This evening I watched a TV news report on James Holmes, the suspected Batman killer, and how he went from a geeky but basically normal teenager to the zomboid freak that showed up in court today. The reporter said everyone who knew Holmes back then is wondering now what happened to him over the years. Me, I thought of my friend Z.

Z. is in his late twenties. He is smart, kind, quirky, and fun to be around. That’s how I remember him. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years. He called me one night some months back from his city, and told me he had had a run-in with police. They found him naked atop a tree. He said he fell out of the tree, and was arrested in the hospital after he came to.

Z. told me he had been smoking “synthetic marijuana,” a legal (in his state, at the time at least) product that has been known to produce psychotic episodes in some people. It did him. He talked as if it were just one more kooky episode in his life.

I didn’t hear from him for a while. Then a mutual friend got in touch to tell me that Z. was in a psychiatric hospital. He had been using the drug again, and was arrested after having another psychotic episode in public. Doctors were saying that the drug can release underlying psychoses — that is, make people who have latent psychosis go active with severe mental illness.

Z. was released from the hospital after 10 days, and given medication. He lost his job, however, and refused to take his medication. The last time I heard from him was about two months ago, when he contacted me to ask permission to come visit while on a roadtrip. I told him no, he couldn’t, and that he should go back home, start taking his medication, and work to make things right with the people he hurt and offended by his behavior. He said he would.

What he did was go home and start living on the streets of his city, record his videos on an iPhone, and upload them to the Internet. He’s officially homeless, and lives in a shelter. It’s heartbreaking to see the video of this brilliant, sweet, fun young man. He’s fried his brain, he won’t get help, and nobody apparently can compel him to get help. He went from having a demanding but worthwhile job, beloved by most everyone, to a mental case living on the streets — all in the past year. Just like that.

It happens. I wonder if James Holmes ever experimented with synthetic marijuana…