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Growing Up Wasn't Easy with Mental Illness in the Family

It’s hard to write a book. I learned that writing is a lot of rewriting, editing, revision, reconsideration, rewriting again.

I’ve tried to get it all in, but only what really counts. I wanted to tell the story of my family: my dad who had so many problems with his physical and mental health, with drinking, making a living, getting along in the world. Of my amazing mother who raised us three kids, kept them safe and healthy in a tough situation with an unreliable husband, hardly any money, and in a tough neighborhood. My mom took care of us, and also worked at many different jobs, always doing way above average work, underpaid but conscientious, ultimately rising in the ranks to positions of responsibility and authority.

I was a wild kid for a long time, taking chances, trying to be like my brother. I thought I was pretty tough and a good athlete. My uncles in Hawaii taught me to surf when I was just a little boy and I got better at it every year growing up on the beaches of Southern California.

By the time I was a teenager, I was beginning to see there were better choices for me than just being like my wild and crazy big brother. I loved and emulated Bill even beyond where it made any sense, but the kind of scrapes he was getting into were getting harder for me to handle.

One night, while I was a student at UC Santa Barbara, Bill called me at midnight, sounding crazy, homicidal, out of his mind.

“Get down here, little brother, on the double.”

Jesus, that was more than 120 miles away but I hopped in the car and was there in about two hours.

By the time I arrive it’s about one or two in the morning. The house where he was staying was one of only two in the large, industrial area and was primarily unlit except for one dim lamppost. At first all I could see was dilapidated houses, old rusty tin warehouses more closely resembling sheds, with broken things, parts of cars, and different types of equipment strewn about all the various unkempt properties.

As I pull up, Bill was pacing just in front of the house, like a primitive shadow under a hazy moonlit glow. The shadow stopped, then moved quickly towards my car as I approach.

“Ronnie, damn, you won’t believe what’s happening here dude, this house is haunted. I shit you not man, something has been trying to get me all night but I won’t let it.”

“Bro, calm down man, just calm down. Look, I just came all the way down from Santa Barbara, you gotta slow it down, bro, we’ll figure it out, just slow down though.”

We sit outside on the car for a while as I get the low-down on exactly what’s going on. It has something to do with his roommate Rick being possessed with the devil. And Bill is also convinced that Joe, their third roommate, is a warlock, yeah, absolutely positive.

“Bro, he’s got a big pentagram sketched out on his bedroom floor under his rug, I swear to god, cross my heart hope to die! Dude, and all his friends that come over are fricken witches.”

“No way,” I try to reassure him.

“Listen,” Bill says ignoring my feeble attempts to calm him down, “just last night Rick and I bought a twelve-pack, guess what our change was? Yeah! six dollars and sixty six cents, I shit you not, bro! We looked at each other like, Do we take it or not? Well, it’s like another sixer so whatever, we took it, I dunno maybe we’re paying for it now !”

Bill really thought that he had thwarted the Devil’s persistent attempts to win his will and take his soul along with it. I’m listening to his wild explanations, while he’s waving his hand bazooka around like it’s a Fourth of July sparkler.

“Wow, Bill, maybe you should go someplace else.”

“What, bullshit! This is my house, I’m not getting chased out of my house!”

“Alright, well, is Rick or Joe still there?”

“No, they took off, I’m gonna kill both of those fuckers, I swear.”

“Bill, you gotta calm down, man.”

We talked for hours until faint light on the horizon and distant bird chirps were  slowly creeping in to save the day. We got through the night and the best I can do is take Bill to breakfast, waste some more time hoping the drug, whatever it was, is emptying itself through his liver, kidneys, and pores.

But around this time I reached the tipping point and began to separate from Bill and his way of life forever.