For 20 years, I lived next door to a woman with an altered sense of reality. She was schizophrenic and manic-depressive and rarely on meds. She had times of violence, though it was usually turned on inanimate objects. Sometimes I'd see her taking a toaster or blender or spatula out into the yard where she'd scold or scream or beat the item, leaving them in the yard for a day or two afterward, then picking the item up and taking the it back to the house. I always wondered what was happening in her head. On the few occasions I met her when she was on her meds, she was a kind, soft spoken and shy soul. She's since moved away, and has fallen through the cracks, from what I hear. She's not the subject of this story, however. The person I want to write about may have no clinical mental illness. I don't know. That's the thing...
A few years ago, I met a uniquely artistic soul, like none I've ever known. They're very intellectual, perhaps even a genius. They're gifted in writing and singing. They're generous of spirit. They have a unique and silly sense of humor. With all that going for them I have been confused and concerned that they have been homeless in New York city going on 3 years. Whats more, I am beginning to think they might remain so for the rest of their life. I am also afraid that their lifespan is limited.
Just to be clear, I believe "reality" is a very subjective term, as two people can experience something together yet have completely different ideas of what they saw, or heard, or felt. So, when I say the term, it isn't built on an immovable foundation. Reality shifts, rolls, turns upside down, and can shock you, especially when you think you understand it. For example, I thought I understood the business I've been in since childhood, I even felt secure in my place in that business, but I have been proven naive and ignorant of other's reality. I regret my ignorance. I regret my complacency. My sense of "reality" was incomplete.
As a faulty and imperfect human, I do my best to hold my judgement in check when encountering folks with realities that differ from my own. It's really not my job to tell them my opinion, unless they ask. I do attempt to engage in conversation when a person's actions demean themselves or others, but for the most part, I try to practice being a witness, not a judge, and perhaps I'll succeed if I'm granted more time in this body. But until I met this artist, I never before have known someone who reaches past all of my concepts of behavior or reality. With them, I have no other choice but to be a witness to their experiences.
Almost daily, they write formal emails to extremely prestigious organizations asking for large amounts of money for their artwork, a stay in a penthouse suite for unspecified lengths of time, or for large donations...anything under 10k. They reach out to law enforcement (FBI, NYPD and others) for action on events such as attempted murder, hate crimes, domestic terrorism, identity theft and more.
I know that my friend believes what they write. I know that to them, this is a frightening reality, and that they walk the streets guarding themselves for the next assault. Sometimes I've encouraged them to find help at one of the many NYC shelters, even for a night. They refuse, saying that the shelters are unsafe, and breeding grounds for CoVID and more. I've never been in one (and am grateful for that), so I can't even begin to guess at the conditions of inner city homeless shelters. All I can do is send money when possible so that they can buy a meal.
I also receive their emails, daily. On days when I have a tenuous hold on my sense of self and my place in the world, I delete the emails without reading them. Reading them when I'm feeling unstable or insecure feels like I'm standing on shifting sand.