Francisco Javier Ojeda, 50, was struck and killed by a car while crossing a street against the light when walking to work at the Home Depot in Fridley this week. He commuted there from his home in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, a gauntlet that appears to mirror much of his life.
Ojeda suffered from mental illness and his life story, told lovingly by his brother — Pioneer Press reporter Julio Ojeda-Zapata — is a familiar one: he was a “gentle soul”, the “smartest one in the family”, but he dropped out of college, roamed the world, and spent time in psychiatric hospitals and jail, his brother said.
He’d turned his life around in recent years, learned never to go off his meds, found housing, and a job, Ojeda-Zapata said in a Facebook post.
He lived not far from me under humble circumstances. He struggled with mental illness most of his life, as I have. In Minnesota, he found a social safety net that kept him off the streets and in good health after many years as a vagabond elsewhere in the country and the world. He learned never to go off his meds, a lesson I’ve also learned the hard way, and found steady work at Home Depot.
He played the piano. He was a whiz at languages and kept giving me on-the-fly Chinese lessons. He spammed me constantly with YouTube links to his favorite singers; he once asked me if he was annoying me with the links, and I said, “Nah, it’s cool.” (The on-the-fly Chinese lessons were a little annoying, but I never said so.)
I didn’t spend enough time with him. Honestly, we were never close, but I should have made a greater effort. Now I can’t, and I’ll have to live with that.
In matters of considering people with mental illness, maybe this is what we need to see, a gift from the Ojeda family.
In the comments section of Ojeda-Zapata’s post is a truism from a former MPR colleague: “Loving a family member with mental illness is a hard love that stings,” she wrote.