Every month, PEERS publishes short stories written by Chinese American Action Team member Jean Lee and translated into English by PEERS Staff Veronica Liu.

The views expressed in this story are not necessarily shared or endorsed by PEERS or PEERS staff.

Click here for Chinese language version 點擊此處可見中文

 

One day I drove over to my daughter Grace’s house to go to our massage appointment.  As soon as she opened the door, she said, “Mom, I have some bad news.”  

“What is it?”

“Rudy became homeless.”  Grace’s face displayed the anxiety within her.  

“How did you find out?”

“I ran into Lam in the city.  She told me that she had a conversation with Rudy and could tell right away that there was something wrong with her.  She didn’t make any sense at all.  Lam thought that it’s best to let me know right away.”

“What’s your plan?”

“I want to go see her.  Mom, will you go with me please?”

“Sure.  Well, our massage appointments are now.  Can we go afterwards?”

“OK, that would be fine.”

My plan was to have an early dinner after our massages, then go to bed and be ready for tomorrow, since Monday is a busy day.  But seeing that Grace needed me, I had to support her. My life is destined to be very busy.

When we arrived at the spa, I said to Grace, “I know how much you worry about Rudy, but now that we are here, try to relax and enjoy the massage.”

Grace said: “I felt guilty because she had called a few days ago asking me to go over to see her, and I told her no because I was really tired from having only 2 hours of sleep the night before.  Perhaps that was the day she became homeless”

“No, Grace.  You did the right thing. If you are too tired you shouldn’t be driving over there.  It is dangerous.”

After an hour of massage, Grace asked me where we were going.  I told her that we should go see Rudy’s landlady so we can find out what happened.  

Usually Grace has a lot of ideas and suggestions, but this time she just listened and gave me directions to go to Rudy’s.  When we got there, Grace rang the doorbell and announced herself, “Annie, This is Grace.”  

Annie responded right away and opened the door.  She was in a wheelchair (one of her legs is longer than the other). She invited us in.

“Annie, this is my mom,” said Grace.

“I am sorry to disturb you,” I said.  “We heard that Rudy is homeless and want to ask if you know anything about it.”

“She got my caregiver and my neighbor upset,” Annie said.  “Also, she tried to steal cash from me to buy cigarettes.”

“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that.  Did she take all her belongings with her?”

Annie paused. “No, she knocked on my door this morning asking to pick up her stuff, but my friends warned me not to open the door since I am by myself.”

“Is she dangerous?”

Annie didn’t reply.  

“Do you know if she is still taking her meds?”

“She used to, but had stopped for over a week.  Since then, there are some issues.  She should have gone to the hospital.  Nowadays, it is no longer taboo for someone who has mental health condition and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Thank you for saying that.  What you are saying is that mental health is in the brain, like stomach sickness is in the stomach.  By the way, Annie, do you have a contact number for her dad or uncle?”

“She felt ashamed so she didn’t leave any contact information.”

“Ok, we are going to the City look for her. We will stay in touch. Thank you for caring.”

I asked Annie for her phone number so I can reach her in the future.

***

When we got to the City, we circled around a few times.  I told Grace to look to the left while I looked to the right side of the road — that way we can find her quicker.  At that moment, I was lucky and was able to find a parking space.  

We got out of the car and saw a hamburger place across the street.  

“Grace, my experience is usually homeless people gather around places that have food.  Let’s go check in that hamburger place.”

We looked around, but didn’t see Rudy.  We came out on the other side door and saw some homeless people outside.  Some were sitting, others standing. And a group gathered together in front of a square table playing chess.  In front of some stores, there were blankets, pillows, and black trash bags.  It was very attention grabbing.

“Mom, let’s go down the next street,” Grace said.  “There is a tobacco shop there, may be we have some luck finding Rudy.”  

We walked into the shop; the red and blue lights were so bright and there was a young man sitting behind the counter.  

Grace approached him, “Did my friend come by today? She is short and a little chubby.”  

I said, “Grace, show him her picture.”

Grace took out her phone and showed him Rudy’s picture.  He shook his head and said no.  Grace’s dog started whining showing his impatience.  

From some distance we heard music, so we started heading over that way.  The street was blocked, there were people singing and dancing.  There were tables and chairs on both sides of the street and people were eating, drinking and laughing.  

Grace commented that she was sure Rudy would not like all the noise here.

I said to her, “But there are lots of foods to eat here. Let’s walk to the end of the street and check.  Maybe she is walking among the crowd.”

“Doggie will bark if he sees her, he likes her,” Grace informed me.

“That’s wonderful, now we have another pair of eyes.” We started walking: I walked in the front and Grace and her dog behind. I knew that we won’t lose each other because dog would bark if he lost sight of me.  

Reaching the end of the street, the music was starting to fade away.  All of a sudden I turned around and realized that both Grace and the dog were no longer behind me. I looked for Grace’s bright yellow shirt but she was not in sight.  I had left my cell phone in the car too, so there was no way to get a hold of her.  

Perhaps I can go back to the car and wait for her, I thought. I felt really tired, my muscles were too relaxed from the massage.  If it had not been for Grace, and helping her look for Rudy, I would have gone home and laid down for an hour or two after the massage.   

Pondering these thoughts, I noticed that there was a young woman on her phone nearby.  I asked if I could borrow it to call my daughter, explaining that we had lost each other.

“It’s a local call,” I said.

She dialed the number, but Grace didn’t pick up.  I asked her to try one more time.  And this time, Grace picked up and gave me the good news that she found Rudy.

“Where are you two?”  It is a miracle!!!

Grace continued, “We are at a cafe across the street from the library.  We will wait for you outside.”  I thought to myself: I was right, people do go to places where there’s food, especially the homeless.

“Grace, wait for me.  I will drive over.”

***

From afar I could see Grace’s yellow shirt, the little dog and Rudy.  Grace told me she bought Rudy a sandwich and milkshake.  Rudy gulped down her sandwich and reached for her milkshake, but her hand was shaking so badly that the milkshake fell out of her hand.  It went on her jeans, and onto the floor.  She went into the cafe to clean up.

Grace blurted out: “Mom, what should we do now?”

“If you want her to get better, she needs to be hospitalized.”

Grace said, “We need her permission.”

“No, we don’t, since she is incapable of making sound decisions, and she thinks she is not ill.”

“If we told her that we are getting the police involved into committing her, what do you think she will do?” Grace asked.

“She will run away,” I said.

“We shouldn’t tell her then?”

Grace shook her head, after all, Rudy is her friend.  I have to get her permission before I can take care of this, I thought.  Watching Rudy coming out of the cafe, I took the opportunity to tell Grace that I will make the phone call across the street, and she should try talking to “detain” her.  

“No problem,” Grace replied.

Rudy had lost a lot of weight, with holes in her jeans, we could see how thin she has gotten.  Grace asked Rudy, “How are you feeling?”  

Rudy replied, “I am fine, can’t you tell?”  

Grace glanced at me.  I didn’t say anything, but went across the street quietly to call the police.  

“Hello, this is an emergency.  I am calling in a 51/50.  Can you please send police that understand mental health situations?”

The Police communications operator asked me a few more questions, then informed me that the police should be arriving soon.

When they arrived, one of the police asked me a few questions and then said that Rudy did not qualify for a 51/50 because she was not endangering herself or others around her.  

“What about someone who can’t take care of herself and has to rely on others for food and lodging?” I asked. “I have the phone number of her landlady and she can attest about Rudy’s conditions.”  

The police officer replied, “No, it is not necessary.”  So I backed up a few steps and could see that the crisis team had also arrived.  

One of the team member was someone I knew from my support group.  I went up to say hi, but she has a very serious look on her face and told me that we can talk on Wed when we meet for the group.  I told her I understand, after all, she’s on the job.

“It’s just that Rudy is a friend of my daughter Grace.”  Then I walked away.

***

It was windy, and there was no shelter.  I told Grace that I would go to the car and get a jacket.  Grace asked me to take her dog with me.  When I got to the car, I found my cell phone, so I called my husband and told him not to wait for me for dinner.  He told me that he had brought a cake to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  Again, I told him to eat and not wait for me.  I didn’t go into the reason because this was personal for Rudy.  

When I returned to the spot where Grace and Rudy were, the other policeman approached me and informed me that Rudy was willing to go to the hospital on her own.  I knew in my mind that this policeman must have talked to Rudy for a long time before she agreed to go the hospital.  I was very grateful: “Thank you so much!”

Then Rudy came over with a look of displeasure and said, “What is the matter?”

I explained that we care about her and it was for her own good to go to the hospital and get the right treatment.  “But I’m fine,” she said.  

“But you are homeless.”  Grace was being honest and straightforward.  Rudy didn’t say anything.

“Where’s your car?” I asked.

“It’s very far away.” She pointed towards the bottom of the hill.

“What about the keys?

“I lost it, wallet, purse and cell phone all gone.”

Grace interrupted, “It’s OK, we can buy it all again.”

The policeman asked us to leave, but Grace and I wanted to wait till the ambulance arrived.  I called home; my husband picked up the phone and said that our son and daughter-in-law were still waiting for me.  I said I would get home as soon as I could and told Grace that we should leave, so Grace asked the policeman what hospital will Rudy be going to.  The policeman said Rudy can call us later.

We thanked him and said goodbye to Rudy. I told her that we will visit her in the hospital.  She thanked us in return.

***

I dropped Grace off and then I went home.  By that time, both our son and daughter-in-law had already left. My husband didn’t complain and was not upset at me.  Maybe this is why we have been married for so long – 38 years. He knows me well by now.

As soon as I finished eating the cake, my phone rang.  It was Grace: “Mom, Rudy asked me to get her car home.  What should I do?  I am tired.”  

“Towing cost at least over $300.  We can’t afford that. We will rest up and go look for her car.  We may or may not find it.  Don’t worry though,”  I told Grace.     

My husband and I went out to look for Rudy’s car.  After an hour driving around, we finally found the old beat up car alone on the darkest street.  

My husband said: “She is lucky.  By tomorrow the car would have been towed and she would have incurred a fine.” He started reaching around the bottom of the car, looking for a hidden key.

I said: “I am really tired.  I am going home to get some sleep.  Tomorrow will be a very busy day at work.”

I drove home alone, got ready and went to bed.  Just when I fell asleep, I heard the garage door opened and heard my husband mumbling to himself.

“There was hardly any gas left.  The key was on the floor.  It’s good that I was prepared.  I don’t know what these people are doing.  I still had to walk and get some gas and it was so dark already…”

I pretended to be asleep because I was tired and I didn’t want to discuss this with him.

After three days, Rudy called Grace to tell her that she was at the City Hospital.  Grace went to visit her and made sure Rudy understood that she was not to leave the hospital until she found a place to live.  During this time, I tried contacting Rudy’s father.  From our conversations I learned that he was a responsible father, not at all like what Rudy had described.

Later on, I found out that Rudy was to be discharged next Friday, and would move to a group home temporarily.  I decided to go visit her at the City Hospital.  The visiting hours there were from 12:30-1:30 pm.  I inquired at the front desk to see if Rudy would like to see me.  I could see her back through the glass window.  As soon as she heard that I was there, her back straightened up, and I could tell then that she wanted to see me too.  I knocked, went in and we hugged.  

“How are you?” she inquired.

I knew right away that she had gotten better because she realized that there are people out there that care about her.  I told her: “I am so proud of you! You look a lot better.”  She then told me that since she was admitted, she had stopped smoking.  She was well on the road to getting healthy.

“When are you leaving the hospital?” I asked her intentionally, because she might not be aware that I had a phone conversation with her father.  She lifted up her pant legs and showed me two big bruises (as big as the mouth of a glass).  I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Ouch!!”  Then she showed me another small bruise, it’s even darker than the other ones.  

“What happened?”  I asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Then she asked me to leave and I did so, respecting her wishes.

***

I consulted a knowledgeable person in the mental health field and he told me something I didn’t know before.  The City Hospital’s quality care is up to standard. It is possible that Rudy hurt herself on purpose so she could stay there a little longer.  While I was thinking about Rudy, her father called and we talked a bit more about Rudy’s background.

I said to him, “She really needs a mom to take care of her and watch out for her.”  I learned from Grace that Rudy’s mom had passed away when she was 16 years old.  

After a month in the hospital, Rudy was well enough to be discharged.  The social worker made arrangements for her to move to a group home.  Grace and I agreed to visit her in a few days.  However, the next evening around 11:00 pm just when I was about to go to sleep, Grace called.  She told me that the hospital had called her to pick up Rudy and she said no to them.  

I asked, “What is happening?  I thought she is in a group home already.  Why is she in the hospital again?”

Grace explained, “Perhaps she got sick at the group home, or maybe she got kicked out because she didn’t follow the rules.”

“Grace, you did the right thing.  I am glad you didn’t pick her up.  First of all, you don’t have the training to take care of this type of patients, secondly, your two housemates may not want her there.  I will see you tomorrow.”

The next day, Grace stopped by to help me with some work.  As soon as she set foot in the door, she said right away: “Mom, Rudy knocked on my door at 8:00 am in the morning and woke me up.  One of my housemate opened the door for her, and the other one gave her some food and some money.  I didn’t invite her in, but drove her to her father and grandfather’s house.”

“Ah, Grace.  You are so wise and you’ve matured so much.”

“Oh, mom.  Even my housemates said the same thing.  But if Rudy comes again, what should I do?”

“I am not sure.  Let me check with my supervisor and see what she suggests.”  I checked, and she suggested that to call the police if Rudy comes back again.  I told Grace the same thing.

***

In the evening, Rudy’s father called and said he had taken Rudy to the hospital.  The doctor wanted to keep her for 72 hours for observation. So I called Grace and told her that we had three days not to worry about Rudy.  We could just rest and relax.

However, at 1:30 in the morning, the hospital left a voicemail message for Rudy’s father and grandfather that Rudy had left the hospital.

When Rudy’s father shared the news with me, he was furious about his daughter being discharged at midnight.

I could not believe it.  How can the hospital release anyone at that hour and especially a young woman?  So I called the hospital and the person in charge told me that the hospital can release patients at any given time.  I recalled that I heard about someone getting released at 12 midnight and sent to another hospital, and there was another that was sent away at 5 am.

I told myself: it is time to work harder to advocate and do something for these patients that I care deeply.