THE VOICES IN HER HEAD, IN OUR HEADS
You know those platonic friendships that almost feel like crushes? You want to be near her, hear her voice, her stories, her laughter? Be close to her dimples, the light sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She's all over your thoughts and dreams. But there's no touching, beyond the obligatory greeting and farewell hug, and maybe the drunken handholding, but somehow, your connection is oozing sensuality.
I have had several friends like that.
One of them was Ronit.
She was strangely beautiful and captivating. She had a sense of style like no one else. Her face made me think about the moon. I couldn't understand why, until I realised she shaved off her eye brows completely, which gave her an alien-like beauty.
This was in New York City in the late nineties. We were both young. She was from Israel and I was from Sweden. She was an aspiring visual artist and I was an aspiring rock star.
We were also neighbours. Ronit lived right around the corner from me in Manhattan's East Village, which back then was still rough around the edges. You could, for example, buy cocaine, heroin and needles for shooting up on my corner; the dealer would show up at dusk every day and advertise his goods openly, shocking, at least for a country bumpkin like myself.
We were often at each others' houses, talking late into the night. Over tea, or fat-free popcorn and diet coke (Ronit was chronically dieting and extremly vain). Sometimes over beers bought at the bodega that also sold cocaine. Sometimes high on whatever substance we were currently exploring. Coke was only one of them. Ronit had a poetic way with words, something I both admired and envied. We spoke English to each other, a language that wasn't either of us mother tongue. But you got the feeling that she would also be highly original and unusual in her native language. Ronit was also eerily perceptive. I once remember showing her one of my old photo albums (she loved looking at, and taking, photos) from Sweden. It was as if she could see in the faces of these people, whom she had never met, things that there should have been no way for her of knowing. I remember getting goose bumps while she talked about the dreams, hopes and adventures of some of these people.
Sometimes, we'd get back to her place, after being out, and she would hit PLAY on the answering machine (yup, this was before mobile phones, kids) and I would hear a deep and raspy woman's voice go on and on in a language (Hebrew) that I didn't understand. Sometimes she would fill the entire tape with talk.
Ronit would say: My mother is crazy. I would say; yeah well aren't all mothers?
I thought she used the word 'crazy' in a casual way. This is crazy, she is crazy, what a crazy night.
It wasn't until some time later that I learned that Ronit's mother, in fact, was a diagnosed schizophrenic, and that two of Ronit's older sisters also had the diagnosis.
At the time I was doing my undergraduate degree in Psychology at the City University of New York, and was extremely fascinated by the severe, and supposedly, incurable, mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and manic depression (which is now known as bi-polar disorder). I had read way more on the topic than my studies required.
After Ronit and I had been friends for over two years, which at the time seemed like an eternity, like we had known each other forever, like we were soul sisters (often people asked us if we were sisters, which was kind of ridiculous, because beyond the fake platinum blond hair there were few similarities) she fell in love with an Icelandic photographer with a strange face and an almost hunchback posture. His name was Einar and he claimed to know Björk, something that definitely upped his appeal as Ronit was a huge Björk fan.
I hung out with the two of them one night that turned into morning, and it was very clear to me that Ronit was smitten with Einar.
It was also after that night that Ronit started to unravel. The fling went nowhere beyond a few sexual encounters. I don't know exactly what happened, but Ronit's behavior started to get increasingly bizarre.
When I asked her about Einar, she was cryptic. She would say they were in touch, but when I asked further questions she would cross her arms over her chest and pout and change the topic.
I withdrew. She withdrew. Until one morning she called me to say that she was at the airport, about to board a plane for Tel Aviv. Because Einar had showed up at her apartment in the middle of the night, with a group of guys, threatening to gang rape her.
I was chocked. Before we hung up, she said that he was like the devil, he could walk though walls and locked doors.
I wasn't sure what to believe until an Israeli friend of hers contacted me and said that he had been in contact with Einar, who claimed that Ronit had broken into his apartment in Brooklyn and stolen a framed photograph of him and his mom. He had filed a restraining order against her.
Back in Israel, Ronit did some time at a psychiatric unit. She came back a few months later, still being cryptic and weird, saying things like 'I lost a piece of my mind.'
The bizarre behavior got worse, until she threw her house keys in the East River and went to live in Central park. One day she showed up at a friend's workplace, disheveled and dirty, and after that she ended up hospitalized again, in New York this time. When she came out, she was heavily medicated and had blown up like a ballon. She was sluggish, and said she felt stupid, and needed ten hours of sleep a night.
She said she missed the voices in her head. Because towards the end, before she went to live in the park, she just wanted to sit at home and listen to all their fantastic stories. She had found out, for example, that she was born in a teardrop on her mom's eyelash.
Again, so much poetry.
But things did not go well for my dear friends. They tried various medications with various side effects. In the end, to combat the sluggishness and depression that followed, she turned to smoking crack cocaine to feel alive again. She got evicted from her apartment and ended up back in Tel Aviv. Living in her grandma's old flat, which, when I visited her their many years later, looked like a junkie's den. Ronit was living on disability, she was no longer pretty. Which was the first thing she said to me, when she opened the door as I rang the bell.
Not hi, but: 'I am no longer beautiful.' And I was indeed chocked at what I saw. Her teeth were rotten stumps in her mouth, her hair the texture of steel wool. Her previous slim and toned figure bloated and unhealthy looking. Her fingers yellowy orange and she had some weird tics that made her wiggle one hand constantly.
I remember spending the night in some cheap, depressing hotel room, instead of at Ronit's flat with her boytoy boyfriend (who a few months later killed himself by throwing himself in front of a train), crying and crying. I also let her down by not staying there, I knew that. But it was so dirty and both of them chain-smoked and I was so upset, I couldn't.
Don't we all hear voices? What makes some of us function ok and others not? In other cultures those hearing voices have other roles, other positions. We lock them up, sedate them?
If one percent of all humans are 'schizophrenic,' this condition has survived evolution, so it must serve a cause, or?
What does it do to a human to be labeled 'mentally ill'?
I don't have the answers. But this story is like a blister on my heart. My girl crush going crazy.