My friend Adrian and I approached the darkened North Park apartment, and I sensed something wrong. It was and is my own apartment, one I share with my 28-year-old son, Geoffrey. The hour was early, maybe 6:30 p.m., and we had cut our evening short after snacks and a bit of canvas-viewing at the galleries on Ray Street. A cardboard box sat at the doorstep in shadow. It was the size of a small suitcase. As I neared the door I called out, "Geoff! Geoffrey?" and I heard a rustling inside, a low voice coming from the bathroom. It was my son's, and though I needn't have jumped to the conclusion, I was afraid he had locked himself in the dark and was carrying on a conversation with his antagonistic spiritual entity named Roger, a kind of djinn, demon, imp, and the villain in his internal drama dementia. A real-enough person by the by, but that is beside the point at the moment. Or -- it might have been Tina, the benevolent Athena in the netherworld he sometimes inhabits, a world made up of elements of fantasy role-playing games, sword-and-sorcery novels, supposedly nonfiction occult volumes and chapbooks (some of which I had supplied for him when he expressed curiosity and before he showed any indication of taking the stuff seriously).
"Dad?" His voice from the darkness.
"Geoffrey, what are you doing? What's going on?" I lifted the package at the door, marked, I could now see, UPS. It contained vitamin supplements and bodybuilding milkshake powders he had ordered online.
"The FBI and the CIA know that I know about the gravity energy supply at the earth's core. I discovered it when I was meditating and I tapped into the computer at the Pentagon..." He went on, hurriedly, with a little kid's voice I knew well, describing the bashing at the door by some khaki, short-panted kid UPS driver turned Man-In-Black from a government agency. Geoff had used that voice many years ago for describing the creatures that formed from lumps of clothing on a chair when the light went out in his bedroom. I had used that very incident in a piece of short fiction called "Bedtime Story," published 15 years ago. There was, at the time, no reason whatever to think of his childhood fears presaging a clinical paranoia. It was so normal, it was almost adorable...until, in fiction, I introduced a malevolent supernatural angle. Even that, the introduction of the woo woo boogeyman factor did not seem prescient years later and in light of Geoffrey's fascination with the stuff; a fascination I thought normal, healthy, and cathartic, or even therapeutic. I encouraged him in what I thought was simply entertaining reading matter, mostly fiction, but occasionally some Colin Wilson, William James, Carl Jung, even Aleister Crowley, stuff I doubted he would much muddle through to any real extent. I still feel waves of remorse, with varying intensity, that I so gleefully handed him the means to furnish a delusional, traumatized mind.
"I wouldn't worry about the FBI," Adrian said to Geoffrey that night. "I don't think they're interested in gravity."
I put the lights on, took the phone from my son. It was his mother on the line, nearing a hysteria tempered by the months of practice she'd had with worse incidents. These were before his hospitalization and involved truly strange, heartbreakingly bizarre forms of acting out, a suicide attempt with a samurai sword and, finally, the police. I made tea for Geoff and gave him a mild antianxiety pill. The culprit in this scenario had been the drug Abilify, an antipsychotic -- in that Geoffrey had taken none for several days.
Living with a schizophrenic is not, as many jokes among the married and once-married might have it, a matter of living with multiple personalities -- which might show up in anyone at all. Nor is it a case of living with someone who constantly changes his or her mind -- again, at least no more so than occurs with a perfectly sane being who believes that changing one's mind is a prerogative. It's anyone's prerogative, and so is "consistency the hobgoblin of small minds." One is free to believe that, and I often do. I certainly don't know what it is like to live with any mentally ill people but my son, a schizophrenic I love. And what that is like is what it is to live with anyone you love: a matter of tolerance to an irrational degree. Irrational on the lover's part, that is, not its object.
Not long ago, I bought a supposed religious artifact in Tijuana, thinking it might have anything from a miraculous to a placebo-like effect, maybe evoke a smile or underline suggestions concerning prayer (though I am hardly a noticeable example) that I had advanced. It is a booklike object bound in mediocre-quality leather. On its cover is a transparent and hollow crucifix of plastic containing water: Agua del rio Jordan, it says. When the pageless book is opened, the laminated rear and front cover have illuminated borders, an illustration of Christ's crucifixion, and on the right, Loz Diez Manamientos, numbered one through ten.
Feeling silly at the outset (I had picked this object up in a duty-free shop, next to the Kahlúa and tequila and cartons of American cigarettes), I thought it might be a meaningful stocking-stuffer. It should certainly be harmless, but I sensed a perverse bristling at the edges of my conscience, as if what I were doing only buttressed Geoff's overly steeped sensibilities concerning superstition. I immediately felt guilty for the thought and once again knew what it was to be Catholic. And I am -- if not the cafeteria type of Catholic (as the poet Mary Karr described, it describes all Catholics, pretty much) then at least the duty-free Catholic I become when I think of it at all.
What Geoffrey did by way of assessing the gift was to place the plastic, water-filled, leather-bound crucifix to his forehead and say, "I don't feel anything."