David Katz -- the Madden Footbal tournament shooting guy

I don’t have much use for “breaking” news because I think sketchy details are worse than useless. I prefer to wait until some actual facts are known before seeking out the story. Today I found this article. And it’s got me in a bit of a state, so sorry in advance if I’m less coherent than usual.

Apart from the outcome and some of the intensity, this story could have featured my son and his family. I can recall many nights going to bed and wondering if I was going to wake up with him standing over me with an axe (he loathes firearms with all of his psychotic passion, which can be considerable).

So many people are going to look at this case and see only the opportunity to beat their particular drums about guns, millennials spending too much time in their game consoles and not enough time meeting actual people, ineffective parenting, the state of healthcare, especially for mental health, in the US. And these are certainly valid points. But that’s not what gets me.

It’s nothing profound, but it’s something nobody talks about, maybe because it’s not as sexy. The stress of having someone like this under your roof defies description. You love your baby, remember him as an infant, and then as a disruptive tot, and then everything is a blur as you try to have a career, pay bills, be married (often the first and greatest casualty), be a parent to the other children, try to be a social person but the little monster can’t be trusted to behave in public, or at home, and certainly not with any babysitter unfortunate enough to take the job.

And if you’re fortunate enough to clue in that the kids is in need of psychiatric help, you are faced with the uphill battle of getting the schools (and inevitably, law enforcement) to understand what the problem is, what you’re doing about it, what they can do to help. And they don’t want to help, they want to work against you–to make your journey even more difficult. The schools want district special ed money, but they have no desire to help the kids with severe needs because that’s work, uncomfortable, and it is so much easier to reinforce everyone’s fear of the different kid than to understand and explain what is going on–take the money, expel the kid at the earliest opportunity. Law enforcement sees an opportunity to “be tough on crime” and the DA sees an opportunity for a slam dunk conviction on minor or even imagined violations. And the medicines–sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they work for a while and gradually or suddenly stop. You get the idea you’re dealing with alchemists and charlatans.

So much money, for doctors, for medicines, for lawyers, for schools; and so much attention to this child that has become a project while your other kids starve for your limited attention; and the guilt of knowing what they’re not getting because you’re only human; and the grief as your marriage crumbles and your only ally becomes another adversary; and the guilt that comes when maybe you muse, just once for a few seconds late at night and utterly alone in a universe that has dealt you this hand, about the one simple act you can take to make it all better. Not good, but better. To take that life, smother it in its sleep. While you have the mental and physical strength.

It worked out for us. The boy is 20, and knows what he is and how to manage it. He has become a better person than most, in no small part because of how many people turned their backs on him, and who didn’t. David Katz was more severe. I can’t judge him for what happened because I’ve seen bad mental illness in myself and in my boy, I know what it’s like when your reality only barely intersects with everyone else’s. And I can’t judge his parents. God knows they tried, they suffered, and they still are having to live their worst nightmares–nightmares reflective of that dread sense of “when, not if.”

This is where I should say something inspirational, something pithy. I don’t have anything. Truly mundane and pointless.

When I saw the headline about his being hospitalized on two different occassions due to mental health problems, my first thought was “nobody wanted to spend the time or money to help him and now look what we got”. I know that isn’t true, that it’s a gross over-simplification, but we as a society really don’t spend the time and money on these people when they’re kids and then we have to deal with the havoc they wreak as adults.

Sheriffs are quite aware of the problem because it’s been dumped in their laps. Here’s a good story from the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot about how that happened. Key grafs:

So instead of people like David Katz or your son being warehoused in large mental institutions, they wind up in county jails on minor charges. People with psychiatric problems are at the very least a large minority of the jail (as distinct from prison) population. The jails are overwhelmed and underfunded, and would be a lousy place for them even if that weren’t so.

Inigo, your post is moving. I’m glad you came through it, and I thank you for sharing it with us.