Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Todd Among the Nightingales by Mikael Covey

Todd meanders down the street, scrawny, pot-bellied; I see he’s lost most of his hair now. Comes over to the guys outside the half-way house with a big smile on his face. They’re sitting there smoking cigarettes watching the grass grow, whatever. Friends of his, I guess.

I’m making a delivery, dropping off a package. “He was one of the Chicago Seven” I tell ‘em. Todd smiles, starts recounting the names “Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin...” Yeah, and Todd Obermeyer.

We used to talk about it, back when I was his caseworker, as if that’s all there was. Paging through the high school yearbook, pictures in black and white. Pretty girls in pep club outfits, Pierpoint Rustlerettes 1967.

Todd looks at the pictures objectively, distantly; tells me how shy and dysfunctional he was in school; even though his folks had money. A scrawny little mouse with droopy eyes and big ears, short hair cut. Like none of that ever mattered anyway. “I’m forty-eight years old y’know.”

Then in college, somehow in a fraternity, in with the bright young going somewhere crowd. The cusp of future leaders. Chicago ’68, when he had the breakdown. They brought him back from Canada, put him in the hospital for twenty years. Ten more after that on the outside, still that’s all there ever was.

Lives alone in a spotlessly clean apartment, government funded. Everything neat and orderly, very nice. “I got no food” he says, objectively, not that it matters. Just something to talk about, making conversation. We have to meet, we have to talk. What else is there to say.

First of the month his check comes in. The vultures swoop down and take it away. Tougher needier mental patients who prey on the weaker ones. Borrow things, like your money. “They talk me into it” he says “what can I do? He says he’ll pay me back, and he never does. Next time I’m gonna just tell him no.”

Aint gonna happen. I’d like to see Todd get really angry about it, just to see how far he’d go before he’d back down. Like a couple of pomeranians fighting each other. Or maybe that’s how we all are when you think about it.

Take him to the food pantry where people donate food so that others who don’t have any can come get some. Todd’s very picky. “Do you have...” this, that, the other, like we’re at the supermarket, anything you want. I’m embarrassed. This is free food Todd, just take what the lady gives you, okay? Asks if he can come back every month, his problems would all be solved.

I like Todd, he’s so different from what you’d think a schizophrenic would be. So quiet calm peaceful. That slight smile, like things are amusing to him, or beyond his control. Always so friendly, gentle, dignified in his own way. A pleasure to visit with him, to escape from the constant tension and stress of the job. Just to sit here in this spotlessly clean apartment, reminisce about old days.

When I get to know him better, he confides in me a bit. The color coded signals God uses to tell him things. He saw a man on tv wearing a blue suit. Blue means royalty, that was a good man. Something yellow in a magazine would be a warning. Don’t go out today. Orange is even more dangerous.

That was years ago. I’m surprised he’s made it this far. But I like Todd, I’m happy to see him. Later run across him meandering down the street, big fleshy bulge on the side of his neck. “Todd, how you doing?” “Well...I got cancer. Of the lymph nodes, I guess. They’re giving me chemo... I’m fifty-eight years old, y’know.”