Monday, April 9, 2012

The Campus Crazy Woman

Although my personal brand of wackiness certainly qualifies me for this title, this entry is not eponymous. There is a genuinely crazy woman who roams our campus. She has been here since last year that I know of but only lately has she been more obvious.

She stalks around the grounds, muttering to herself. All of the students know to turn away from her when they see her come. She is mostly harmless but occasionally brushes against society by verbally attacking people and, most recently satisfying hunger. To look in her eyes is to behold the storm that rages inside her.

I made her acquaintance last year… or, should I say: I became aware of her firsthand last year when I held class outdoors on a particularly beautiful day. As is her habit she was stalking around campus talking to herself out loud when she became aware of us playing a word game in the park. We were not quiet but then, why should we be? We were out of doors, enjoying the sunshine and shouting words and phrases in English.

She charged into the fray, plowing through my groups of students – all girls, shouting that she was going to tell all of their husbands that they were whores and cheaters, and chasing after the students who ran away from her. After scattering my charges she left, muttering anew only to return a few minutes later, this time alleging she was going to kill all of their boyfriends and steal their men.

She shouted, gesticulated, ranted and stomped around until again my girls dispersed, frightened. I was beginning to think that maybe I should move my class indoors for safety’s sake when again, she left. She returned one more time but this time the campus police arrived to chase her away. She stayed gone after that.

Other than verbally assaulting people and scaring them by her mere presence, she seems rather harmless. There is no doubt in my mind that she could possibly become violent and actually hurt someone. As yet, to my knowledge, she has not gone that far.

Now that I live on the other side of campus I do not see her so often. However, as I teach in the front part of campus I do see her on the days I’m on duty. She has picked up a new trick, it seems. She appropriates… whatever she wants. Let’s say someone has just bought their lunch or a drink from Snack Street. She will snatch it out of his or her hand, whether the unfortunate student resists or not.

It is not a good idea to resist. Once, on Snack Street I saw her try to take a bottle of tea from some poor, hapless girl. The girl shouted that it was her tea and told Crazy Woman to let go. Crazy Woman raised her voice accordingly and let loose a string of invective I did not understand but that clearly frightened the young girl. She ended up letting go of the tea and Crazy Woman walked back on campus, sipping away. The student reported her loss to the campus policeman guarding the gate, seeing as Crazy Woman had to walk through the gate to get back on the grounds. He told her there was nothing he could do.

The next time we saw her on Snack Street she was munching a shish-kebab she had relieved some poor, hungry student of. Apparently that wasn’t enough, so she snatched a bowl of fried rice wrapped for takeout form an irate vendor. Back onto campus she went with her treasures.

She invades the school cafeterias. There are no checkpoints, monitors or guards at the cafeteria doors. She is free to walk in and around as she sees fit. Usually the students flee ahead of her, taking their food with them lest she decide she wants what they’ve got and simply help herself. As though scripted, a cafeteria worker will shoo her out.

Why does Ms. Crazy listen to cafeteria workers but bullies and intimidates the students?

Here is another interesting question: who takes care of her?

It was hard to tell during winter but now that warmer temperatures have arrived I can see that she is decently and appropriately dressed, and relatively clean and well groomed. Her hair is washed regularly and while not attractively cut is styled in a functional, presentable coif that does not appear self-inflicted. During the winter months her hair tended toward the greasy but was still reasonably combed. She did wear quilted outerwear, suitable shoes and had gloves on her hands.

Is she sane enough to groom and dress herself according to season or is there someone who readies her, maybe just inspects her before allowing her loose on society? Does she live alone? With her parents? For that matter, after stalking around campus terrorizing the kids, how does she find her way home? Or does she just bunk down wherever she can? Does she try to enter other homes or direct herself unerringly toward her own abode?

She is quite a nuisance. The students are uncomfortable or downright fearful when she is around. She assaults the kids, at least verbally, and takes their things. No one does anything about her and no one protects the kids when she takes their food.

To my knowledge there are not many facilities for the mentally disturbed in China. Mental illness is actually a recent phenomenon. Mental health has become a social concern of epic proportions of late, since a man killed eleven kids at a primary school a couple of years ago (see Don’t Stop entry, posted March 2011).

Were there no mentally ill people in China before that series of terrible attacks on schoolchildren? There probably were, but those people were most likely the ward of their family, who did… who knows what with them? And then, there are students cracking up (not with laughter) all over campus, as I alluded to in the What’s Happening to my School entry posted November 2011. In the Over the Wall community there is a man who stands on the street corner laughing, grinning and orating at passersby unless he is squatting down, shoving food into his mouth.

Obviously, in this society where no one has much in the way of personal space or privacy if one has mental problems they cannot help but be noticed. Are such problems as fatalistically accepted as any other problem that these citizens face?

Probably, but I don’t know for sure. I can tell you about one case in particular: a physics professor at another university. He suffered a psychotic break and started ranting and exhibiting decidedly strange behavior. Nothing harmful to self or others, just a complete takeoff from his normally sedate manner befitting a professor of his stature.

He was hospitalized and medicated. I don’t know for sure if he received any psychiatric counseling or treatment but he was conditionally released from the hospital after ten days of medication. He had a relapse into madness after one month in the big, bad world. Final exams and stress of the upcoming holidays were blamed for this episode, but clearly it was seen and treated as a temporary state.

This time he endured three weeks in the hospital and again he was released. He was more stable, or at least less stressed upon his release. The holidays and final exams were over. The doctor said he could still relapse but if he made it for three months without falling back into madness, most likely he would be OK. He will have to take medication for the rest of his life, avoid stressful situations and, I believe he is supposed to report to a clinician every so often. Other than that, his is back in mainstream society, to sink or swim as he can.

And what of our local crazy woman? Is she going to actually hurt someone before anyone does anything about her? How far away is she from crossing that barrier? Will she ever take that plunge, or will she content herself with stealing the students’ food and stalking around while her internal storms rage? Will anyone ever take pity on her and relieve her of those terrible tempests? Is there in fact anything that can be done to restore her sanity?

The other day, one of my students showed me a picture she had taken of Crazy Woman, laying on a low, narrow wall that serves as a garden border. Her legs were splayed and her right arm was flung up, shading her eyes. Her left arm trailed in the dirt. Ena, my student laughed about her.

After seeing that picture I took occasion to talk to my kids about Crazy Woman during class. My main point was that the kids should not provoke her or antagonize her in any way, lest she cross the border from simple psychosis into homicidal violence. I finished with the idea that this woman cannot help her raging madness. She should not be an object of derision but rather a being that deserves our compassion and sympathy. Ena, a bit ashamed, erased the photo from her phone.

What a beautiful child she is.

No comments:

Post a Comment