|Richard and John. 1940s.|
In 1995, a month or so after the state mental hospital in Utah bought him a one-way ticket to Las Vegas and put him on a plane, my uncle, Richard Reese, disappeared. My father received a few phone calls from third parties requesting money, purportedly on Richard's behalf, and he sent the money. And then there was complete radio silence.
What do you do when your only sibling, a fiftysomething cowboy with longtime mental and substance abuse problems, disappears? For decades my grandparents had waited for Richard to straighten up and fly right. They bailed him out of scrapes and drove halfway across the country to track him down when he ran off and let him live in their extra bedroom for years at a time and checked him into the hospital as necessary. They were amazing people. But Richard was not exactly grateful. Richard was (quite rightly) convinced that they had thwarted his dreams, which involved an apartment of his own, sleazy friends, and gallons of cheap Scotch -- preferably in Las Vegas. Now that my grandparents were dead, was it my father's job to pick up where they left off, trying to keep him on the straight and narrow? Or was it time for Richard to sink or swim? Did any of us for a minute think he was going to swim? So, really, was it time for Richard to sink?
I saw The Fighter the other day, and the charismatic crack addict character played by Christian Bale reminded me a bit of Richard, and the sober, responsible Mark Wahlberg character reminded me a bit of my father. Addicts are impossible, and Richard was an addict. When Richard disappeared, my father let him disappear. I don't blame him at all.
But I was young and sentimental and it bothered me that we didn't know where he was. He could be dead. He could be in jail. He could be living on the streets. He was part of our family! He was my grandparents' son! And, as impossible as he was, Richard was also very dear. So I flew to Las Vegas to find him. I rented a car, checked in to the Stardust Hotel, called the police station, and then began a 4-day tour of every homeless shelter and freeway underpass in greater Las Vegas.