How would she get help for a boy who is Black and mentally ill and already vulnerable to some of the worst disparities in the U.S. health-care system even before the pandemic made things worse? Who fixes a boy when his family is on government assistance and the options for public services have been narrowed by shutdowns? Who saves him when he takes off running for the nearby highway and Kelli wonders if she should call 911, but hesitates because of her awareness that Black men with mental illnesses have been the most at-risk category in the country for being killed by police? Such are the day-to-day calculations of a mother living in increasing isolation with her sons, in a house where, when they moved in eight years ago, Kelli believed they had it made.
But then came tantrums, followed by his throwing and breaking things, and by the time Ahav was 8, doctors were telling Kelli that while it was rare in children, all the signs pointed toward schizophrenia.
And so Kelli put things on hold. She began working from home as a travel agent. She stopped inviting friends over because of Ahav’s meltdowns. His worsening illness put more and more strain on Kelli’s marriage, and in 2019, after she and her husband divorced, she spent down her savings and signed up for public assistance. A family of three now, they were managing, but then, in the spring, Ahav’s school closed because of the pandemic, and at the same time, the medication he’d been on seemed to stop working. By the end of the summer, he was too scared to stay in his own room and was waking up next to Kelli most mornings as she herself awoke in a house where the oven door had been ripped off its hinges, the refrigerator was pockmarked with dents the size of a child’s fist, the wall near the stairs had a few slash marks in it from the time Ahav had found the one paring knife Kelli kept hidden in her bedroom, and there were new psychiatric prescriptions on the kitchen table, five in all.
In March 2020, Lori traveled to Florida to help Audrey move into an assisted living facility, a plan that was immediately upended with the arrival...