Wind Chimes And The Mark Of The Devil
I used to spend a lot of time sleeping on couches. I'm actually kind of proud of that fact. I wandered around for a year or so, living out of my car, and seeing all the highlights of Texas one friend's couch at a time. I was free as a bird and loved every moment of it.
The time finally came when I found the inclination to have direction and structure in my life. I called a friend in the city I wanted to settle down in for a while and requested the use of his couch until I could find a job and get on my feet. Lucky for me, he was obliging, so I high-tailed my care-free self to a comfy black leather couch in a suburb north of Houston.
As I was drifting to sleep that first night, I realized my peaceful dreams had some noisy competition. Wind chimes. My parents had a small set of them on our porch when I was a little girl, so ordinarily this would have been a soothing sound. This particular clatter, however, eerily drifted from below my friend's upstairs apartment, and sounded like the soundtrack to a cinematic kidnapping scene.
I discovered, upon the return of daylight, that the elderly lady below us was an avid collector of wind chimes and birdhouses, all proudly displayed in cramped, disorderly fashion on her back porch. These were not just cute "tinkling" wind chimes. No, some of them sounded like trash cans on strings. Others had larger pipes that rang with gong-like brassiness, and still others were wooden or bamboo that "ticked" and "tocked" unrythmically as they struck each other. Nestled into this cacophony was a miniature ghost town of birdhouses. Once cute country cottages, barns, and tiny apartment buildings, they were all beginning to succumb to fading paint, collapsing roofs, and mildew from Houston's humidity.
I eventually got used to the accompaniment, and even the unsettling sight of the birds' neglected homes, but I never got used to the lady who stood outside with her collection and stared off into space. At first she would look like a statue. I would think I could sneak by her and she might not notice me before I could run up the stairs to the safety of my temporary black leather couch. It never failed, though, that as soon as I had just barely squeezed past her, she would call out to me in a feeble voice the most bizarre things.
"The ducks don't like me anymore!" she said one day. The next it was, "Have you seen my friend? He was supposed to be here tomorrow, and I've been waiting!" That was just the beginning. She eventually came out her front door and introduced herself to me, loudly announcing her first name and "I am bi-polar, I just thought you should know." This became a daily ritual for me: walk past the creepy back porch, ignore her random outbursts, then again be loudly reminded of her name and that I should know she was bi-polar.
Three months later, I had become a pro at dodging her. The area was blessed with lush foliage I could duck behind and around on my mission to avoid her. When her usual bi-polar announcement started leading into the command that I should trust Jesus, I started tossing rocks and sticks away from me to divert her attention. My couch-lending friend made fun of me for having a "new friend" and made sarcastic gestures such as leaving a camo shirt and face paint on my couch to aid with my "covert ops" he said.
My final run in with the wind chime lady occurred about a month before I moved away from the black leather couch. I stepped out the front door to smoke a cigarette, and there she was. Standing at the bottom of our stairs, she had a nasty bruise on her face, was more disoriented than usual and was pacing back and forth calling out "Help me! I need an ambulance!"
"Are you okay? Did you fall down?" I asked.
"Help me! I need an ambulance!" was all she would say. So I called 911 and helped her get into her apartment to sit down. Now, if I thought the musical back porch was creepy, going inside and letting the 911 dispatcher talk me through searching the apartment for any medications the paramedics needed to know about was a trip through a haunted house. Jesus was everywhere. Big pictures. Little pictures. fr
I helped her sit down at the dining table, while she repeatedly reminded me to tell the doctors she was bi-polar. All of a sudden she declared at her usual volume that she needed to balance her checkbook. She pulled out all of her checks one by one, until they covered the table. Demanding I help her balance her checkbook, she proceeded to grab a green marker and scribble "666" all over all the checks.
"Are you f***ing kidding me?!" I yelled.
"I HAVE TO BALANCE MY CHECKBOOK!" she screamed back at me, while the 911 operator patiently explained to me that I needed to remain calm in order for bi-polar Jesus wind chime lady to stay calm.
The paramedics arrived, and I realized the entire ordeal had taken place in under eight minutes.
"Props for quick response, guys," I told them. "I couldn't find any meds, but she's bi-polar, and I don't know how she got that bruise."
"I'M BI-POLAR AND I NEED AN AMBULANCE," she angrily chimed in. "I HAVE TO BALANCE MY CHECKBOOK."
They stared in disbelief at the table of checks all bearing large foreboding "666" brands in green marker. A big smile spread across my face. Loud eerie wind chimes? A Jesus memorabilia infestation and echoing hymns? The "mark of the Devil"? I freaking love my life! And people question why I wanted to be a writer? The world is full of crazy things and people just waiting to be documented.
"Well... you guys know how to do your jobs... unless you have anymore questions for me, I'll be in the apartment directly above here. Have fun!"
They took her to the hospital, and I never saw her after that. Her son came and packed up her apartment and told me he was moving her to an assisted living facility. I helped him take down all the wind chimes and birdhouses, while he talked about her rapidly declining mental health. Half an hour later we shook hands and I wished him the best of luck with his mother.
I was walking home from the bus stop a week later when I tripped over something in the leaves near her back porch. My shoe uncovered a small birdhouse with a green roof. I guess the crazy wind on that haunting day had knocked it into the bushes. I smiled and carried it inside to secretly stash in my suitcase.
It's been three years since I had a dramatic falling out with the owner of the black leather couch. Sadly, He turned out to not be such a great friend. But I'll always remember the nightly serenade as I wandered into dreamland, and I still have that birdhouse on a shelf in my bathroom. Perhaps I'll start collecting wind chimes.