And then the litany of questions came: How old is he? Has this ever happened before? Is he on any medication? Is there someone he can stay with? Any siblings? Where’s his mother?
I said, “He’s 16. Yes. Yes. No. Two younger brothers incapable of anything like this. She’s on her way.” I also volunteered that my son had a probation officer.
“For what?” he asked.
“Assault,” I answered, scoffing because the probation was a joke. He had a curfew that he never made, a therapist he never saw, and a house he barely lived in.
At this point, I heard another officer ask my son, “What’s your problem?” But I couldn’t hear my son’s response. He wasn’t sitting on the curb anymore; yet another officer—I guess they all needed something to do—was escorting him into a police car. I glimpsed my son through the cruiser window. He looked nervous. Good, I thought.
Two years earlier, when my wife and I had accepted that we’d done all that we could on our own, we’d sent him to a therapeutic boarding school. After 15 months, they’d thrown him out. Now his old ways were returning. First it was the smoking, then the never coming home, then the drugs and the stealing and the relentless verbal abuse. He was putting us through hell, and we were out of money. Jail wouldn’t be so bad, I thought, besides, it’s free. I did a quick calculation in my head, a form of financial self-flagellation I liked to inflict on myself. We’d already spent over $100,000 on him. Yes, jail was looking like the fiscally advantageous option.
When my wife finally arrived in her SUV, she immediately began talking to one of the officers. Although there were a dozen people at the scene, I felt alone. I was frozen like a mosquito trapped in amber, looking out at a world I could see, but couldn’t control. The cars passed slowly, drivers and passengers craning their necks to get a glimpse of the spectacle that was the wreckage of my family.
My wife approached me. My anger had abated when the police arrived, but hers was palpable. She made it immediately obvious that she wanted our son to be arrested and taken away. If we brought him home, this would only happen again—that much she knew. We’d been through worse with him, but more often than not, we’d done nothing. “Go ahead and call the fucking police,” he’d say with a smirk on his face. “They won’t do shit.”
Of course, he was right. For years, he’d teetered on the edge of criminality, and the sluggishness of the justice system only empowered him to abuse us more. On more than one occasion, he’d threatened to kill me. But when I recorded one of his threats and played it in court, the judge simply ordered him to clean his room. We were his only victims, after all; society had yet to experience the full measure of his mental illness.
Over the years, the bigger he got, the more worried my wife became that he might hurt her or one of his brothers. There were times she’d have to lock herself in her room, crying and frightened as he pounded on the door, demanding whatever he wanted that she wouldn’t give him. Then I’d get her phone call, and eventually one of us would call the police before he started wrecking the house with his raging fists.
His growing sense of entitlement was coupled more and more with dangerous episodes of anger and violence. But today was the day of reckoning.
“Mr. Reiss,” the polar bear said, “what do you want to do?”
“Take him home,” I repeated. “Can I please just take him home?”
“I don’t want him in my house,” my wife yelled. “You have to press charges! Why won’t you press charges?”