My camp is 60 percent mentally ill. The spectrum ranges from violent psychopaths (dudes who rape and stab and make me grateful there’s such a thing as maximum security) to zoned-out convalescents whose lives consist of drooling and taking thorazine.
The kid in the next bunk is neither. His name is Jimmy and he’s from the north side of Jacksonville. He spends his days autographing the faces of celebrities in OK magazines and babbling these outlandish stories to himself. “This is my Uncle Leroy from the Bahamas” (George Clooney). “This is the detective that busted me with 40 bricks” (Donald Trump).
It used to drive me crazy. The mental immersion required to write a book demands silence and space to think, not a running sink of psycho-dribble 24/7. But lately I’ve been embracing it as a kind of right-brain exercise to get the creative juices flowing. When I get stuck, I’ll drop my pen, look at him and say, “My father was a swordfighter in Lebanon.”
Jimmy: “Mine too. They fought naked aliens together in the war.”
Me: “Those must be the same aliens that kidnapped me and trained me in martial arts.”
Jimmy: “How do you think you got that scar on your head?”
And around and around we’ll go until I fall back into my novel-in-progress and he to his celebrity gossip rag. “This is my ex-wife” (Caitlyn Jenner).
But today, something different happened. When I asked him if his mom was a Russian bullfighter on ice, he shook his head and looked at me with clear eyes. “My momma killed herself when I was little. I saw her do it.”
Then he turned the page and resumed his elaborate babble. It could have just been more BS but it sure didn’t feel like it. If it is true, it’s unfathomable that any kid should go through that. There’s a reason why people withdraw inward and batten down the hatches. Nobody is born bad. We are each of us a tapestry of our life experiences, influences, and impressions. We are all grown children, some of us with heartbreaking backstories.