Jared Started It
“Why don’t you look for my brother?” Jared asked. I don’t know what made Jared pop up with his question in January, 2000. Jared, my youngest son, the most sensitive and the most vulnerable one.
The question stunned me. After thirty-five years of keeping the secret, the idea of opening it up felt daunting. After all, in 1964, a girl being pregnant and unmarried was about as bad as you could ever be. I didn’t even know if the son I’d lost to adoption was dead or alive. Truth was, I’d almost stopped thinking of him. I’d almost given up.
But Jared’s question made me wonder. If he was still out there somewhere, what was his name? What was his address? Did he ever think of me?
I considered. When Chad and Jared, the two boys I raised, were twelve and ten in 1980, their father and I were divorcing. I went back to the adoption agency who placed my baby, and tried to find out about him. He would then have been sixteen. “His parents came back two years after they got him and adopted a baby girl. That’s all we know. We’ve had no contact since then,” the social worker told me.
With Jared’s question, now I realized that he and his two years older brother, Chad, must have wondered about their missing brother; but though we should have, we didn’t talk about it. It was too painful. I couldn’t help my younger sons deal with this loss, because the truth was I hadn’t dealt with it myself. I just stayed behind the curtain that the stigma and shame of that era demanded.
I hated to go to baby showers. Even though I was happy for a new mother-to-be, always there was a core of pain deep in my being when the young women shared about their pregnancies and children. I might hear the painful question, “how many children do you have, Linda?” Even with my closest friends, I always replied “two.”
Keeping the secret required me to live, in a fundamental sense, a lie. The birth and loss of my baby in 1964 was a part of me that had to be kept hidden except in rare, private situations. I told my ob-gyns of the pregnancy when they were following me, but I never revealed that I wasn’t raising that first child. When I applied to a master’s level social work school in 1973, I was required to write my life story. I revealed my first baby’s birth with comments that indicated I believed I had made the right decision under the tutelage of the unwed mothers’ agency social workers. I was speaking truthfully, and it probably helped me be admitted to the competitive graduate school. I told my brother and sister at the time I was pregnant, but we never discussed it after I left the agency. I told my serious partners through the years, and certainly, my husband knew. Otherwise, even though I became a therapist and developed skills to help other people with their deepest pain, I kept the secret. I didn’t even tell my own therapist.
Living a lie requires a lot of separation. Separation is lonely. Keeping a big secret requires a lot of energy. And we say in psychotherapy that “the one who carries the secret also carries the shame.” We also say that “you can’t help someone else do their work if you haven’t done your own.” So, the few occasions when I’d worked with someone who had an adoption loss, I hadn’t been able to be fully present for them because I hadn’t done my own work.
I had learned to live in the loneliness of being different, of being ashamed, of being stigmatized, even though others didn’t know it. And I couldn’t do that without carrying anger along with the pain. If I’d smashed my thumb with a hammer, I’d have known where the few choice curse words came from. Pain brings anger. In the case of that physical injury, I’d have known why. But in the case of a deep, secret loss, I didn’t make the connection. So I carried that hurt and anger and tried hard, not always successfully, to keep it buried. But, again as we say in therapy, “what we don’t work on, works on us.” So it certainly wasn’t helping me or my other loved ones, especially this one in front of me, Jared.
Now he was challenging me to open a door behind which resided all these painful emotions.
“Maybe he wouldn’t want to know me,” I finally replied. “Maybe he wouldn’t like me. I don’t know. Maybe I’d just upset his life.” I didn’t relay my other fear. Maybe he inherited schizophrenia, too, like you. What if I found another disabled son? Could I handle that?
I couldn’t ignore Jared’s intent eyes. I stared back at him. “So why should I look for him?”
His response came back clear and strong, “Because, you’d be a good mother for him to know.”
His answer took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. I thought back to the $50,000 in medical bills we’d paid for Jared, the years of my husband, Dave, and I dealing with one crisis after the next, one hospital and placement after another, always trying to save him. And we did. We never gave up, and now he was mostly stable and independent, living in his own mobile home, handling his own medical care, giving his charming paintings to his doctors and my boss, who said he was an angel. And she was right. Through everything, he retained his unsullied, innocent nature.
It was all worth it. He just repaid me with his comment. And if anybody would know what kind of mother I’d become, I guess it’s him. He’s the one whose needs dominated everything since I got together with Dave in 1986, when no one knew what was wrong.
I remembered picking up the ringing phone in 1987 at the dialysis center where I was working then. “Your son has schizophrenia,” said the unknown voice at the other end.
“Who is this?” I asked, shock roiling through my body.
“This is Dr. Barbara McCall. I’m the school psychologist. I’ve just tested Jared for Special Education.”
“Okay, yeah. I knew he was being tested.” My mind refused to take it in. “I know he’s got lots of problems, but how do you know it’s schizophrenia?”
“He just told me he’s been hearing voices for months, maybe years.”
Feeling my legs stiff and wooden, I got up and closed my office door. “We need to call an Individual Education Plan Meeting to figure out what he needs educationally,” continued this abrupt psychologist. I knew from my previous job for developmentally disabled clients what she meant. An IEP was put together by a team of educators and parents to determine what programs and special services a child with special needs required. I also knew how anxious schools were to avoid the cost of extra services.
A month later, my husband Dave and I joined Jared’s sophomore high school teachers, the principal and Dr. McCall around a long, low rectangular table that must have been conscripted from a second grade classroom. It was a good thing my legs were short. I almost managed to fold them under my miniature chair.
By the end of five reports and an hour’s discussion, all of it discouraging, the principal concluded. “We just don’t have anything adequate to meet Jared’s needs in the public setting. We’ll refer him to Valley Oaks High School.”
Surprise rooted me in my little seat long enough for Dr. Mc Call to come around the table and shove her private practice business card in my face. “If you need to talk, this is where I am,” she announced.
Thus began the official stage of “something’s very wrong.” This was in the fall of 1988. That was the first year my relinquished baby’s birthdate of October 30th, 1964, passed unnoticed. It wasn’t until the next day when I saw costumed children on Halloween carrying pillow cases filled with candy that I remembered.
October 30th, my first son’s birthday, a day I’d always thought of him. I’d always struggled with feelings of yearning, wondering where he was, how he was, longing to be able to wish him a happy birthday. But that year, trying to hold together a new marriage and a very sick son left me no time to wonder about the fate of my missing son. It was my present son who demanded all my attention.
To make the situation more complicated, when I had moved to Southern California in 1986, I also brought along my older eighteen year old son and his girlfriend. I wanted to remove this oldest son, Chad, from a friendship network with young people I felt were negatively influencing him. His girlfriend, Tina, had lost her mother to severe asthma only three years ago, and she wanted to come along. Since it appeared Chad might not move without her, I agreed. Both she and Chad were struggling to finish their education and establish themselves in jobs; and Dave and I were in some conflict over how long to allow them to stay with us. I felt moving them out quickly into the high-intensity Los Angeles area we’d moved to would be too much. I wanted to protect both my sons, while Dave felt Chad and Tina were ready to emancipate and grow up by facing life’s struggles now.
But the primary focus had to be on how to help Jared. We’d already tried so many things. Beginning in 1987, we paid for a series of outpatient sessions with a reality therapist (a type of therapist who didn’t accept the brain basis of schizophrenia). He was a nice man, but he would never have given that diagnosis. Instead, when the calls from the school truancy officer started, “we need to have a district meeting about his excess absences” and then the police department, “we have your son down here”, and the story from Jared, “the guy pointed a gun at my head when I tried to buy marijuana from him”, it all reached tipping point. Dr. Beckwith recommended residential treatment.
“There’s one in Utah. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. The kids can’t escape. They run away from the ones here in California, too easy to call friends or hop on a bus.”
Solomon Ranch told us they started all the kids with a wilderness trek in the mountains. “They come back ready to cooperate better,” Burt Solomon said in a kind, gravelly voice. I pictured my beloved youngest son, just sixteen years old, having fun rafting down whitewater rivers and enjoying hearty cookouts of burgers and steaks before snuggling into a warm sleeping bag under a night sky full of stars.
It wasn’t like that. “We give them a cup of lentils, a cup of oats, and a jar of peanut butter when they start,” I heard later from the trip leader. “We teach them Indian skills, to make simple traps and catch anything they can, mice or rabbits, and cook it over a fire they build themselves. After that, they douse the fire and cover the coals with rocks and a layer of dirt. They stay pretty warm with their sleeping bags on top of that.”
By the time I learned that, I’d traveled to Utah to meet Jared emerging from the woods looking as emaciated as a concentration camp survivor. He was draped in a heavy wool blanket poncho and had a large tin can, his cooking pot, hanging on a rope over his shoulder. His eyes were deep in their sockets and the bones in his face stood out craggy and sharp. He must have lost thirty pounds in only three weeks on the wilderness hike. There had been especially heavy snow on this trip, and they’d had to hike six miles or more a day.
“It got kind of hairy,” the leader told me at that meeting. “I brought Jared a marmot I killed.”
“I caught a mouse and cooked it. I ate the whole thing, even the bones,” Jared told me. This was while he was wolfing down a breakfast of ham and eggs, pancakes, a burger and a chocolate milk shake at the café where all the kids and the parents went after we met them.
There followed the year at Solomon’s Ranch, where food was at least regular, and the Mormon staff was strict but kind, as far as I could tell. The kids got to ride horses, and Burt took Jared to Salt Lake City and let him buy pigeons he raised in a hut.
October 30th that year came without my noticing. I was working two jobs to pay Jared’s bills, traveling from Santa Monica through stop-and-go traffic to Whittier in a car with a broken heater and frozen feet. My missing son was the last thing on my mind. After all, they had promised me he would be advantaged in his adoptive family. It seemed likely he didn’t need me.
While Jared was in residential treatment that year of 1987, Dave and I went to Las Vegas in November and got married in The Chapel of Love with only three family guests. The Chapel sent a limousine to the Flamingo Hotel to pick us up and videoed our marriage in their Salmon Room and our departure again in their limousine. After driving us around the block, the video ended, as did our ride in the limousine. When we returned to Los Angeles, our romantic interlude ended as rapidly as the ride in that shiny silver limousine.
After we let Jared come home for Christmas the next month, getting him back on a plane to return to Solomon’s Ranch would have required a Marine escort. Jared was having none of it. Jared returned to Los Angeles public high school in January, 1988, and we held our breaths hoping he would be able to handle both the academic and the peer relationship stresses. It wasn’t long, though, before his teacher referred him for the psychological testing that led to the school psychologist, Dr. McCall’s, blunt announcement of his schizophrenia diagnosis.
So, though Dr. McCall’s bedside manner left a lot to be desired, she did put a name on the odd looks, strange behaviors and inability to fit in and function. The school told me to follow up with UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, and I began hauling Jared there regularly to see a new psychologist and psychiatrist, Jared and I showing up equally anxious. Margaret, the new psychologist, concurred in the diagnosis and the psychiatrist, Dr. Wilson, started Jared on first Haldol, then Navane, then Prolixin. Each one caused its own unpleasant side effects — dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, constipation — just to name a few.
Jared and I started on a half-hour ritual every evening. Me — “You need to take your meds, Jared.”
Him — “I don’t want them. They make me tired.”
Me — “I know. I’m sorry. But you need to take them anyway.”
Him — “Why?”
Me — “Because you’re sick. You have schizophrenia. It’s an illness. You need meds to control it.”
Eventually, Jared would give in and swallow the little yellow, orange or blue tablets. And we’d show up again the next week at NPI where Margaret complimented me on being “a good mother.”
“You’re handling this so well,” she told me.
Her compliments caused me to break into sobs in the hallway outside her office while Jared stood with a perplexed look on his face. What Margaret didn’t know, because I didn’t tell her, was the protective inward denial that allowed me to ignore the evidence and disbelieve the diagnosis, even while naming it and complying with the treatment.
That summer, our puny psychiatric insurance coverage ran out. Jared turned eighteen and so was finally eligible to be picked up by MediCal. NPI discharged him and sent him home to await an early appointment at St. Mary’s, but the state delayed the contract for three months.
“I’ll take my meds myself, Mom.” Jared declared this after a particularly lengthy struggle.
I let out a big sigh and gave up. “Okay.”
Two weeks later, Jared looked better, no more walking stiffly like a robot, more alert, happier. “Are you taking your meds?” I inquired. He admitted he wasn’t. Two weeks later, he looked even better, the clearest I’d seen him in ages.
“I was right,” I congratulated myself. “He doesn’t really have schizophrenia.” I followed up with one perfunctory visit to the St. Mary psychiatrist when MediCal was finally approved and ignored the doctor’s warning that Jared would relapse if we didn’t restart his anti-psychotic meds.
“I’m not putting a well child back on meds that make him miserable,” I told the psychiatrist.
Meantime, a big yellow van picked Jared up every morning and drove him to Valley Oaks publicly funded private high school. And though he displayed no obvious psychotic symptoms at home, reports from the school weren’t impressive. “He can’t focus. He’s below grade level. He doesn’t seem interested.”
“Let’s go to Hawaii,” announced my long-suffering husband, Dave. “We deserve it. It would be good for us.”
It was true. We’d been going through stress after stress ever since getting together. We were desperate for a break. Dave was pushing himself to build a law practice in an LA high rise and hoping to be able to pursue his dreams of using the Mandarin Chinese language he’d trained in during the Vietnam War. He wanted to take advantage of the new openness in China and develop himself as an international lawyer. Instead, he, who had no children of his own, was using his hard-earned income to take care of mine. We were lurching from crisis to crisis, not even being able to make plans to go out by ourselves. And if we took Jared with us, sometimes we had to leave early. Even a movie could be too overwhelming to finish. Dave needed a vacation. The miracle was that he was sticking with me and a household that felt like a pressure cooker most of the time.
“I’d love to go. Really, I’d love it, but what will we do with Jared?” I replied. “We can’t leave him here.”
“We’ll take him with us,” Dave said, his voice certain and determined.
I made plans for a beachside resort in Kauai, and we began counting the days. But as the time approached for our departure, Jared began showing signs of relapse. The day before, he was pacing. First he raced up and down the stairs that led to our small two-bedroom upstairs apartment on Santa Monica Boulevard. The phone rang. It was Leah, the young woman who lived below us with her Palestinian husband and young son.
“Is Jared okay?” I heard a tremor in her voice. I felt the same misgivings. I placed an emergency call to the St. Mary’s psychiatrist whose warnings I had declined. The doctor didn’t call back.
That evening, Jared began striding rapidly to and fro from our little kitchen to the front balcony under the tree we loved to sit beneath. He started screaming, cries of confusion echoing through the apartment and bringing on another phone call from Leah. Who could blame her?
“We have to get help,” I told Dave. “We can’t go to Hawaii with Jared like this!” I found a number for the Los Angeles County Mental Health Crisis Team and called it. After hearing my predicament, the woman’s voice at the other end told me to call the police. “He may be dangerous,” she stated, “We don’t go out under these circumstances.” She gave me the number for the Los Angeles Police Department.
“Does your son have a weapon?” asked the police officer.
“No,” I said.
“Any history of violence?”
“No,” I told him.
“Well, you don’t need us. You need the Mental Health Crisis Team. Call them.” He hung up.
Dave and I looked at each other. I saw the same despair in his eyes that I felt in mine. “What can we do, Dave? The Crisis Team won’t come because they say he might be dangerous, and the police won’t come because they say he’s not dangerous.”
Jared continued to race back and forth. I collapsed onto the plush brown couch. Dave sat down next to me and put his arms around me. In his eyes I saw a covenant. I saw he was dedicated to saving Jared, saving me and saving us.
“Things couldn’t be any worse in Kauai than they are here. We’re going. We’ll just deal with whatever happens. There’s nothing else to do.” I sunk into his arms. How lucky I was to have his support through this terrible time!
He turned to my overwrought, desperate son. “Come on, Jared. Let’s make Brownies.”
The kitchen filled with the redolent fragrance of chocolate. We ate the brownies that night and again for breakfast before driving to the airport where Dave almost pulled me and Jared onto the sparsely booked United jet. Jared lucked out and got three seats in a row. He’d been up nearly all night, as had we. He stretched out across the seats and slept the entire seven hour flight. Dave and I leaned back, held hands and ordered little bottles of Dewar’s Scotch, even if it was only 11 am.
That week in Hawaii I approached Jared where he sat on a gritty black sand beach in front of swaying palm fronds. I looked into his eyes that were squeezed tight with uncertainty. “We can’t go on like this, Jared. I’m always worried about you, and you’re always worried about me.” I saw Jared’s face perk up in interest. “We’re too close, Jared. It’s like when you sneeze, I blow my nose. And when you blow your nose, I wipe mine.”
Before us, the surf rolled in like a velvet glove, smoothing the sand and soothing our spirits. “You’re a young man now, Jared,” I continued. “You have to grow up and make your own way. And you can do it.” I wasn’t sure I believed what I was telling him, but I saw dawning hope in his eyes.
After that conversation, Jared relaxed and so did we. When we came back from that week in paradise, Valley Oaks School told us, “Jared is so much better. We’re telling all our parents to take their kids to Hawaii!”
But the challenges continued for years. My relinquished son’s birthday of October 30th began to seem like any other date. Until then, that day, the day before Halloween, was a day when I set aside a quiet time to reflect and wonder what that growing son was doing. In the early years, I would picture a little boy, maybe dressed in short pants and a little plaid shirt. Did his parents have a birthday party for him with cake and candles to blow out with a wish? What did he wish? By the seventies, I’d imagine him ‘trick or treating’ on the following day dressed up like Batman. And maybe after the holiday, he’d carry his red lunch box with a Mickey Mouse decal on it to school, filled with candy. Would his mother let him do that? Or would he have to sneak it in?
The thirteen years after Jared’s devastating diagnosis were often a blur. Dave and I were both overwhelmed, trying to pay off doctors and the hospital bill that stretched from floor to ceiling when I stood on a chair and held it up to allow its accordion pleats to bounce off the floor. Then there were six months in Camarillo State Hospital and the home visits Jared earned on his point system; his release and the pressures to get him into the rare decent board and care home; dealing with County Mental Health doctors and lack of programs; trying one medication after the other; at times running the closest thing to an in-patient psychiatric unit in our townhouse; huge financial stresses and finally moving north to Davis, where I went to work for Kaiser.
Two years later, I began fighting a three-year battle with my new employer, Kaiser, to keep Jared under my insurance when he aged out at twenty six. I was convinced he should have qualified for continued coverage as an over-aged dependent. I won that battle, prompting my former supervisor to proclaim that “you’re David and you beat Goliath.” But the same month, Jared relapsed and was hospitalized again. The good thing that came out of that, though, was that Jared decided he’d stay on his meds from then on.
“That was like being in hell,” he told me, describing the delusions he had of Nazis killing old people in a nursing home he walked by during his all night wandering. “I’m never going off my meds again.”
Still, quiet times were non-existent. If I thought of Jared and Chad’s older brother at all, it was only for a fleeting few moments. October 30th came and went with little notice. After all, by then this nameless son was in his thirties if he was even still alive. I hoped he had his life, but the truth was that I couldn’t think much about that life and still manage to build my own. Without consciously deciding to, I had built a thick wall around that painful history. My missing son was only dimly visible anymore on my radar screen. I had compartmentalized him away in order to survive his loss. This was how it was until that fateful day in January, 2000, when Jared faced me with his crucial question — “Why don’t you look for my brother?”
Jared, the one who lived in a world of delusion when off his medications, who set off to drive “on a silver road” to Canada in winter in a pair of shorts and a nearly-empty gas tank. Jared, who often inhabited an illusory world, who couldn’t always discern fantasy from reality. Jared, the most unlikely candidate and yet the perfect one to challenge me to face my buried truth. It was Jared who forced me to stare painful reality in the face in the course of a decade of chronic crisis. Along with that, it was Jared who had given me an open heart, proving the adage that “suffering breaks us down and breaks us open.”
My husband, Dave, and I both felt it and talked about it. Dealing with something like this, the only thing you could ultimately turn to was spiritual. Nothing else was big enough — not the doctors who always gave the worst prognosis, not the treatments with their wretched side-effects, not the grossly inadequate programs, not any kind of logic. You just had to look into your own heart and decide what really mattered and go with it. That’s what we’d done. Jared saw it. He knew we’d stuck by him through his suffering. Now it was his turn.
That was Jared’s gift. His gift was to prick my balloon of denial and set me on a path to find his missing brother. No one was better suited. No one could have done it better.