Did that suck you in? Engage you in a way that made you want to read on? I get it. I totally do. Because, Jay, the schizophrenic friend I made at my book signing this weekend, dropped the same line on me, and I was stunned with intrigue.
Jay is a sixty-one year old man, who by all accounts appears normal. I sat outside of Breakwater Books on the green in downtown Guilford, and Jay rode by on his bike. The apple cider and blueberry cake caught his eye, and he seemed disappointed when he learned that these items were merely a ruse to lure in passersby.
"Is this for free?" Jay asked. I thought he was talking about my book, so I responded with a polite, "no, I am signing the books that I sell though."
"Oh, is this your book?" He asked of the paperback bound object on display beside the blueberry cake.
Jay dismounted his bike and introduced himself, shook my hand, and then asked if he could have some apple cider.
"Sure," I said.
"I've had four beers, and that makes me a little jittery," he explained.
"Oh, were you at the fair?"
"No. I want to go, but I need to save my money," he began. "I need to be able to get out of here fast if something happens."
At this point I realized that Jay struggled with some sort of mental illness. I offered a piece of the blueberry cake, but he declined because, "I was going to go get some french fries."
The fries never happened, though. Not for a couple hours at least. I know because Jay stayed and chatted with me for nearly and hour before the event coordinator had a chance to come outside and offer me some relief.
I don't mean to imply that I needed relief from Jay because I found our conversation quite fascinating. Jay did have a one night stand--he and a girl went skinny dipping--very naughty, he knows. That was the last time he really fooled around with a girl. He rode the Greyhound, and his sister Annie lives in Madison. His father had cancer, and they cut him open and put a bit bubble inside him. His parents were really interesting people, and they drank bloody Marys on Sunday mornings. Jay is not supposed to drink alcohol, but the alcohol helps to quiet the voices and make him less anxious. He doesn't tell his probation officer that he drinks, but "they" are going to start selling the 25 oz bottles of Budweiser soon.
I peppered Jay with questions, and at one point I asked him if he suffered from schizophrenia. He willingly confessed yes, and went on to tell me about his medications, his living arrangements, his trips to Argentina and Venezuela, and all about his life. A couple of times he apologized for monopolizing my time and realized that he was probably preventing other people from stopping. I could have agreed and found a way to politely ask him to leave, but I felt sorry for him and had a genuine interest in hearing his tales.
When I asked why he was on probation, he admitted that he had inappropriately touched a woman, and I felt a little uncomfortable about that. I felt uneasy when he began complimenting me and telling me that I looked like an ex-girlfriend, but I didn't want to offend him, so I kept listening, kept talking, kept questioning. Then Jay confided that he wished that his parents had known what was going on with him when he was younger because "I could probably be doing something better with my life right now." Moments later he said, "I wish I had done something I could be proud of with my life."
After my talk with Jay, the event coordinator moved my table inside, but Jay remained seated on the bench watching the world go by, and the anxiety of my own mind spun fantastical tales of the potential danger I was in with Jay seated right outside. He had a bike, and I was on foot. Was I safe? Would he try to follow me? Would anyone notice if he did?
I've often wondered, at what point do the voices in our heads speak loudly enough to label a person mentally ill? Were my thoughts just "nervous" as opposed to "paranoid"? I tried to force my memory to record every second of my conversation with Jay because he was so unabashed in what he was willing to share with me. It was nerve-wracking, fear-inducing, and entertaining all at once. So, while Jay got to recount his one night stand, all I had was one book sold. To my husband's aunt.