A Brother Lost
(Page 2 of 3)
Weeks after Jay disappeared, police in Maryland found him talking to a spider and had him hospitalized. He stayed for 72 hours. Then he went missing again.
September 11, 2009, was one of those drizzling mornings when I thought of my brother. There was the usual undertone of reverent sadness in the city, but for me, the date was a reminder of all that had gone wrong inside Jay’s mind. And on that day my phone finally rang.
“Hello.” Jay’s Southern drawl was unmistakable. I sat straight up in my desk chair at work wondering what I should do. Record the call? Take notes?
“Where are you?” I asked, as images of him sitting in a jail cell or stranded alone in an alley flashed in my head.
“Manhattan,” he said.
My heart filled with hope. Then he asked me if I’d gone to the witchcraft celebration at the World Trade Center, where the Sorcerers had ordered the wind and the rain to destroy the ceremony. Once again, I just felt like a helpless stranger.
I asked nervously if I could buy him dinner. To my surprise, he agreed. Twenty minutes later I met him near Penn Station; he was hunched under an awning next to a big blue tarp that covered his backpack and the paisley duffel he’d once borrowed. His pale skin had tanned and hair covered his face. He was staring at people as they walked by, but he didn’t see me until I said his name. Standing face-to-face with him, I could see that he had lost a lot of weight. His cheekbones jutted out from his once-full face. If I had seen his picture I would have gasped. Instead, I just held out my arms.
Zagat has no recommendations for where to take your homeless brother to dinner. We settled on the Mexican chain Chevys and sat in a booth near the back. He told me about hitchhiking to New York and sleeping in Central Park until the cops kicked him out. He grinned as he talked about sleeping on the steps of a downtown school, his smile still as charming as it had been when he was 7.
“Do you consider yourself homeless?” I asked.
“Oh, yes!” he answered proudly.
I wondered if the constant motion of wandering from town to town helped quiet the voices he heard. If it was his own kind of medication and, if so, could I really tell him that was the wrong way to live?
Earlier in the year I’d bribed him with a trip to visit me on the condition that he took his meds. Now he was sitting in front of me, and as much as I wanted to let him stay in my apartment, I knew I couldn’t let him (my therapist discouraged it and my roommate rightly put her foot down). I approached the topic cautiously, my voice shaking as I asked, “Do you know why you can’t stay with me?” His voice small and shamed, he answered, “Because I won’t take my medication.” He had always denied that he had schizophrenia, but his admission gave me hope that maybe some day that would change.