29 June 2011

Mental illness: There but for the grace of God, go I...

She is in line in front of me at the Dunkin Donuts. It isn't that she has a bad odor drawing my attention to her because she doesn't have one, which is surprising.

It is her oddness.

The way she holds her arms away from her sides, hands dangling, and sways ever so slightly. It's the short brown obviously unwashed hair standing straight up in the back with large flakes of dandruff embedded in it. It's the droopy, dirty, strapless sundress and the dirty white flip flops that make me look at her more closely. Her tan feet are filthy with long, sharp looking toenails that have not seen a clipper in many, many months. I notice that her long, sharp looking finger nails are dirty as well. When her arms are not held away from her sides she plucks and plucks at the skirt of her dress. I'm guessing that she is somewhere in her early fifties, although it's hard to tell. Her face, except for her rapidly blinking eyes, is slack and immobile.

The young girl behind the counter quickly gets the woman in the sundress her two powdered sugar jelly donuts and a large coffee all the while pointedly not looking at the woman or speaking to her except to say "That's three dollars and eighty-two cents."

Donuts and coffee in hand the woman in the sundress makes a beeline to a table with her flip-flops slapping loudly against her filthy feet as she walks.

The young girl behind the counter, obviously relieved that the crazy woman is gone, chatters loudly at me as she takes my order. I take my bottle of water and grab a seat.

From across the restaurant I watch the woman in the sundress. It's hard not to. I am embarrassed to find myself staring, but she doesn't notice. She has dumped the donuts on the table without the benefit of a napkin. The table top is now covered in powdered suger. One of the donuts has a large bite taken out of it. Half of the woman's face is covered in powdered sugar, but she makes no attempt to wipe it off. Doesn't even seem to notice. Her eyes blink rapidly as she chews and she continually plucks at the skirt of her dress. After swallowing she stops blinking and plucking, stands up, grabs the partially eaten donut and makes a beeline to the trashcan. Slap-slap-slap go her flip flops. She throws the donut away, taps the door of the trashcan four times and then slap-slap-slaps her way back to the table to grab the uneaten donut and repeat the whole slap-slap-slap/throwing away/tapping process all over again.

Now other people in the Dunkin Donuts are watching her. It's obvious to them that she's not right in the head and they stare at her. As I am staring. She still doesn't notice.

The remains of her original twenty dollars are on the table next to hers. She grabs a five dollar bill and returns to the counter where she orders another two donuts (same kind) and another large coffee. The same young girl waits on her and is apparently still too embarrassed to look at her. The woman sways and plucks at her skirt until her order is ready. Her sundress is falling down. I am suddenly afraid that the entire Dunkin Donuts is going to be treated to seeing this woman quite naked. Amazingly, the woman notices her dangerously drooping sundress and hikes it up.

Back at her table, the woman in the sundress again dumps the powdered sugar covered donuts on the table. But now she stops. The plucking and the swaying stop. She holds her arms out straight from her sides and looks perplexed. Furroughs her brow. It's obvious that she is confused. Then she suddenly appears upset. Something is wrong, but she doesn't know what. She pulls her arms back in, furiously plucks at her skirt a few times, blinks rapidly and then just about leaps out of her seat to grab another five dollar bill and head back to the counter.

This time she takes her third order of coffee and donuts to a completely different table on the other side of the Dunkin Donuts leaving the mess of her orginal two coffees and second set of donuts on the first table. She also leaves the rest of her money out on the other table. Again she dumps the donuts on the new table. Now she studies them and her current location. A brief smile plays on her face as she picks up one of the donuts to take a large bite apparently much more satisfied with this table and these donuts. She chews, blinks rapidly, and plucks at the skirt of her dress.

I pull myself away from the spectacle of this seriously mentally ill woman because I have to get myself to work. But not before I sit in my car for a few minutes breathing deeply, wondering if I should do something, not knowing what to do for the woman in the sundress, feeling guilty about not knowing what to do, and then simply being thankful for my life.

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