"It's always there, ya know."


"It's like, it's in me, and it's gotta come out."

"Sure. I know what you mean."

That's a lie. The woman I'm talking with is schizophrenic, and I have no idea at all what she means.

"Sometimes it hums."


"Yeah. Sometimes."

"What hums?"

"Jimmy. Not what, really. Who."

Her name is Brenda. She is a 38 year-old white woman living in a rural area of west Tennessee, which she pronounces "Tennethee." Besides being schizophrenic, Brenda is also addicted to methamphetamine and has lost most of her teeth

"Hums what, like songs?"

"Yeah. 'Rock the Boat', remember that song?"

Brenda sings "Rock the Boat", a one-hit wonder from the seventies.

"Our love is like a ship on the ocean we've been sailing with a cargo full of love and devotion...Jimmy likes that song."

Brenda and I are sitting in the dayroom of a mental health center, and I am here with an organization called BRIDGES. BRIDGES is a volunteer group that provides social and community-related services to the mentally ill. It is also a poorly devised acronym; no one in the organization can ever remember what "BRIDGES" stands for.

"Does Jimmy talk, or just hum?"

"Oh Jimmy talks. Talks a lot. Jimmy tells me what to play."

Again, I have no idea what she's talking about.

"What to play?"

"Yeah. I always wanted to play the piano. Can't afford a piano, but I was at the thrift store 'while back."

Brenda is wearing an army-style jacket. She reaches into a pocket.

"I found a harmonica."

She takes a breath and plays a quick riff on a Hohner Golden Melody harmonica.

"Only cost a $1.50."

She is proud, and obviously wants to perform.

"Play me something."

Brenda looks at the ceiling and mumbles, in what I imagine is a brief consultation with Jimmy.

Then she begins.

She's playing "Me and Bobby McGee" and other people from other parts of the center are streaming into the dayroom, staff members, clients, sane, straight, gay, crazy, black and brown and white and we're all singing "Me and Bobby McGee" along with Jimmy and Brenda and her buck-fifty harp and it speeds up and slows down and stops and everyone applauds and Brenda, in her glory, smiles.

"I play better now most of my teeth are gone."

She laughs.

"Music. It's like it's in me, and it's gotta come out."

Now I remember what BRIDGES stands for.

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