Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fury on Washington Avenue

I was walking north, a few blocks from club Twist, when I heard a woman shouting.  Her voice could have filled a stadium.  “I’m going to smoke that pipe.  I’m going to do anything I want.  If you have something to say to me, I have something to say to you.  Do you hear me?”  Did I hear her? She might as well have asked if I had heard a passing freight train or a jet breaking the sound barrier.  My ears stung; my skull vibrated.  The voice went on at the same pitch, unrelenting as the Furies of ancient Greece.  Whatever she had smoked in her pipe--crack, crank--it hadn't wiped out her hallucinations.  I turned around.  The woman advanced at a race-walking pace.  I flattened myself against the scorching wall of a restaurant.  All along Washington Avenue, people made way for her.  I was terrified she would catch me looking at her.  What are you looking at?  If you have a look for me, I have a look for you.

With her chin jutting up, she turned her handsome head to the side and stared at enemies invisible to us.  Her clothes were immaculate—white pants, white tee shirt—but her hair was nappy; it seemed to spring from her head with each shout.  She was tall, athletic, well-muscled.  One punch from her balled up fist would knock me over.  A group of men drinking Cuban coffee outside a grocery story, backed up and let her go by, staring into their tiny paper cups as if they contained a mystery; they looked embarrassed and thoughtful.  We all looked embarrassed and thoughtful.  About what?  The human race.  One of our members was out of her mind.  

The Mayo Clinic's online article about paranoid schizophrenia is absurdly, blandly reassuring: "But with effective treatment, you can manage the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and work toward leading a happier, healthier life."  Could she be helped?  One might as well try to stop a volcano. But what do I know?

The psychologist James Hillman calls these sightings of mad people occasions for "soul making."  By this he means, occasions for the deepening of the psyche.  I would rather the woman were well than I had a more developed soul, as if we had such choices.


  1. I love this post, Miriam - I can just see the volcanic lady. I agree, I would rather people were well, than I had a (more) developed soul, and I also like to think my soul can develop without seeing others' disintegration.

  2. Thanks, nmj. The volcanic lady was so powerfully disturbed. I thought of her for days.