Where Is Christopher Tully?
[Update, 6:30 p.m., January 25th]: A body was found today in the Schuylkill River. Family members confirm that it is that of missing teacher Christopher Tully.
[Original] Christopher Tully has been missing for nine days — nine long, cold days since the beloved teacher and father of three jumped out of a car on City Line Avenue and walked out of his family’s life. According to the website his brother Eddie has set up to coordinate the search efforts for Chris — whose plight has drawn national attention — the last view anyone had of him was at the section of off-ramp “where City Line Ave. meet the exits to Ridge Ave. and Lincoln Drive. He [was] heading toward City Line Ave. back toward the expressway.”
Eddie got choked up this morning when I spoke to him on the phone about Chris’ disappearance. Despite the coverage on social media (#findtully), and on national websites; despite neighbors and friends canvassing so much of the city with flyers; despite the quick and responsive efforts of the Philadelphia Police Department; despite a reward that has climbed over $10,000, Eddie knows there’s a chance that his brother, who was struggling with mental health issues, may be dead.
“I told the lieutenant not to sugarcoat it for me,” Eddie said. “They feel it’s a very unique case because [Chris] had very limited resources. They’re stumped.”
Chris’ phone hasn’t been active since a few hours after he disappeared. His credit cards haven’t been used, and he didn’t have much cash on him. There’s been no sign of him in shelters, hospitals, security cameras or otherwise. He had been talking to his mother and brother every day, more than once a day, at length. Now — nothing. “He fell off the map,” Eddie said. “The best thing that we have going for us is the amount of exposure [so] that if he is somewhere still around, we hope that someone would recognize him.” But Eddie’s worried about how cold it’s been — and about his brother’s state of mind.
The last year has been hard for Chris, who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He’s been on what Eddie characterized as a rollercoaster of medications, which seemed almost as disruptive and chaotic as the illness itself.
I can believe that. After an initial diagnosis — and this is all new for Chris — the search for the “magic cocktail” that will make it all better is brutal. Each medication has a different effect on your mood, on your sleep, even on things you don’t expect, like the way your arms and legs feel. Imagine trying weed for three weeks, then cocaine, then LSD, then mushrooms, then tequila, then beer … not because it’s fun, but because you have to, day after day. Each medication is psychoactive and physically intrusive. This isn’t to say it’s not worth it for some people, but as with many severe illnesses, getting better doesn’t always feel good.
And as Eddie notes, “I do think bipolar disorder has so much stigma,” an added burden on Chris, a devoted father who spent every free minute with his three sons. An illness like this can make you feel like a child yourself, relying on siblings and parents in a way you didn’t imagine you’d have to as a adult.
Chris was on that meds rollercoaster, was more dependent on family than he was accustomed to, and he’d been given a stigmatizing diagnosis. He hadn’t slept for about 48 hours when he got out of the car his parents were driving, and he also wasn’t getting the right kind of medical care.
“My mother pleaded with the doctor: We can’t wait another three weeks,” Eddie told me. It’s awful. Mothers know when their children — even their 40-year-old children — can’t take it anymore.
My mother always knew, and I’m quite certain she remembers our own drive on City Line Avenue, when I jumped out of the car like Chris did, and almost at the exact same spot. I just felt I had to get out. I didn’t have a plan in mind — it was just: Enough! Enough! Enough! The pain gets so bad. My mother put the car in park and dashed out after me. I don’t remember much from that day, but I do recall her absolute terror. We were both lucky — and luck was all it was — that I came back.
I wrote above that Eddie got choked up when we talked, and that’s true, but it wasn’t when he talked about the possibility that Chris is dead. He was kind of matter-of-fact then, in self-protective mode, talking about the process one has to go through to get permission to search the river without worries about liability. It was actually when he talked about Chris as a teacher, and his impact on students at the Middle Bucks Institute of Technology in Warwick, that his voice broke.
People often beatify teachers, of course, because it’s a tremendously hard job that’s underappreciated. But Chris is special, that’s clear — he was named teacher of the year by the Pennsylvania Association for Career and Technical Education last year. Eddie says a lot of students came into Chris’ program feeling negatively about their lives and then “he turned so many people around.” Eddie thinks Chris understood their pain because of his own pain. But even after helping all these others, Eddie said, “he couldn’t help himself. That’s the hard thing.”
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