By now it’s old news, the man dressed for battle with the shock of red hair. The crowd, unaware, in the cool womb of the theater, popcorn in hand, ready for a show.
Outside it was all stars and midnight air.
Afterward, after the chaos and flashing lights, after the man made puppet hands in the interrogation room, the phone rang out on the west coast. I imagine his mother. I think of his father. I think of the family on the fringes of pain.
I live in the wake of serious mental illness. It ripples. It moves. It washes over my family in deep rushes of water and we’re left swimming hard toward the light.
I have a schizophrenic brother. I’m raising his child. I know how it feels to fear the worst when the phone rings at 4 am. I don’t know if mental illness plays a role in this story, but the paranoia and isolation and sudden unraveling make me suspect that it does.
I can’t help but identify with the family on the other end of that phone call.
I identify in so many ways: with unkempt men on the corners holding signs. The hitchhikers and the street walkers and the women pushing carts. I wonder about their stories, how it came to this. I wonder about their families, if they’ve heard from them in months.
For years I looked away, even as the water lapped at my feet, even as it rose nose-high inside the house that raised me.
Yesterday I was approached by a woman in a parking lot, baby on her hip, begging for change. My own daughter was at my side, and I reached down for her hand to hold.
We brush up against mental illness, every single one of us. It dances around us, invisible until it appears too colorful to ignore.
I live in its wake. So do you.