OTI Online
Winter 1999

Both the mentally ill and their families
suffer from from a lack of treatment and resources
by Bill Weiner

Mary and John

Mary is a good mother.

She tried her very best, John is a good son.

He does the best he can.

Paranoid schizophrenia. That's what the doctors call it. Mary doesn't know exactly what that means. It's got to do with a split personality or something, but she's not sure. Nobody ever really explained it to her. The doctors are always so busy ... and she is only a mother. What she does know is that he's different. He hears voices in his head, and sometimes he talks to himself. When he gets really sick he thinks people are talking about him behind his back. Sometimes he thinks she isn't his real mother and he can get a little rough with her, but he's a good boy and is usually very quiet and keeps to himself.

CRAZY IN AMERICA: Both the mentally ill and their families suffer from from a lack of treatment and resources by Bill Weiner
All her life, Mary devoted herself to her son John.

He wasn't always this way. He was sweet and gentle and kind - God bless him - and so smart. Had a good head on his shoulders. He was such a good student before he got sick. Life has not always been easy, but God has been good to her. She counts her blessings, makes do with what she has, and takes one day at a time. All her life, she worked hard. If she didn't take sick from leukemia, she'd still be working. When John was three years old, his father walked out on them. He had his problems, too, but that's another story. She went back to work and Mother moved in to take care of John. Mary kept her nose to the grindstone, worked her fingers to the bone, but she was glad to do it. She scrimped and saved (had to watch every penny) to make a nice little home for John, and her and Nana. Like they always say, God helps those who help themselves.

John is up in the county hospital. Again.

John got a little rough with her. Again.

Mary is doing okay. She is feeling fine, thanks, and she can't complain. There is no use complaining. What good would it do? You do the best you can. What else can you do? There was no harm done, really. He just got a little rough. He can't help himself. He's a good boy, but he's sick. There were no bones broken. He just grabbed her and shook her and slapped her around a little. Well, yes, he was a little rougher this time. He didn't mean to be. He can't help it when he gets this way. The voices tell him to do it. He was screaming at her, saying all the bad words, and then he grabbed her and shook her and slammed her against the wall, and then he banged her head hard against the kitchen cabinet. But she's okay now. Really, she is. She didn't need to see a doctor, nothing like that. Sure, she was scared to death. Who wouldn't be? But now she is fine, thanks.

Well, yes, he is getting a little bit worse, and she is scared to take him back home. There is no telling what he might do. She is learning (the hard way). This time she did just what she was told to do. She didn't even argue with him when he said she was not his mother. That really hurts the most, when he says that. (Why does he? It makes no sense.) Worse than when he hits her. But she didn't say a word, not a peep, 'cause the last time up at the county hospital, they'd told her what to do and what not to do. They were very nice to her, and told her exactly what to do. And she did just like she was told. Yes, she did. Well, not exactly. No, she didn't leave the house and call the cops when he started saying all those bad words. It was late, and she was scared, and she was in her pajamas. But she didn't argue with him when he said she'd killed Nana. She didn't say a word when he asked what she did with the body. Not a peep.

No, it's true she didn't call the cops like they told her to, but she did walk away from him when he said the F-word. She did what she could. She went into her bedroom and shut the door. She thought that would work. Walk away from him, that's what they told her to do, and so she did like she was told. Her getting away would calm him down. That's what they said, and that's what she did. She didn't argue. She was scared to death, but she didn't let on. No, she just got up and walked away.

She thought it would work this time. He didn't follow her. Not at first. She just calmly walked to her bedroom, quietly shut the door behind her, turned off the light, and got into bed. She could hear him banging around, saying all those bad words, and she put the covers over her head. She shook and shook. If it wasn't for all the commotion, she probably would have heard those bony knees of hers knocking. That's how scared she was. But soon he was saying all those bad words, the F-word, right outside her bedroom door. He even called her a whore (he never did that before). She pulled the covers even tighter. She shook and she shook. Then it got real quiet like, and she thought he was going to settle down, but she was wrong. He barged into her room and dragged her out to the kitchen and went berserk. Well, you know the rest of the story. There's no need to repeat it. The cops took him away. The guy who lives downstairs must have called them. He's colored.John doesn't like him. He doesn't like the colored, but she has nothing against them. John doesn't trust them. She tries to get along with everybody. Anyway, she is fine and John's doing nicely, thank you, and she'll tell John you were asking about him. She will be all right. There is truly no need at all to worry.

She's fine. Really. She is.

John called Mary last night. Again.

He begged her to let him come home. Again.

He said he wants to come home, he's ready to come home, he's really ready to come home, won't she talk to the doctor, won't she please just talk to the doctor, please, all she has to do is talk to him, that's all, 'cause he's ready, really ready this time, he's been doing good, real good, and he's sorry, really sorry this time, and it won't happen again, no way, it will never ever happen again, never, 'cause he is so sorry and he's doing so good, you can ask anybody how good he's doing, he's learned his lesson, he really has this time, he won't listen to the voices anymore, besides they went away and they're not coming back 'cause he's going to take his medicine everyday, you'll see, and even if the voices do come back he promises he's not going to listen to them, just talk to the doctor, please, just talk to him, he'll tell you how good he's been, they didn't even have to tie him down once, he's been that good, and he wants to come home so bad and he loves her and he misses her, he misses her a lot, yes, he knows she comes to visit him every chance she gets, and yes, he knows she loves him and misses him too, sure he knows that, but it isn't the same, it's not the same as being home, and it's his home too, and if she really loves him as much as she always says she loves him, if she really means it, she'll give him another chance and let him come home, please say yes, he'll do anything, he'll be so good, like when he was a little boy. PLEASE one more chance, just one more chance . . . NO, PLEASE, DON'T SAY NO, OKAY . . . okay, think about it, just think about it. OKAY? . . . okay, he'll call back again tomorrow.

Mary is afraid, again.

She is afraid to take a chance, again.

She doesn't want to live in fear anymore, but she doesn't know what do. There's no telling what he might do the next time. At 77, she isn't as strong as she used to be, and she isn't getting any younger (that's for sure), and he seems to be getting worse. She used to think he would get better. She built her hopes up. She doesn't think that way anymore. She doesn't know what to think. She wants to do what's right.

Everybody tells her he needs to be on his own. He would be much better off. He has to learn to do things for himself. Her friend, who is a teacher, says she needs to back off a little, he's got to find himself, he's a grown man and he has to make his own way, he's fifty years old, for goodness sake.

She knows. She wants him to grow up, he needs to, and she's not going to be around forever . . . but it is so hard to let go and it's a little lonely without him. Up at the county hospital, they told her the same thing, plenty of times. They want to put him in some boarding home. But he doesn't want that, he wants to be in his own home. And all she wants for him is to be happy. That is all she ever wanted. Is that too much for a mother to ask? She tells him he's got to behave himself this time. He promises to be good. And take his pills. Sure thing, he doesn't want to be sick anymore. He wants to be Johnny again, the good son who always brought home a good report card and always went to church on Sunday. And she wants so badly to believe him.

In her heart of hearts she does believe him. Maybe this time it will be different. It just may be.

And she will try her very best And keep her fingers crossed.

Bill Weiner is a New Jersey freelance writer, and long-time social worker specializing in psychiatric crisis management.

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