The first person I managed in a professional capacity had issues. Not like people say ‘my first roommate had issues’ or ‘that dude has issues.’ She heard voices.
Introducing myself on our first day together and explaining what she would be doing, I mentioned I liked to listen to music while I work. Courteous, I asked what she liked. Slowly, determining if she could trust me, she said she never listened to music. Because that is when the voices start.
This had been a part of her life for more than 20 years. Devoutly Christian, she often prayed. Then God spoke back. And so she was stuck. Born a couple hundred years too late to be an oracle and a bit too soon to be understood by our still-early flirtation with the complexities of the human mind.
She came from a good family. Doctors and lawyers. Surgeons and politicians. She was in her second year of a good law school when she was diagnosed. Since then she lived on what the system could provide and found ways like this volunteering gig to stay engaged and a part of something. She had a great laugh and a good sense of humor. And teeth that needed fixing, crooked and stained yellow from her one true joy in life – unfiltered cigarettes which she chain smoked.
Later I found out she was married. He too was schizophrenic. And if he did not listen to music the voices would start.
Unfortunately without music, he could become violent. And so they lived across the hall from each other, dancing daily against their own limits, pushing what they knew they could take out of love and loyalty.
He could go without music for about 40 minutes. She could bear it for 30. And so they would switch off. He would come to her place for a bit. Then they would go to his. Usually a couple hours a day before their minds were exhausted. For 15 years.
She joked that it was about quality, not quantity.
One day she came in and he had beaten her. Stayed too long over a meal and lost it. Saw her as something she wasn’t and broke a couple teeth, blackened an eye and split her cheek. It was not the first time.
The government locked him up and for weeks we talked about divorce. Safety. The fear that he might not stop the next time. She was angry and scared and disappointed. She took him back because he was the only constant, no matter how fluid, that she knew. Because they believed they knew each other in ways no one else could.
We spent several months together at that clinic and I certainly learned a lot. Children’s mental health. Serving kids who had discovered their difference from humanity earlier than she had. Or who were abused. Hurt. The police came through a lot when a parent showed up and we all were locked in our offices until they left.
She kept on filing, I kept on writing the newsletter. Sharing stories of success, hope and promise to keep us funded. Profiling the research done in our building like one discovery that children on a certain anti-depressant could not cry. A nightmarish side effect in a world where kids are expected to do so.
There was a management change and I left. I kept up with her for a while. Helping her get a new job because I was the one she trusted and the new boss couldn’t stand her. We drifted apart as I went overseas. Perhaps we could email if she used computers. But she doesn’t. They are like music to her.