I’d been to a lot of new and interesting places; lost in a volcano, stoned at African Lion Safari with monkeys shitting on my windshield. But one place I never thought I would be, was stepping through a metal detector at a New Jersey Correctional Facility.
Maybe there were some people who were used to this experience but my sister and I were strangers in a strange land as we emptied our pockets. After being frisked by a gum-snapping security officer my sister placed into a plastic dish her car keys, coins, a wad of crumpled Kleenex and a marijuana roach. The guard didn’t even blink. But my sister’s eyes widened, realizing she must have stuck a half-smoked joint into her pocket when she was cleaning Jeremy’s room.
We were buzzed into a common room with long metal tables, a notice board of rules and the hum of fluorescent lighting. Besides the sound of metal chairs scraping linoleum, it was surprisingly hushed as conversations between inmates and visitors mumbled off the walls. Then, into the room strode Jeremy in a baggy orange jump suit. Back then, orange was not the new black. Orange was orange.
We had been worried about his wellbeing incarcerated amidst the general population of prisoners. But Jeremy claimed he was having a wonderful time meeting new and interesting people. Apparently, fellow inmates seemed to enjoy his philosophical rantings and for all I know he may have been serving fishes and loaves to the multitudes in the cafeteria. We bade our farewells and while the rusty wheels of justice slowly turned, my sister returned to Toronto to continue jumping through international legal hoops. I returned to Manhattan. The Messiah episode was stressful and a distraction and I was weeks behind in my writing projects. So I rented a car and drove out to a friend’s vacant farmhouse in Pennsylvania.
After a seven-hour drive I climbed out of the car and my shoulders dropped from up around my ears as I inhaled the pastoral freedom. As soon as I walked in the door of the farmhouse, my phone rang. It was Connie. “He’s baaack” she informed me. I asked her, “On a scale of 1-10 how frightened are you?” “An 11,” she replied, “Please come home.” Without unpacking a thing, I turned around and drove seven hours back to New York City.
Connie and Jeremy were waiting for me in the loft. Apparently, the wheels of justice turn faster when they don’t want to get involved in an international case regarding mental illness. They had spat my nephew out the door with subway fare. I phoned my sister and concocted a plan. Since I still had the rental car I would drive Jeremy up to Syracuse, New York. She would drive down from Toronto and we would execute a nephew exchange in the lobby of a Syracuse Holiday Inn.
The next morning, Jeremy and I hit the highway for Syracuse and I embarked upon the most stressful road trip I’d ever taken, driving five hours north with an un-medicated Paranoid Schizophrenic. About a half hour into the drive Jeremy asked, “Do I make you nervous?” “Why would you ask that?” I gulped. “Because you keep scratching your nose and you’re blinking a lot.” For the rest of the trip I drove like a deer caught in my own headlights. Two hours into the drive I pulled into a highway rest stop. What if Jeremy disappeared on me like before? What if he panicked and ran out into the highway? What if he started preaching his gospels from a porcelain toilet? Luckily, no incident occurred and we hit the road again for Syracuse.
We arrived at the designated Holiday Inn two hours early so I suggested we have lunch in the dining room. Jeremy was growing agitated and I tried to distract him with the pretty waitress and a salad bar. Unimpressed, he drifted outside for a smoke. Being so close to getting him home I was reluctant to let him out of my sight and joined him outside, my eyes scouring the parking lot for my sister. After a tense half hour of stalling I ushered Jeremy back into the lobby – and there she was! I finally exhaled and gave her a warm and grateful embrace. Jeremy walked past her out into the parking lot and climbed into the car. We followed. I knocked on the car window and mouthed to Jeremy, “I love you.” He never heard me. He was listening for voices on the radio. It wasn’t on. As my sister and her son disappeared down the highway, I crumbled to the ground in a river of tears of relief, exhaustion and compassion for my nephew, the Messiah.
Upon returning home to his Toronto suburb with my sister, Jeremy was diagnosed as Paranoid Schizophrenic. Decades later, Jeremy has never been medicated due to patients’ rights. It’s like telling a blind person, “If you can identify this painting we will give you help.” It’s a disease that also takes its toll on family members since there is nothing to do except wait to put out the next fire. We are grateful that he’s not in jail or homeless, but living his tiny life in a rooming house in the heart of the city. Maybe there are angels after all.
(Excerpt from, “Nut Magnet, An Autobiographical Assortment of Fruits and Nuts”)