|Halle Berry in "Frankie and Alice"|
Photo Credit: Sergei Bachlakov
The first shot of Frankie’s room triggered memories of my childhood-friend Kareem. Sterile white walls and an uninviting gray twin bed stuffed in the corner of Frankie’s new home made me wonder. Was his room like hers? Did he have a decent view from his window? Kareem was one of my closest friends during middle school. We became friends during our tweens in the early 1990s. Kareem and I talked on the phone about things like wrestling, Tupac, girl-group TLC, roller coasters and our class crushes. He played the dozens with sharpness and schooled me on the art of wit. A lot of black kids our age weren’t into “Seinfeld,” but Kareem loved it. Kramer’s signature stumbling entrance cracked him up. Kareem was persistent in getting me to tune in and I was stubborn. I loved “Martin” and didn’t think “Seinfeld” could compare. “Just watch it!,” Kareem would say. I finally gave in after months of persuasion and was hooked.
Things changed during high school. Kareem changed. He moved about 45 minutes away from Oakland and began getting in trouble at school a lot. That was not like him. He called me a number of times and said he was hearing voices. I thought someone laced his marijuana. I called his mother. I didn’t want to get Kareem in trouble but he needed help. His mother told me she knew about the voices and doctors had diagnosed Kareem with schizophrenia. My stomach dropped. Schizophrenia? I didn’t know much about schizophrenia then. All I knew was that schizophrenia was a mental illness and this situation was serious.
Eventually I lost contact with Kareem and his family. He moved around to different facilities and his mother didn’t return my calls. I understand. She had other children, a husband, and a job to juggle in addition to Kareem. I commend her for being strong and taking care of her son. Even before “Frankie and Alice” I never stopped thinking about Kareem. Every time I catch a “Seinfeld” rerun, and watch Kramer fling open a door, I remember Kareem’s laughter. The upside to all of this oddly is Kareem was one of the lucky ones. He, like Halle Berry’s character, had access to mental-health services. Many people today aren't so fortunate. But that’s another post.