Baby Steps

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When you are trapped inside a jail of your own making, the only liberator up to the task is a fellow prisoner.

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Let me kick off today's "Bloodlines" episode with a story from SNAP favorite Joshua Walters wherein Joshua discovers that you don't even have to be related to be related.

JOSHUA WALTERS: You don't always need a degree to work in mental health. Sometimes all you need is a diagnosis yourself. I'm a coach for people with mental disability. And it was my history that got me the job. It was my own label that got me hired. But there are certain words we don't use. One of my clients - no, we don't use that word. One of my patients - no, we don't use that word. One of the consumers - hmm, oh, we definitely don't use that word. We're not shopping at Ross. One of the people I coach is a schizophrenic guy named Lee who lives alone in his apartment. He doesn't come to our center in Oakland, so I travel to him. I get to his complex one afternoon and ring the door. He answers in a white T, some shorts, haggard hair, standing on swollen ankles. He's just putting out his cigarette when he invites me in. Lee, do you want to go outside? Get some fresh air? He prefers to be indoors.

The room is filled with smoke and cardboard boxes. This place is cluttered, he says. And so is my mind. These eyes are locked on the boxes in front the TV. We can get out, I say. Lee points to his ankles and says he can't walk that far and alludes to the fact that he hasn't left the house in a while. How long has it been since you left the apartment, I ask. It's been a month, he says. Then Lee brings up the word Agoraphobia - the fear of leaving your home. I tell him, you know, Lee, some years back, I couldn't leave the house. I would get on my shoes and then kind of hover around the doorway. My moms would see something was suspicious when my foot would just drag a little too slow. Oh, no, she would say, come on big guy, come on big guy. My dad would say, I could just make it out the front door where I would get one foot in the car, and before the car door would close, I would freeze. Terror would strike. Where exactly were these parentals taking me? I told Lee the whole story sitting there in his smoke-filled apartment. He wasn't staring at a pile of boxes anymore. He was looking right at me. So you think you can get out of the house today, I asked? I don't think so, he said. How about just to the corner store? No. Around the block? I don't think I can. OK, I said.

Well, then how about this - how about we take some baby steps? How about today we just go downstairs, get in the car and we listen to one song and then we come right back here? He thought about it and there was a pause. And before he could answer, I said, now, Lee, today is a special day. My next appointment was canceled so we have extra time. And I don't know when I will have this opportunity again. We can go wherever you want, but today let's just go downstairs, sit in the car and listen to one song. He thought about it. And he thought about it. And after a couple more seconds he said, I can do that.

So I grabbed my bag and Lee got his sandals and we walked down the concrete stairs and exited the front gate and walked the 15 steps to my green and gold Subaru Outback, a car made for adventure. We got in and I put in the CD that was a soundtrack from the Almodovar film "Talk To Her." Track two was Spanish violin and guitar, and for six minutes, we listened. After it was done I didn't ask how do you feel. I said do you want another? And he said, yes. The next track was Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso pretending to be a pigeon, (singing in Portuguese). And during this silliness of syllables I asked Lee - what's going on for you right now? The music, he said, it helps me relax. Lee, I said with a smile, if you could go anywhere right now, where would you want to go?

And he thought about it and he said Alameda beach. And I let it sink in and then I said - you want to go? Nah, he said, maybe next time. And I let the song play. (Singing in Portuguese). Three and a half minutes we listened. And right when it was about to end Lee said - do we still have time? Yes, I said and I started the engine of the Subaru outback. And we sped to the freeway. We traveled through East Oakland, past East 14th, past the airport onto Otis Ave in Alameda, when we asked - before we go to the beach, can we get some chicken McNuggets? I hadn't eaten McDonald's since Patrick Powers' mom took me there when I was 11 after the basketball game. We found the drive-through and I shelled out the cash for the 20-piece McNuggets. This was coach's treat today. We drove to the beach and right in front of the beach there was a little dog park. Lee said I don't know if I can make it outside. And so to calm the anxiety of the moment, we ate our McNuggets in the Subaru with the windows rolled up and the barbecue sauce thoroughly corn syruped. This was our victory lap of gluttony. The McFranken nuggets did the trick. And without too much hesitation, we decided we would exit the car. And as we did, some dogs barked and two dog owners got into a heated verbal disagreement and they were yelling profanities and recording each other's face with their phones for legal documentation and due process. And me and Lee were both astounded at how some people behave. We finally got to the beach.

And I said, you know, Lee, it's not really the beach until you take off your shoes. And he took off his sandals. And I took off my dress shoes and my dress socks and we put them next to each other and we walked on the shore for a bit. And then I said, you know, Lee, it's not really a walk on the beach until you dip your sweet tootsies into that water. And a rolled up my dress pants, as this was still a workday, and I said I'm going in, but I'm not going in alone. And Lee and I inch toward that water until the bay lapped upon our ankles. It was then that Lee laughed. Those dog people, he said, some folks just don't know how to relax.

WASHINGTON: Thank you, Joshua. That piece was produced by Mark Ristich with sound design by Leon Morimoto. Now, if you love Joshua like we love Joshua, know that the SNAP archives are littered with tales from Joshua Walters. Explore at snapjudgment.org or go right to the source - thejoshuawalters.com. When we return, a love story like you've never heard before and SNAP JUDGMENT chases our bloodline to the most isolated nation on earth, for real, when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Bloodlines" episode continues. Stay tuned.

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