Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Going to Canada

Her mother called to alert us: Alice was missing.  

I was saddened but not surprised because Alice had a history of missingness. The client/patient/friend has a right to self-determine. If an adult woman wants to stop taking her meds and buy designer luxury items on clearance, there isn’t much any of us can do about it. By the time Alice bought a pair of Donna Karan spike heeled leather boots in eggplant purple, her missingness was already among us. 

Donna Karan spike heeled leather boots in eggplant purple are crazy-fun, not crazy-crazy. But it was a rather unusual fashion choice for Alice. She has a pattern of shopping to excess as her mania ascends. Also, the night she showed up in the boots, she asked me to ride along with her to San Francisco-- a two hour road-trip at midnight.*

A day after Alice’s mother telephoned, an officer from the Berkeley Police Department called. They found my telephone number in Alice’s purse, which had been found in a park that morning by a cop. Alice knew she was slipping into missingness, but she had the presence of mind to write my name and number on a piece of paper and tuck it into her handbag, like Gretel leaving a trail of bread crumbs. I explained to the police officer that she was my friend and had been missing for a few days. I gave the officer her mother’s telephone number and prayed for the most benevolent outcome. The phone rang again.


“Uh, yeah. I think yo gurl is heah.”

“Hello? Who is this?”

“Yeah, like I think yo gurl is heah? She told me to call you.”

The puzzle quickly fell into place and now maybe Alice was only missing a little bit.

“Hi, yes. Her mother is very worried about her; we’re all very worried about her. Where is she? Where are you calling from?”


“Oh. Alice lives in Sacramento. Alice’s mother is in Sacramento. It will take her a few hours to get there. Can you call the police?”

“The Police!!? I'm not finna to call no police. Yo gurl is messed up.”

“I know, she’s very sick. And she might be kind of dangerous. You need to call the police.” I thought of how Alice drove a car off a bridge once, how she set fire to another car once, how she somehow ended up in Canada once—sometimes we jokingly called her mania/missingness “Going to Canada.”

“…I ain't finna to call the police. They gone think I messed with her… She DANGEROUS?!”

“No, no they won’t think that, they won’t think you messed with her. She is bi-polar, she’s very sick. Her mother and family are very worried about her. She needs to go home and have her medicine. But it will take her mother hours to get to you. Please, please call the police because Alice needs help right now.”

“I ain't finna to call the police. I cain't get all up in that. They gon think I messed this gurl up. She been heah all day. When I woke up, she was on the front porch. She look a mess, but I ask her, you okay? She didn’t answer, so I gave her some milk. But now she won’t leave and--”

<<  record scratch  >>

“…You gave her…milk?” I was confused, but found the image of my friend having a wholesome glass of milk instantly comforting.

“Yeah, I thought she high on crack and sometime milk helps…”

My chocolate chip cookies and milk reverie faded away quickly as the word crack snapped me back to reality.  “She is not on crack. She is not on drugs. This is what happens when she is not on drugs. That’s why your calling the police right now is so important.”

“No, no, not gonna do it. You should come and get yo gurl. She gots to go. My lady is getting hella irritated now, it’s gone be a problem. She think something shady goin' on cause yo gurl be actin like a crack-head.”

I took a deep breath and repeated myself. “She’s not on crack. She is very sick in the head, she is crazy. This is what happens when she is not on drugs. She is a danger to herself right now.” He was not going to change his mind. For all he knew, he was speaking with a 17 year old Valley Girl named Susie, and what could Susie possibly know about being a Black Man in Oakland with a crazy woman/crack head on his front porch?

“Can her mother call you?”

“Yeah, she can call me…” He gave me his number. The phone went click and I thought of my friend Alice, crazy and wild haired, on some man’s porch drinking milk. I thought of how Alice and I, during the sane lucid moments, would laugh at tropes like the Tragic Mulatto. I thought of how much intellectual-short hand existed between us as we swam in the same nuances of mixed race identity. We shared politics (Black Nationalist Lip Gloss, I called it. Urban Cupcake said Alice).  We shared hair products. We didn’t need a room with yellow wallpaper at all...

I called Alice’s mother. I explained the situation: somewhat helpful black male with milk and a not unreasonable mistrust of Oakland P.D. Alice's mother would have to drive there, and she would hit rush hour for sure. Alice’s mother called the Good Samaritan in Oakland. As expected, he declined her request to call the police and by the time she arrived in Oakland, Alice was long gone.

A few days later in Berkeley, Alice tackled a young woman to the ground, ran up the street, approached a police officer, grabbed his baton and proceeded to beat him with it. Alice was arrested for assault because Going to Canada is not a crime. Since Sacramento County had disbanded mental health services due to budgetary constraints, Alameda County kept her in jail.**

Alice sent me a letter asking for hair care products. The jail folk considered personal grooming a marker for mental health, but she couldn't take care of herself properly without the right stuff. I sent some deep conditioner and a wide-tooth comb to Alameda County Jail; a few weeks later, she called me collect on my birthday.

My friend was gone, but for now she was no longer missing.

*An orange turtle neck dress is straight up crazy tho. 

** For almost a year. She was in jail for almost a whole year because there were no mental health services available to her.

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