My Biggest Fear

I recently shared this meme on my Facebook page just to see what goofy things my friends would come up with:

The answers: there were several Snake Women, Abandonment Person, Mediocre-Life Girl, Captain Everything, Fall Girl, Commitment Man, Spiderwoman, DyingDueToTreatableIllnessWithoutHealthInsurance Girl, Scorpion Lady, Blood Woman, Stifleshnookums (afraid of having her shnookums stifled, I suppose. I mean, aren’t we all?), Spiderbite (that’s me), and Car Wreck (who wins the awesomest catch phrase with “Car Wreck to the Wreckscew!). My friends are awesome.

But then I got to thinking about my actual deepest fear. I’m terrified of spiders obviously, but also heights, snakes, bugs, the usual stuff. But they aren’t my deepest fears. Not even close. In fact, I’d face every single one of my fears a thousand times over if it meant that my deepest fear would never come to be.

My deepest fear is a future in which my child is incarcerated, homeless, or worse due to his mental illness. A future in which he needs care and there is no one to care for him.

As awful as this fear is, it led me to an amazing encounter today. Today I met Mitchell. I’ve been passing Mitchell on the highway for years. He’s always pacing the same stretch of sidewalk. And he’s always, always engaged in animated conversation with… Himself? No one? He’s usually also counting on his fingers. I make a point to smile at him as I drive by and he always makes eye contact with me. In response, he sticks up another finger and counts one more. Is he counting smiles?

Today, Javan and I stopped for McDonald’s sweet tea before a doctor’s appointment. Mitchell was standing on the sidewalk out front talking away to some imaginary being. As we pulled out of the drive-thru, I pulled up next to him on the sidewalk and handed him the small amount of cash I had with me. He asked if we had anything cold to drink. I asked him if he could go inside to buy a drink. He told me he isn’t allowed on the property because he “broke some trees.” He gestures to a short row of crepe myrtle that look just fine to me.

The heat index is a whopping 102 degrees. I give him my sweet tea. He is reluctant to take it because he knows I bought it for myself, but he takes it with many thanks once I assure him that Javan and I could share. I’m thinking to myself how miserable and disgusting I am driving around with a busted AC. This guy must be fifty times as uncomfortable. All day every day. Before I drive off, I shake his hand and give him my name, wondering when he last experienced the basic civility of a human touch. He does the same. He’s so polite, genuinely sweet, and surprisingly intelligent.

I tell him I pass him all the time and if he needs anything to wave at me. It feels so lame and small. Of course he needs something. He needs everything. And there’s no one to help him.

As we drive away, Javan, who isn’t thrilled that he now has to share his favorite sweet tea, asks me why I did that. I said, “Because he needed it. Because he doesn’t deserve to be homeless. Because he’s mentally ill, his brain doesn’t work like other people’s, so he’s homeless and it isn’t fair.”

But inside I’m thinking. “How do we change this? How do we create a society where the sick are cared for, not punished for an illness they didnt ask for? How do I keep my sweet boy from becoming the next Mitchell?

And I don’t know.

I don’t know how.

But damn if I don’t want to find out.

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