I Bite the Hand That Claims to Feed Her

I was surprised to get a call from somebody at the County who remembered her from a year ago.  This person said they would keep an eye out for her, and, it seems, try to keep her from being arbitrarily discharged from Psychiatric Emergency Services again,  if she shows up there again and they hear about it.

Sometimes I am very nice to these people who call; I left a message for Mr. Davis thanking him for listening to me the other day, and asking God to bless his heart.  But after a few minutes of walking around with my cell phone listening to this inoffensive lady, I remembered how angry I was.  I think in two years I have only once ever heard back from her agency, and I was in no way ready to start forgiving them.  I told her, “Telecare Corporation is a bunch of whores!” (They discharge people for whatever reason, and say their discharge policies are a proprietary secret.)  “The doctors at Psychiatric Emergency Services are a bunch of flatbacking whores!” (In fact they used to get bonuses for discharging people quickly.)  “The County Conservator’s office is useless!”

She listened to me for quite a while and then started to interrupt by saying she wanted to ask me a question.  “Just answer me this question,” she said.  “How would you know when she is ready to be discharged?”  I had a ready answer:  “First of all, not until you have tried every drug you can try to address her delusions, including Clozaril.  If you discharge her the way she is now, you shorten her life.”

After some ranting on my part she asked another question.  “Tell me this.  Do you understand we can’t keep her locked up forever?”

And how did I answer?  I didn’t say “why not?”  I know why not, they don’t have the beds because they don’t have the money. But I refuse to take that as an answer.  “I can only save one kid at a time, it is all I can do.  If you have to kick her out so other kids can have a chance–it’s not my job to save those other kids.  It is all I can do to save the one I can.”

And looking back I wonder:  Why is she asking me about forever?  Diana won’t live forever. Sometimes I give her a month or two, sometimes a year.




She ended up staying a couple nights.  Her speech gradually became easier to understand.  Monday night, she walked around the block with me in the moonlight, laughing, twice.

On Tuesday, after I made many exasperated, righteously indignant calls to government agencies, a social worker came and talked to her as she lay in bed.  Now that I think of it, she was visibly tired and cranky that day, and I think it was because it had been a couple days since she took meth; it’s hard for her to wait that long.

Mr. Davis asked her what had been happening with her and how long it had been since she used.  She answered him freely, talking loud enough for him to hear (though not always loud enough for me to hear).  She had been hanging out in the City, doing fine, until she went to a concert and the police pulled her out of the building, suspended her by her ankles, and hauled her away in an ambulance.  They beat her, she said, and injured her unborn baby.  She was still bleeding, she said.  She said she intended to file a complaint against the San Francisco police in Contra Costa County, for reasons of venue that I of course couldn’t follow and didn’t believe.

Folks, it is hard for me to take her at her word about the baby.  I don’t believe her because she has often talked about imaginary babies.  Whenever she wants to know if she is pregnant, she looks hard at her pupils in the mirror and decides based on that.   And to me, non-doctor that I am, she looks too skinny to be fertile.  But people with a lot of experience talking to schizophrenics say you should affect to believe everything they say, and not argue with their delusions.

Mr. Davis suggested it might be a good idea to go to Highland Hospital and see if she and the baby were all right.  I agreed.  I asked if the social workers might be able to take her there, and I understood from what he said that there was a lack of resources for that.  I don’t have a car, but I thought I might be able to nudge her along the mile-long walk, or take a bus.  But she remembered how many times she has been 5150’d from Highland–that is, sent straight to the mental hospital–and she told me later, no thank you.

Now she told Mr. Davis something that was hard for me to hear, both physically difficult to hear–I am hard of hearing–and hard to take in.  She mentioned a new deadly delusion (she already has at least one):  she said that she had to take meth every day, at least a little bit, or her baby would die.  She was crying as she said this.  I wonder if my brain just shut her message out; I didn’t really understand what she had said until a few hours later, on the sidewalk, when it was very hot, and I was on the way to the supermarket to get ingredients for smoothies for her,  and I sat down on a wall in front of the old-folks home, under the shade of a dracena tree, to rest, and I called somebody at the County, and I put together what it was that she had said.

She thinks she has to take meth every day or her baby will die.

I told a nice lady at the County that if this is what she really thinks, no social worker meeting with her once a week is going to be able to help her; it’s like bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon.  Thinking out loud–how else can you do it–I told the nice lady that D is a danger to her imaginary unborn baby, and thus was eligible for a 5150. To be eligible for a 5150, a person has to be a danger to herself or others, and/or gravely disabled, though the police don’t care about “gravely disabled.”  Certainly, D is a danger to her imaginary unborn baby, and surely the police will understand, if they hear about this belief, that she   ought to be taken off the street, away from meth.  That was my insight of the day.

I took my groceries home and took a nap.  When I awoke D was dressed in a very, very short plaid skirt she had worn in high school, wearing my oversized Giants World Champions jacket, and asking me for more money, which often happens when she leaves my house.  She was covered with C’s jewelry, which she had taken off of C’s desk and I had been letting her wear as a joke–rings, metal chains, bracelets.   I believe it’s junk jewelry from the estate of one of my aged relatives, but C has been making it very clear over the phone that she really, really doesn’t want D taking her jewelry.  I told D that she needed to leave all that jewelry here, as she had said twice that she would.  She started to cry, almost to scream, that she had bought it all off of C, and paid her for it.  “When?” I asked; D hasn’t talked to C in months or years, except by mistake.  “I did!  Believe me!  It’s mine!  Do you think I’m crazy!  Deal with your own mental illness first!  I’m leaving!”  I said if she didn’t leave that jewelry here she would find it really hard to come back; but she left.

I followed her, though I walk pretty slow.  I saw her get a soda pop at the corner store and walk off to the bus stop.  She saw me following her and scowled.  On her long, skinny legs, and with that XL ten-pound jacket, she looked like a heron or egret, unable to fly and very angry about that.  She walked on, I walked on, talking to the police on the phone, in the hope, actually, that I could get the police to confront her and me about the jewelry, get in a screaming fight with her, and get her 5150’d that way.  But the police said they could not take a report because I was not the owner of the jewelry.  And I walked the wrong way up the bus route and thus lost sight of her.

I waited for the bus, she was not on it, I rode it down to Jefferson Park, I asked the homeless men there if they had seen any skinny whitegirl wearing a huge orange jacket, and I strolled down to Castro and 5th, to the tents under the freeway where I had found her before.  I met old Ron, probably 60 who is still alive and still taking meth and still has a couple teeth.  He hugged me; I felt the ribs all over his back, I told him he was so skinny he reminded me of Diana.  He invited me to sit in his brown vinyl barcalounger under the freeway.

My feet hurt from walking in flipflops on the concrete.  The barcalounger was clean and comfortable.  It was a warm, moonlight night, a good night for anyone to have fun and take drugs.  A shiny black Sienna drove up to the curb in front of me, with a clean, cheerful, young, strong black man for a driver.  His visit to the homeless encampment had nothing to do with me; the driver got out and laughed and joked with Ron about something.  It seemed to me that there was yet another person in the front seat of the car, behind the heavily tinted window:  a leering, very-stoned-looking, rather microcephalic person of indeterminate race.  I ignored them and looked up at the moon.  A shape passed by far above, gray like a ghost, a full-sized eighteen-wheeler  on the 880 freeway.  We, far below, were between the lanes of that multi-stranded highway.  Another truck passed on, just taking a couple seconds.  If it were to fall in an earthquake, it would smash us; but Ron had been staying here under the freeway for months, years maybe under this and other freeways, and he lived yet, and recognized me although he hadn’t seen me for weeks, and wanted to sleep with me in fact, if that was what he was saying.  I tried to take a picture of a truck with my phone but it didn’t come out.

When my feet quit hurting I started walking home.  Daring to look more closely at the addled passenger inside the Sienna, I saw it was a rubber Halloween mask the driver had pulled over the headrest, as a joke for people like me:  people expecting to see degenerates having fun.




I was ranting at the Alameda County Mental Health Board meeting.  “Let me know when I’ve used my three minutes,” I tell them, and get started.  I talked about the way the County puts my crazy girl in peril every time they decide to “honor her wishes” and let her wander untraced through the Bay Area shooting meth as an imaginary undercover agent.

A lady who spoke after me used her three minutes to represent a nonprofit working against “stigma.”  Stigma, she said, was the number one problem in the mental health system today.  She said, “I can’t imagine using the word ‘crazy,’ as that speaker did, to describe one of my own relatives.”  If we all respected mental illness as just another way of being, she was saying, the problem–whatever it is–would be mostly resolved.

I’m trying to put my finger now on the number one problem, in our county where responsibility for mental illness is so divided.  What’s D’s number one problem?  Is it that her father molested her and so destroyed her ability to listen to her body when her mind isn’t working?  Is it that she pushes everyone away who tries to help her?  Is it that she loses her ID card and sells her phone?  Is it that she doesn’t believe anything any well-intentioned human being says?  Is it that our libertarian market-driven society has developed a universally available, cheaply produced substance that solves all her problems at once—according to her, and we have to honor her wishes, right?  Because under the new model of public service, the customer–and they call her a customer of health-care services–is always right.

But if she paints her face with lipstick and shaving cream and goes out of the house with a really, really short skirt on, taking the BART direct to the Tenderloin where she is chased from one patch of pavement to another, and where the police treat her like a giant talking rat…I suppose reducing stigma is a good idea, maybe even the place to start.  Maybe the police, or someone who works for San Francisco County,  could ask her nicely why she wants to throw away her brain, body, and soul, and maybe she would answer.




Back Again

Sunday the sun was going down, and I was lifting my granny cart out over the threshold to go to Smart and Final and get coffee and spaghetti.  D walked up the driveway and I changed my plans.  “Can I sleep here?”  She’s thin, sunburned, her cheeks a bronzy pink that superficially looks healthy.  She still has her teeth, and her hair is permed and pink on the ends.  She’s wearing two shirts, new pants wildly patterned with black and white, new black shoes.  Our stray cat-children have no problem finding clothes.  I’m glad to see her; but now, what will happen?

She brings a can of grape soda and a packaged cupcake.  She talks about men, women, a problem, some “fuckers,” an issue.  She talks so soft and fast I can’t hear her, let alone understand her.  I give her a tiny rainbow bouncy ball I found when I was cleaning; she accepts it and puts it in her pocket.  I ask her what county she has been spending time in and whether she has a social worker.  But she is listening to something imaginary below her and to her left, and can’t hear or understand what I am staying.

I tell her, “I was hoping you had a social worker in the City, because there they can sometimes find you a bed to sleep in, even if you are using.  Do you have a social worker?”  She doesn’t seem to understand.  “I told them to watch out for you.”  She is listening hard to something else.  “I told them at Homeless Outreach.  Have you been to Homeless Outreach?”  She jerks as if batting away a fly and shakes her head.

She sits on the edge of the bed and drinks her soda.  Once it’s empty she takes her shoes off and sets them on the floor perpendicular to the bed.

“How are your feet?”

“Stinky.”  No sores on her feet, good.  She is wearing hospital-style non-skid socks.  Has she been in John George?  I check her wrist but see no wristband.  Our cat-children wear hospital wristbands for days on the street, they are not ashamed of them.

She lies down and covers herself.  I drop an extra blanket on her.  I set the laptop to play 1950s YouTube cartoons in her language and set it on the table near her.  She sleeps.  I feel joy and energy; I sweep the floor, I start dinner, I throw out old bills, I find last year’s tax forms.  C is in another city, so  D can sleep all night.

Why doesn’t C understand that D as well as C is my child?  I chose to be C’s mother, and I chose to be D’s mother.  One doesn’t quit being a mother just because one’s child does not hear what you say, or say anything that makes sense, or keep from killing herself slowly.

After a couple hours, though, D awakes and looks through the closet and her suitcase for pants.  She mutters softly again, “I have to be, I have to do, there’s something going on…” Again, I can’t hear enough to make sense of it, even if it does makes sense.  I figure she has to go out and find drugs.  After a few weeks on meth, once her breasts and the fat on her arms are gone, she can’t seem to sleep for more than an hour or two at a time.

The Search for D

UN Plaza stays light for a long time but the light is chill.  My feet and legs hurt and I need to sit on the pedestal of the statue of Bolivar like a tourist, because there aren’t many places to sit in the Tenderloin.  I sit with my back to the sunset and see perspective—the lines of lightposts converge, it’s obvious.

A man sits down next to me.  He sits on a sheet of cardboard that’s sitting on the pedestal like a yoga mat; that makes sense, because the concrete is cold and his butt is scrawny.  The man begins bending forward in the middle, fluid, folding up like a Gumby.  He is sleepy, but instead of lying down, he folds forward.  There is probably a law against lying down around here, but I want him to defy it and lay down before he cracks his head on the pavement.  A vial of medicine drops from his hand and skitters away on the windy bricks.  He raises his head, looks at it and me, and laughs.  I don’t know what about, but I laugh too, because I feel a bond with all these people  I see while looking for D.  His longish hair is brown, not gray, but his face is indented, caved in and squinched as with many people who have used meth.  He is thin and white and young.

A young African-American man comes by and slaps him on the shoulder.  “Bucky, Bucky, I’m your nigger, lay down if you need to.”  Bucky continues to curl forward.  The friend says, “Hey if you fall down and hurt yourself I’m going to come back and kick you in the forehead.”  I point to Bucky’s medicine on the pavement (I’m too tired to go and pick it up) and the young man picks it up and puts it near Bucky on the base of the statue.  I read the label, “Nits B Gone.”

I ask, “Will he be all right?”

“Yeah, yeah, he’s just high.”

Just because he’s high that makes it all right?  I doubt it. That Bucky is high doesn’t mean Bucky isn’t  also sick, crazy, or dying.  “As long as we know what the issue is,” I say snottily, and the friend just laughs.  Again and again Bucky curls almost to his feet, and then straightens up again; he neither lies down nor crashes.

I walk away towards the subway hole to check out the folks shooting up at the other end of plaza, and when I come back Bucky and his friend are both gone.

Now what is D’s issue?  She has two.  She is schizophrenic, she went off the rails when she was 18.  She is a meth addict.  And she has a third that ties the two together:  she has a delusion that she is an undercover researcher working for the FBI testing meth as a cure for mental illness.  If she takes meth every day for three years she will get millions of dollars, help thousands of people, and get meth legalized.  I firmly believe that is what she firmly believes, and that’s why she does the things she does.

So when D goes barefoot, sleeps on the grass in front of Bill Graham auditorium, talks to herself, calls her friends whores and bitches, tells the police to arrest people, and takes meth, what is the issue?  Mental illness?  Drugs?  Loitering?  Who do you call?  Police?  Ambulance?  They don’t care, unless she’s a danger to self or others, like right this minute, like hitting me or stabbing someone, which isn’t common so there is a low chance of anyone witnessing it.  Danger to herself from dirty needles, AIDS, overdose, risk of rape doesn’t count.   Social workers?  She’s in the wrong county today. Or do you just say that she is making a lifestyle choice?

I describe her to many of the people I see, often the women.  A lot of people aren’t sure who she is because there are a lot of homeless young white girls in this area who take meth. “Is she one-legged?”  “Does she limp?”  “Is she cross-eyed?”  “Is she covered with tattoos?”  they ask.  No.  Not yet.  Not the last I saw her; she was 21, well-fed, and bored to death with being in the mental hospital.  So far, most people I talk to have got her confused with someone else.

But in the Homeless Outreach office, I give a very handsome tattooed man one of my flyers, and he knows who she is.  “I knew her last summer.  I am no longer on that path.  But I think she is all right.  She has a knife and she doesn’t let people mess with her.”