"How ya doin?"
Instinct, habit, without thinking though the warning bell had already been sounding from the moment I first noticed him approaching, the barely conscious registering of his queasy body language.
"Fine," I said.
He sat down next to me, on the hot black bench where I was waiting for the bus. He held a package of cigarettes in his hand, trying repeatedly to fish one out. Tapping repeatedly on his wrist. Needless repetition. He was thin, feverish and untethered. Completely off. Schizophrenic. A tyrannizer of the normal.
"Are you a good sport or a spoiled sport?"
Is there an answer? Best to look away. I'm not really here. I have a hard enough time engaging with the self-possessed. But empathy kicks in. I want, and I'm probably thinking this later, as the bus is pulling away and I'm looking at him still sitting on the bench, still talking to the me that is no longer there, to bring him back, as though he surely left it at some point, to sanity. A wave of my hand, a lift of the curse, a bestower of miracles. "Return to yourself," I'd say with a sorcerer's flourish and there he'd be, intact, bewildered by his new clarity...apologetic and a little embarrassed. "No worries," I'd say. Instead there's this.
"It's like....it's like your watch. Like the glass on your watch and when you walk you can smash right into it. Like the glass inside you."
At which point the bus arrives, curing me of my agitation, of my delusions, of the rubbing up against madness. It's only a few seconds, this absurd interaction. But it's part of the lingering accumulation of mental health disasters, of humanity still breathing but gone to husk, that nag and haunt me and our entire approach to mental health in the U.S. So I'm left with clumsy empathy wanting to offer a line, to pull him back, to bring him within proximity of right where I am now, where reason is, for now, firmly tethered, and where my agency meshes with those I love and is met, a million times, by their reassurance--their reinforcement.