They drive to the apartment where he moved in January, when Naomi had thought Spencer was stable enough to leave the home where he had been living with her, his step-father and his younger brother. He had made it through the busy Christmas season working as a cashier, handling his symptoms with promising self-assurance, telling a customer who wondered who he was talking to not to worry, he just had a thought disorder.
Naomi knew that he wanted to get back to everything he had been doing his senior year in high school, when he was first told he had early-stage schizophrenia, a diagnosis later refined to schizoaffective disorder, bipolar subtype with obsessive-compulsive elements. He wanted to study math, go to college, go out with girls. He wanted independence, and Naomi thought the apartment would be a step toward that.
Then the first week he was there he got the cloudy feeling. He said that his brain felt like it was “under a hair dryer.” He told Naomi he felt “unsafe.” He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital.
When he was released 11 days later, he insisted on returning to the apartment rather than home, because he wanted to keep moving forward. Naomi’s 70-year-old mother moved in with him, setting up a single bed in the living room in front of a balcony three stories high and over a sidewalk, a drop that Naomi tries not to think about.
She parks the car. She watches her son trudge up the three flights of open-air stairs, a slow, lumbering figure in jeans and a sweatshirt.
The signs she looks for: how he walks, whether he is quick or slow or heavy or aimless. How he talks — crisp or sluggish, or perhaps angrily to no one, as he had done in December, when he yelled “Stop following me!” down an empty hallway. Spencer had become deeply religious during the advent of his illness, and Naomi checks his Facebook page to see how many posts are there about Revelations, or Deuteronomy, or other biblical arcana. More than two or three is a warning sign, not because it is religious but because it is obsessive.
She checks his text messages, though she isn’t always sure how to take them.
“I figure,” he wrote around the time of the cloudy feeling in January, “a few hundred years after the resurrection, it will be like a sci-fi novel, and we’ll have spaceships and everything and all sorts of crazy stuff . . . I will probably be an old man then but with reincarnation it is possible to go through childhood again, the right way. The Lord will make all things anew.”
She watches little things, such as whether he dries off with a towel after a shower or walks naked and dripping to his bed and rolls around. She watches whether he remembers to put on deodorant, how he eats, whether he is being considerate.
He comes back down, his backpack full of books for his computer programming and math classes, and they drive to the library.