The depth of a mother’s love is something a man can appreciate but not viscerally connect to.
But then, the counterweight of that love is the pain that happens when hope for a child crumbles between the fingers, or when concern is returned unopened.
Not long ago, I was contacted by Mariette Fisher, a single mother in Miami. She was anxious to locate her 43-year-old son, Marc, whom she had evidence of being homeless in San Diego.
Her concern was made desperate by Stage 4 cancer, of which she faxed verification to me. Her son has been absent for four years and out of contact for three. She is aware of her body’s clock and wants to see her son.
“In 2002, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia of the paranoid type. He had outbursts, and he would be very irritable. Nothing was right, and he couldn’t take (life’s) pressure. When you would ask him, ‘What do you want, then?’ he would say, ‘I just like to relax and smoke pot.’ The stress was too much for him,” she says by phone.
Marc had already alienated his father and contributed to his parents’ divorce. He also quit working. His conduct was becoming more belligerent, causing his mother to start to fear him.
The consensus of psychiatrists is that paranoid schizophrenia is a mixed bag. Schizophrenia itself rarely leads to violence, but paranoid delusions, if untreated, can take that turn. And Mariette felt Marc was approaching that point.
Four years ago, he expressed an urge to travel, and it was almost with relief that she bought him a plane ticket. “I said, ‘Well, if you want to explore the world, go ahead and do it.’”
For a year, Marc stayed in occasional email contact. Then three years ago, he stopped communicating. The only way she knew he was alive was that he withdrew the money she deposited in his bank account.
Mariette had learned that he was in San Diego from a helpful Bank of America employee who told her he was picking up the money at a branch downtown.
The last withdrawal she knows of was eight months ago. Since then, she has made deposits into Marc’s account but has lost the bank employee’s contact and doesn’t know if her son has picked up the money.
She turned to the police and other agencies to locate him but quickly learned it is not their job to find adults who are minding their own business and are not a danger to self or others.
In desperation, she hired an Orange County woman who represented herself as an investigator. That woman made two or three fruitless trips to San Diego to look for Marc. The bill she submitted, and which Mariette paid, was $3,000.
Thus, Mariette turned to the newspaper. In response, I spent two days hitching a ride with an outreach team from Alpha Project, the nonprofit group that serves the homeless population.
Alpha Project also checked its comprehensive database of the homeless and found that Marc Fisher was not listed. They put up posters, with no response.
I showed his photo to many homeless people at the spots where they congregate — Embarcadero Marina Park North, Balboa Park, Imperial Avenue. Also, Hillcrest and El Cajon.
The picture shows how he looked three years ago — 5-foot-8, slim and goateed. Some recognized him but couldn’t say where he might be. Most did not.
The likelihood is that Marc remains in San Diego, probably wandering the streets among 8,700-plus fellow homeless people. If he were dead or hospitalized, there would be a record.
For those living on the streets, there is no more salubrious “home.” This city has everything, from weather to support services. No homeless person need go hungry or cold in San Diego, and that is known coast to coast.
The law says Marc Fisher has every right to disappear. That’s a benefit of a free society, though the freedom it bestows is often destructive to the recipient.
I would be gratified to phone Mariette and tell her Marc has been found, and that she can be reunited with her son in these dark days of her health. But after showing his photo to dozens of homeless San Diegans who would look down at the picture and shake their heads, I became aware anew of the problems of finding a face in a faceless crowd.
Maybe Marc will see this column and contact his mother. He would at least know she loves and misses him.
A mother’s love is a reservoir with no bottom, but so is a mother’s pain. If you don’t find your son, Mariette, find peace.
Homeless people, almost uniformly, tend to be helpful and polite. However, not many people take the time to single them out, look them squarely in the face and ask for their help. That’s a compliment in its own way, I suppose. And once engaged, a question about Marc easily leads to their own life stories. ...
Richard Wright, 51, is seated at a picnic table in a shady area of Balboa Park, a place where thousands of tourists pay big bucks to visit for a couple of days. He lives there for free but doesn’t seem happy, even though he can lounge all day and drink malt liquor.
His mind is not at leisure. Regrets for the loss of his past middle-class success and family life stay with him. With what remains of his pride, he says that not long ago, and for 20 years, he was a materials manager for a hospital in San Jose.
“Between my wife and I, we did maybe a hundred and eighty grand. I had a sports car, an RV. You know, the whole thing.”
He had a continual battle with depression but kept it under control with medication. He was also an alcoholic. Two hidden bombs on smoldering fuses. Two years ago, he says, he brought his family to San Diego for a vacation, but in every way it was a bad trip.
“I hadn’t drank for quite some time, but I relapsed and got in an argument with my wife. I grabbed her arm when I took my car keys away from her. I never, you know, I mean there was no, you know, beating up involved. But I was arrested, and they took me off my medications.”
He says he was taking Zoloft, 200 mg, and “a couple of other things. I have anxiety and depression from childhood stuff. My mom was bipolar. I had an uncle that committed suicide. It’s mental illness, you know?”
After 60 days, the court turned him loose on the street with no meds and no money, and he never left. He is now divorced and the father of two sons he never sees.
“I lost my house, my dog, everything.”
The day before our talk was his 51st birthday, but there was no celebration, not even a bottle of what they call Mad Dog. Well, maybe that, but Mad Dog is for every day, not a special event.
Dawn Sapienza, 56, is a trim woman with streaked blond hair and a cheerful outlook talking with friends among the homeless in what they call Embarcadero Park. She says she’s temporarily without a home because of a “domestic situation. I’m divorced, and what can I say? A lot of stress. A lot of things I didn’t want to deal with.”
She lives on and off across from the public library in the East Village. She says it’s usually safe, but she carries “protection,” just in case.
“I carry pepper spray and a utility knife, but I always keep around people. Nighttime, you never want to go on the streets, being a woman by yourself.”
Do you trust most homeless people?
“I do. I do. I’ve met some wonderful, humble people. You know, you pick and choose, just like anything else. You know people — you have to know what’s good and bad, and you try to stick with the good.
“I don’t do drugs or alcohol. I’ve been clean and sober for 25 years. Sometimes there’s people that drink and do drugs, and I prefer not to be around them.”
Dawn says she suffers from ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and that it keeps her from working.
Richard Stanton, 53, spent 11 years in prison and years more on the streets. He says his criminal conviction was “for a burglary, apparently.” He is from Oregon originally and is without a wife or children.
He is in Balboa Park today because the weather is a few degrees cooler than out on the concrete, and he can enjoy his malt liquor with a group of his peers in the lee of a shady tree. He is shirtless with a soiled cap and a furrowed, weathered face bought and paid for by years of abuse.
At the moment, he is missing his girlfriend, Christina. “She decided to get mad at me the last couple of days, and she took off. We watch over each other, you know. We sleep next to each other for like two years, you know.”
Asked if he would like to leave the streets, he says, “Yes, please.”
However, asked what he would then do, he says, “Drink. You know, that’s the only thing I can think of. I’m what they call a fifth-stage alcoholic. That’s the end of your rope. Death — that’s the future for a fifth-stage alcoholic.”
Have you tried to break it?
“Of course. I don’t really want to die. I really don’t. But I don’t want to get into a program. I want to do this by myself.”
Do you want to say anything more?
“What do you want me to say?”
Anything you like.
“Some people have vocations in life, and some people are just stupid. I’m stupid.”
Of all the burning words we heap on the homeless, we must credit them with a hallowed American trait: They are rugged individualists. They survive where many of us would perish. If the Bomb were to hit San Diego, I suspect it would be they who would carry on.
Fred Dickey’s home page is www.freddickey.net
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org