Of late, a woman with schizophrenia (or some similar illness) has become almost a regular on the same bus I take to and from work. As you might guess, she creates quite a stir when she engages in a conversation with herself, and the looks she gets from people when her voice rises range from the 'what's the matter with her?' to 'uh, oh, I had better get off this bus.'
I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit I had both those thoughts and others.
I've heard people under their breath mock her; words such as "crazy" and "loony" have reached my ears. I once saw another woman take her index finger, point it to her head and spin it (the universal sign for indicating you think someone is nuts).
I'll call the schizophrenic woman annoying, and I admit I cannot come up with a word that better describes her. It's safe to say if you asked most people, they'd prefer she simply got off the bus and allowed everyone, again undisturbed, to return to whatever it was they were doing.
We'll call that reaction an example of our society predisposed to marginalizing the outsider. I'm guilty of being part of that majority mentioned above who get on the bus alone, smile and wave to a few people, and for the most part want to be left alone with their book, newspaper or musical device. That society is certainly not an easy place for this woman.
But I cannot describe her as dangerous. I've never seen her turn on anyone verbally or otherwise, and I don't think she has been physically abusive to herself. There are certainly no outward signs of it, though I confess I try not to look at her.
I wondered today as I scooted off the bus, running a bit too close for my comfort to missing a planned meeting at my son's school, what becomes of this woman during the roughly 23 hours a day I don't see her.
Does she have any friends? Do members of her family spend any time with her? How does she manage to live alone (and I'm presuming she does)? How complete is the medical care she receives? Does she regularly take whatever medicine is prescribed to her?
Does anyone care?
And as I turned the corner, I saw her get off at the next stop and walk across the street. If you didn't know her, you'd have thought she had a clear purpose in mind. That she was your typical probably late-40s woman living in a quiet Pittsburgh suburb, probably a wife and mom.
I knew better. I felt sorry for her. A moment later, a car whooshed by me and I quickly returned to my purposeful walk.
So, does anyone care?