Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chapter 12 ~ Home

Photo by
Brendon Stuart

They kept Eddy in the hospital for three days that first time, just like the intern had said they would. Legally, she’d explained, that was as long as they could keep him without getting a judge to approve an extension. In police lingo, it’s called a 5150—a hold for observation, allowable in California only if the detainee poses a threat to himself or others. A person could be crazy as a loon, but the hospital couldn’t keep him unless he was dangerous. This is a leftover from the Reagan era, when as governor of the state, Ronald flung open the doors of the mental hospitals, codifying a patient’s right to be both mentally ill and on the streets. Presumably, at that time, it was presented as the patient’s choice—stay or go. But there’s no choice now. The insurance companies have made the choice for us: no treatment unless there’s a threat of liability. That’s one reason you can’t walk three blocks in San Francisco without stumbling over a homeless crazy person. Of course, Eddy didn’t have any complaints about the limitation. He didn’t want to stay in the hospital, anyway. He agreed with Ronald Reagan’s position. He believed in a person’s right to be mentally ill.

After the lunchtime visit, when Eddy told us not to come back, Lawrence and Henry and I went home. Lawrence and I lay down together on our double bed. Henry disappeared into his subterranean den. The afternoon passed slowly, like a big, prehistoric animal—stupid and scary—lumbering and rooting around the perimeter of our bedroom, looking for a place to lie down. It was early May, and the afternoon sun shone outside the window with benevolent grace. But inside our room the air was dark and heavy, difficult to breathe. When the evening visiting hours approached, Lawrence rolled off the bed with an exaggerated groan and then stood beside it, looking down on me. “Maybe I should go see him alone this time,” he suggested.

“That’s a good idea,” I agreed without argument.

“I’ll just feel him out, see if he acts any different when you aren’t around.”

“Mmmhmm.” I rolled over on the bed, away from him. Was what was happening to Eddy somehow my fault? This was a familiar question. As the mother of three children, it had always seemed that anything that happened to any of them—particularly anything negative—devolved to me.

While Lawrence was gone, the house remained quiet. I busied myself on the computer—checking email, reading the news online. After making a cup of tea in the kitchen, I lay on the couch in the living room with my laptop. Suddenly I found myself in the midst of a vivid dream, the second to overtake me in as many days.

I am walking in the desert when I hear a woman’s voice calling from a cave. “Come closer,” she says, “I want to ask you a question.” I approach the cave mouth with caution, not sure what I will find inside. Once I enter, I can just make out a woman lying on a shelf, naked from the waist up, her lower body covered by a blanket. “Are you looking for Eddy?” she asks, eyes glittering. I nod my head. She pulls the blanket aside and I see with alarm that she is not a woman at all, but a magnificent lion. Beneath one powerful paw lies a lifeless body. On her golden back is a huge folded wing. She smiles at me strangely before leaning over to take a bloody bite out of Eddy’s neck...

The phone was ringing when I awoke, but I didn’t answer it. Henry didn’t emerge from his room. Two hours later, when Lawrence returned from the visit, he spilled his enthusiasm into a resistant void.

“He was perfectly normal!” he said happily, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table.

“Really?” I was unconvinced.

“Really! He was fine. He didn’t say anything crazy. We sat and talked together the whole time.” Relief shone through the stubbled flesh of his face.

“That’s good news,” I wanted to encourage him. I did. “But how did that happen?” I wondered. “Did you talk to the doctor?”

“No. He wasn’t there. But Eddy said he’d talked to him. They’re giving him some kind of medication, apparently. Maybe that’s what’s doing it. He also seems pretty freaked out by the hospital. He wants to come home. Maybe just being there shook him up enough to make him come back to his senses.”

“That could be…” I allowed a glimmer of hope to slip under my defenses. “I guess I’ll go with you tomorrow, if you think that’s a good idea. When are they going to let him out, exactly? Did anyone tell you? Since he went in at 1 in the morning on Thursday night, does that mean they’re going to release him at 1 in the morning on Sunday? Or will they let him out a little early, or late?”

“I’m not sure. We might be able to ask the doctor about it tomorrow. The nurse said he’s not really supposed to tell us anything for confidentiality reasons, since Eddy is 18, but since he’ll be coming home with us, we might be able to use that to get some information.”

“Is he coming home with us, for sure? Did he agree to that?”

“Yes. Yes. He’s perfectly reasonable, I’m telling you! Maybe it’s you that was making him crazy,” Lawrence’s eyes sparkled as he began to tease me. “Maybe I should be the only one allowed to talk to him from now on.”

The next morning, a Saturday, Jason arrived at the house before we had gotten out of bed. He opened the front door, as is customary with all of our regular visitors, without ringing the bell or waiting for anyone to let him in.

“Hello! Anybody home?” he called out from the front hallway.

“We’re still in bed,” I answered. “Come on back. It’s okay.”

A moment later Jason stood in the doorway to our bedroom, his back against the jamb, with half of his body still hidden in the hall. The door was on the same wall as the head of our bed, and Lawrence was nearest to it. I had the blankets pulled up all the way over my shoulders, and turned on my side to look at Jason over Lawrence’s back. But it was Lawrence he had come to talk to, apparently.

“I have some questions about the Toyota,” he began.

“Oh, yeah? What’re those?” Lawrence didn’t seem surprised.

“Well the radio doesn’t work, for one thing.”

“Oh, yeah. I was meaning to fix that before I sold it to you. That’s just a fuse that needs to be replaced. Do you know where the fuse box is?

“Not really.”

“It’s on the driver’s side, under the dashboard, next to the door. Just take the cover off and you can see the fuses lined up in there. It will be easy to tell which one is for the radio, because the metal band across the middle will be broken. You can get replacement fuses at any auto parts store for 50 cents. I was meaning to fix that, but I never got around to it.”

“Well, that sounds easy enough.” Jason leaned back against the door and twirled his keys around his finger. I felt a black clot of anger expanding in my chest, but I didn’t interrupt them. Some perverse part of me wanted to see how long they would talk of trivia in the midst of our emergency. “But the bigger problem is the car won’t start. My brother was all excited about taking it to work this morning, but when he got outside, the engine wouldn’t turn over.”

“Did it make any noise at all?”

“Not a peep.”

“Did you try jumping it?”

“No. He didn’t really have any time, and we couldn’t find the cables. I thought I’d ask you about it first.”

“Somebody probably left the radio on, and that drained the battery. It’s wired a little funny. Since the radio isn’t working, you don’t remember to turn it off, but it still drains the battery. Just turn off the radio and jump the car. Then you know you need to drive it around for 20 or 30 minutes to recharge the battery, right?”

“Right. I think my Dad has some jumper cables in his trunk. Does it matter what kind of jumper cables you use?”

I focused a look of hot lava on Jason, but he was completely oblivious to me. Lawrence was also unaware of my imminent explosion.

“The jumper cables don’t matter and the batteries don’t either, unless you have a really old car, in which case you might have a six volt battery. That could be a problem. But the Toyota you’ve got is a 12 volt, so you should be able to jump it with any new car.”

“Okay. Good. What about the manual? Didn’t you say it…”

“Jesus Christ!” I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. “Don’t you even want to know what happened to Eddy?!” I yelled at Jason. My voice sounded much louder and more hysterical than I had intended.

Jason looked stunned. Then his girlfriend nudged him from behind, easing her flat, expressionless face into the room to take a look at me. I hadn’t realized she was in the house, and felt suddenly angry at her presence in my bedroom and in this conversation. She peered at me dispassionately from behind her glasses as at a rabid animal safely contained in the zoo. I ignored her, which was easy to do since we had never exchanged two words, and waited hotly for Jason to respond to my challenge.

“Well, yes…” he finally said lamely. “How’s Eddy?”

“He’s in the hospital!” I spit out bitterly, as if this were Jason’s fault. “We were with him there until 1 in the morning on Thursday—the day you left with the Toyota. Then they decided to keep him for observation.”

“Really?” he seemed surprised. “On what basis are they holding him?”

“They’re holding him on the basis of him being fucking insane!” I realized that I sounded insane myself, but I couldn’t modulate my tone.

“I didn’t realize. I figured they were just going to talk to him. Where is he, exactly?”

“He’s at Mercy Hospital, in the psychiatric ward.”



I let the recrimination ooze out of my voice and over Jason’s body in the corner, but my heat was subsiding.

“When will he be coming back to his apartment?” Jason asked meekly, a rare tone for the brainiac Stanford grad.

Officially, Jason lived with his father in Marin, in the North Bay, while considering what to do with his degree in Physics. But after developing a girlfriend who lived in the East Bay, just over the San Mateo Bridge, he’d gotten into the habit of occasionally staying the night at Eddy’s apartment at the ecocommune, thereby lessening his commute.

“Never,” I said brutally, taking pleasure in finally wringing a reaction out of Jason’s usually implacable face.


“No. He’s not going back there, Jason. He’s nuts. He can’t live alone. He’s going to need to stay here for awhile, where we can keep an eye on him.” Exhausted with the effort of restraining all my hurt and anger—of lying in bed when I wanted to leap out of it and slam Jason’s head repeatedly against the wall, when I wanted to slap his blank-faced girlfriend and kick her down the front stairs—exhausted and beaten and deeply afraid, I finally softened my tone.

“Well, I guess I better get my stuff out of there then,” Jason responded.

“He should be home on Sunday or Monday.” I ignored his last comment. “Why don’t you talk to him about it then?”

“Okay.” Jason looked toward the front door longingly, obviously eager to leave this disaster area, but not quite ready to make his getaway. “About the manual,” he hemmed. “Did you say you had it?” he addressed Lawrence while noisily fiddling with his keys. I gave a disgusted sigh and lay back down on the pillow.

“Yeah, I’ve got all that out in the garage,” Lawrence responded. “Let me get it for you.” Lawrence got out of bed in his boxers. The girlfriend’s head retreated into the hall like a turtle into its shell, giving me a twinge of pleasure before I rolled over to face the window, away from all of them.

Two more days went by without a major upset. Visiting hours were at lunch and after dinner. When I went to the hospital with Lawrence, I had to agree that Eddy seemed to have regained his senses. He didn’t jump up and rush across the room unexpectedly. He didn’t summon magic healing powers or expound on confused theories about the way the universe worked. He didn’t suddenly flare up into anger or remorse. His eyes weren’t shiny. His lips weren’t tight. But there was something worrisome about him, just the same. He was slow to respond in conversation, as if before speaking he had first to consider what would be the most acceptable answer. He was slow in movement, also, as if even a decision to stand up or sit down needed first to be considered by some interior governor. At times, I thought he might be trying to deceive us. Other times I wondered if it was the drugs.
On the third day, when we expected him to be released, we were granted a five-minute meeting with Dr. Hu, an ill-looking man with a big bulbous belly projecting over spindly legs, sparse hair, sallow skin, yellow-veined eyes afloat in puffy pockets of flesh and hanging jowls that moved a moment behind the rest of his head like a turkey’s wattle.

“Hello. Hello,” he said as he approached us in the community room, ten minutes late for his appointment and obviously in a rush. “If you’ll come with me, we can find a private place to talk.” He turned abruptly and scuttled off without looking back, assuming we’d drop whatever we were doing and follow him. We did.

The small interview room next to the locked ward doors was painted white, mostly empty, and windowless, strewn with a few flimsy plastic chairs. I wondered if this was where he had spoken with Eddy, and what had caused the occasional black streak on the walls. I remembered old movies of men in straight jackets left alone in padded cells. But this room was not like that. Not padded. This room was nothing like that at all.

“We’re releasing your son today,” Dr. Hu said before he’d even taken his seat, which disappeared beneath him like an egg under a chicken. “I understand he’s going to stay at home with you?”

“Yes,” I stepped into to my usual role as family spokesperson. “That’s the plan, anyway.”

“That’s good, because we don’t think he should be living on his own. He’ll be given only two or three days worth of medications, just enough to last until you find him a treating psychiatrist who can prescribe more.”

“Okay,” I said slowly, trying to slow down the pace. “ What medications is he taking?”

“Lithium. Risperdol. Seroquel.”

“Lithium?” I was surprised by the one drug I recognized. “What does that mean? What do you think is wrong with him?”

“Lithium doesn’t mean anything.” Dr. Hu answered with annoyance. “It is a mood stabilizer. It could be that your son has bipolar disorder. That’s one possibility. He could also be schizophrenic, or any number of other things. All we know for certain is that he has suffered a psychotic break, but why that is, we don’t know. I’m not the one to make that determination. That’s for his long-term psychiatrist to do.”

“Where should we look for a long-term psychiatrist? Can you recommend someone who would be good for him?” I asked.

“What are the other drugs for?” Lawrence interrupted.

“Risperdol is an anti-psychotic. That’s probably what has brought about the results. Seroquel is to help him sleep at night.”

Lawrence and I nodded reservedly. We weren’t sure we trusted these medications, or this doctor. We weren’t sure how best to help our son. Dr. Hu was already standing up, producing the small white chair from beneath him like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his ass.

“What about a psychiatrist?” I began to feel frantic. “Can you recommend someone? How do we know who to go to?”

“Well, unfortunately, a lot will depend on your insurance. If you can bring me a list of the psychiatrists on your plan, I can point out ones that I think are good.”

“Okay. But are you going to be here when we come back?”

“I’ll be here at five, which is when we are releasing him. If you bring the list then, I’ll take a look.” His hand was on the doorknob as he spoke this last sentence. Then he was waddling down the hall, and Lawrence and I were standing alone in the interview room, staring at the empty space left behind him. We looked at each other without understanding.

“I’m not sure I like this doctor,” I murmured.

“He’s fine. He’s just busy. He’s just doing his job.”

“Why’s he so busy? Why can’t he give us 15 minutes to answer our questions for Christ’s sake?”

“I don’t know, but Eddy seems fine now,” Lawrence put a hand on my arm gently. “You can’t argue with that.”

“I guess not.”

At five o’clock, when we reentered the ward, Eddy was dressed in his street clothes and standing expectantly at the nurses’ station.

“Hi, Mom and Dad!” he said cheerfully. “Are we ready to go?”

“Not exactly,” I resisted. “I brought a list of psychiatrists I want to show Dr. Hu.”

“And there are some forms here that you need to sign,” the nurse behind the counter prompted.

“Okay. Well, we can do that now, I guess. Is Dr. Hu here?”

“He’s not here yet, but he’s expected any minute.”

We signed the forms without reading them. “This one just says you’re taking Eddy home with you,” the nurse explained. “This one says you’re responsible for the bill. This one confirms that you’re taking his medications with you. This one releases us from liability. This one says you got back everything he came in with…” She pushed a brown paper bag across the counter.

When the doctor arrived, he looked over the list of psychiatrists and marked three names, all men. “You’ll be in good hands with any of these,” he said, stretching the skin of his upper and lower lip on one side of his face in a facsimile of a smile.

Passing through the locked double doors a few minutes later, our son and his meager belongings in tow, felt like escaping from a maximum security prison, or making landfall after a dangerous voyage at sea. We floated down the elevator in a fog of good feeling, were buffeted across the parking lot on a windy hope. When we reached the little black Nissan, I climbed into the back seat, partly to honor the boy who’d steered across the risky crossing, partly to spare myself the discomfort of being in front—on display. But my mood wouldn’t allow complete anonymity. “That feels good,” I murmured from the back seat as we pulled out of the parking lot, a warm languor suffusing my body from the thighs up.

I saw Eddy turn to look at his father and smile. From behind, the backs of both their heads looked painfully vulnerable. Lawrence’s black hair, a wild tangle of curls when I had met him at 21, was trimmed short now and interwoven with gray. A pink strap that held his glasses on rested on his shirt collar. As if in anticipation of a future combover, he had let the mostly silver hair on top of his head grow slightly longer than the rest in a haircut reminiscent of Stan Laurel. He looked straight ahead, not returning Eddy’s glance, never swerving on the road to our home, his hands gripping the steering wheel with unusual force. Eddy’s hair was long and uncombed, dirty, dark chestnut brown, too thin for an 18-year-old boy/man. I wanted to put my fingers in his hair and massage his head, the center of so much turmoil, but I knew better than to touch him now. His reaction couldn’t be predicted. I remembered how I had cradled his head in my hands when he was just a baby—the unusual, oblong shape of it, the back of his skull stretching out far beyond the expected limit in a magnificent curve, as if to encompass a larger than usual brain. His eyes as an infant, before he started walking, had been soft and pensive. His manner serene.

We spoke little on the ride home, seemingly afraid that raising mundane matters of the world outside might alert the guards, turn the tide, throw us back into danger. When we got home, we spilled out of the car ungracefully and hurried into the house.

“Hey Eddy!” Henry was waiting for his brother on the big couch in the living room and greeted his entry with enthusiasm. Lawrence lay down on the loveseat. Eddy and I sat on the couch next to Henry. Rose was far away, taking a semester to study biology in Costa Rica, insulated from the family drama that was playing out. I wondered how I would report it to her when she came home. How would her father? How would Eddy? Would this become a funny story we told around the kitchen table? Was it over now?

“How was the hospital?” Henry wanted to know, dispensing with our misgivings about breaking a spell. “Are you glad to get out?”

“It was okay,” Eddy’s words came out too loudly for the quiet room. His eyes grew bright. “It was an experience, all right. Not one that I would want to have again. But then maybe again I would. I managed to escape alive, but that’s because I lied to the doctors. If you ever find yourself in the psych ward, Henry, all you have to do is tell them what they want to hear. They let me out! Can you believe that crap?” Eddy started laughing excitedly and I looked at him with alarm.

“What do you mean, Eddy?” I asked cautiously, glancing over at Lawrence. “Do you mean they shouldn’t have let you out?”

“No. No. No! They definitely should have let me out. I was through with them two days ago. There’s nothing going on there! Some of the patients are okay. There was one girl that was sending out some interesting signals. But omigod, they want you to sit and draw a star or something in group therapy and then they give you a little paper cup full of pills. Like I’m going to take that shit!”

The room was quiet for a moment, absorbing his words.

“What does that mean, Eddy?” I finally asked gently, not wanting to increase his agitation. “Didn’t you take the pills—the medication?”

“Well I did take it. Yeah. I took it at first because I thought I was supposed to. But then I couldn’t sleep all night. The man in my room kept moaning and rolling over in his bed. And I wanted to get up and take a shower because I smelled like SHIT, but first I needed the little socks they give you with tread on the bottom so I wouldn’t be walking over all those germy germs on the floor and absorbing them through my skin. But I had to take a shower right away because GOD DID I STINK!” he started laughing again. “It was an impossible dilemma! If I got up to take a shower, I’d get the germs coming into my body through my feet. But if I stayed in bed, I’d die of asphyxiation or something because I swear I was sweating out TOXIC FUMES. That medicine they give you is lethal! And they don’t ask you. They don’t check you. They don’t want to know how it’s working. I swear I only talked to the doctor one time for maybe two minutes in a tiny little room. Of course I didn’t tell him about the sparks flying around his head. I knew he didn’t want to hear about those. He didn’t want to hear that I could tell what he was thinking,” he laughed gleefully. “He couldn’t even see that his thoughts were projecting on the wall behind him! Can you believe that shit? But I was smart. I kept my mouth shut. I sure as HELL didn’t tell him that I could control his mood if I wanted, or that I could see this stuff coming off him…”

I looked anxiously over at Lawrence and realized with alarm that he was crying. He held his hand over his closed eyelids, his fingers resting on his forehead, but there was no mistaking the wet streak on his cheek. Suddenly, I felt terribly afraid. In 22 years of marriage, I’d only seen my husband cry twice—when his cats Rover and Boogers died. Now nothing seemed more important than that he stop. If he didn’t stop crying, I felt certain we’d be back in that dangerous passage, between clashing rocks, but this time we might not make it through. His tears were a life-threatening leak in our vessel. If someone didn’t stop them, we would all be lost.

I turned my scared face to Eddy and pointed frantically at his father. I put my finger urgently to my lips in a sign for him to stop talking. “Your father is crying,” I mouthed the words silently, and traced two tears down my cheeks.
Eddy looked over at his father and was visibly stunned. His eyes widened. His head pulled back. “I could see this stuff…” he trailed off. “But the meds…I took the meds they gave me.” He forcibly slowed his words down. “I think they helped me.”

I didn’t care if he was faking. I was glad to hear what he said.

“I’m glad you took them, Eddy.” I said slowly, thanking my son silently with my eyes and nodding encouragingly. “And I think you should keep taking them until you get your feet on the ground. I think we’re all pretty upset and wiped out. That was a pretty traumatic experience. I made a bed up for you in the back room. Do you want to see it?”


We both got up carefully from the couch and walked to the back room together. When I glanced back toward the living room, I saw that Henry had his face covered, too, like his father. I turned my attention to Eddy as I drew him away.

“I’m sorry you can’t have your old room back, Eddy, because Henry moved into it as soon as you moved out. But hopefully you won’t mind staying in Rose’s old bedroom.” We entered the room which was painted a garish bright blue on two walls and the ceiling. Big white stars were splashed randomly across the blue background. Two other walls were white, painted over laboriously after I realized how dark I had inadvertently made the room in my enthusiasm for blue. The $500 red carpet I’d chosen had to be similarly discarded because it looked so bad. Now the floor was covered with the 20-year-old linoleum left over from the previous owners: specks of blue on a white background. Somehow, many efforts I had made at improving our house had come out wrong. Once, when I was painting the back bathroom a bright orange with green trim, Rose’s best friend had remarked caustically, “It’s like she’s vandalizing her own house!” I wasn’t trying to vandalize it, of course. I was trying to copy a picture I’d seen in a magazine of Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico. But my eye for color was apparently off. After ruining those rooms, I finally gave up, and left all future painting decisions to Lawrence, who had managed to re-paint the kitchen, big bathroom and dining room in beautiful colors beloved by all.

Eddy stood in the dark blue back bedroom now and looked around despairingly. “Yeah. Well. I won’t be staying here too long anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.”

“No...” I said cautiously, sitting down on the bed. “Probably not. But Dad said you wanted to stay until the end of the semester, anyway. You only have a month or so left to go, right? And I know you want to pass all your classes so you won’t lose your admission to UC Berkeley in the Fall.”

“Yeah. I guess.” He was noncommittal. He looked around the room, which had my big office desk in it, my vanity, my file cabinet, a small couch in front of the window with the stuffing coming out of the cushions and a small single bed in the corner nearest the door. He wasn’t the least bit pleased.

“I know it’s not ideal, Eddy. But at least it can do in a pinch, can’t it? I can get most of my stuff out of here, if you want. Rose liked it well enough all those years it was hers.” Rose, too, had had her bedroom confiscated the moment she left for college. I’d moved my office in here, Henry had moved into Eddy’s basement room, and Lawrence had set up a movie theater in Henry’s old room, along with a single bed for random college students to crash on whenever they came home. I felt somewhat guilty about not leaving their rooms in-tact for extended visits as I’d heard other mothers did. But Lawrence thought it provided a healthy incentive for our children to leave the nest. Besides, we could use the space.

“Yeah. That would be nice if you could get your crap out of here, I guess. Or maybe it doesn’t matter.” Eddy still stood in the center of the room. All the energy seemed to have drained out of him. His eyes looked dull. “Did the doctor give you those medications?”

“Yes. I’ve got them in the other room. Do you want to take them now?”

“Yes. I guess I should.”

When I walked back into the living room I found Lawrence sitting up, working on his laptop. Henry mirrored his father, sitting in silence and computing on the couch. All cheeks were dry. I picked up my purse without speaking and brought the pills back to Ed.

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

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