I am constantly amazed at my popularity with strangers...who are in need of intensive therapy. Take me to a bar and each and every psychologically disturbed person will start up a conversation with me.
I am a crazy magnet...which may partly explain my rich and varied dating/matrimonial history. But I digress...
I don't think I look too imposing or scary unless my face is arranged to deliver "the Mom look", and I've been told that my voice can have a calming effect on persons in crisis. But one day about ten years ago, my persona was such that a mental health professional treated me as a colleague, instead of as just being the woman who drove her manic neighbor Marla to the hospital for a stay on a locked ward.
Marla's grip on reality had been lessening for a month or so. She required little sleep, was recklessly spending money and neglecting to take care of her Alzheimer's-addled father. (Marla is a pseudonym - you don't expect me to use her real name, do you? She was crazy!)
That autumn, her life was spinning out of control, and Marla glommed onto me for support. I'd help lift her father from the tub, or from the floor, when he'd fallen out of bed. His was the first old man naked body I'd ever seen. That day, I prayed for failing eyesight in my old age because nobody needs to really SEE that. Oops, more digression...
Marla took to visiting me at odd hours, wanting me to listen to her many disorganized and somewhat delusional thoughts. I'd sit calmly and try to tell her where her ideas may have gotten off track. Most often, she'd smile or laugh and tell me I was her angel and immediately launch into talking about her next big money-making scheme or invention, or she'd go into great detail about how she was going to remodel her apartment (she owned her building) until it was a showplace. All the while, she was lucky if her tenants paid their rent on time - her only source of income since her father needed fulltime care. Adding insult to injury, she was spending money so fast that she began neglecting the maintenance on her building and was ignoring late notices and phone calls from creditors.
In short, her life was in shambles, and her apartment building wasn't far behind.
She planned a huge Halloween party in the currently vacant basement apartment. I was kind of surprised that she invited me - I rarely drank and I didn't dabble in illegal substances. I was boring compared to her friends. One other family in my building thought I was either a narc or a therapist, so my reputation as a killjoy was pretty firmly cemented. I told those neighbors that I would attend the party dressed as an angel since that was how Marla saw me. I found a grandmotherly white flannel nightgown and white fairy wings and attended the soiree.
Marla was a hot mess that night. She flitted from guest to guest and talked louder and louder. She turned up the volume of the music and danced with no one. She took me into her room and showed me that she kept her stash of marijuana inside a Kotex tampon box "because a policeman would NEVER look THERE!"
I left the party at a reasonable hour and went next door to my own apartment. We lived in the city where buildings were close together so I could still hear the music and Marla's laughter with my windows closed. I assume she got some sleep that night because she didn't pay me any middle of the night visits.
Marla continued to struggle financially and emotionally, and I continued to be of assistance when I could. For months she eked out an existence and continued her wildly inappropriate behavior.
The next summer she was at her worst. Neighbors began avoiding her; she was more outrageous than ever. She wore her pajamas and a candy-filled cowboy hat to the convenience store down the street, bowing at the clerk while removing her hat and littering the place with her sweets. It was not unusual to see her outside in her front yard doing landscaping work at midnight or later because she had a sudden inspiration of starting her own business and even went so far as to put a sign out advertising her services.
I was still working fulltime and had The Boy to deal with so I wasn't part of her usual nighttime activities. But I answered her knock at 1 AM the next Saturday morning. She looked a little frightened and said that she needed to talk to me.
"Kim, I know. You can admit it to me. You're an angel, aren't you? God sent you here to help me."
"No, Marla. I am NOT an angel. I am a neighbor and a friend. I help you because I want to."
"But Kim, I know you are an angel. That's why there are no pictures of you on the walls. That's it, isn't it? You can tell me."
"Marla, the only reason there are no pictures on my walls is that I'm usually the one taking the pictures - and I don't really have any recent pictures of me that I like." I led her down the hall to my room. I motioned for her to sit at my desk. I opened the bottom drawer and sorted through the large mess of pictures I had stored there. One by one, I laid pictures on the desk and said, "See, it's me. All me. I am not an angel."
I walked back with her to her apartment and sat in her living room with her until 5 AM. Finally, she was ready for sleep - and so was I.
I answered the door again at 9 AM, but it wasn't Marla pounding insistently. This time, it was one of our local police officers. Marla had not slept long and had ranted and raved for hours, and officers were summoned. They planned on transporting her to the hospital - but she told them she'd go only if I drove her there. I watched as she packed a toilet brush and other inappropriate and miscellaneous items (and no clothing whatsoever). She didn't wear shoes either, her unkempt hair and dirt-covered feet highlighting how far she'd fallen into mental illness.
So I buckled her seat belt and bribed her with a cigarette if she behaved herself on the drive to the ER...
And I found myself getting all the HIPAA-regulated, CONFIDENTIAL diagnostic differential data from the staff's social worker. Marla had told her where my work office was and the woman assumed that I was one of the therapists whose offices were on another floor. My exterior must have screamed "therapist" even while my brain was shouting "get me out of here!"
If you see me in a crowd, don't be afraid to approach me. I promise that I won't think you're unstable if you do the same for me.