Minnesota summers go fast. School begins and Sam gets into trouble. He’s now an eighth grader at the middle school. Not long ago, he moved his bedroom downstairs. He says he doesn’t want to share a room with his brother anymore. I understand his wanting his privacy.
I’m given a ray of hope when he gets a job at the local grocery store as a bagger. He has to wear black pants, a white shirt and a tie with black shoes. It is a real pleasure helping him get the clothes he needs. He asks to borrow one of my ties. He picks the black and white one with the little weepul pom-pom characters on it. I’m so proud when I drive him to work, seeing him all dressed up.
He is well liked at work and says he likes what he’s doing but one day he refuses to go to work. When I ask why, he says the job is boring and he doesn’t want to do work there anymore. I talk to him until I’m blue in the face and mentally exhausted. But Sam quits anyway. I’m becoming powerless over Sam.
Although I wasn’t seeking his friendship, I’m getting to know Bob Hilliard, the boys vice principal at school. Sam’s getting in trouble. Over the next few weeks I’m called over incidents of stealing blank CD’s from his Tech-Ed class, being disrespectful to the bus driver, flicking matches at other kids on the bus, and kicking out a drop ceiling panel in the crowded school hallway. In every situation, there are other kids who say they saw Sam do what he was accused of doing and in every case, when confronted, Sam denies doing it. Mr. Hilliard tries to reason with Sam but when he gets nowhere, he has no choice but to suspend him. The school counselor suggests that we take him into our health care provider for a mental health assessment. Channa and I make an appointment. We meet a wonderful nurse practitioner. Her name is Kathy with a sunny smile and nice disposition. Kathy and Sam interact well. He seems to be responsive. After discussing the troubles he is having at school, Kathy suggests he start a low dose of a meds she feels will “best” treat his symptoms. The drug she prescribes is called Concerta. She thinks it will help him focus better in school and improve his behavior.
We get Sam’s prescription filled. Within a week Channa notices one of our big sharp kitchen knives is missing. When she walks into Sam’s room, she notices blood on the sheets. I’m interrupted by a loud scream and Channa calling my name. Sam is in bed passed-out. On his left forearm he’s carved a big cross with our sharp kitchen knife. When confronted “why” he cut himself, he doesn’t want to talk about it. The next day, Sam comes home with green and orange hair. Channa is horror-struck. Sam is definitely making a statement, that says “I’m different than you guys and am going my own way.” He’s now wearing black pants and a black shirt all the time. I learn from doing a Google search that he is into “Goth,” which has something to do with devil worship (but I doubt Sam is that sophisticated at 13). As I start reading, I’m getting a bad, bad feeling. I’m afraid to read on: I don’t want to read anymore about Goth – it’s creepy.
There’s a message from one of Sam’s friend’s mom. She’s calling to say Sam was caught stealing liquor sampler bottles from her house. Up until now, there’s been liquor in the house. I’d wished she’d gotten rid of it. I’m in AA and don’t need the temptation. But she wants to keep it in the house for guests. After receiving the call, I get a gut level feeling to check the liquor cabinet. I notice the gigantic bottle of Smirnoff is almost empty. At this point, I tell Channa enough is enough. We give away our liquor collection to our neighbors. What we don’t give away, I pour down the drain.
He’s found a new circle of friends and is quickly withdrawing from our family unit. One weekend night I ask Sam to watch his younger brother so we can go out on a date. In the middle of a movie, my cell phone starts to buzz. I look at the caller ID and see the call is coming from home. It’s Zach and he’s really upset and wants us to come home. We cut out of the theatre headed for home.. Zach tells us what Sam did.
As I listen to Zach, my blood starts to boil. I am enraged. All I see is red! I go to his bedroom and call his name. When he doesn’t answer, I turn the knob. He’s locked the door. I yell out, “Sam, open the door” but he refuses. I search and find the key and while trying to open the door Sam’s on the other side trying to hold it closed. Finally I burst in. I’m beyond pissed. I confront him about what he has done. Sam says doesn’t want to talk about it. I’m yelling out the words, “under no circumstances was he ever, ever to do anything to endanger his brother again”. Sam starts talking back and tries to run away when I grab him by the shoulder. I pin him down and tell him to “N E V E R” to be mean to his brother again”. Sam breaks free and runs out the door. It’s cold outside. He takes off with no shoes or socks on the cold snow covered ground. Channa starts screaming and crying as she grabs the keys. After driving around the neighborhood, she finds him hiding in the woods and talks him into coming home. Eventually things cool down but these events are disturbing. My heart is pounding like a drum!
I’m so unglued that I go to the garage to retrieve a hammer and screwdriver. I proceed to remove the hinge pins from the door and remove it. Now I can see where Sam is and what he’s up to.
Saturday night. It’s getting late. Sam wants to go to a friend’s house. I say “No, you’re staying home.” Figuring “that’s settled” I go to bed around ten and vaguely hear a car start but it I must be dreaming. My sleep is interrupted when I hear a knock on the door. It’s my neighbor. He knows Sam isn’t old enough to drive but saw him jump in our Honda and drive off. Shit, I say to myself. I throw on my clothes and tell Bob I think I know where he is. Will he drive me there? I direct him to a house where this girl lives. She’s into Goth. I see our Honda parked in the driveway.
Earlier that week, Sam came home with purple marks around his neck. Curious to know, I do another online search and learn that kids play a game called “the choking game.” One kid chokes another other until they pass out. Somehow, the kids get a “high” from this but the stuff I read say the game is very dangerous. It can cause brain damage. I read many kids have died playing this game.
I ask Bob to wait in the car. I peer through the downstairs window and there he is. I bang on the front door and no one answers. I turn the knob. The door is unlocked. I walk in see the mom sitting on the couch with a blank look on her face. I announce I am here to get my son. It’s obvious to me that she has no idea what her daughter is doing or who’s with her. I march downstairs, and tell Sam to come with me. He listens. When we get home, I send him to his room and scold him for taking the car. I say he is lucky that he did not have an accident or hurt anyone. I ground him for a week. What I say doesn’t faze him. He shows no emotion. Channa starts lecturing him about the perils of driving without a license and how he could have killed himself and God forbid someone else. He looks at us, indifferent to everything we are saying. We both tell him that he is not to hang around this girl anymore.
Later that night, I walk down to his room and it looks like he is sleeping. But I am mistaken. He has arranged the pillows under the covers to make it look like he is in bed and asleep. He’s crawled out the window. He is out in the middle of the night and we have no idea where he is. These kinds of episodes go on and on. Sam’s grades in school continue to spiral down and he keeps finding new ways to get in trouble. We get calls on a regular basis from the vice-principal. We get to have emergency meetings with his teachers. Sam’s failing all his classes and just doesn’t seem to care. Everything we do is in vain.
Like a fast moving thunderstorm, things have gone from bad to worse. Sam’s on the wrong road, going the wrong way. We try reasoning with him but it just won’t work.
I call Kathy. I leave her a voice message: “Kathy, this is Ken. The Concerta is not working.”