Thirty-three years ago, today, I had a son. Beautiful boy; all the fingers and all the toes, he was perfect. They laid him on my belly. I hadn’t really believed there was an actual human being inside of me until I saw him. Serious, dark composure, like a judge, his ink brown eyes pummeled me with questions. Oh my god, the love. The semi-truck slamming into my soul laden with unfathomable love. In a second, the earth shifted on its axis and I was a mother.
Twenty years later he left. Some kind of unknowable change occurred in his brain and he was no longer with us. Schizophrenia. At first, they said it was anxiety. Then: depression. Then: bipolar. Finally: Goodbye Nickboy, you have been swallowed by the rancid swamp water of the worst mental illness. I stood at the shore, scrappy, wild-eyed, arms flailing. Why can’t I save him? Am I suddenly irrelevant? I have a stick. I have a rope! I have a college degree and yet he floats away from me. I glance back over my shoulder and see his sisters, glaring at me with the fury of injustice, “Save him, Mother.”
I would do anything to release him from insanity’s grip. “Hey, God, take me. Please. Pour cancer all over me, it’s fine, just heal him.” But there are no deals like that. You stand by the water’s edge and wail into a vast and relentless wind. No one hears you.
Holy, moly, that sounds sad. And it is. But it is other things as well. It’s profound. It’s shockingly beautiful, sometimes. And I know this isn’t politically correct, but once in a while it is really funny.
So here I stand, thirteen years later, at the place where sand meets the water, my bare feet planted firmly. Although I still cannot retrieve him, he hears me now. We play a kind of call-and-response game with him, the family and I, like Marco Polo. He will never lose us, I won’t allow it. The doctors and scientists haven’t found a way in yet, to his head. They do not even know what causes this. We tinker around with medications, locations, strategies…but the only surefire way in is the heart.
This is most certainly not the path I would have chosen for myself, and more excruciatingly, my son. But this is where we find ourselves. I am presented with a choice, as a mother. We are presented with a choice, as a culture. Do we rear back in horror, in ignorance, at those who are wired differently than us? Or shall we embrace, allow, and create the space in our society people with mental illnesses have every right to?
Of course, it is not a choice for me. I am his mother. I claim no special valor in doing what my DNA determines. But beyond that, I see that it is my obligation to speak. To shed light. To dispel fear. That is my clarion call to you: join me in pursuit of a better world for those of us who are different. We have been woefully remiss, we are responsible, they are ours. All of them. All of us.
Let us move forward from here.