“I shouldn’t have stayed away so long,” I thought as soon as I got to Pathways. On my way in I gave Bonnie some old nail polish I found while cleaning out my vanity that morning.
Bonnie came over to the table as I set up and sat down. She showed me her painted nails.
“I just put it on over my old polish. I was too lazy to take it off.”
I didn’t bring any remover.
“I’m not up to coloring today. When are you offering jewelry?” she asked.
“Maybe next month. I don’t have enough beads to do it once a month.” I had decided earlier that month to buy cheap painted glass beads and stretchy cord in order to have beadwork once in a while. They’d been clamoring about it for months.
“Can’t you use the plastic ones in the back?”
“If you don’t mind plastic I’ll do it once a month. How’s the second Tuesday sound?”
“Great. Thank you so much. I bought 2 stretchy bracelets from Dollar Tree.” They were pretty. They had cobalt blue crystals. It doesn’t take much to make them happy.
A man of about sixty came over to the table. “I want to draw. My brother in Kissimmee paints, but he’s too far away.”
He lifted a piece of folded card board and said, “I’m Jesus. I design games.” Jesus’ game was folded card board that must have come from a side of a box. At first I thought it would say, “Hungry. Please help.” It had crude concentric circles in each corner with the phrase “Galactic warriors” in each corner and a larger circle in the center whose outer circle was a compass and multiple ellipses in the center of that circle.
“What are the ellipses for?” I asked.
“The galaxy.” He said it as if I should know. “I have a dozen more at home.”
“Do you want poster board to draw more of your games?”
I don’t know why preferred a cardboard box to a piece of poster board in order to make his games look more pleasing. I should’ve asked, but he might have interpreted it as criticism, so I didn’t.
He leafed through pictures I always brought for coloring. “My sister would love this Mayan Aztec picture.”
He effused about how beautiful the coloring pictures were, but he didn’t see that the poster board would make it easier to see his games.
“Can I take a picture of your game so I can put it on my blog?”
“What’s a blog?”
“It’s like an online essay. I write one about Pathways.”
“If I let you take a picture someone might steal my idea.”
“They won’t. By the way, what are the rules of your game?”
“It’s about the forces of good and evil.”
“Can you tell me a little more?”
“No. I don’t want anyone stealing my ideas when you put it in that essay.”
“Fine. If I show only the picture of your game without writing about the rules then no one will be able to steal your idea.” I handed him a release. “If I show a picture of your game I have to have you sign a release. It says that the image is your property and you’re only allowing me to show it. It protects you by having a statement that it’s your work with your name on it.”
“If I sign it, will you give me a copy and write the address of your whatever so my brother can show me? My brother’s a retired systems engineer.”
“I can’t get to the copy machine in the office. I don’t want to bother the staff. How about you sign another one and you’ll have your own copy. I’ll write the address of my blog on it.”
I took a few pictures.
“I just want other people to see how creative you are,” I told him.
“So where are the board pieces?” I asked.
“I don’t have any. I could use checkers.”
Some people with what’s euphemistically called “thought disorders” – people who experience delusions and hallucinations – have the same space alien theme in their psychosis. Maybe since Jesus was making games he wasn’t delusional. The CIA theme is another one that I hear about. It’s never the NSA and always the CIA. That may change since Edward Snowden’s release of information about the NSA, but I doubt it. Many of them don’t pay attention to the news. Only the ones who think the TV is transmitting personal messages to them would get delusions about the NSA. I’ve never had that kind of delusion, but I’ve had ones about being a muse. I’ve heard voices when psychotic so I understand how hard it is for some of them to function with substandard care. Poverty makes it worse. It adds stress, which triggers episodes. Many studies have found this to be true. I’ve seen it myself. The difference is huge between Pathways’ clients and the more economically stable members of my bipolar support group.
Jesus picked up National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines.
“Can I take these home and bring them next week?” he asked.
“I won’t be here next week. You have to bring it back today.”
He returned to looking through the coloring pictures.
“Can I have some of these to take home?”
“Sure. As much as you want. I can replace them.”
Theo came over and grabbed “Wired” magazine and a piece of neon orange poster board. He cut out words and pictures from the magazine and contemplated where to put them.
I never noticed that he is balding. He always seemed young to me. He must be my age and I never noticed the deep furrow on his forehead.
I never looked close enough because I was so busy writing notes about what they do.
A thirty something black woman stitched her own light purple seed beads into a bracelet. She had one of those plastic boxes with compartments for hardware or crafts.
She stopped working on her bracelet and picked out a yellow neon board and wrote the name “Monique” in huge blue letters. The combination of ink and board made the letters dark green. She decorated the letters and said nothing.
Theo rummaged through my supplies and took a pair of reading glasses. There were only two pairs left. I needed to get more of them.
Jesus took a bunch of butterfly pictures.
Theo looked through “Cat Fancy.”
“I have animal pictures in this folder so take a look at these,” I told him.
He looked through the folder. He started on another neon orange collage and cut out a picture of two kittens sleeping. “I love cats. These are so cute.”
I never critique their work. I thank them for participating, but I noticed that Theo needed another image at the top of his first collage.
Eunice asked, “Can I color this?” It was a butterfly picture.
“That’s what they’re there for.”
“Jody I’m so glad you’re back. I missed you.” Her comment made me feel good. She was talking about when I worked for Pathways nine years ago.
“I missed you too.”
Theo added the words, “Love all living things” to his first collage. It made it look much more balanced.
After I finished up, I spoke to Nelson, Pathways’ founder.
“Is there was any way to vary the menu?”
“We’re already doing it. Albert quit because he got too old and now our cook goes to Second Harvest. She bought 50 pounds of ground beef and 50 pounds of chicken for .15 a pound. Munchie has an ability to improvise, but since Albert was doing the shopping she didn’t have control over what to buy.”
When I first arrived, Nelson had stocked the volunteer closet. Members who volunteer to help clean up get canned and boxed food after they finish. We did the same when I worked there.
“They told me today they don’t mind using the plastic beads so I’ll let them bead once a month. I got cheap beads from Fire Mountain Gems a few days ago. I keep meaning to write an email to Fire Mountain Gems asking for a donation, but it’s hard to make myself do what I want to do sometimes.”
“I have that problem every day,” Nelson concurred.
“I know. It’s like that myth Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill,”
“Exactly. I didn’t know how to pronounce Sisyphus until you just said it. I read a lot, I know what the words mean, but I don’t know how to pronounce them. I know the myth. He pissed off the gods and was punished by having to roll the boulder uphill every day. Are you sure that’s how it’s pronounced?”
“I think so. You can always Google ‘pronounce…’ and the word.”
“That’s way too much work.”
I noticed Nelson’s office still had the Freud action figure on the wall. I can’t imagine where he found it. I should’ve asked him. He often wears funny t-shirts that joke about mental illness. These shirts are meant to caricature mentally ill people, but they reflect Nelson’s and Pathways’ clients’ reality – as well as my own. He didn’t wear one of his “The voices tell me…” shirts that day, but when I worked there he wore them all the time. Today, as usual, he had his ratty sport coat draped over the office chair he was sitting in. He’s had that thing ever since I met him 12 years ago.
“Your blog is like a newsletter for Pathways,” he told me.
It sort of is. I would spend more time there, but I never knew if it was going to make me feel better or worse. Earlier that day I didn’t want to go there, but I did and it was a great day.
“Listen, since the TV room burned down I’ve seen people with blankets pulled over their heads so you can’t see who they are. A picture of that would drive home how hard it is for them.”
“I think you have to ask their permission.”
“Then I won’t bother taking a picture. I don’t want to disturb them.”
“Tell you what, send me an email that I can forward to our lawyer Mike and see what he says.”
“Ok. Great. Well, I better go. I have to go home and write some notes about today.” I took a picture of all the stuff Nelson had taped to his office door on my way out. It’s always been there.
Nelson’s office door