First Person: Moving Out

By Annie Kassof
Tuesday April 01, 2008

My friend Peter has mice. Not pet mice, but uninvited ones, who, he tells me on the phone, have snuck into his cupboards and are ravaging his dry goods quick as they can. Until he figures out the best way to get rid of them, do I want some of the food that the critters haven’t discovered yet? I tell him sure, and drive to his house where he loads up big bags of kasha and hot cocoa mix and rice vermicelli and penne pasta and more. I figure the kids will enjoy eating (and drinking) some things I don’t ordinarily buy, and I’ll save money on the grocery bill this month. 

At home my 18-year-old son wanders into the kitchen while I’m putting the unexpected bounty away in the pantry.  

“Lookit all this stuff I got from Peter,” I say.  

“Great,” he replies. “Too bad I won’t be around to eat it. I’m moving out this weekend.” 

I raise my eyebrows and turn to face him, stunned, the bag of Basmati rice I’m holding suspended above its shelf.  


So my only son, the one who implored me to adopt my foster daughter nine years earlier so he’d have a sibling to love; the one who was once found to have a nearly genius I.Q.; the one whose diagnosis two years earlier almost resulted in my own emotional collapse, calmly tells me that his best friend, who has a nice two-bedroom place in another part of Berkeley, has invited him to move in. 

I set down the rice. My head is filled with a thousand thoughts. The big one: is he ready? Of course many people leave home at 18. Many go far away. Yet fewer move out while on a regimen of medications that not only help them stay mentally balanced, but may affect their sleep, anxiety level and physical well-being should they miss a dose. Fewer move out who have a single mom (prone to depression herself) who .asks twice daily, “Did you remember to take your meds?”  

When the answer is yes, which thankfully it is almost always these days, I breathe an inward sigh of relief, and I thank the Greater Powers—again—that the impact of my son’s mental illness on my little family is finally easing its grip. 

I think about how difficult it might be for my 11-year-old daughter when her big brother goes. She won’t have anyone around to fake-strangle her, or walk her to Walgreens for hot Cheetos or candy when I’m not around to say no junk food. The little house could seem big with just the two of us. Maybe my daughter won’t know what to talk to me about. At least she won’t be able to say I’m paying more attention to her brother, which I suppose I was for a while, especially around the time he started saying things like he wished he could just go out to the desert and die.  

I think about packing up his stuff in my Honda and driving across town. It’ll probably take a few trips. My son doesn’t have a car and doesn’t want to get a license. So we’ll load his TV and video games and computer and school books into my car. We’ll put his bicycle on the bike rack. He’ll probably want to take his laminated poster of Jimi Hendrix smoking a joint, and his map of the world and his Italian peace flag and his vitamins. I haven’t asked him if he wants to keep the brown paper bag that holds all his empty medication bottles. Once he said he wanted to make an art piece with them, but he hasn’t yet. Another time he said he wanted to make a series of chairs from sticks, and he did make one—decorated with feathers as well—and it’s perched on a shelf in the living room. I hope he lets me keep it there. He made it not long after his last hospital stay, when his face was pale as water and his hands shook nearly all the time. I love its fragile beauty. He’s come so far since then.  

I’m not worried about his new place having mice like Peter’s does, so I think I’ll give him some of the food to take. If he invites his sister and me over for dinner once he gets settled in, I bet it’ll taste spectacular.