TW// Mental Health
I found him. I peered down the alley and saw the man digging through a dumpster. I didn’t recognize him in the visual sense of the word but as he turned and looked toward me, my heart recognized him. I felt a flood of emotions. Some went through me so quick I might’ve missed them. Sadness was at the forefront.
I picked up my phone and dialed mom. I know it’s him. What if I can get him to come home? What if I can get him help? What if I can get him back to normal? The line rang so many times I nearly hung up, but just as I was about to, she answered.
“Hi Mel… what’s up? I’m in the middle of something.” I could sense annoyance.
“Mom? I found him.” I kept my gaze in his direction, careful not to stare and spook him.
“Found wh—Oh.” I could almost hear her synapses firing as she figured out who I was talking about. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going after him to try to bring him home.” It had been six years since I last saw my brother, but I was sure this was him. There was something about him that I recognized. Sure, his hair was long, he had a full beard, and the clothes he was wearing were dirty, ragged, and ill-fitting. He wasn’t the man I remembered, but there was something about him. I knew I had to at least try to talk to him.
“Don’t follow him, Mel. He’s a lost cause. You can’t help him now. I tried, you tried, Dr. Levitz tried.” I could hear in her dismissive tone that I wasn’t going to get any help or sympathy. And neither was he. The relationship mom and Christopher had was always complicated, and it only got worse as he got older.
“Mom… It’s Christopher. I’m sure of it. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough. There’s always something that can be done, right? If I can just get him to come home, maybe we can get him some treatment that works. Then he’ll be normal again.” I think I was trying to convince myself more than I was trying to convince her.
The truth was, we HAD all tried our best. When Christopher turned sixteen, he started showing signs that something was off. He would start describing events that never happened, talking to things that weren’t there, and had random bouts of anxiety and paranoia. Our parents tried to get him help but conventional medicine failed him. He started self-medicating (as many people with mental health issues do), and now here we are. Christopher disappeared six years ago and has been out on the streets, homeless ever since.
My mother gasped. “Look. I understand that it’s hard for you to let go of him, but I already have. I can’t do anything more for him. He made his choice. Just—” She stopped for a moment, and I thought maybe she was having second thoughts about disowning her own son, “Just be careful. You don’t know what version of him you’ll get. He’s dangerous.”
I closed my eyes. Of course you’ve given up. You don’t know what it’s like to love someone unconditionally. I’m not giving up on him. “I’ll be fine. You can track my location on your phone. I just wanted you to know where I was.” I hung up the phone, not even saying goodbye. I couldn’t understand how she could so easily dismiss her child like that.
I put my phone in my pocket and grabbed my keys and my mace. Even though I was sure it was Christopher, my mother was right. There was no way to know what state of mind he was in, and he’d exploded in paranoid violence before. I looked back down the alley and he was motionless, looking at me. I got out of the car and started toward him.
I got about halfway down the alley, and he started running toward me. For a moment, I thought I made a mistake, my stomach was in my throat. He’s going to attack me. Oh shit! “Mel? Mel! Is that you?” He yelled and a smile of recognition covered his face.
“Christopher?!” I ran quicker until we nearly knocked each other over embracing for the first time in six years. His pungent smell hit me first, and I could feel the coarse rattiness of his beard and long hair against the side of my face. I pulled away from him and looked him over. “I have been looking for you everywhere! Where have you been? Are you okay?” I surveyed his arms, legs, and hands… looking for injuries.
“Mel! It’s great to see you but we have to hurry. Come with me!” He grabbed my hand and started to pull me down the alley. “Pluto is about to take over the earth and we’re not safe here. I’ve been gathering supplies but now that you’re here you can help us.” The urgency in his voice told me that the best thing I could do is to go along with him and not try to convince him otherwise.
“Okay Christopher. Where are we going? What do we need to do?” We jogged down the alley and turned right.
“We need to get to Haven. They’re waiting.” We ran together behind several buildings until we finally came up to a chain-link fence with a section cut out, perfect for a person to climb through. Christopher bent his head down and swung one leg over and through the fence. Then he pulled his other leg through and waited. I paused for a minute, unsure of what I was getting myself into. “C’mon, Mel. We have to hurry!” He motioned at me with his hands to get a move on. I smiled at him, and I climbed through the fence and we took off running.
Eventually we reached the underside of a bridge, and I was aghast with what I saw. It looked like a little town, full of people like Christopher. There were tents lined up, battered and damaged. There were random pieces of furniture like run down, old high back chairs and couches with cushions ripped or missing altogether. The upholstery unwanted patterns like paisleys or burnt orange colored with fringe on the edges.
People were mulling about, some talking to each other, some talking to themselves. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I knew that we had reached Haven and I was WAY out of my element. My caution meter started going way up.
“Christopher, I don’t think your friends want me here.” Their stares made me uncomfortable, but Christopher grabbed my hand and lead me through the tents until we reached the very last one. We ducked inside and I saw a carboard box in the corner, a couch cushion (no doubt the missing cushion from the burnt orange couch with the fringe on the sides), and next to the cushion was a wrinkled photograph. I picked it up off the ground and smiled. It was a picture of us when we were kids.
“It’s okay, Mel. We’re safe now. We’re in Haven! Say hi to my friend Jasper.” He motioned to the corner of the tent where an empty chair sat. I looked back at Christopher and realized that Jasper was part of his delusion.
“Hi… Jasper.” I offered hesitantly and nodded in the direction of the empty chair. Christopher smiled at me and sat down on the ground next to “Jasper.” He didn’t ask me to sit but I decided to join him, still holding the picture of us in my hand.
The whole thing reminded me of when we were kids. He always had the best imagination, and we had the most fun creating imaginary worlds that we’d have to navigate through every day. Worlds where we were running from dragons, or worlds where we stumbled upon mansions in the woods, or where we’d have to rescue someone who had been captured by an evil witch. The possibilities were endless.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Mel. I’ve missed you so much and I was so worried that you’d never find Haven.” He looked at the empty chair. “Jasper – now that Mel is here, we can get the army together to fight the Plutonians when they arrive.” He grabbed a wooden stick from the corner of the tent that looked like there had been an attempt at whittling on the ends.
Then I realized. This was nothing like when we were kids. It wasn’t just a great imagination he had. Christopher wasn’t playing make believe and pretending or fantasizing about futuristic worlds. This was Christopher’s reality, and that realization created a wave of sadness that overcame me. I knew right then that my mother was right. I couldn’t make it all go away and I couldn’t fix him. The only thing I could do in that moment was join in on his world and make him feel seen and heard. So, I picked up the other stick.
“Okay, bro. When are the Plutonians supposed to arrive and how do we fight them?”