I’ve never been that hot with social interaction. I’ve always been a bit introverted and awkward. But my good person/bad person radar has always been spot on. I’ve always been able to trust my instincts with people animals and which side of the tracks I walked on.
Back when I was sixteen I bumbled my way to my first real boyfriend, a good guy with a bad reputation. My parents loved him, and when his corrective school had an Easter holiday, he was invited to spend it with our family.
When we went to pick him up, he came with unexpected baggage. A friend who’d been hiding out in the closet, being fed by the residents through the first cold months of the year. With the school locked down for the break, he had nowhere to go.
My mother, who collected stray kids the way other people collect stray cats, opened her arms and brought them both in. At the end of the break my boyfriend went back to school, but D stayed on.
His story was a harsh one – he’d lost his mother and sister in a fire the he alone escaped from when he was only a boy. There was a stern father and a ‘wicked’ stepmother full of accusations about the fire that had him flee first to the military, then away from it to work in kitchens.
He was a pretty good guy. He helped out around the house, did a lot of the cooking and, like the other strays my parents took in, he became a part of our family with all the trappings of birthday parties, family trips and everything in between.
But he had a nasty temper. He got fired from a number of jobs because he couldn’t hold his tongue. As he got older and moved to bars during his leisure time, he became a fighter when he drank.
He struggled to get out of our nest. He’d move out, then fall on a piece of bad luck or the consequences of his stupid tongue and move back in.
My mother adored him and always welcomed him back but my brother and I began to get frustrated with his reappearances. Not because we didn’t care about him, but because during his successes, we barely heard from him, then when he was down, he came back to be picked up. And when he came home, he always blamed others – it was the boss. Or the girl. Or the guy who had picked a fight. He never took responsibility.
Then he fell down hard and hit drugs. My mother didn’t allow him to stay for more than an overnight on those episodes. He went in and out of rehab, then seemed to get a grip – a good girlfriend, a decent job – he did well for a couple of years.
Then, shortly after my father died and mom lost her mind and had to be placed in a nursing home, he fell again. Really hard. He ended up in a mental health facility. He called me from there, without saying where he was and left a number. But he sounded terrible, and admitted he was at a very low point.
But I was nearly out of my mind then – my mother was having a hard time, the rest of the family was ganging up on me for not bringing her to live with me, my son was sick and I ended up in the hospital the day after being given a huge promotion. My plate was full, so I didn’t call back until 2 days later.
The girl who answered told me it was a mental health facility, but that D had been discharged that morning. I had no idea how to reach him.
Four days later, on a sunny Sunday morning I woke up and took my son outside to play. When we came in, I checked the phone and saw 8 calls from an in-state number. The heading just read inmate.
Inmate? But no further calls came, and the number didn’t accept incoming calls.
The next day I realized it must have been D, calling from jail. But which one? And there wasn’t much I could do to help him. We were still struggling financially from a hit a few years back and had just barely managed to keep our home. There was no wiggle room in our bank. And he couldn’t be released to us. We had no place for him, and having a couch sitter is not acceptable because of our son.
But now I wonder. If my failure to reach out to him when he called from the mental health facility might have been a tipping point.
Was my good person/bad person radar off? Had he been edging toward a violence that finally came out when I failed to respond to his reach for help? Is he sitting in a jail cell, blaming me for his position?
And more disturbing. What will he do when he gets out?