Sometimes it’s hard to be kind. Often it’s inconvenient. It can cause discomfort. And it can disturb your daily trajectory.
The other day I wasn’t feeling kind. I was busy. I was in Mandy mode and I wasn’t ready to listen to someone’s story. Especially someone I didn’t remember. It was around 1pm the Thursday before Splendour when I got a call from a girl who told me she had lost her phone and couldn’t find her friends so could she stay. I assumed she was another disorganised festival-goer looking for a free bed. I didn’t have a clue who she was so I said, ‘My husband is at work. I would have to ask him because I leave for Brisbane at 8am tomorrow. Ring me back in a few hours.’
It was a brush-off. She never rang back. I felt relieved the stranger-in-the-spare-room problem had disappeared. I was looking forward to a quiet night with my husband and daughter. I poured myself a glass of wine, relieved the universe had given up knocking at my door. At 6pm the phone rang. It was her. Shit.
She told me she was at the police station on their phone. There was something in her voice that made me say Yes. I gave her my address and hung up. She rang back and asked ‘Can you pay for my taxi or pick me up?’ She had also lost her wallet. Something in me shifted. I heard the fear in her voice and realised that she’d asked me for help. When someone does this how can you say No? So I drove to Byron to collect the strange girl with no phone, no wallet and no ID.
When I see her I vaguely remember her but not really. Our meeting was more of a passing acquaintance six years ago. But here she is round-eyed looking at me like I am her saviour. Her feet are cut and bleeding. She says, ‘A man has been following me. Can you please check he’s not out here?’ I realise in an instant she’s having a full-blown paranoid delusion, so I take her home.
She has a small backpack, but nothing else. I establish that she’s bipolar, that she’s suffering from extreme anxiety. I ask her if she wants to go to hospital to get medication; she says No. She’s convinced a man is after her. She is so scared she is shaking. She keeps asking me if someone is behind us, to take another road to see if the lights behind fall away.
I start to feel a bit frightened. I don’t know this girl. She could have a knife in her bag to protect herself but she could suddenly decide I’m a threat. I’m taking her to my house with my 8-year-old. I keep talking to her. She doesn’t seem to know where she lives. How long she’s been on the road. Where she stayed last night. She hasn’t eaten. She’s very confused. She tells me the name of a counsellor she had when she used to live here who she wants to speak to, so when I get home I feed her and put her to bed and put out a call on Facebook for her therapist, hoping txzhey’ll respond.
I’m worried my husband will have the shits that I’ve bought a psychotic stranger home. But he says ‘You’ve done the right thing. You couldn’t have left her.’ I love his compassion. Facebook performs a small miracle; lots of people I know know the counsellor in question. I get her phone number and leave a message.
The scared girl is asleep downstairs. But then she wakes screaming, ‘Mandy. Quick take me to hospital now!’ I go to get her backpack but she screams, ‘No time, in the car now!’ In her mind ‘he’ is coming. So we drive.
It’s a 15-minute drive to Byron hospital. I’m frightened she’s going to jump out of the car. I hold her little hand and talk gently to her. I have never seen someone full of so much fear; when I allow myself to feel it I want to cry, too. It’s so painful to be near her anguish. I tell her there is no man. She doesn’t believe me. She wants to turn back. ‘He’ll be at the hospital,’ she says. ‘It’s a trap. He’ll come in as a patient.’
So I try the Jungian don’t tell someone they are on the moon, go to the moon to talk to them approach. ‘No-one will get you when I am here. Look at me, I am six foot tall, I am very powerful. I annihilate men.’ Then I lied. I said, ‘I am a black belt’. This relaxed her a little.
We made it to hospital but she wouldn’t let me park my car. She felt such urgency to get inside to safety I had to leave it at the front door. We go through the admitting process. I fill in her form but I only know what she has told me and it’s not much. I tell the nurses she needs to be somewhere secure. Now. I’m frightened she’s going to run. Not because she doesn’t want help, but because she thinks the man is coming.
They take us to the room with soft corners. It has a big foam bed and a foam chair. It makes her suspicious. I keep asking for her to be sedated, but we have to wait for a doctor. I have a small stash of Valium at home, I should have done it myself. She’s elevating. The counsellor calls and I put her on the phone to the girl. The girl is pacing and agitated. She is in the hallway. She doesn’t want to sit in the padded room. The counsellor talks her down. I hear the girl repeat, ‘so it’s just a delusion of the mind?’
Then this extraordinary thing happens. She smiles. It’s just a flicker across her face, but I can feel the relief. She hands me the phone back and she literally passes out in her chair. Her head falls forward and she is asleep.
Just as her head drops something peculiar happens. Three police wheel in the most terrifying man I have ever seen. He is heavily tattooed. He is bleeding from the head. He is writhing in the bed. He is clearly in custody. This would have been the ‘man’ my girl thought was going to fake coming into hospital as a patient to get her. She would have lost it completely. It was only a matter of seconds between her falling asleep and his arrival.
A small, very ordinary but incredibly important miracle has just occurred. I look at this fragile woman asleep beside me, knowing that she’s finally safe. I speak to the doctor who has come to schedule my unknown friend and I go home. It’s after 11 now. Not quite the evening I had planned. Someone on Facebook said I was an angel. It’s a lovely thing to say, but I’m not. I’m just like you. I’m selfish. I’m full of justifications about why I can’t get involved, but sometimes when the universe calls, you have to answer Yes.
(Thanks to the Facebook detectives, I located her flatmate and her mother. She had left Adelaide unexpectedly on Wednesday. The girl is safe and recovering.)