--2 With This Pen: Something Sane About Insanity
         
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With This Pen: Something Sane About Insanity

October 30, 2011, 5:00 pm
By Jamie Figueroa

I first noticed him years ago. It was his voice that begged attention. Weeks before I actually saw him, I heard him from behind the adobe wall that surrounds his backyard.


His wall, a gravel alley, and my wall separate us. He was screaming at the top of his lungs. Profanity punctuated his screams. The hard sounds of f’s, t’s and k’s ricocheted like gun shots from his lips, echoed through the space between us, and finally pierced my ears. It was early morning and his broadcast of rage provided a startling alarm. I awoke in a panic.

 

5:30 am on a late spring morning, one block west of St. Francis and a few blocks north of Cerrillos, it sounded like, for one man, the end of the world was well underway. He was damning God and any and everyone he could possibly think of to name. Wild shrieks and howls filled the air and crowded the space in my small bedroom.

 

“Welcome to the neighborhood,” said my boyfriend at the time.

 

A few days later, I saw him walking down Sierra Vista, still yelling and shouting: a slight framed, brown-skinned young man with baggy dark grey pants and an oversized black hoodie. His head seemed delicate and was made more fragile by his hair, which was in the process of creeping back in from a buzz cut, and his face seemed delicate too, dainty features surrounded by sparse stubble, evidence of a few days without shaving. Occasionally, his arm would jab the air in front of him. His brow stitched tight.

 

Once I knew what he looked like, I would spot him walking down Guadalupe and Salvador, Baca and Old Santa Fe Trail. His walking was hurried, his steps fierce. He didn’t acknowledge anyone else on the street or that he was even walking on a street. The object of his rage was invisible to me. Regardless of where I was when I spotted him, or whether I was on foot, bike, or in my car, I would stop and stare. Try to imagine what his enemy looked like.

 

While the music of his tirades was unpredictable, I began to notice a pattern. Every full moon he would go off. I wondered about the other sounds that came from behind the wall at different times of the day and night—older, calmer voices, both male and female; the voices of children, girls and boys; and the barks of a couple of tiny-throated dogs. Were these people his family? Did they care for him and dispense medication that provided interruptions in his behavior? These interruptions lasted long enough to make me forget that he existed. Then the next full moon would cycle around, and I would be startled from sleep, my pulse at warning speed.


Finally, it became normal. His crazed litany of grievances became part of the audio landscape of the neighborhood. During the warmer months of the year, windows ajar, his strained screams would bounce around with occasional car alarms, sirens, traffic and overly vocal dogs. Another year would pass, and he would assert his voice, his existence and his deep disgust with the state of affairs in his own reality.

 

Now, six years later, I can honestly say his eruptions comfort me. Just this week, when the Mayan calendar was coming to an end and the new moon was haunting the sky, I heard him through my closed bedroom windows. He was livid, and I envied the power of his voice. I too wanted to run out into the dark and scream until I lost my voice, name every injustice and chant every obscenity I could think of until it all somehow made sense.

 

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