"Rapist! Murderer! Child Molestor!"

These were the words screamed at my husband as he helped out a neighbor, Lynette, by hand watering her front yard. This happened almost every time he spent a few minutes with our neighbor's garden hose. The screamer was Maria, a pleasant, educated, friendly woman when she moved with her husband and young son into a nice house at the end of our Scripps Ranch street many years ago. Then, something happened to Maria's brain and our neighborhood has never been the same.

Everyone, before long, came into contact with Maria. My first encounter was when she drove by in her silver station wagon. I looked up from my gardening upon hearing what sounded like someone vomiting. There she was, driving by, pretending to vomit, with one hand held under her mouth. Then, when she noticed that she had my attention, she began cackling, like a witch, and drove away. This repeated action on her part was noticed by everyone. She didn't discriminate. All neighbors and their guests received her treatment.

Once we were all used to Maria's vomit drive-bys, she must have gotten bored, and she added giving everyone the finger, usually instead of the cackle. One day, when my husband and I were walking our poodle, there were people on both sides of the street, as school had just let out. Maria drove by and noticing so many people to insult, she opened her car door, while still moving down the street, so we would all see her middle finger extended on each hand, as she pretended to vomit.

One time, while walking with my young grandson around the block, Maria came outside as we passed her house. She shouted at me "you prostitute. You Jewish whore. Hitler should have left you dead!" Stunned, with a frightened grandchild, I tried to explain to him about mental illness and its effects. Later I asked Lynette's husband "How could Maria know I'm Jewish?" He replied, "She doesn't. It's one of her insults. She calls everyone a Jew."

Many times over the years, the police have made house calls. Social workers from Child Protective Services have also visited the home down our street. I don't know how Maria holds it together enough to pass an interview, but apparently she does. Many neighbors have spoken to her poor husband, Tim, who appeared sympathetic to their complaints of harassment by Maria. His explanation has always been that he can't make her take her meds. Her drivers license has been suspended at least twice, but she always gets it back, causing many neighbors who've seen her drive with no hands on the wheels and no eyes on the road ahead -- to fear.

Lately, our neighborhood in old Scripps Ranch has been quiet. Our conversations no longer revolve around Maria and whom she last insulted and how they reacted. Tim, it seems, has locked Maria out. I don't know where she's been living, but I'm happy for the reprieve, however long it lasts. Every now and then, we see our former neighbor, driving past our house, looking for victims. If she sees someone, she'll roll down her windows, vomit, cackle or flip the bird. But the "Rapist", "Murderer", "Child Molester" and "Whore" insults are over; old Scripps is a happy, neigborly place to live once more.

Joan Lieberman, Age 63



But if it is mental illness you know not to take it personally.

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