Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Artistic and mentally ill and homeless in Cheyenne

What happens when you go to an art opening and you run into an old family friend who has descended so far into mental illness that she is homeless?

Her name is the letter A. I know her real name but I can't bring myself to use it. I don't know what's going to happen to her and wonder what I can do about it.

On Thursday, I attended the opening of the new Hynds Building gallery space featuring six of our finest artists. I was perusing Georgia Rowswell's fabric work when a woman in black sidled up to me. She wore a big floppy hat and a black coat over a leotard top and jeans. I knew her right away. She once worked at the coffee shop across the street from the Hynds. She's a local, went to school with my son. She has a son, whom I remember as a elementary school kid. A is a talented artist and musician.

I hugged her. She started crying. "You recognized me," she said through tears. I asked her what was going on. She said her 12-year-old son had run away, everyone was plotting against her, and last night, as she slept in an alley, a man urinated on her.

I was shocked. It skewed my evening art adventure.

As A told her tale, I realized how far she had sunk into despondency. When I say that, I mean mental illness. She had no place to stay, although she told me that some guy had let her use his apartment but other guys kept hitting on her. This is a good-looking woman in her 30s. I am old enough to be her father or grandfather. She and my 32-year-old son used to hang out in the same artsy crowd.

Isn't it dangerous out on the streets for a homeless woman? I suggested she go to the homeless shelter. She told me that she had been banned but that was OK with her because all the people there wore pentagrams and were Satanists. She couldn't go into most of the downtown businesses because she had been banned for various reasons which I was just beginning to understand.

She said she was hungry so I steered her to one of the food tables. She ate hummus and crackers. Filled her traveling cup with punch. "For later," she said. Other people came up to talk to us but quickly veered away when they saw my companion. A looked like an artsy person but people seemed to know to steer clear. She was known. How come I didn't know? Where had I been? Retired, I guess. Old and out of the way.

Meanwhile, my phone kept buzzing. My daughter was texting from an ER at a hospital in Fort Collins. She had experienced a bad reaction to the anaesthesia used in Wednesday's ECT treatment in Boulder. I was caught up in one of those texting rounds when everyone seems to be talking over each other. I was worried that I would have to rescue my daughter from the ER and bring her home. There had been plenty of calls and texts like this during the past few years. Sometimes my wife and I went to her aid. Sometimes we did not, as she has spent time in recovery centers in L.A. and Chicago.

I felt bad for A, but kept thinking, "Hey, I have my own problems." It was clear by now that A was homeless because she did what many mentally ill do. They elude available help because they are paranoid or schizophrenic or drug-addicted or an alcoholic or any combination of these things. The helpers are out to get her because they tell her what to do and how to behave. She freaks out and hits the streets. She sleeps in an alley and a guy pisses on her.

I am upset because I know this person to be a sane, creative person, a single mom who took care of her son, at least when I knew her. I took the last resort and offered her money, I had $100 in my pocket that I was going to spend on drinks or a small art piece. I gave her $40. She said it would get her food and maybe help with a room. I was going to ask if she was going to spend it on drugs or booze. But I didn't have the heart.

As I walked her out of the gallery, we passed a musician and his son. They were homeless themselves at one time. The musician plays his guitar on street corners and the farmer's market. He took one look at A, grabbed his son and hurried off. This was odd as it is usually what I feel like doing when I see him.

I told A that I had to go because my daughter might need me down in Fort Collins. I told her that my daughter was having ECT treatments. She panicked, told me not to do that as it can erase your brain. She then turned her attention to The Hole on Lincolnway hidden behind the Atlas Theatre banner. She pointed to the corner of the rubble-strewn hole. "I used to make a fire there -- it's out of the wind," she said. OK. We walked on. We ran into a downtown entrepreneur known for his libertarian rock 'n' roll roots. He asked what I was doing. "Visiting with an old friend," I said. He shook my hand, looked askance at A. He then disappeared into the Crown Bar. "He doesn't like me," she said."I'm banned from his store."

I got to my car and got in. I said good-bye, said I would meet her a 5 the following evening across from the gallery. I didn't go, as I was taking my daughter to an ECT treatment in Boulder. While there, her psychiatrist admitted her to the hospital for a 72-hour hold. She has been self-harming and threatened to do more. I left her there and headed back to Cheyenne on my own. I carried with me that old sinking feeling, that my daughter will never get better.

On the streets of Cheyenne is a homeless 30-something woman. She once was a family friend.

My mentally ill daughter is not homeless but could be. How come she seeks out help and A does not? All mental illnesses are not alike. A does not equal B. My daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, severe depression and borderline personality disorder. She can hold intelligent conversations. She is a musician and is a talented painter. She cuts her arms with razors.

I read the news today in The Denver Post. It was about a 13-year-old Latina nicknamed Bella in Thornton . She hung herself while her family gathered downstairs making fajitas to celebrate her sister's fiance's birthday. Bella had been the target of cyber-bullying and just couldn't take it anymore.

Even in death, this life doesn't make any sense.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Oh, the pain of helplessness and not knowing. Of feeling and seeing and sensing the chaos and being frightened and, yes, repelled by it. I can only commiserate since I have no answers.

And share a quote that sometimes helped me...
"You cannot save people. You can only love them."