Forum: Two encounters point to our behavioral health failures

Two women, both appearing confused and agitated, needed more help than I or my husband could offer.

By Jill Bley-Kester / Herald Forum

Recently, I woke to a soft patter of footsteps coming up my deck stairs, followed by a knock on the patio door.

This is normally heralds of my 4-year-old granddaughter coming to spend the day with me, but she was five hours early. Another knock. Did I miss a phone call? Was there an emergency? In the pitch black, I struggled with a light and slippers. Then came a louder rapping on the door, and a voice I had never heard before said “Mom. Let me in the house.” More loud rapping and lots of talking, words I could not make out.

Home alone, living in the country with no “next door” neighbors, I called 911 as the voices continued on my porch. The dispatcher wanted o know how many people were there and if there were any weapons. Weapons? I could not see anything, but heard conversation back and forth. Two? Maybe three people. “How do the voices sound,” the dispatcher asked. “Angry? Intoxicated?” No, I thought they were frightened, like they needed help.

And I wanted to help. There were no streetlights and it was 22 degrees outside. But I was alone and scared, myself. The dispatcher offered to stay on the phone until a sheriff’s deputy arrived.

Soon a tall man, dressed for the freezing weather, came slowly down the drive with the biggest flashlight I have ever seen.

I cracked my bedroom window and called, “Where are the sirens? Your red and blue lights?”

“I decided to turn them off,” he replied. I could hear him and the people talking under my window but still could not see anything. Later, I peeked outside to see the deputy is walking away, alone.

I was not to know the end of this story until later in the day when the deputy called me at home. He assured me my house on a country road had been chosen at random by a young woman “flying quite high on something.” When her ID was checked, she had outstanding warrants and was taken to the county jail. And the other people?

“No, it was only her,” replied the deputy. I insist that I had heard two distinct voices, maybe three, to which he replied, “She was having quite the argument with herself.”

This incident was doubly bizarre because of what had happened two nights earlier, almost at the same time in the early morning. My husband was working his night shift as a freight engineer for the BNSF Railway. As he brought his last train into the Everett yard, many red and blue lights shouted police action. As soon as it was safe, he stopped his engine and sat watching a drama unfolding in front of him.

A young woman, covered in dirt and blood, was wildly careening around the rocky ballast of the yard. Somehow, she managed to climb to the top of his freight engine, and pressed her face against the windshield, locking eyes with him sitting in the dark, and begged for help. At that moment the police managed to throw a blanket over her and carry her to the ground.

We are both feeling slightly haunted by both incidents. These women are somebodies’ daughters, sisters. Wife? Mother? It could be homelessness. Addiction. Mental illness. Despite all the talk of help, everyday in the news and touted in city budgets, we are horribly failing.

Jill Bley-Kester is a freelance writer who lives in Snohomish.

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