By Michelle Bond
My son was a week old the morning his father threatened me with a butcher knife because I tried to wake him up to go to work. While our relationship was an abusive one, up until this point it was always at the venom of his words or fists. I remember holding my newborn in my arms at the door of our apartment. It was May. I was barefoot. I just kept thinking, If I can get to the other side of the door, we’ll be safe. I remember standing nose to nose with this beast and I prayed to God as if each word were sacred. If it meant my son would be protected, I was ready for my flesh to be sacrificed and sliced. Not soon after, I would turn to my family and friends and begin my new adventure of motherhood joining the ranks of The Nation of Single Moms.
Thirteen years later, I would once again be threatened with a knife. This moment would be much like the first over something very simple. This day the man-child holding the knife would be my son the very child I was willing to get cut to protect was now turning into the man he has never known.
My son has been diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. What this means is that my academically gifted son, the one with the huge and loving heart who is adored by many in the Twitter community as da boi, also has a mental illness.
What does mental illness look like in a child? In my home it looks like moments of rage. It’s walls being decorated with outlined fists. It’s yelling and screaming. It’s not cute. Or pretty. And now that my 13-year-old baby is taller than me and stronger than me, peace feels like an accident in my home.
This meltdown with the knife was different. He didn’t lunge at me. He didn’t try to stab me. But when dancing with a person who lacks control, I do not have the luxury to trust that stability will kick in. This melt down required immediate attention. I spent the rest of the day talking with my health insurance, my local hospital and met with the Magistrate at our local police station. Before the night was over, I would be part of a full operation in plotting to have my son apprehended, as if he were a fugitive.
I felt shame. I felt sick. I felt angry at the Universe.
The next day, my son once again refused to go to school. He once again was defiant with his words cursing at me and refusing to follow my instructions. All these moments only co-signed my need to drop the dime on my one and only child.
The dynamics of this decision are so deeply layered. I have heard of other young Black men having meltdowns: their family calls the police and hours later their loved one is laying on the ground dead or beat up. Mental illness is not manifested based on race and ethnicity. But for a Black woman to have to turn to the police to come get her Black son makes me want to run home to chant the names Emmett Till. Amadou Diallo. Danroy Henry, Jr.
I watched the police drive by me as they hunted for my baby. When they found him, they placed him in handcuffs and put him in the back of their squad car. They were nice to him. They treated him like he was a child.
A very good friend joined me at the police station as we began the quest to commit my child. She has known my son since he was seven years old. We watched my son through the police station window. He was still cuffed. He was watching the basketball game with the officers. It almost looked normal. Like a group of guys just hanging out.
My friend and I had to wait until the woman from the county arrived. Only then was I able to enter the room I had become a voyeur of earlier. Now the television was off. My son sat in the chair. Eyes wide and doe like, face calm innocent. There was a moment of silence as we looked at each other. I could feel myself getting ready to cry. My son looked at me and said, I didn’t understand at first, but I understand now. I’m not mad.
We were at the police station until 3 am. My dear friend got my son some food and, later, some coffee for me. I mention this because it was these small gestures that gave me the strength to continue to keep it together.
I have devoted my life to creating a healthy and happy world for my son. Mental illness is a beast. You cannot love mental illness away. I know because I have tried. You cannot spank mental illness away. The best you can hope for is to create some sort of balance, find tools that can be used as a resource to avert a meltdown.
My son spent the next four days in a hospital two hours away. He left armed with a prescription, and still, we need more tools. We need more help. I know there are answers for my son. So far they seem to be buried in red tape. Or out of my reach, where solutions for only the wealthy reside. And still, I am an advocate for my son. And still I refuse to give up. Many, including our school system, would rather just have my son disappear. And I’ve explained to some male friends, who love from a distance, that should the day come when my son is killed or in jail, a part of me absolutely will blame them. Does lack of mentorship give birth to mental illness? No. But it does contribute in more lack in his life. My son is my child. My responsibility, but I cannot be the only one who cares about his future. Right?
Mental illness is not a curse. It’s not right to just discard and throw these kids away. They are, after all, kids. And one of them is my baby. My son.
Michelle Bond is a writer. A mother. A Flower Child. All of these things… not necessarily in that order. She’s written for Today’s Black Woman and regional publications. Visit her at CoffeeBreakDMV.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.