I drive down Merrimon Avenue every single day usually processing a laundry list of things I need to do, grocery items needed for the day or some other element necessary for the running of our bed and breakfast. People watching along the drive provides an opportunity to observe the souls of Asheville as they move through their day.
There is a woman in my path on Merrimon Avenue. She is only one of many mentally ill folks making the streets of anytown, USA their home since the government decided they could not fund the programs once helping them through their illnesses to stake a claim on their lives. She pulls her belongings in a wheeled tote while holding another bag as well in her other hand. She is disheveled, always has a raincoat on and is generally screaming so loud that I hear her clearly even with the windows up. She is obviously involved in discourse with the unseen more times than not. It is never peaceful in nature as evidenced by both her strident body movements and desperate, pained expression. She invades my thoughts often even when she is no where in sight. I wonder if she is warm, I wonder if she has had anything to eat, had any place to take a shower. I wonder where night will find her and if she will be safe.
Once, I observed her on a particularly difficult day and I pulled my car over thinking I would approach her in an effort to help. I lost my nerve once pulled over fearing that in her clearly delusional state she might perceive me as an unfriendly force and react in kind. My fear of being injured disabled my desire to assist. I know other people see her too. She is likely in the thoughts of many. Our thoughts will not help her and likely she lives her life so beleaguered by the voices of the unreal, she has little time to seek any reality of her own thought, no less have any belief that she may be in the thoughts of others. Confusion, fear and her illness are eating her alive as she walks among people not so very different than she is, save her illness. Though I don’t know her, I know I have failed her and in failing her, I have failed some humanity test where there may be no real answers.
Patti and Gary Wiles, Innkeepers