The last time she heard his voice it was coming through a pay phone somewhere in New York City, somewhere in the big city of strangers. She heard the sounds of the streets. She heard her son whimper as he tried to speak.
"Mom," Ron Meddings said, "I don't know where I am. I'm lost."
She heard him say Eighth Avenue. But where on Eighth Avenue?
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know. Mom, just get me home."
"Ron, put the phone down and go ask someone where you are," Audrey Giltz, nearly 200 miles away, at her home in Edgewood, told her son.
She heard the phone clang against steel and, for several minutes, she heard only the rumble and drone of a Manhattan street. Then she heard someone hang up the phone. Then the line went dead. That was Aug. 16. Audrey Giltz has not heard from her son since. He's 39 years old and, she assumes, lost in the anguish and delusions of schizophrenia.
"When he was on the phone, he was incoherent most of the time," Mrs. Giltz said yesterday, her voice halting. "We were on the phone for 10 minutes, and he sounded awfully, awfully depressed. That's what worried me. He's probably not taking his JTC medicine. When I told him to go talk to somebody, he said, 'No one wants to talk to me, ah, ah, ah, ah,' and like that. But he told me he was broke. He had broken his eyeglasses, and he needs his eyeglasses to see things far away, like street signs. He said, 'I need shoes.' He said a lady had told him he needed $44 to get home."
And that, Mrs. Giltz assumed, was for either a train or bus ticket back to Maryland.
As far as she knows, he never made the trip.
She assumes he's still somewhere in New York City. She called the police and described her son: 175 pounds, blue-green eyes, red hair. She called Traveler's Aid. She called Amtrak. Her younger son went to New York and, starting from Penn Station, spent a day walking the sidewalks of Manhattan. He went to shelters. He went through parks. He found nothing but strangers.
The story of Ron Meddings is a long, sad one. His mother says his psychological problems go back to when he was 18 and, as the eldest child in a military family, signed up for service in the Air Force. He was stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. When he got home in 1973, he was an eerily different person. "The person who went in the service was not the same one who came out," said his brother, Fred, also a veteran.
Back home in Edgewood, Ron Meddings made strange faces and uttered strange things. His moods rocketed from silent depression to screaming hysteria. By the time he was 24, doctors had diagnosed Meddings as schizophrenic and prescribed a drug to prevent him from slipping into the darkness of his psychotic prison.
In the years since then, he's tried to hold jobs but with little success. He's been in and out of Perry Point Veterans Hospital, halfway houses, group homes and Baltimore shelters. As much as his mother tried to keep track of him, she couldn't know his every movement. Five years ago, she got a call from a doctor in New York City. Her son had been arrested on a Manhattan street.
"The police were removing a body from a building and this officer was sort of directing traffic," Meddings' brother said. "And when Ron inquired about what was happening and found that this officer seemed to know a lot about the situation, he concluded that the officer was the killer."
And that's when Meddings decided to tackle the cop.
"I think he's drawn to New York," his brother said. "I don't know why for sure. He's very interested in John Lennon and his death. Lennon was killed on [Ron's] birthday, December 8."
"He was in Perry Point Veterans Hospital in July," Mrs. Giltz said of her missing son. "I checked with his case worker at the hospital and he said Ron had been released on Aug. 6. I don't know why they didn't call to tell me. I didn't know he had left the hospital until he called from New York Aug. 16 and he said, 'Mom, I'm lost.'"