neighbours observed – Skippy

Skippy is a stick insect on steroids. Whether by himself or in company he’s lively, disturbingly lively. Any time we meet he can’t be still a moment, and his movement could be the Ali shuffle, Michael’s moonwalk or a Viennese waltz, or all three in the space of a minute.
The first time i saw him coming down the path i thought he was a troubled adolescent throwing shapes but as he drew close i could see he was much too long in the tooth to be one perpetually troubled by a circus in his shorts. And at first, i thought my presence upset him but then i came to realise he’s a compulsive mover, a constant dancer, and for a man of fifty quite the performer.
He wears his hair long, down to his shoulders, a pepper ‘n’ salt cascade parted in the middle. His dress is simple, flip-flops, baggy shorts and T-shirts that hang like curtains from bony shoulders, and sometimes he has a heat plaster on a knee or an elbow.
When we meet at the lift or on the path leading to the shops he greets me in precisely the same way each and every time.
‘Howya, Boss. It’s all shite and onions, isn’t it?’
The combination is reminiscent of Joyce, and where he picked it up is uncertain. I suspect it was at the docks where he worked for years before he was given the push.
‘Yes,’ i say, and he smiles at me and punches the air. He’s told me on several occasions i’m the only one in the building he likes.
‘Don’t believe anything the bastards tell you,’ he says, ‘the only thing straight about them is their hair.’
I don’t comment.
Everyone else in the building fears Skippy because he’s given to moods and can be fiercely insulting. At times, he can be violent.
Skippy lives with his 75-year-old widowed mother and his 16-year-old son, his only child. Skippy’s wife left five years ago, she couldn’t take it any more, and is somewhere in Malaysia. Granny looks after the boy and the boy keeps an eye on his father when he can. Despite the difficulties at home the boy’s doing well at school and for his age is remarkably sorted and sane.
Skippy has two sisters who live nearby. Both women have good jobs and pay the bills for their mother.
Every few months Skippy loses the plot entirely and is taken away. He’s usually gone about three weeks and what they do to him where he’s held or what drugs they pump into him i can’t tell. When he comes home again he’s calm for a while until his demons get the better of him once more and he’s back to dancing and throwing shapes.
When he’s in a bad way he breaks things. A week ago he started shouting and breaking and kicked up such a racket his neighbour across the landing came out to see what was going on. He saw her, aimed a stream of invective in her direction, picked up a chair, broke a leg off and went after her. She managed to get behind her door just in time.
Yesterday, i met Skippy’s mother on her way back from the shops pushing a trolley of groceries, and i asked after her son. She looked at me with sad eyes and said, ‘Mr John, two of the hospital people came to visit me last night and told me they’ve decided not to release him any more, he has to stay there now, he’s too much of a danger to everyone, and to himself.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ i said.
‘Thank you,’ she said.
‘I’m so sorry,’ i said again.
‘Never mind, Mr John, sooner or later the day had to come.’

40 thoughts on “neighbours observed – Skippy

  1. A wonderful post John. Mental illness is tearing up
    The lives of many sufferers and their families and communities. Florida is at the bottom of the list in the States in funding and resources to help the mentally ill thanks to our governor who rejected federal aide in the form of Medicaid . My heart goes out to those families. Thank you again John, I hope you are well. Sending love. Holly

      • California did fortunately accept the Medicaid expansion and now have funds for mild to moderate mental illness through managed care plans like the one where I am the Mental Health Director serving 560,000 of the most needy in 14 of our counties. Seriously mentally ill still receive services through the county mental health program. It’s the only reason why I am still working at 73!

  2. So many lost……living under bridges….or wearing a family numb………you captured the pathos and the wistfulness we all feel, wishing we could make things better.

  3. Mental illness the disease, the out cast of society. The untold story of continued anguish that never leaves the afflicted or family Uncle John. Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. I’m so sorry, too. What could they do for him in an institution – drugs, etc. – that couldn’t be done outside of it? Maybe he just needed someone to remind him to take them?

    I’m very anti-institution right this minute, having spent the majority of two weeks in two different hospitals on 4 admissions – they’re horrible places full of self-righteous people.

  5. Mental illness is such a tragedy for the one affected and everyone around them. I’m glad you saw the interesting and unique in this individual. It sounds like he’s a schizophrenic, controlled by meds but not wanted to be on them.

      • crazy busy and trying to ride the wave of craziness with a smooth grace. I love your stories and I’m sorry for not letting you know more often. Next week should run smoother for me and I’ll have more time for what I love, reading good things and writing myself šŸ™‚ catch you soon my friend, Kim (big hugs too ā¤ )

  6. Thank you, John, for such a sensitive and clear-eyed portrayal of Skippy, his family, his neighbors, and the necessity and limitations of medical care. In a very short piece you captured an immense complexity…including the warmly humorous observation “I could see he was much too long in the tooth to be one perpetually troubled by a circus in his shorts.”

  7. John, why the hell aren’t you published? You are so damned good. You need to put these character studies together in a book somehow. Man, I wish I could write like you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.