Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Danger of Dismissing Warning Signs

Years ago I lived in western New York, renting an apartment from my parents on family land. My great grandmother's house was turned into three apartments. I lived in one. My family's construction company with barns, heavy equipment and a large garage separated me from the Genesee River.
My father and his employees would hang out drinking beer with their friends. Some of those friends were alright folks, others, had issues.
There was a guy who was missing most of his teeth, whose behavior was erratic that would show up. He talked flirtatiously to the under age girls, to the point where I went to them and told the girls to avoid being alone with him. He had tantrums. He did a variety of drugs and boasted of trafficking with bikers.
He was Bipolar and about once or twice a month, the state police got called to his house by his parents who lived on the property with him. He threatened suicide by shotgun. There was ample documentation. He lived in the house between my parents and their business (and by default, the apartment I lived in).
I repeatedly went to my parents and asked them to stop allowing him to hang out on the family land.
I warned them. One day, he will commit suicide and likely, it's going to happen at the garage. He parties there. He does these suicidal gestures for attention. It was a warning I made too often to count. I was worried about who he would hurt or take with him when he finally followed through.
I intervened one time. I had stopped over to visit his kind hearted brother who is now long dead after struggling with a debilitating illness- multiple sclerosis, if memory serves. As we talked Will approached us and said how he was going to shoot himself. His brother cried and begged him not to. He fed on that. I finally put my hand on his brother's hand and shook my head. While Will went for his prop so he could fully enact this torturous play I talked to his brother. Will also met the criteria for borderline personality disorder, my dad's favorite kind of friend. I looked at his brother and said we can't react. We have to tell him, if he's going to do it do it or if he's not go get counseling. He nodded. His attempts at begging and pleading had failed so new tactic.
He came back with his gun. I looked at him.
His brother silent, tears still sliding in the darkness down his face. We said " If you are going to do it, do it. You are hurting your family too much with this. Stop. Get help or get it done and over with." He looked at us. " I will!" Said Will.
I looked at him hard. "Then go get the shells." His brother said "Yes. Get the shells. I will load it for you- if that's what you want."
Will wasn't so willing then. He had no idea how to respond. His brother wasn't hurting. His little drama was not playing out as planned. The audience had become the director and no one had given him the new script. He put the gun away and kept asking us if we really would have loaded the gun.
For over a year he was quieter, better behaved. I still warned and his two wonderful brothers agreed but everyone else thought I crying wolf. Funny how often you point out a real danger and even when it ends up verified you go from an alarmist to a creepy mystical person who predicted the future- even sometimes the superstitious mutter of "witch."
My words were dismissed, like the words of a woman with several psychology degrees are. It's easier to call a woman a witch rather than accept that she is applying an education and years of experience working with severely mentally ill people. Cassandra. Her shoes, having walked in them, are uncomfortable.
The story of Will continued.
He told people I was a witch. He was awed and fearful. He acted better if he thought I was looming. I didn't even have to wear a pointy hat or carry a broom.
He gradually partied more again. One day, my family had a drinking party at the garage. I had gone down to the river to talk with my friend Michael who was visiting. We talked Tool and martial arts as we watched the large carp circle the river bend. Several boys rode around on a four wheeler unsupervised. We happened to be looming back from the river across the field as the garage when the boys cried out. The four wheeler had flipped onto them. We were the sober people. We ran. Adrenaline fueled us as we each grabbed an end of the four wheeler with one hand and flipped it off the two ten year olds.
I had been calling out "Do not move!" As we had approached. If either had a back injury it was crucial.
The four wheeler bounced to the ground. One of the bots was in a pose like a dead bug, look of terror in his eyes. The other got up and said his ankle hurt but otherwise was alright. He had been driving and he was teary. As I focused on the still frozen boy event unfolded around me. The drunk adults came out. Interpretation they made was "kids being reckless" versus reality- they were inexperienced and tried to turn too sharp on sand. The frozen boy had taken my literally. Hus mom and I were relieved he was fine. Then the sound of a loud slap. I turned around. The boy who had been driving was holding the rear frame of the four wheeler. Will was walking around cheerleading the violence. The boy's father, a construction worker with arms like thick trees was beating his son so hard every hit was lifting him off the ground. The boy's mother and the father's best friend were trying to talk him into calming down. They might as well have been soundless. Fury. Adrenaline. Not thought other than the safety of the boy who had done nothing wrong. No one intervened when I was a kid, but here I could do what I had always wished someone had done for me. I grabbed the father and spun him around. Rage stared back at me.
"Stop. You are not hitting him again. You have to go through me. It was an accident." I realized that his wife and friend were now behind me supportive but small and without fire. Full of fear. I knew how much it was going to hurt if he hit me. I braced. "Accident." I tried to speak drunk language. " I need to assess him for injury. I need your help. Step back." Will shouted venom and violence from around the edges. Dad paused trying to logic.
Will stepped up, realizing this fun show was ending too soon for him. He started shouting slurs at me. I had it. Adrenaline. Drunks. Abuse. Fury. I turned and stepped toward him. " You're done." I lunged forward hand solid in a spike for his throat. His kind brother, from behind me realized what I was doing. He dove around me like a hobbit, power tackled his brother. Face first into his stomach. Down they went. Michael stepped in. Took Will be the arm. The other guys followed his lead. In a moment they had thrown him in the bed of a pick up truck to drive off the land and dump somewhere. I picked the hundred pound boy up in my arms. I carried him to my car. Sober, I drove while his mother cried, all the way to the ER. He had a chipped bone and a deep bruise in his foot. He felt safe with me there. His mom got a divorce shortly after this and I never saw him again. Michael looked at me when we got back. "You would have killed him." "I know. Kenny knows. Kenny saved me, not his brother." Kenny came up and talked too. He said words to that effect. His brother frustrated him and poisoned life around him. He couldn't let that be on my hands. I told him I just hoped when he finally imploded that no one else would get hurt.
The rest of the group had their own reality.
Will got quiet for a while. Then it built again.
About a year after I walked away from that life, I learned that late one night Will sat in the garage drinking with one of my father's employees- the father of that boy.
They were drunk. He decided to play Russian Roulette. The friend objected. He clicked anyways but this time it was more than a click. From the other side of a picnic table the friend watched Will's head as the bullet tore in. Gore covered him and everything nearby. The police were called. The grilled the friend as a murder suspect until Will's father, the State Police and my father showed up several hours later going through his well documented suicide threats over the years.
The friend almost committed suicide. He had to step away and start a new life to get away from the toxicity that had become his life with the influence of my family and their friends. My dad instigated a lot of terrible behavior, encouraged it in his workers.

Volatile people do not follow the rules or social considerations of society.
The best I've found you can do: find the people who are healthy, spend time with them. Use social supports. Breathe. Meditate. Do your best to get out of your head. Be prepared and plan ahead to keep yourself safe as best you can- and hope that your fears are unjustified.