francisco office instead. He said no. The video appointment was the only opening he had.

During this process, I learned that psychiatry was no longer being practiced the way I’d seen it on television and in the movies. Patients do not go to their psychiatrists to discuss their problems. They do not lie on a couch. Most of today’s psychiatrists merely monitor medications. Patients who want talk therapy need to have two health care providers—a psychiatrist and a therapist. I called many other people on the list of psychiatrists and therapists covered by our health insurance, leaving messages on answering machines.
Meanwhile, Lawrence and I were looking up Eddy’s medications on the Internet. Lithium sounded dangerous. Patients needed to have their blood tested regularly to make sure the drug didn’t reach toxic levels. Seroquel was not the mere sleep aid that Dr. Hu had described. All three medications had scary sounding side effects. The Internet was riddled with rants from former mental health patients against the psychotropic drugs they had been prescribed. We didn’t feel certain that Eddy needed these heavy duty medications. Wasn’t it possible that he’d just had a “bad trip,” like both Lawrence and I had experienced in college? Wasn’t it possible that with a few days of rest and relaxation, Eddy’s mind would settle down and return to normal? We talked about these possibilities together, whispering in our room, changing the subject whenever Eddy entered the area. We treated him gently and carefully. We gave him the pill bottle and let him decide when and whether to take his medications. I also gave him a few of the anti-anxiety pills I had in my medicine cabinet, in case he wanted to use those instead of the anti-psychotics the doctor had prescribed. That’s how I had been treated when I was in college and suffered a nervous breakdown after taking LSD. I came home disoriented, paranoid, unbalanced and so incompetent I couldn’t dial a phone. My father fed me Phenobarbital and I rested. After some weeks, I came through.

At the same time that we were wondering how best to respond to this emergency, Eddy seemed to be regaining normalcy. Lawrence drove him to College of San Mateo each day, where he continued attending classes. They stopped by his old apartment at the eco-commune in San Mateo and picked up some of his belongings. At home, he was subdued, wary. An occasional flash of his eyes gave me the impression that anger was simmering beneath the surface, but I couldn’t be certain. He was uncommunicative. He spent much of his time in his room, with the door closed.

Finally, five days after coming home from the hospital, his feelings burst through one evening when he barged out of his room and walked forcefully into the living room where Lawrence and I were sitting together on the couch, reading.

“This isn’t working,” he said aggressively, as if we had already contradicted him.

“What isn’t, honey?” I used a calm tone, trying to avoid provocation. I felt ridiculous and false, as if I was doing a poor imitation of a kindergarten teacher.

“I can’t live here like this!” his voice rose.

“Like what?” I squirmed in my seat, uneasy.

“I can’t live here under your constant observation. I can’t stand you asking me every day how I’m feeling. I don’t like you tiptoeing around me all the time. It’s driving me crazy! There’s NO WAY I’m going to get better in this environment.” He was revved up. His voice got louder with each successive sentence.

I looked over to Lawrence, abrogating my authority. It was often better for Eddy if his father took the lead. We sat without speaking for a moment.

“Well, Eddykin,” Lawrence used his old name—the name we had called him as a baby. “What do you suggest?”

“I want to move back to my apartment.”

I looked at Lawrence anxiously. I didn’t think Eddy was ready. I was worried about what might happen to him on his own. Dr. Hu’s warnings about suicide and lack of impulse control swirled around in my head.

“Okay—that might be a good idea,” Lawrence said reasonably. “I don’t know. But your mother and I will need to talk about it privately.”

“Why do you have to talk about it privately? What is it you’re going to say about me that you don’t want me to hear?” Eddy gave Lawrence a scornful look.

“We don’t know, Eddy. We just want to discuss the idea between the two of us without the pressure of you standing here trying to convince us to see it your way.”

“Why shouldn’t I be here? Who does this concern more than me?” He was still standing in the center of the room, belligerent, with his shoulders held back. The anger he’d been suppressing all week shone full force through his eyes. The vein in his forehead pulsed.

Lawrence said nothing. I said nothing. Eddy stood still and glowered.

“That’s fine, Eddy,” Lawrence finally offered in an amiable voice that belied the tension in the room. “Your mother and I can always talk about it later.” He turned his attention back to the black Powerbook on his lap, his constant companion, where he was looking up scooters for sale on Craigslist.

Ed stood in the living room for a minute or more longer, arms crossed against his chest, glaring first at Lawrence, then at me, before turning and storming back to his bedroom, slamming the door loudly behind him.

“Well, what do you think?” Lawrence turned to ask me.

“I don’t know,” I shook my head. “He doesn’t seem very together. It’s hard to say.”

“What do you mean by ‘not very together?’ What is your evidence that something’s wrong?”

“You can see something’s wrong. He’s so angry with us!”

“But how is that any different than he was before?” Lawrence gave a little grimace.

I had to think about that comment. It was true. Ed had been angry with us for most of his life. As a child he’d resented all efforts at parental or societal control, considering it almost a matter of principle to defy any authority exercised over him. Our house had been a battleground for years. It wasn’t until after he had moved out to the eco-commune just four months previous—when he finally realized some of his long-yearned-for independence—that he had started to treat us with equanimity. “Well, I guess you’re right about that,” I finally responded. “He was angry before, too. But it seems different now. More unrelated to events. He’s also acting sneaky. I have no idea what’s going on in his head.”

“That’s true. He is pretty secretive. And God knows he’s not all the way down to earth, yet. But on the other hand, he’s going to school every day. He seems to be getting through the semester. And he has a point about the atmosphere around here. It is really uncomfortable. It’s hard to sit in the same room with the two of you. It’s not healthy.”

I bridled under Lawrence’s attempt to put the blame on me, but at the same time, I knew what he was saying was true. I couldn’t relax around Eddy. I felt constantly worried, vigilant. I couldn’t help wondering if he was bipolar, like my father, who had frightened our family with manic episodes periodically throughout my childhood, or if, even worse, he was schizophrenic, like my cousin, who had committed suicide. My anxiety affected everyone in the household. “I wish he wasn’t so resentful,” I tried to shift the blame to Eddy. “Why can’t he just be nice? It was different when I had my nervous breakdown in college, because I put myself totally in my father’s hands. I trusted him to take care of me. But Eddy resists whatever we suggest. He doesn’t want anything to do with us.”

Lawrence gave a deep sigh and nodded. “I guess that’s the difference between a girl and a boy.”

“I guess,” I said doubtfully.

Just then the door to the back bedroom opened and Eddy appeared again in the middle of the living room.

“Well, have you decided my fate?” he said angrily.

“No, Ed. Not yet,” his father replied.

“Well, what’s the hold up? What’s taking so long?”

“I don’t know. I guess we’re just slow.”

Eddy stood and stared at us once again, scornfully, before announcing that he was going for a walk and leaving through the front door.

“I think we should let him go,” Lawrence said after enough time had passed for Ed to have gotten a ways down the block. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”

“I guess…” I said reluctantly. “He seems pretty coherent. He’s just acting upset, like a regular teenager. He’s not out of his mind. Right?”

We sat for a few moments.

“I finally got him an appointment with a therapist,” I continued hopefully. “They’re meeting for the first time tomorrow. We could make that a requirement: if he moves out, he has to keep seeing a therapist once a week. And who knows? Maybe once he’s back at the eco-commune without a car, and he realizes he has to get himself to the supermarket and up to CSM on his bicycle, he’ll decide it’s too much trouble and want to come back home.”

“Maybe. On the other hand, if I continue to give him a ride to school every morning, I’ll be able to keep an eye on him.”

“That’s true.”

“I could give him a ride to his therapy appointments, too. That way we’ll know he’s going. I told him earlier that I just want to make it easy for him. I want to take all the pressure off, so he can make it through the semester and not blow his admission to UC Berkeley. I think we should still follow that plan, even if he moves back to the apartment at the eco-commune. That goal hasn’t changed.”

I nodded. “But what if he just goes back to his apartment and starts doing drugs and loses his mind again?”

“What’s to stop him from doing that here?”

I considered. “Well at least when he’s here, we’ll know if something is going wrong. We’ll be watching him.”

“But that’s just what he’s complaining about. Being watched. And frankly, I’m afraid if we don’t let him move out, he’ll just leave anyway. There’s nothing keeping him here. He’s legally an adult. And if he just walks out on his own, then we won’t have any idea where he is or how to get ahold of him.”

The conversation felt familiar. It seemed his whole life, we’d been discussing how much rope to give Eddy, or how much to pretend to be giving in order to preempt him taking it. He had always rebelled against limitation. We had always feared giving him the freedom he sought. And always, there had been an undercurrent of anger, an anger we couldn’t understand what we’d done to deserve.

One year, when Eddy was first coming into his manhood, and wrecking havoc at home nearly every night while his dad was out working at Le Sorelle, I told Lawrence that I didn’t think I could live with him any longer. “He threatens me,” I reported. “He steps toward me when we argue. I’m afraid that he’s going to hit me.”

We considered sending him to a boarding school, and I went so far as to contact one in Oregon and send away for registration materials. But when the time came to make a final decision, Lawrence lobbied against it. “I don’t want to send him to Oregon,” he told me, “because I’m afraid if we do, we’ll never see him again. He’ll make friends with those people. He’ll make a life for himself up there, and he’ll never come back home.”

That evening, we sat together in the living room, on the same couches where we were sitting now: Lawrence and I sat on one, 12-year-old Eddy on the other. Ed had gotten into trouble that weekend, and we were meeting to decide on a punishment. On a camping trip with the Unitarian Universalist Coming of Age Group, Ed had rebelliously defied both the group leaders, refusing to return to the cabin and go to bed at curfew. One normally passive man had become so infuriated that he had grabbed Eddy and squeezed him around the neck. The minister had called to tell me Ed had been expelled from the group—a near impossible feat in the UU community, which prides itself on accepting one and all. I had cried on the phone, and felt humiliated and ashamed. Now Eddy was uncharacteristically subdued. Lawrence began the meeting.

“Eddy, your mother and I have been talking about what to do with you. We’ve been considering sending you away to boarding school because of all the trouble you’ve been getting into lately. And frankly, it would be a helluva lot easier to pay someone else to raise you than to raise you ourselves.”

No one made an objection.

“But we’ve decided not to do that, because we want to have a lifelong relationship with you. You know how I go and visit my parents on the weekends, and we go out to dinner? Hell, I’m 40 years old! But if I’m in trouble—if I need to borrow money or something—I still can go to them. That’s the kind of relationship we want to have with you, Eddy. We want to be close to you all of our life…”

Eddy squirmed a little in his seat. I felt my insides blooming. Here was Lawrence, a man who kept all his emotions hidden, displaying only a sardondic mask to the world, a man who was practically allergic to the “L” word, making a public declaration of love for his son.

“…So, instead of sending you to boarding school, we’ve decided just to ground you for a month,” Lawrence continued.

“Okay.” Eddy spoke quietly, accepting his punishment without argument or complaint, an unprecedented response; we all stood and moved away from the couches as if nothing significant had happened.

We didn’t mention boarding school again. But Eddy didn’t forget that I had wanted to send him away, and he didn’t believe that I had felt threatened, that the specter of his unbridled anger had really frightened me. Two years later, when he was 14 years old, we had a monumental struggle over his computer. He had become addicted to the online game EverQuest and played it incessantly, neglecting sleep and food and homework and social relations and snarling viciously at anyone who tried to interfere with his play. After many failed attempts at limiting the time he spent online, Lawrence and I decided to take his computer away. One day when Eddy was at school, I took it out of his room. But that night, when I got up from working on my laptop at the dining room table, Eddy took my computer in retaliation. When I came back from the bathroom and realized what he had done, I was instantly enraged. Lawrence, as always during those years, was working at the restaurant.

“Edward! Give me back my computer right now!” I confronted him in the kitchen.

“No. Not until you give me back mine!” He stood his ground and taunted me.

I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “I’m not playing with you, Eddy. I need that computer to do my work to support this family!” I yelled.

“I need my computer too!” He struggled to get away from me and the next thing I knew I had him pinned to the floor with my knee in his belly and my face pushed into his.

“You give it back to me right now or there are going to be serious consequences!” I threatened.

Eddy looked up at me and made a sour face. “Am I intimidating you now, mother?” he asked sarcasticly before wriggling free of my grasp and dashing out the back door.

I remembered that struggle now as I sat on the couch and considered how much of Eddy’s breakdown was my fault. Perhaps all of it, I chastised myself. Most certainly some.

“I guess you’re right,” I finally answered dispiritedly. “We might as well let him go. I guess there’s just as much chance of him recovering his senses there as here—or maybe more.”

“I think that’s the best choice.”

We sat together and considered the possible ramifications of our decision. Once it was made, I began to worry that it was wrong.

“Do you know if he’s taking the medication Dr. Hu gave him?” I wondered.

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you think he should be?”

“I don’t know.”

Read the next chapter HERE, or buy a paperback copy of the whole novel HERE.

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