Let’s say your next-door neighbor, who may or may not be mentally ill, wrote you a letter. This happened to my friend, Brian, in the fall of 2013. He was living in a sherbet-orange bungalow with his wife and three-year-old son in Highland Park, L.A. The letter was out on the walkway to the front door. No postage. When he picked it up, he noted his neighbor’s name, Ashley, in the return address.
In the year that Brian had been living there they had rarely spoken to one another. Ashley was a quiet neighbor, a mumbler in his mid-to-late forties, who kept to his side of the fence. Brian figured he might be living on disability. He never thought of him as a threat.
Ashley was often seen pacing about his own yard in an orange hoodie, smoking one Kool cigarette after the other. But the evening Brian discovered the letter on the walkway, Ashley was neither out on the lawn, nor peering out from behind the slats of his cream-colored bungalow. Brian could have just thrown the letter away without reading it, rather than bringing it to the kitchen to open it up with a butter knife.