Her name was Heidi.
She sat alone on the grassy knoll, watching the softball game with the rest of us.
And, I watched her.
The softball game was the much-anticipated annual event at the Eastern Bible Conference, held on the campus of Grove City College. Between the Marrieds and the Singles, it was really a showcase for the eligible boys, a sort of pre-dated match.com social event. Looking back, I think now that the single guys probably sweat bullets every year about the thing, hoping against hope that the showing they made would not seal their coupling potential forever.
But, that year, I was more interested in watching Heidi.
If you knew anything at all about the fundamentalist sect called the Plymouth Brethren, you knew one thing: anything you wanted to know about anybody within that exclusive, nationwide fellowship could be determined at the Eastern Bible Conference.
And, I do mean anything.
Especially something either alarming, sensational, or otherwise repeatable.
I watched Heidi because Heidi, it had been widely circulated in the dining hall, in the balcony overlooking the college pool, after Gospel meeting at the snack bar, and pretty much wherever women were allowed to speak, had had a “breakdown.”
She was the daughter of somebody. Hadn’t been a regular attendee. Came from the west coast. Completed education unknown. Age undetermined.
I noted that she had short, fine, curly brown hair, a light complexion, a modest countenance. I’d read the book by age eleven and, now that I was twelve or so, decided that she was a bit too tall and broad in the hips to be a real Swiss “Heidi”. I wondered why she bore the name, thinking she looked more like my cousin, Lydia.
Yes. I did quietly ponder her, sitting by herself at enough of a distance from everyone else. Perhaps I said something to one of the other girls I was with. Perhaps I described her as the young woman who’d had a nervous breakdown, and perhaps my voice was loud enough for her to hear. I don’t remember. She never looked my way, not once.
And, I don’t remember if she ever spoke. To anyone. Ever. For the whole week.
Decades hence, I thought of her today.
And, I thought about everybody I had ever known since who had seen a counselor, or been depressed, either once or chronically, including myself. I thought about those who had tried to take their own lives, some successfully. I thought about the numerous shelters for the mentally ill, the many programs, the dedicated facilities. I thought about the ever-expanding subsets of manic-depression, schizophrenia, and addiction, and all their secondary associated syndromes.
But, I thought of Heidi. Where had she gone after that week at Grove City? Had she gone “home”? Who waited for her return? Did she get a job? Did she have any friends?
Or, had she just been dumped by a boyfriend, and found herself unable to cope with the sudden abandonment after giving her all. Had she picked up a heavy object and thrown it ‘til it shattered. Had she torn everything out of the back seat of her car in smearing tears and tossed it into the yard. Had she been seen driving repeatedly past his house, waiting for the new girl to emerge, and did somebody follow her home. Had she been evaluated by a clinic and admitted for observation. And, was all of this, every last detail, made the topic of conversation every week between Sunday School and Worship Meeting over coffee and cookies in the basement of the meeting hall of the Plymouth Brethren.
Perhaps Heidi is a retired senior citizen, living in a suburb of Seattle, caring for two cats now and occasionally submitting a Letter to the Editor of her local newspaper. I rather hope so. I really hope she’s had a child, maybe even with a husband, and that they take walks at least three times a week outside someplace where the air is safe to breathe. I hope that she is the Heidi that people greet when they see her out and about. I hope that she has escaped the stigma of everything unimaginable with her very life.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
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