"It's always there, ya
"It's like, it's in me,
and it's gotta come out."
"Sure. I know what you
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."
"Jimmy. Not what,
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
"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."
"Music. It's like it's
in me, and it's gotta come out."
Now I remember what BRIDGES