I was getting ready to leave my office when the phone rang. I dropped my stuff and walked over to my desk, picked up the phone, and said “hello.”  It was a woman named Valeria, calling from Mexico who sounded very worried about her son.  She explained that her son, Mateo was bi-polar and not medicated. She said that he thought his family was trying to kill him.  She very concerned for his wellbeing as she hadn’t seen or spoken to him in over 5 years.  Valeria found out from her brother in law (Roberto) that Mateo called him one afternoon. He told Roberto that he had filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court and was suing President George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Roberto went online to Los Angeles Superior Courts website to see if he could figure out what that lawsuit entailed. None of it made any sense – based on the complaint, Roberto couldn’t decipher what was involved.  It was full of inane ramblings from a man who clearly needed help.  Roberto found out that another hearing was scheduled for the following week. Valeria wanted me to go to Mateo’s hearing and somehow talk him into getting into the car with me before dropping him off where ever he was currently living.  From what Valeria said, he had never been violent, which is why she didn’t think it would be hard to befriend him.  She sent me a picture of his. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of getting involved in this. I had idea who this man was and dealing with non-medicated bi-polar people can always be blighted with risks.

On the day of the hearing, I drove downtown, walked into the courtroom, and waited for Mateo. In walked Mateo in an all-white suit that looked very much like John Travolta’s suit in Saturday Night Fever.  Mateo was handsome, well dressed, (compared to most others in the courtroom), and polite.  He had two huge bags with him which led me to believe he was probably homeless.  The Judge finally called his name. He got up and walked up the aisle to the table where the plaintiffs stand.  Mateo asked the Judge for a continuance due to extenuating circumstances and the Judge granted it.  Mateo then picked up his bags and walked out of the courtroom.  I quickly left too and spotted Mateo walking down the steps of the courthouse onto the sidewalk.  I was fairly certain he was walking to the metro.  Two blocks later, I saw signs for the train and the stairs leading to the train.

Mateo was struggling down the stairs with his two enormous bags as well as a backpack that looked like his entire life was stuffed into it.  It must have weighed at least 30 pounds. After getting on the platform for the train,  he took off his back pack and whipped out a blackberry and waited for the train (maybe he wasn’t homeless after all) .This was my chance to snag him, which meant that I needed to act quickly.  I walked over to him and said, “excuse me can I give you a ride somewhere?”  He looked at me with a big smile and said “sure Amiga; that would be super.”  Wow, that was easy.

As we were walking to my car, I suddenly wondered if he had a gun or a knife in his bag.  I decided that I would tell him to put all of his bags in the trunk as soon as we got to my car. I was still anxious and my heart was racing, but I was trying hard to calm myself down. I began to envision Mateo being in his underwear  (remember the episode of The Brady Bunch when Jan had to give a speech in front of the entire school and Mr. Brady told her to visualize everyone in their underwear because it makes them a lot less scary?)  Between remembering those pearls of wisdom and discovering half of a Xanax in my pocket, I was now starting to relax.

Mateo immediately asked me why I offered to give him a ride. I told him it was because it looked like he was struggling with his bags and because it was insanely hot. That week, temperatures were north of 100 degrees every day in Los Angeles.  We made small talk and then I asked him where he lived. In response, he said he lived in Santa Monica. I then asked him what had made him come to the states, to which he replied that family was trying to kill him – a plan that was being masterminded by his own mom. I didn’t know what to say other than “why do you think that?” The first thing he said was that his mom thought he was mentally ill and had repeatedly tried to get him to commit.  He said people had been following him; he thought someone was trying to poison him because he said his water tasted funny. (At the time Mateo was living in Puerto Rico, when all of this went down).

As we made it to Santa Monica, I asked him where he wanted me to drop him off. He said: “at The Santa Monica Library.”  I asked him if he was homeless and he looked down towards the ground and said that he was; I could clearly tell that he was embarrassed. I asked him where he slept but refused to give that information.  He said he was a member of Equinox gym and that’s where he showers. Before I drove off, he asked me again as to why I offered him a ride; I told him it was for all the reasons I had already explained, but added that I knew how hard living on the streets was as my brother had been homeless for a few years.  My brother got lucky because someone helped him get off the streets and got him into a trade school, after which my brother eventually got his own apartment.  I asked Mateo if he would mind sharing his phone number. He nodded to suggest a ‘yes’ and gave me his number. I told him I would call him in the next few days. As soon as I got back to my office, I called Valeria and told her that I met up with Mateo. I told her everything that had happened beyond that point, also adding that he was homeless. She started to cry.  I can’t imagine how helpless you would feel being so far away from your child and knowing that they’re sleeping on the streets.

She was thankful that I got to spend some time with him.  She said she wanted to pay for him to stay in a hotel for a few months, although we couldn’t tell him that she was paying for it because he wouldn’t agree to stay there.  I assured her that I would think of a story that would convince him about the fact that she wasn’t paying for the hotel.  A few days later, my phone rang and it was Mateo.  We shot the shit for a few minutes and then I asked him if he wanted to stay in a hotel for a few weeks or possibly, months.  He said YES immediately and didn’t ask another question. I told him I had to go and that we would talk in a few days.

I called Valeria to tell her that Mateo agreed to stay in a hotel. She was thrilled and said that she was going to come to California the following week. The next day, I called Mateo, picked him up, and took him to the hotel.  We got to the hotel and I checked him in. We then walked to his room. As soon as he walked into the room, it was evident that he was so happy and relieved to be off the streets. He told me that he never slept deeply on the streets because he has to sleep with one eye open. I can’t imagine how scary it would be to be homeless.  After leaving him at the hotel, I called Valeria to let her know her son was safe and sound in a hotel. She told me she booked her flight and had made reservations at a hotel and they would be there by the end of the week. On Friday, Valeria called me to let me know that they have arrived safely and would be checking into the hotel. She asked me if I could meet her and her family for lunch later in the day.  I drove down to the hotel and met her family. She was accompanied by her husband, sister and her sister’s husband, Roberto. After talking for a while, we devised a game plan. After I would bring Mateo to the beach, we would walk up and down the promenade and his family would sit nearby in their car.

The next morning, I picked Mateo up. We had breakfast and then made our way to the beach.  We arrived a few minutes early, so we sat and talked until I saw his family drive up.  For the next hour or so, Mateo and I walked back and forth along the beach; the family followed us, albeit maintaining a safe distance.  I got a call from Valeria saying that they were leaving the beach and going back to their hotel.  She asked me to meet them for lunch. I told Mateo that I had to go to work and that I would take him back to his hotel.  I dropped him off and headed over to the hotel. Valeria got up and gave me a bear hug as soon as I walked over to their table and thanked me over and over again. She was euphoric and relieved that her son was alive and well. She couldn’t believe how good he looked, albeit a little skinny. I mentioned that Mateo joined Equinox gym, where he showers and works out; he had also rented a storage space which he sometimes slept in. We talked about trying to find permanent housing for Mateo.  While the hotel was a good temporary solution, he couldn’t stay there forever.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I began researching places that Mateo could move into permanently. The only places that would be affordable for Valeria were apartments subsidized by the city for people with mental illnesses. However, Mateo would never go for that because he was convinced he had no mental problems. The only other option for him would be to rent a room in a house.  But because he was paranoid, we didn’t think he would be okay with that option either. Valeria couldn’t pay for his long term lodging – but for now, it was ideal. Valeria and I kept in touch for the next couple of months and she continued to pay for Mateo’s hotel for the next two months. I would check on him a few times a week (at the hotel) and to bring him food. I really took a shine to him. He tuned out to be the little brother that I never had. I loved that he always called me Amiga.  However, I had to check out at the end of the two months.  He wasn’t happy about having to leave, but he understood.  I asked him if I could take him anywhere – and he asked to be dropped off at the Santa Monica library.  We arrived at the library and I requested him to keep in touch with me and to be safe.

A week later, I got a text from him telling me that he was moving to New York.  I tried to talk him out of it because NYC is very expensive and it gets very cold during winters. However, he had made up his mind and there was no way anyone could talk him out of it.  I offered to take him to the airport, and he agreed.  I immediately called Valeria to tell her about his plans.  She wasn’t happy about it, but knew there was nothing she could do. On the way to the airport, we talked and he elaborated upon all his plans. He said that he had a friend who lived there and hoped he could crash on the floor for a while.  He was going to try and find a job and was planning to sue a former employer of his.  About six months after Mateo went to New York, Valeria called me to tell me that he had returned to Mexico and was living in his old apartment.  I would have liked to see him get help with his illness, but it wasn’t in the cards – at least for now. The silver lining is that he would be close to his family, so they could keep an eye on him from a distance. I missed him.