I don’t know how to exit a conversation gracefully, especially if it’s with a crazy person. I lack whatever prowess that allows someone to leave a situation without sounding like a jerkface. And it’s no surprise, I always sound like a jerkface.
So when neighbor A. asked me to check up on neighbor B. because she had just had surgery and none of her children had visited her, I went over with some delusion that it would be like Fried Green Tomatoes and this woman would appreciate my company. When I arrived, that little daydream was shattered. There was no southern charm or a tale about a whistle-stop cafe in the ’20s. I was stuck in an LSD trip and it wasn’t mine.
You know those evolution illustrations that show how man transformed from a monkey into a human? I wish there was one for crazy people, only it showed how man changed from a functioning, sane human being into that guy who said that if I paid him $10 he would stare into the sun. I think this woman would be right up there, somewhere between the woman at the bus stop who made a mini wall of Jericho with Dollar Store shopping bags and my grandmother, who insisted we pay respects to the mirror because my uncle was somewhere inside.
It happened very quickly, which I’ve found to be true with most crazy people I encounter. It never happens at a pace at which I’m ready for the next moment. It’s never, “Okay, Mona brace yourself,” but more like, “Hey Mona [INSERT PSYCHO TALK ABOUT NAM].”
I knocked on the door and I could hear her voice inside telling me to come in. I found her in her bedroom, on her stomach and under layers of blankets with Lifetime flickering on the corner TV. I asked her how she had been doing and she said that it was hard, that she hadn’t really eaten at all. Then she told me her big plan to sue. She kicked some of the blankets off and I could see the huge bandages along her spine.
First I thought, “Big girdle panties? Okay, that’s age appropriate.” But then that mutated into, “I just met you. I am not ready to see your cooch!”
She pointed to a bag of screws that she said came from her back. She alleged that the first surgeon who worked on her years ago left screws in her body and the new surgeon gave her the bag as evidence to help her build her case. And all of this was shocking but then she started on how she had many male friends, her son was a famous rapper, she liked Turkish coffee, her daughter took in homeless children and everyone asks her for money because she’s loaded.
She continued with several stories on how much she’s doled out thousands to neighbors, even though she said in the same breath that she only gets SSI.
And just when I thought maybe she’s not crazy, she’s just egocentric (she never asked me about myself, but crazy people never do), she returned to her rant on how she’s going to sue and how everyone will ask her for money and she and neighbor A. are so close, she’s sure she’ll get a plant for Christmas.
She was on her stomach the whole time and she said, referring to her back, “I haven’t even seen it!”
She only had a wardrobe mirror on the back of the door and since she was too weak to get up, I offered to take a picture with my camera and she could see it in the viewfinder. In retrospect, what I just said then was so crazy that I should’ve have been sent off to the looney bin, straight-jacketed with a wallet stuffed into my mouth so I wouldn’t eat my own tongue.
Somehow I managed to leave without changing the soaked, bloody bandage like she had asked (double effing ewwww!). I stumbled out with some apology about needing to get back to the babysitter, even though I had originally said Nathan was with my husband, but it doesn’t matter because crazy people don’t have good memories. On second thought, crazy people have phenomenal memories, but it’s about the cats they lost at the taxidermist and scratch tickets that were one number or coconut off from winning the big one.
So the woman calls me last night, asking for the pictures I took. I told her I didn’t have them anymore because I deleted them and why would I keep photos of an old woman’s back? Yeah, I totally uploaded them to flickr and it was the most interesting photo of the day! Rock on!
“You disposed of the pictures?”
I could hear her mumbling to the other people in the room. “Yeah, she got rid of them! I don’t know why!”
She said, “You want to know why I need them? I’m suing them, that’s why! I got some infection, Mona. I need you to come on over and take some pictures so I can give them to the lawyer.”
“You’re suing your doctor?”
“I’m suing the nurses for infecting me! They didn’t do their job!”
“Um. Neighbor B., how exactly would you get the pictures to the lawyer?” A lie! I could print them or take the card to Walgreen’s. But that would involve me doing something.
“Uh, I don’t know. I guess you would have to develop them and I would pay you.”
“You could just get a disposable camera and take pictures that way. After all, you’ll still have to develop them.”
“Oh okay then.” She laughed. “I guess I didn’t have to call you!”
That’s how I exited, stage left. I said no to her because I knew it would be complicated and it would open myself up to a woman who needs more help than I can and am willing to give. And should I feel like a jerkface for protecting myself? I know she’s off-kilter, but she’s human and healing, talking to herself in that room, beginning each strategy with, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do…”