Trying to rescue David from the system.
Today, though, he wasn't calling from a pay phone on Bleecker Street. He was on a cell phone at Seventh and Pine, saying he was browsing apartments, was owed $100,000 and would be buying me a new Mercedes. He sounded as bad as ever, and the call ended when he set down the phone to talk to a stranger.
I listened to the fuzzy, disjointed conversation for a minute, then hung up, heart sinking, and put on my shoes. As I walked, I hoped this was just one more delusion: Could he really be here? It didn't seem possible.
A few minutes later, he was squinting up at me from a Pine Street stoop, exhaling cigarette smoke, hands quivering. He was encircled with bags, papers and a new stereo. After exchanging strained pleasantries, I said the only thing that came to mind:
"C'mon, Dave. Let's go."
"I'll get the car; I'll take you back to Jersey."
Poor idea. This set him off on a rant that swerved between tears and hostility. He paced, shrieking about John McCain, modern R&B, our grandparents' house in Virginia. He was burning with mania.
After calming him somewhat, I rushed to the police station on Ninth and South. The response from the officer on duty was almost comically unhelpful: "Mentally ill? You mean, like ... retarded?" He seemed far more interested in the sandwich on his desk, and he strained to convey that his hands were tied. Unless my brother was hurting someone, he said, there was nothing to be done.
When I returned to the stoop, David was gone, an empty yogurt cup the only evidence he'd ever been there.
He was out there somewhere, though, struggling with his bags, muttering to himself, a Person to Avoid. My grim hope was that he'd cause his own arrest somehow, wend his way through the mental healthcare system and eventually land back in New Jersey. After a fruitless hour of searching the streets, I headed home, called my wife and parents, and tried, unsuccessfully, to distract myself with work.
Late that night, David resurfaced with a bang, entering my neighbors' unlocked house as they watched television upstairs. Owen and Karen live directly behind me, and they kept their composure--despite the discovery of a stranger strumming their guitar in the darkened living room. They dialed 911 and engaged him in conversation. Soon enough, they deduced he was my brother, and called me too.
The subsequent scene was everything I'd dreaded in the past: Owen and Karen, my wife, her friend, two cops and me and my sick, handcuffed brother out on the street for all to see. Neighbors peeked from their doors, alerted by the commotion and flashing lights. David, his possessions gone, clearly exhausted, kept on in a low, steady patter, punctuated by the occasional screaming jag.
The policemen didn't seem to know what to do. They told me if David were arrested, he'd be back on the street in a matter of hours. When I insisted he needed to be hospitalized not jailed, one of the cops regaled me with a touching story: "There's a lady on Front Street who walks around wearin' a gas mask; shits in a bag." He shrugged, grinning. "City's fulla crazy people, y'know?"
Yes, I nodded. I knew.
Nearing midnight, my brother and I were alone again, now jostling toward Pennsylvania Hospital in the back of a filthy police van. One of the officers had finally remembered the 302 forms--commitment papers--as if they were a long-forgotten wives' tale. I stared at the bloodstained floor while David, hands cuffed behind him, rambled about hidden connections, enemy skeptics and the size of R.E.M. concerts.
A policeman helped us into the hospital, where I was taken to a closetlike room to file the papers. David would now be held until a mental health court could review his case. All in all, a terrible day.
I awaited his hearing with anxiety, picturing myself arguing for his 20-day-minimum commitment in a soaring, mahogany-paneled courtroom. But the tattered Logan building I found myself in was low-slung and shabby, more a crumbling library annex than a court of law. I was ushered into a faded waiting room with others there to plead their own cases against family members. We nodded to one another in tired solidarity, and didn't say a word.
Being Black: It's not the skin color