Déjà Vu

skycross A block from my children's school, there is an apartment building that is rectangular and squat - a brick shoe box with a white portico to make it appear to be something more than it is.

Every day, I drive by it.

Every day, I remember.

It was 1998. I was a new social worker and was making my first home visit on a new case. According to the report, a mentally ill woman had stopped taking her medication and was becoming increasingly disruptive to the other tenants in the building.

That's all I knew.

I parked on the street and walked up to that portico and entered. Her apartment was in the basement so I made my way down the stairs, down a narrow hallway with dim flourescent lighting overhead and found the apartment number. I could hear a woman talking inside and I knocked loudly but no one answered.

I made my way back up the stairs and buzzed the manager's office and explained the purpose of my visit. He accompanied me back down the stairs and, this time, he knocked loudly on the door and announced himself. She still did not answer and I could still hear her inside talking loudly. Or maybe it wasn't her. Maybe it was the television or a loud radio. In 15 years on the job, I never stopped playing this game of doubt, never stopped hoping things would be different than they appeared to be.

The manager turned to me and said, "I'm going to open the door." He knocked one more time and yelled that he was going to open the door and, when there was no response, he did.

She was standing on her dining room table - a small African-American woman in a short black negligee and a wide-brimmed black hat, the kind of hat worn to church. She was shouting, preaching. She made eye contact with me, raised her hands to the heavens and screamed, "I am the Pope! I am a motherfucking preacher! I am the king!"

She was beyond my reach in every sense of the word.

She continued her sermon while I called 911, continued to praise god even as the paramedics loaded her into an ambulance on a transport hold.

I never saw her again and every time I drive by that building I think of her, think of how strange it was that someone she'd never met was present with her in a moment when her mind was fragmented, when her world tilted dangerously towards the unknown.

But she is not the only one I see. I can be driving through a distant suburb and be suddenly overcome with the feeling that I have been there before, seen that very street before and then I will see the house or the apartment building and I will remember.

I will see an elderly woman's Christmas village covered in dust. I will smell fried food and the acrid smell of alcohol on someone's breath. I will see stacks of water damaged books, a couch in disrepair and carpet worn thin by someone who walks the same path through the living room every day. I can close my eyes and remember that the kitchen is in the back and the stairs to the bedroom are on the right.

And I say aloud, "I've been here."

I was there.


This post was written for Just Write. Check out Heather’s post and all the posts of all who joined in this week.