On the phone I said, “Mom, I need that lawyer you always talk about.” I looked at the cop, a young, short guy with bleached hair, standing close to me. We were standing behind the PD service counter, in front of the jail cells. I looked away, down at the concrete floor, dangled the phone cord, twirled it at my feet. “I’m not a threat to myself or to society, but I’m locked up here.”
This place was like another hotel, but more folksy. Business was slow in the winter. They gave you more than one phone call, but they wanted money. Two hundred and twenty-five dollars, or five days in jail. At least you didn’t have to wait for a hearing. They bypassed all that shit down here. Fax machines, wire transfers, all that stuff made freedom possible by remote control. But that was not the method to be used.
She wanted to talk with the officer in charge, told him to keep me for a few more hours. My mom and my brother, the judge, would be here and release me themselves. The personal touch.
This guy in uniform talked to my mom and hung up. I asked him to get her back on the line, I needed to ask her about something else.
“She’s on her way,” he said.
“Please,” I said. “I need to talk with her for just a second.”
Now the line was busy, and it stayed that way for twenty minutes. A little family buzz. A little news.
Finally, I got her on the phone again.
“We’re on our way,” she said. I’ll meet your brother there.”
“Could you get my medication?” I asked. “There’s some in the fridge. Or better yet, you could stop by the pharmacy?”
I felt like I was in junior high school, had stepped behind the secretary’s counter to call home – and the secretary was listening. No privacy in this place.
“I think that’s the problem,” she said.
“That’s not the problem.”
So, you’re thinking, an alienated character like me, so spoiled and sensitive, so immature, undisciplined, never served in the military, didn’t have my medication – that must have been the longest six hours I’ve ever endured, right? Fuck no. I liked it, gave me a secure feeling, had a good bench to sit on, time to think, didn’t have to do anything, didn’t have to talk to anybody. Got to listen in on all the easy action down at the PD.
It beat the aftermath, which was more tough love – albeit, not very tough by most standards. The family conference. They discussed having me committed, said I was out of control.
Control? Dammit, the cops took my medication, wouldn’t give it to me, didn’t know where it was anymore. “Control is a matter of blood levels, and mine’s not right.” Besides, what did control have to do with anything anyway?
“Obviously, the medication doesn’t work,” my brother said.
We were in his house now, discussing my future.
I didn’t want to argue, didn’t think I could handle an electrical storm right now. I also didn’t want to go into the hospital because of this silly thing. Sure, they take care of you there, but it’s just too wacky in that place. Too confining. Everything is scheduled. Everybody cares too damn much. All that exercise. All those nice people. No beer. No T.V. in your room. I didn’t like to play cards. All that time to kill. I preferred the jail.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll go see my doctor. See what he thinks.”
Aha! That was the problem. They didn’t think the doctor was any good, thought maybe I should switch. Didn’t think I could do anything right. They wanted to meet him. Have a little family committee meeting with Doc included. Critique the shrink, see if he was playing with a full deck.
“Fine, fine. Let’s go.”
So I squirmed out of that one. You know, some people, most people, don’t know what the hell is going on, and they don’t care. Curiosity mixed with ignorance; they just want to jump to conclusions, until they see it for themselves. We called and got an appointment for the next day.
This made for a day of anticipation, paraprofessional speculation.
“I think you should go back to school and get your Masters degree,” my mother said. “If you had a career, you would feel so much better about yourself, and you wouldn’t have these kinds of problems.”
We sat at a seaside seafood restaurant. She nibbled at her grilled chicken, poked at her salad. Our table was by the window. It offered a magnificent non-view of the dark sea. The meal was another work session, all attention devoted to me, the grown son in trouble.
“That’s what you should have done years ago,” my brother said. “Instead of getting married. You should have stayed in school.”
How he handled that lovely shrimp cocktail salad on his plate! He gobbled it with the negligence I would use on a french fry. This brother of mine, the judge, probably, always got this seat by the window. It would have been a doozy with a little moonlight.
I wanted to argue, tell them how I had tried. Tell them that schools don’t treat guys like me the same as they do guys like Your Honor. No hugs and kisses for guys like me. Tell them how schools take guys like me and reshape them into lazy would be’s, pulverize them into can’t do’s – and eliminate them as best forgottens.
I knew the costs of arguing with these people. I had learned my lesson years ago. Yet, my superior awareness (you see, ten years of psychotherapy was not a complete waste) didn’t seem to pan out in real life. The normal, usual progression from this point, the next order of business, was to get red in the face and have a hell of an argument. But, by God, I had changed! I was smart enough not to do it. The medication was working, even though I had been without it for a day and had spent three of the past four days smoking pot and fucking a crazy band teacher. I suppose it stayed in your blood for awhile. I stayed calm, let them have a little side chat, discuss my shortcomings with each other. They expected, I’m sure, for me to construct a defense, to jump in. I didn’t do it. Wait until tomorrow, when I’ve got the shrink on my side.
You know, these are the moments that give meaning to our lives. Seriously. Sure, you know, I know, I’m a sarcastic fuckhead, like some alienated character in a novel about an overgrown juvenile, sure – we know this. But I’m being sarcastically serious, here. Here we are, three of us – my mother, brother, and me – completely sober, our bellies full, standing here on the boardwalk, next to that giant, dark, sloshing ocean, chatting about (the subject has changed!) my brother’s children. The breeze is freezing here; we all defend ourselves with winter coats. The ocean is dark, but it speaks. The stars are out wide. This is a family gathered in order to rescue a person. The person, me, stands side-by-side with them. I can hear every word they say. They don’t care!
Now they are talking about me again. Have you ever been in the midst of a conversation that is expressly about you, yet you are not in it? It’s like being invisible, getting to hear what they say behind your back. So what if the rescue itself won’t fly?
The moment is dear. We need crisis in our lives. We need people like me, who bring others together in the name of helping – when there’s nothing really wrong. These are the moments we need: crisis, problems, families with a focus – with the absence of grief. Crisis without grief.
The grief is there, but it’s been plowed under, tilled in, years ago. It’s part of the soil. Things sprout, grow to crisis proportions, but these we see as sprouts, growths, new life, not the grief itself. The grief has changed, joined the rest of the earth, long ago worked in, and reworked, redug, replanted, transformed, sun-broiled and drenched back in, spread around, dried out, washed out, year after year since.