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Jennifer’s sky


It’s after 3am. I’m still half asleep. I can’t find the phone book. I don’t know what to do. Fuck it. I punch emergency. 0-0-0. Give my name and address. Describe the problem.

“An ambulance please. She needs medical oversight. Her name is Jennifer.”
“No, I don’t know what she’s taken today. I’m only a neighbour.”
“I know what psychosis is. Yes she probably is. No she isn’t dangerous. She’s a disabled middle-aged woman lying in the middle of the road reciting poetry. She’s in danger of being run over, that’s all. Police aren’t necessary. She’s scared of police.”

That’s an understatement. Over recent months I’d seen Jenny’s body bloat and her mind shatter under the dual assaults of multiple medications and an unrelenting torrent of harrowing media revelations of clerical sexual abuse. In our area it included a sub-narrative of a tenacious cop who tried for years to bring cases to court only to be persecuted by the combined forces of church and police. Jenny imagines a huge ongoing police conspiracy to protect pedophiles that’s out to get her because she, like the rogue cop, knows too much.

I continue my torchlit vigil beside her. Our street is quiet, no one has come by since I found her collapsed by the corner in the shadow of a tree. Across both lanes. She continues to stare into the clear night sky while reciting the same few stanzas of lilting poetry. It speaks of the face of an Alsatian against a starry backdrop, briefly reflected in a puddle before being scattered by ripples. Jenny had told me several times before about the beloved pet she’d left with family in Melbourne. Listening is hypnotic and I lose track of time.

The police are first to arrive. I hold the beam on Jennifer’s inert, murmuring form as they pull up nearby, pinning us both beneath headlights.

Why do so many police partnerships fit the ‘good cop, bad cop’ stereotype? Are they selected by police casting directors or do they train for the roles?

In this case it’s a mildly affable greying senior constable in a cotton jacket and a cocky, arrogant young highway patrolman in leather. Both have mustaches but only leatherman looks ready to audition for a Village People tribute band. He seems too young for it to be ironic. He briefly sizes me up then takes to striding back and forth past Jennifer’s head making inane comments as the other cop tries to question us.

Jennifer either doesn’t notice or doesn’t deign to acknowledge. Seems there’s more interesting things happening in her world. As I confess my ignorance to the interrogator – “No, I don’t know her surname. I don’t know what medications she’s on. I don’t know her caseworker’s name or number …” – the enforcer issues orders and threats to the body on the asphalt.

“I am Constable G- of Newcastle Police Area Command and I am requiring you to move along in accordance with my powers under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act.
“You are obstructing a public carriageway in contravention of the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act and must move on immediately.”
“Listen Jennifer, if you don’t get up now there’s going to be trouble.”
“She’s refusing to comply with my lawful directions! Maybe I should tase her. Do ya reckon I should tase her?”

I shoot him a filthy look and am about to suggest an alternative holster for his taser.

“Chill mate. I’m only joking.”

Jennifer remains oblivious.

His gaze falls on the open door to Jennifer’s flat.

“Better do a search.”

“What do you think you’re searching for? ”

“I need to know her full name, what she’s been taking …”.

“I’m coming with you.”

With some you have to keep an eye on what they might slip into their pockets. With cops you also need to watch what they slip out of their pockets. I spot an envelope with Jennifer’s full name on it while the cop rummages through a stack of prescription bags. He doesn’t find anything that interests him.

By the time we get back the ambulance has arrived. Cops and ambos combine to shift Jennifer’s substantial frame from road to gurney. Soon the flashing lights depart and I’m uneasily alone with the new day. I lock Jennifer’s door and go back to bed. Only then does it occur to me I should have closed her windows too.

A few weeks later, at a more civilised hour, there’s a gentle knock at the front door. I exhale and leave the fan running for a few seconds before responding. It’s a cop. He smells the dope smoke and is quick to head off any misunderstanding.

“It’s alright. I just want to ask about the woman next door. Do you know where she is?”

Jennifer’s caseworker has reported her missing. I give the cop the name and phone number of the locked ward. My visiting requests have been rebuffed. I lack status as a visitor. I’m only a neighbour.

More than two months pass before I see Jenny again. She’s better groomed. She seems less frightened. I apologise for getting her locked up. I was scared she’d be run over. I didn’t know what she’d taken. I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Until later. I hope there’s not much weather damage from the open windows.

“Don’t worry. It had to happen. It’s in the past. Now I can get back to being happy and comfortable in my own home.” She got the eviction notice the next day.

Jennifer lives with her son’s family in Melbourne. The house is too small. Her daughter-in-law hates her. There’s talk of putting Jennifer in a home. She’s out of choices. She’s officially insane so her opinions don’t count. Jennifer lacks insight.


Postscript (20-Apr-2017): I guess I’m lucky I didn’t end up locked in the same ward as Jenny. In Canada it seems criticising police is grounds for forced psychiatric hospitalisation while criticising the government can get you shot.

From → autobiography, cops

  1. Fabulously well written but very sad account of what could happen to any of us so-called psychotics. See this blog post at Juliemadblogger for an interesting take and new definition of “psychosis”…I loved it!


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