This evening, I decided to indulge two of my vices: junk food and walking around with my headphones on, listening to music. So I walked to Target, which is close by my apartment, and picked up my poison: Darrell Lea soft eating licorice and Market Pantry Sour Watermelon Slices, barely noticing the woman sitting on the bench in front of Target, smoking a cigarette.
On my way out, bag in hand, head still in headphones, I passed her again, and she called out “Sir!”
She looked like a public service announcement: A smallish White woman with dark hair in an indefinable middle age roughened by hard living, dressed in a dark jacket and jeans. She looked a bit lost, which was emphasized by her speech.
She said I was taking a risk walking around in headphones like that, and that I should open my ears and hear the world. I thanked her for her advice, not mentioning that Missoula rolls up the sidewalks late on Sundays, especially out where I live, far from downtown. She asked me what had been happening, and I told her that it’s been quiet. She accepted this, and informed me that she goes to various neighborhoods, seeing what’s going on.
She told me she stays out of trouble, and kinda looked away, down the street, and got a bit quiet, a moment of rest after the pressured ramble. I thanked her again for the advice, and began to walk away, leaving my headphones off.
I was a few steps away when she asked me if I could see her, or if she was invisible.
I said, a bit loudly, I could see her fine. She walked towards me, and began to talk about how I had walked by her without acknowledging her and she was paranoid about addictions and how I shouldn’t keep my headphones on, the last a bit like a concerned mother. A bit like my mother.
I thanked her again for the advice, and she asked, with a note of concern, if I heard evil voices. I said no, she reiterated not wearing headphones, I thanked her again, and we parted.
Completely polite. Completely nice, and bearing good advice. Pity about the textbook presentation of a debilitating mental disease.
Yes, I see her. I saw her on my way in, and I took her, vaguely, for an employee on the last break before the store closes. I saw her on the way out, and I finally saw her, diseased, broken, lost, but helpful and kind instead of angry or aggressive.
I began counting symptoms almost as soon as she began talking. Pressured speech, distractability, smoking… classic. My mom, an RN, worked in Warm Springs during her training decades ago, before they turfed out all but the violent cases. I can’t recite the DSM, and I’m not trained myself, but I know something of the shape of it, of this disease process.
We all see her. Every society does.