Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?

by Ruth Z Deming


This is a true story though I changed some names. - Ruth Z. Deming

Drove to the library to return my books and get a few more that I had ordered via the weekly newsletter "Wowbrary."

"Hey, Amber," I said, handing her a pile of books and audio books I'd just finished. "Gonna see if I can find some good audio books." I'd just finished "A Death in the Family" by James Agee. Repetitious in spots, but otherwise this Pulitzer Prizewinner was riveting.

I walked on the soft carpet to the double shelves of audio books. A white-haired woman was snoozing in a chair. Odd, I thought, and wondered if she were snoring.

Couldn't wait to choose more audio books and selected: "I Robot" by Isaac Asimov, "What's What" a novel by Dave Eggers about the Sudanese refugees, and something by Dean Koontz I'm listening to in the car.

All these I put on a small table behind me.

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

I stood stock still.

The sleeping woman had awoken.

What should I do? This had never happened to me.

It was the voice of an angry person, a very angry person.

For a moment we stared at one another. Although she was a stranger, I stared into her dark eyes. Once, I had been like her.

She stood next to me.

"Who do you think you are, with your jacket and your shirt poking out, things stuffed into your back pockets, and examining every single book. Who do you think you are?

Psychotic, I thought. I'm not tangling with her.

I did laugh inside. Psychotic people always speak the truth.

Years ago, I had bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Sometimes, later in life, it goes away, like a helium balloon deflating.

I went over to the first reference librarian I saw, sitting six steps away from me.

"Someone's confronting me," I said simply. And nodded in her direction.

Quickly I left the library.

Something by Beethoven was playing on the radio. For a moment, I forgot all about her angry outburst.

A common reaction. As a psychotherapist, I'm familiar with delayed reactions when traumatic events occur.

"Process it," I told myself. When something bad happens, you've gotta talk about it, so it doesn't fester in your mind.

Entering my house, I cascaded all my new books and audio books onto my purple swivel chair. I laughed. Would you believe Bill O'Reilly - yes, the disgraced Bill O'Reilly - has written a book, with a co-author - called "Killing the SS: The Hunt for the Worst War Criminals in History."

As I Jew, I'm fascinated by anything to do with Nazis.

Then I walked next door to my boyfriend Scott's house, pushed open the door, and found him eating a green salad in the kitchen.

I stood there.

"Scott, can I interrupt and tell you something that just happened to me?"

I repeated the story. "Good for you for leaving," he said. "I would've done the same thing."

"Need anything at the supermarket?" I asked.

"Nah," he said, "I'm fine."

The day was gloomy. We're having a Nor'easter. Rain would pour down in sheets, and then abruptly stop. Good, I thought. It would wash off the bird poop from my gray Nissan Sentra. If you don't do this posthaste the poop will forever damage your car.

I wheeled my cart into the huge supermarket. In the bottom I put my used cardboard box, which I use instead of a shopping bag to carry out my groceries.

Maybe I would buy some Starbucks Coffee. Probably not. I can make coffee at home. Unlike most Americans, I save money. I did this ever since I was a kid and my late father gave us five girls savings accounts at Women's Federal Savings in Cleveland, Ohio.

I intended on eating a salad in the small eatery right outside the Starbucks kiosk.

Choosing my salad carefully, I wheeled it over to a table.

"Hi Wayne," I said to an older neighbor, whose wife just died of a brain tumor.

He tipped his cap.

I dug into my salad. First I ate the meal - some sort of pasta salad that contained protein - then I ate the dessert. Fresh watermelon with tiny seeds, succulent honeydew, and cantaloupe as bright as the golden sun we rarely saw nowadays.

Scrumptious. Then I went up to Gary, the guy in charge of selling beer and wine.

"Gary," I said. "I have a blog. Do you know who hosts blogs? Mine is 'blogspot.com.'"

He told me I should go to my blog to find out.

I said nothing, but I'd done that already, to no avail.

"Thanks, pal," I said. "You're like a reference librarian."

He laughed. "We try to help," he said, towering over me in his red shirt.

And then I saw her.


Yes, the psychotic woman with the white hair.

She was sitting, with her back to me, in the Starbucks Café. Of course, I was curious about her. I happen to be a woman who formerly had bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Was she on medication? Due to denial or prejudice against mental illness, perhaps a fifth of the mentally ill refuse to take medication.

The one person I'd love to help was a danger to me.

Imagine what would happen if I strode over to her.

Outbursts of wrath right here in the quiet, coffee-smelling Starbucks Café.

I wheeled my cart to my car.

Good! A Mozart Divertimento was playing on the radio. Process, process, process.

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