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They were our surrogates and our saviors, feeding him, keeping him company, keeping him warm.
In 2009, nearly three years into Tom’s homelessness, I made it back to Alaska. Flying in on a clear evening, I got a view of the southern mountains, tangles of peaks and glaciers walling off the city.
I knew he had the skills to survive outside, to make a camp in the woods—as long as he could keep track of his gear and find enough food.
That was my biggest worry at first—that he was always hungry.
He was soon arrested again, and, when he was released, Dad told him that he could not return home while he remained unmedicated.
Nights, I tried not to imagine the worst possibilities.
Instead, I placed him in the safest, warmest camp I could conjure.
Once, wandering and mumbling, he was picked up by police and later told a doctor that he had been fleeing the sensation that he was “about to hear the sound of a woman scream.” Another time, when our father wasn’t home, he apparently jimmied the lock with a credit card and grabbed an old checkbook for a closed account.
Then he used it to book a room at a quaint little inn downtown and to make various other purchases: collectors’ coins, geodes, a framed painting, a Persian rug, and heart-shaped pendants for some secret or imagined love.