The Craziest Thing I've Ever Written
dedicated to my grandmother
I bet you didn't know my uncle is Jesus? He is the Soul Destroyer! He is under surveillance by unknown sources. He yells on public transit that he is GOD! Often, when he forgets or refuses to take his medication he leaves me long rambling phone messages threatening to blast my soul to hell with his super powers! When I finally answer the phone he holds me captive for hours, reciting bible passages. His vile homophobic rants sometimes make me cry. I'm the biggest sinner he knows, his queer niece, and he needs to save my soul before it's too late! I want to hang up and erase his messages.
I no longer recognize this crazy, yelling, incoherent person, yet I know buried deep somewhere inside the madness of his mind, the real him is frantically trying to get out. He desperately needs someone to talk to, who will listen to him, love him through the voices that are in his head. These voices take over his tongue, keep him pacing the floor at night, having full conversations with himself, by himself. These voices encourage him to take strangers home to his one-room government-assisted apartment so he can preach to them the word of God. These newly recruited "disciples" will often rob him of his few precious dollars and his simple possessions, and afterwards they laugh at him, mock him and call him the "Mad Man of London!"
My grandmother has asked me numerous times to write a play, a movie and/or a book about mental health. She has begged me to write about my uncle, write about who he was. But I couldn't. Found my shame got in the way of my crazy love for him. Because before he was the "Mad Man" who prowled London streets barefoot reciting biblical passages, before he was the Soul Destroyer, and way before schizophrenia took over our lives, he was my lovable, handsome uncle Cee.
The man who rewound Thriller nearly twelve dozen times so his daughter and I could learn the words, and he could teach us the dance moves. Cee taught me how to moon walk! He was a brilliant dancer who could mimic every single Michael Jackson move. He was a tall, chocolate, dark brother, with white sparkling teeth, a mischievous chuckle, and the slickest dresser on the block. He made me proud that he was the guy on the block who everyone looked up to because he made it -- made it the legit way. He was a hard worker, sometimes working two, three jobs. He owned his own home by 22, lived in an upscale neighborhood, drove a Porsche, had a beautiful wife, and beautiful kids. He faithfully picked me up every other weekend to take me to his fancy home so his wife could braid my hair in the latest styles. He gave me money for school dinners, ice cream, taught me how to roller-skate backwards! He was a father figure to me, my biggest role model. He sat me down and gave me motivational talks on the value of hard work. I was in awe of him. He had big dreams. Crazy to think I was a true believer. Crazy to think we didn't see crazy coming. But schizophrenia snuck up on him and robbed him of his wife, children, and life. Schizophrenia stole our biggest living dream.
And I am ashamed of my own shame in dealing with his illness. Cee has been my dirty little secret. The person I do not talk about in polite company. Last year, Cee called me a few months before Christmas. He was taking his medication so the conversation flowed more naturally between us, and I was reminded of why I loved him. He expressed to me that he was lonely; he didn't want to spend the holiday season alone in his dingy flat.
So I impulsively invited him to come to Atlanta to spend Christmas with me. Before the words were out of my mouth, I was filled with regret. What would my upscale neighbors think if Cee decided to not take his medication and walk across their fancy, manicured lawns barefoot reciting bible passages? What if he started spewing his message of homophobic hate, loud enough for my neighbors to hear? What if he became emotionally and verbally abusive again? Would I be able to handle his behavior by myself? I knew that if I called him back to renege on my invite this might be the new thing that would cause another one of his "setbacks."
Cee called faithfully every week, excited about our upcoming visit. My stomach turned. Three weeks before Christmas, he was hospitalized. He had stopped taking his medication again and had taken another unwelcome visit to his ex-wife's house. He wanted to see his estranged children. His frustrated ex-wife called the police, and they threw the crazy man back in the hospital. I was relieved. No Christmas visit. My secret was safe again.
However, there has been times when my world and Cee's world have collided and it has been a beautiful collision. When my play," 'da Kink in my Hair," opened in England, I nervously invited Cee to the opening and to a private dinner that was being held in my honor. I will never forget the look on his face, how eager he was to be a part of something, finally a welcomed member of society! He came with my beaming grandmother. He was a bit overdressed for the occasion but looking handsome.
He sat at the table and I held my breath. He was charming, overly chatty with everyone and maybe someone with a keen eye may have noticed that something was a little "off" with him... but he was there, and he was my uncle, and I wanted him to be there to experience my normal. I needed to have this new memory of him, laughing and drinking expensive champagne, talking, eating, feeling accepted, living this life that should have been his. Me, believing that if he was a part of my normal that maybe this would distract him from the voices in his head, the craziness of his world. I wanted to make him forget all that he had lost. Make him feel alive again. It was a beautiful night. I caught glimpses of him, the old and the new Cee, and I shamelessly loved him.
I often talk aloud to myself; sometimes in the shower I have full conversations with myself, by myself, going over my long daily to-do list. I talk to strangers on the bus. My brain never shuts down. Insomnia strikes me often. I pace the floor when I'm stressed. I've been told I over think things. I turn on music in the wee hours of the morning to quiet my thoughts and to stop my brain from reeling. When I catch myself doing these things, I get scared. Is it possible that Cee's illness is going to strike me at any minute?
I constantly worry that there will come a day when my children will no longer wish to see me, when my niece will worry more about what her neighbors will think than about my own wellbeing, that my mother will only talk about me in the past tense, and that people will whisper and stare at me, and call me crazy. And l worry that I will call my family members late at night, threatening to banish all their souls to hell! I wonder if they will they be ashamed of me? Ashamed of their own shame? Maybe. But I hope they will love me through their shame, love me in a passionate, crazy, mad, kind of way.