Yesterday was a hard day. By the time evening arrived I felt like I had been beaten up. All day. I found myself wanting the simple comfort of a friendly voice. And so I called my friend, Deanna.
When she came on the line she sounded blurry, like she often does when I call. But within a few sentences she was there, with me, also as often happens. But in spite of the fact that everything seemed to be going as usual, this conversation was different. Usually I call because I want to be a friend to Deanna. Last night I called because I needed her to be a friend to me.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh, pretty well. Same as usual,” she said.
“Were you busy?”
“No, just … I can’t find the words…” she said after a bit.
“It’s okay, I just needed to hear a friendly voice,” I said.
She laughed, and I felt immediately better. Deanna has one of those laughs that can light up a room. “Well, I think I can do that,” she said.
And then we talked. We just talked. And when Deanna couldn’t capture the words she needed we just listened to each other breathe, and after a while we would find something else to talk about.
As many of our conversations do these days, our conversation last night meandered back and forth between worlds and realities. Sometimes we were in hers, and sometimes we were in mine. And it didn’t really matter where we were at any given time, under it all I felt the love that we have for each other, and I knew that, no matter how far Deanna travels, no matter how far her world’s orbit may swing from mine, that there will always be this tesseract of love, our wormhole in mental and emotional space, the conduit that keeps our crazy elliptical orbits from spinning completely away from each other.
Our conversation was different because last night it wasn’t Deanna needing me–it was me, needing Deanna. And it reminded me again how much she has taught me about the nature of friendship–and of reality–over the years.
In the beginning, right after Deanna was hospitalized, I found myself dividing what she said into two categories: “real” and “delusional.” I thought that “healing” would mean that the “real” stuff squeezed out the “delusional” stuff. I was wrong. As we have traversed the last few years together I have come to see her “delusions” as her way of reaching a deeper, more painful reality, one her conscious mind couldn’t bear. I have learned to listen not to her words, but to the fears and pain behind them–the fears and pain she could never acknowledge when she was “all right”–the fears and pain that, I think, played a huge part in breaking her.
I am not a mental health professional. I am only her friend. But, because I am her friend, I can see that many of her “delusions” are simply parables for the sometimes terrible realities of her life. When she speaks of the woman who raised her “not being her mother, but someone who took her mother’s place,” I can agree. Deanna was indeed raised by a woman who was not a “mother” to her in the best sense of the word. Deanna’s explanation, that another woman replaced her true mother, is her effort to make sense of one of the deepest, most painful truths of her life. When she speaks of family members stealing from her, lying about her, and trying to kill her I think of the pain of rejection she felt when she lost her job working for the church that was everything to her–and that, in fact, frequently referred to itself as her “church family.” Her “delusion” is allowing her to face that pain in symbolic terms, and over the years I have learned to respond to the pain and anguish behind her words, rather than the words themselves. Instead of trying to convince her that her relatives are not indeed framing her for murder I simply offer to be a character witness, and reassure her that when the judge comes to know her he will see that she is not capable of such things. And then we move on, and she is comforted.
Deanna is teaching me that we humans are more than just fleshy machines that move through a static world. We are not creatures who exist in a single, simple reality. We are creatures of air, of fire, of symbol, and of story. For the last few years, Deanna has moved beyond living her biography. These days, she is writing myth in the purest sense of the word–she is finding the deep truth that has lain below her waking world, and she is giving it voice.
It’s not easy. There are good days and bad days. Neither of us knows if she’ll ever be well enough to move beyond her current sheltered world. But that’s okay. In these years that Deanna has been “confined,” her spirit has traveled vast distances. It is still traveling. She has been to places most of us will never go. She has been to places none of us will ever want to go. But in all that journeying, even on the very worst days, there are two central truths. She has always remembered me. And we are still good friends.