Moving a desk for the painters (three more days to go), I found three diaries that I had been keeping for a woman who was my first friend when I moved to NYC. She had an even tinier apartment than I did, right across the hall and I spent most of my time camped out on her couch until I got my bearings. She took care of me when I arrived, crumbled from my divorce. She took care of me when my fiance died. We leaned on each other for support. But oh, what great times we had! She always found cheap tickets to Broadway, to the ballet, to any sold out show and she and I crashed the parties that turned out to be revelations rather than just fun.
She was funny and smart.
She was amazing.
And then, five years into our friendship, she had a full blown psychotic breakdown. Diagnosed late onset schizophrenic. She attacked a child, demanding to see his ID. She punched a professor in the face and drew blood. She thought the government had spies out after her and she nearly caused an accident on the California freeway because she thought spies were trying to drive her off the road. And then she was hospitalized and medicated.
She's been in and out of hospitals for years now and the last I saw her, she was delusional and paranoid, sure people were following her. She blamed me. She yelled at me and then stepped out into NYC traffic while I, screaming, tried to grab at her. She jumped into a cab and that night called me to tell me that she didn't want to talk to me anymore. I was so upset I went to a shrink myself to figure out how I could help her. ("You can't," was the answer.)
So yesterday, I sat on the floor among all my boxes and read her journals (she always said I could) and it was an ache in my heart.
I don't know where she is anymore. I don't know how she is.
I've been wanting to write about her for years, which is something she always wanted. I suppose I want to do this to try and heal that wound, but I can't find the way into the story. Maybe it's just too soon or maybe I just want to still protect her. Maybe I feel guilty that I couldn't save her. Maybe it's my next novel or maybe I should mind my own business and be silent.
Does writing heal? Writers want to write about what is often a thorn in the heart, but what if it involves someone else's pain (as well as your own)? What do you do then?