J is for “Just call me Catpiss”

JI don’t usually talk about work, but the letter J brought to mind a work situation I wanted to write about.  I was working in a residential mental health facility.  On the first day, I was being introduced to clients and staff and as they were about to tell me one of the clients’ names, she extended her hand and said, confidently “Just call me Catpiss.”  Believe it or not, that was the start of one of the best working relationships I ever had.

Her “real” name was Penny* (at least as far as anyone knew… apparently, they’d never been able to find anyone, anywhere who knew her. She had no ID on her and no one ever unearthed a birth certificate or anything else).  She told me once she’d FOUND the Social Security card that was on record – but, for whatever reason (mostly, I think she simply didn’t WANT to remember) no other records could be found for her.  And remember, the clients were persons with mental illnesses.

Although I was simply an Administrative Assistant, thus not in a therapeutic role, Penny and many of the other residents would come and chat with me. They liked someone who just LISTENED and didn’t try to analyze everything they said and didn’t try to “fix” them.

Penny’s fondest wish was to go live out in the country, like she said she had before she had come into the city with her family and been left behind (did that really happen? I don’t think I’ll ever know).  She was a grown woman in her 30s when I met her but she presented as a very young woman.  Her hair styled in a way that made her border on child-like. She was an artist and in many ways a visionary. She was eccentric, but for me, that was part of her charm. The counselors HATED that she talked to me but wouldn’t open up to any of them. She slipped a lot of very profound insights into herself and her life “before getting into The System.”  And even though I probably should have shared more with staff, there are some things I’ve never told anyone. Because she trusted me.

I still wonder whatever became of her. I hope that she did eventually find a nice little place in the country.  I’ll never forget, though, the confident smile as she shook my hand and said “Just call me Catpiss.”



*No, “Penny” was not her real name.  I know that there are patient confidentiality rules, HIPAA and soforth.