So, Hubby 3 has a nephew named Jack (I changed his name for privacy!) and he is a paranoid schizophrenic. A few years ago, when Hubby and I were married, his sister came to town from Florida (where she lives) with Jack (25 at the time) to visit her and hubbies mom who was suffering with lung and breast cancer. Right before she left, she came to us and said this: “I’m not taking Jack with me. I rented an apartment, and it has a 6 month lease. I can’t handle him anymore. He’s yours now.” And there we were with the responsibility of Jack for 2 years.
The first thing we learned was that Jack had no medication for his schizophrenia. We got him set up with a behavioral health facility here in town, and he was quickly put on anti-psychotic medication. This really helped, and for a while, we thought he could maintain his apartment, with us checking on him daily. We had no idea how serious his schizophrenia was at that point.
A couple of weeks after getting him settled and hooked up with services, we bought him a bus pass and a cell phone. We wanted him to be able to get to us and around town easily as well as call us anytime. But, instead of him calling us one day, it was his landlord. He said the apartment Jack was living in was a “shithole” (his words) and he was kicking Jack out. We went to talk to Jack, and found what the landlord said was literally true. Within a week of us not seeing the apartment (he had been visiting us), we were shocked by what we saw. There was poop smeared on the walls because he had run out of toilet paper, rotten food on the counters with maggots beginning to develop, and garbage strewn all over the place. We also saw Jack wasn’t taking his meds, and was clearly not able to live on his own at all. After talking with his caseworker, we got him into a great group home where he would be supervised, given his meds, and taught the general life skills he needed.
By the way, Jack didn’t want to live with us. He wanted more freedom than we would have allowed him and since both of us worked full-time, he wouldn’t have gotten the supervision needed. Jack lasted about 3 weeks in the group home, and then got kicked out for not following the rules. So, with more calls to his caseworker and other agencies, we got him into a subsidized apartment with home visits scheduled as well as us checking on him everyday. He had also been taking his meds at the group home and he swore to us he would continue (of course, we knew that wouldn’t happen…Jack didn’t like them). He got kicked out there within a month, and one day, we went to check on him and he wasn’t there.
All of this time, he’d come to visit us. I’d always have a supply of t-shirts, underwear, jeans, socks, etc. since he seemed to lose his own or get them so dirty or torn they were unsalvageable. I also made him take a shower when he got here ,while I washed his laundry. The first time he showered, he was out within a minute and I shouted to him if he had used soap. He told me I hadn’t told him too, so I explained in detail what to do and he learned to shower “Aunt Kristi’s way”! I’d also make him his favorite meal: grilled cheese with soup or chili. According to Jack, I made a mean cheese toastie! Sometimes, he’d start pounding on it with his fists “to kill the bugs on it” or study the chili to look for any evidence of tampering. Once he looked and then I assured him everything was OK, he’d eat. I’d usually have a new phone for him too; he went through them at about one a week, so I bought a few burner phones with minutes on them from Dollar General.
During this time, he moved around from friend to friend, and finally, he ended up homeless. We hated this and begged him to go back to the behavioral health facility and get back on meds, which might have allowed him to go back to the group home. He wouldn’t. He liked being homeless. He said he liked the people he had found and being on his own, living on his wits. We usually knew where he was during the day (our local homeless day center) and then had ideas of where he was living on the streets. We’d drive around until we found him, would offer him food or anything else he might need, and then he would say he needed to get back to business. This consisted of him making ‘traps’ (they were harmless stacks of boxes, etc.) to catch the spies who were out to get him. Once we took him to the psychiatric floor at our local hospital, but he was discharged in days with meds that he pitched after we left him.
One day, I got to the day center to say ‘howdy’ and he wasn’t there. I talked to some of his friends, and finally one said this: “Some people said they took him to the woods and killed him.” Now, this was coming from another guy with schizophrenia, so we didn’t know how seriously to take this info. We called the police and they said they would investigate but in the meantime, to see if we could find him because he was most likely alive. Hubby walked parks for hours and hours each night while I drove all over town. As the days wore on, the police took the info more seriously and interviewed a couple of people who said where his body could be found. Along with the police, we looked and looked, but nothing.
The news station ran a story on Jack and there was also an article in our local paper; we wanted to know if anyone had seen him. Here’s what happened: social media blew up with the most horrible comments I’ve ever read…in fact, I have tears in my eyes just remembering. People said things like this: “Why waste resources on this sack of shit?”
“Homeless people get what they deserve.” “I hope he’s dead so he quits draining our system.” “They’re all fucking drug addicts.” “Fuck him…I ain’t wasting my time looking for this asshole.”
When I started reading these, I was gobsmacked. Truly. These were people I knew! See, Jack’s last name is different than Hubbies, and people didn’t know he was my nephew. So, I wrote a post myself talking about how Jack was my family, that I loved him, how he was mentally ill, and that he needed help. All of a sudden, the tide changed. “OH…I didn’t know he was YOUR nephew.” “I’m sorry! I wouldn’t have said those things if I had known that.” and blah blah blah.
Really? What the fuck? It’s OK to wish someone dead if you DON’T’ know them? It’s fine to say a mentally ill young man is a ‘sack of shit’ unless he’s Prof K’s nephew? What the hell is wrong with this?
Finally, police in Iowa found Jack…he had literally joined the circus! We had had one in town and he went with them to ‘help with the animals’ when it moved on. We were so relieved, and I don’t think he could understand why we hugged him so much when he was brought to us. Long story short (finally), he’s back with him mom in Florida, and still doing about the same. I miss him. I really do.
As an educator all of my life, I try to see the lessons in experiences, and as much as I tried to teach Jack things, he actually taught me so much more. Jack brought out a compassion in me I had never felt before, and he could break my heart with just a look. He taught me that happiness can be anything…just enjoying a whopper on the curb of a street is reason to smile. Jack taught me how to see the world through completely different eyes…a different reality. It was his reality, but I needed to understand we all have our own reality, and no one’s is more or less than anyone elses.
But most of all, Jack taught me how cruel, insensitive, degrading, and ignorant so many people are when it comes to mental illness; and, how superficial they can be when expected to say the ‘right things.’ When we’d be out together, people would look at Jack like he was disgusting. They’d sniff the air because he often smelled. They’d look away as if by ignoring him, he’d simply not exist in the world they wanted to keep ‘crazy’ free. I’d listen to radio shows and read articles in the paper about the city needed to ‘get rid of the homeless’ downtown because they made people uncomfortable. REALLY? Sleeping on the fucking streets? Bathing in a fucking sink? Shitting behind a building because that’s all there is? That’s what’s uncomfortable, assholes.
Did you know there are 10,363 homeless shelters in the U.S., and 13,500 dog/cat shelters and sanctuaries? As much as I love love love dogs, this is wrong. ‘Nuff said on that. We need more resources for the homeless. More acknowledgment of how much help is needed for those who are seriously mentally ill. Better education amongst the masses so that maybe, instead of ignoring the problem, we could instead start to solve it.
Love ya forever, Jack, and I’m sure I’ll see you again when you pass through sometime.