By T Hudson
Ben—whose name in Hebrew means the Son of the South—has thick chestnut wavy hair, hazel eyes like mine, and a strong prominent nose. He believes that his friends are not his friends at all, but rather members of the Mafia or the CIA or the FBI out to imprison him, harm him, or poison him, that helicopters and motorbikes are instruments of surveillance, dispatched to spy on us all, and that our computers and telephones are bugged.
He is nineteen when it starts. The doctors call it a psychotic break, but the words seem all wrong, because for something to split or tear apart, it should be brittle or weak at the seams in the first place. My son is whole. He takes a surfboard into the ocean each weekend, heaves his lithe body onto it and glistens with the elements. My son writes. He plays Rachmaninov’s piano concerto by ear, and he has a scholarship to one of the most prestigious public universities in California. That’s why it can’t be right that he has schizophrenia. Can it? Can it really?
We live in a prized home with sought after views in the oldest and quaintest part of Hollywood. Ben is going to be a doctor and I will proudly join the ranks of British immigrant Yiddisher mamas. I’m just waiting for it to happen, so when it doesn’t I blame myself. Maybe I haven’t loved him enough or maybe I’ve loved him too much. Either way it is my fault.
It begins in the laundry room in the early hours of the morning. I find Ben cold and alone tracing the wires of the telephone circuit board.
“This is how they are monitoring us,” he whispers, his face stricken, his breath sour. “We have to cut some stuff out, change the receiver, I can do it.”
“Who?” I ask. “Who is monitoring us? And why.”
Ben puts a finger to his lips, and quiets me. His eyes look a shade darker with him framed as he is against the white plaster walls. He begins rifling through the tool kit, although he doesn’t seem quite sure of what he is looking for.
“Don’t do anything yet,” I say, my voice barely audible.
I look at my bike hanging from the rafters, the spokes still muddy from my off-road ride. The room contains everything we want to hide away from the neat order of the rest of our lives, eight years worth of clutter, and a washing basket of damp smelling clothes. It is frigid, especially at this late hour. Built into the hillside, carved out of the bedrock, we are underground. I need to sweep the floor as if to make room for us. It is imperative.
I take the broom and work it around Ben’s size nine feet, buying us time—time to hope he has a fever-induced delirium, something that might pass with a couple of Advil and a good night’s sleep.
Ben has never rerouted wires before in his life and, besides that, we have suspended our landline in favor of cellular phones. These wires that my child is obsessing over are part of a defunct apparatus from a bygone age.
“Let’s go upstairs,” I offer, swishing the last dust motes across the grain of the old hardwood floor.
Ben agrees albeit reluctantly, and walks behind me with a languid gait, one I hardly recognize. Once seated at the dining room table I take his temperature, smooth my palm across his forehead as I have countless times before.
“98.6,” I say. “Normal.”
The dining room boasts large sash windows that open to a hefty forty-foot drop. Ben stands against the pane and with the first light I see how thin and pale he has grown in recent weeks. I feel my throat tighten as denial gives way to fear. “Did you take drugs?” I ask him. “Hard drugs?”
He stares at me and shakes his head as if I am the one who is suffering from delusions.