From dirty cookies to delusional behavior
Steve is not, in any way, mean, stupid, selfish or evil. Simply put, Steve is crazy.
I’m not sure if it is proper to use the word “crazy.” I think crazy might be a term like “retarded.” Retarded used to be an OK word to use, but not anymore.
Several years ago I wrote a story for a magazine that I thought was a sensitive and compassionate treatment of a retarded man who worked for my father.
I received a letter from a woman whose son was “developmentally disabled.” She took me to task for my insensitivity.
Sometimes, it seems that people care less about what you say than they do about the words you use to say it. I no longer use the “R-word.”
That said, let me apologize to any crazy people reading this. I mean no disrespect, but my old friend, Steve, is definitely nuts.
Steve wasn’t always nuts. It’s funny – as soon as I typed that sentence, I realized that maybe he was.
As I look back, one of my earliest hints of Steve’s condition was his insistence of burying food, specifically cookies.
When we were little kids, Steve would bury Oreos in the playground. I don’t mean packages of wrapped cookies – I mean half-eaten cookies under piles of dirt, I assumed to be eaten later.
His mother would put a sandwich, apple and cookies in a bag for his lunch. We would sit together on the playground to eat our food.
When he thought I wasn’t looking Steve would scoop out a little hole and cover a cookie or two with an inch of dirt. I never saw him go back to eat his snacks, but when I tried to, they were always gone.
When I look for a cause of my old friend’s current condition, I can’t blame his upbringing. Like many of us growing up back then he had a stern father who worked a lot and drank too much.
He had an older sister and younger brother who did not bury food and who grew up to live normal lives.
When Steve was a kid, he was peculiar, and as a juvenile, he was wild. It wasn’t until he hit his late 20s that he became a little scary.
After flunking out of community college, he seemed lost. When I’d return home a few times a year, I’d find him working at different jobs and on a new quest. He seemed to be searching for meaning, answers, and I would guess, stability – always on a different path.
He left the Catholic Church to join the Krishnas. Soon after that, he grew his hair back and was born again.
That lasted until he learned about reincarnation. I recall a night almost 30 years ago when he and I sat on park bench drinking bad wine while Steve spoke emphatically about his life as a soldier during the middle ages.
Steve’s third decade brought an escalation of strange behavior. His longtime girlfriend and two-time fiancee left him for the last time.
She told me she just couldn’t put up with his mood swings. A day later, Steve told me she only loved him for his money. At the time he was unemployed and living in a trailer.
It was a few years after that I, like most of his old friends, and even his family, began avoiding him.
His peculiarities turned into paranoia, his opinions became rants and he seemed always to be angry.
According to his older sister, Mary, he has been though therapy, psychiatric care and rehab several times over.
Most everybody knows someone whose elevator doesn’t stop on all the floors. Suffice to say, when he wasn’t ranting he was raving, when the government wasn’t placing microchips in his brain, they were tapping his phones.
He not only believed in space aliens, but communicated with them; soon after, they began stalking him.
He once called me at four in the morning to say that the CIA interviewed and asked him about me – I certainly hope he was delusional.
Mental illness is a sickness like cancer and AIDS. But whereas a physical disease usually motivates compassion, the symptoms of a mental ailment cause many of us to draw away.
The truth is, though I’d like to consider myself compassionate and generous when it comes to my friends and family who have suffered through health challenges, a few years ago, I stopped taking Steve’s phone calls.
I don’t know what caused Steve to go from burying his cookies to being under surveillance from space aliens.
If there is any culpability it would be for those of us who have neither the energy nor the inclination to provide comfort. Call me crazy, but I think of that many of us are guilty
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America,” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA and KSMT radio and read in several mountain publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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