I found some stories about my life that I had forgotten, so I’m posting here so I know where to find them.
Views on Normal Behavior
As I watched David descend the stairs with the program aide, I knew they had had a dispute, and David thought he got in the last word of the confrontation. The small smirk on his face did not hint at the discomfort he felt from the wet stain that marked his pants. He had literally told the program aide, “Piss on you.” As a low-end trainable in the programming adult foster care facility for the mentally retarded, David was slow, but he was not dumb. His dark eyes often showed a knowing that belied his stocky, barely five foot frame. Shortly after he was born, his parents had consigned him to the care of the state; fortunately, he had progressed far enough in personal care that he was transferred to the programming facility where I was the Assistant Program Coordinator. David was one of my eighteen charges, which the staff of the facility was to move to greater independence through training of normal behavior.
At the time, I considered myself the most normal in the facility. After all, I was only there because my father had died before his fiftieth birthday as he had promised. I remember the conversation with him as he held out the lure of his pharmacy store. He wanted me to know that he felt that I could handle the store if I were to apply myself and that he knew that he would not live to see fifty. I had assumed that he was tired of paying for my college education as I leapfrogged from major to major. As far as his not living until he was fifty, he always struck me as a man of energy. Sure, he had high blood pressure and blood clots in his legs, but how does anyone know when he or she will die? How could he know? When he did die, I felt betrayed. I had wanted to deny what he had said; it was abnormal for someone to say that he would not live until a specific age.
It was funny to think of training normal behavior into this group of adult males by a staff that was barely normal itself. The facility, located in a small town residential section at the geographical center of Michigan, was the picture of Middle American white, two story homes with its wide colonial front porch and fence-in back yard. Despite its innocuous appearance, it could only attract the town’s outcasts to work with the guys. Our staff consisted of poorly skilled aides, homosexuals, transsexuals, and me, an escapist from responsibility, all working to assist the residents to learn how to be accepted by society. Oh, how ironic! You have no idea how difficult it was to get the residents not mimic one gay aide’s quips of “Pop me a cookie!” or “Gravy!” and to train the aides that the goal was to train the residents in normal behavior and not gay catch phrases. To make matters worst, one of the owners of the facility was a transsexual whose name was in the process of changing from Ron to Renee. Try justifying that to the mentally handicapped as normal behavior.
If the truth were known, I was terrified at the prospect of working with the mentally handicapped. Horror stories flew around about on how people who worked in state institutions were maimed or killed by their charges. It gave me nightmares. However, my boyfriend, Gil, was hired on at the programming facility as the Program Coordinator, and I felt that if he could handle it, then, I could as well (Yes, in looking back, I needed a safe male to attach myself to after my father had died).The first few weeks were terrifying for me. Aside from a couple of the residents, the rest of the men looked strange, but as I grew to know them, the strangeness melted away.
A requirement for the facility was to have an aide sleep on the premises to handle any emergencies that might arise. Technically, the two senior staff members only had to be on call, so their nights were free. One night, in an attempt at normal life, Gil and I went to the drive-in theater to see a low budget movie. Unfortunately, halfway through the picture, our beepers went off (this was in the day before cell phones were common). As we were only five minutes away from the facility, we just headed off to the home. Pulling into the driveway, we saw the on-duty night aide sitting on the front steps. Not seeing anyone else outside of the facility, we assumed that fire was not the emergency. Anxious to find out what was wrong, Gil asked the teary eyed aide what was the matter. The hysterical aide responded that he had discovered that he had crabs and that he came out on the front porch so that he would not contaminate any of the residents. Relieved, Gil explained to the aide that the only way that the residents would get crabs was through sexual intercourse; was there any reason for concern in that area? The aide said that, no, he had not touched any of the residents, but the aide remained distraught. Gil sent the aide home and took the aide’s place with night duty, and I went home alone. It was another normal night at the facility.
Working day after day with the residents gradually wore away my fear that haunted me when I had first started working with them. I came to know their personalities and to listen to what they had to say whether it was expressed verbally or not. For some of the guys, body language was far more eloquent than what they could actually say. I prided myself on being able to read their body language, and, especially, those signs that betrayed potential bursts of violent aberrant behavior that sometimes shook the facility.
Normal behavior is the mean average between the extremes of behavior. The home’s residents were normal in that they wished comfort, approval, and love. Red haired Bob wanted to be a rock star like Elvis, short David a basketball player. Both of them were Down’s syndrome men with the typical facial appearance, complete with perpetually parted lips. Brian, the most normal looking of our young men, was a high educable that knew his differences from the rest of the town’s inhabitants, and all he wanted was to be accepted as a regular high school student. These dreams seemed no different than those of any young males’ dreams. The difference was that they were not young in body, only the mind. Their dream was to live at home with their families, the same families that dropped them off at the state’s doorstep, unwanted.
One of the most rewarding experiences for the guys was when the facility was given free tickets to the Silver Dome Elvis concert. Bob was beside himself with excitement, and when he saw Elvis on stage, his eyes grew as large as Elvis himself. Of course, our seats were in the upper stratosphere of the stadium, and Elvis was only two inches high from the distance that we were viewing him; however, he was bigger than life for Bob. Despite one of the residents getting lost for two hours, it was well worth the anxiety of the experience for the reward of the residents’ seeing one of their heroes.
The facility was geared to the normalization of the residents. As life-long members of the state institution, their acceptance into the facility meant that they were fairly independent and that they needed minimal supervision. Most of the time, they were eager and engaging, willing to try their best for the small rewards of a dinner out or a movie. I grew to love my guys, and it always was heartbreaking to learn that many of their families could not handle the sigma of a retarded child. As I overcame my own fear of working with the residents, I became indignant at the attitude of the residents’ families. The trauma of creating a less than perfect child would often split the parents by divorce, unwilling to acknowledge that imperfection could result from their union.
Unlike red-headed good-natured Bob, round bodied, thin-haired Bobby was an ectopic baby (conceived and nurtured in a fallopian tube). As a result of developing in the restrictions of his unnatural womb, Bobby could not move his arms away from his body easily. His held his hands clasped in front of his body like a repentant monk peering over the top of his glasses on his lowered head, or if he were in one of his bad moods, like a preying mantis waiting to strike. Strike he could if he were pushed to it to get his way.
The noise of destruction echoed through the house as I rushed to the community/dining room. It really wasn’t necessary to know what caused the ruckus or why Bobby was throwing over whatever laid on top of the tables to crash to the floor. What was important was to remove him from the room away from the other residents because as long as he had an audience, he would play to it with as much flourish as he could muster. Also, it was possible that the high emotions could counteract the medications that helped to keep the other residents in check. Consequently, with the assistance of an aide, I started herding Bobby out of the room toward the bedroom hallway. Avoiding his flailing arms, we were able to get him into a bedroom where I tackled him onto a single bed. Unfortunately, despite his large size, he was able to wriggle free after two or three minutes and was out the door heading through the kitchen.
I was hoping that the kitchen might slow him down as he loved to eat. Food was his solace, and he always kept some with him, hidden in his rosy chipmunk cheeks. Apparently, he either had enough in storage or his emotions were running too high for the lure of the kitchen to halt his progress. He ran through the house to the office annex where he started tearing pictures off the wall. With the help of two other aides, we got Bobby pinned to the floor, but to keep him down, it was necessary for me to sit on him. While he lay pinned under me, Gil called the doctor and received permission to administer a shot of Thorazine to Bobby. Bobby’s emotions were running too high to stop. After twenty minutes, it was necessary to give Bobby an additional shot before he calmed down enough to help him to his bed to sleep it off thirty minutes later. As I had Bobby pinned to the floor, David walked through the room watching the action. In a short while, he simply shook his head and walked off to his bedroom. It was just another normal day at the facility.
David’s parents left him at the institution as a baby, and as far as I heard, they did not even see fit to visit him. David, despite a limited ability to vocalize, could always communicate his pleasure or displeasure. It was not difficult to intuit what he meant by “basketball” and the dribbling motion with his hands. When he was fed up with someone or something, he would merely shake his head and stroll away with an expression that said, “Can you believe that someone would do that?” It was easy for those who did not know David to think that there was not much going on in that shaggy head of his; however, they would be wrong. Nothing brought this home to me more than the time he was grounded from a movie.
I don’t remember why he was being punished. More than likely, he wouldn’t give up something that belonged to another resident, probably a basketball because basketball was one of his true passions in life. From time to time, he would mumble enough words for you to know that he was going to be a basketball star. Of course, we never told him that a four feet and ten inches tall, twenty year old would not have scouts looking for him. It would have made no difference because, in his mind, he would be a basketball star. Anyway, when I told David that he could not go to the movie with the rest of the residents, he did not acknowledge it in anyway except to fall in line as the rest of them were loading up in the van. I steered him out of line and told him he was grounded to his bedroom. He went quietly enough to make me suspicious.
When the van had left and I was alone in the house with David, I checked in on him in his bedroom, which adjoined the office. The other door to his bedroom opened to the bathroom through which he was walking out to go out the other side of the house. Again, I steered him back into his bedroom, but this time I locked the bathroom door. He was now trapped. If he were to leave his room, he would have to walk by me in the office. Now, comfortable that he was securely in place, I went to the office and started some of the paperwork that was always piled on my desk. In a few minutes, however, he walked out of his door, with his usual nonchalance, and moved toward the dining room. Once more, I firmly pivoted his shoulders to indicate his bedroom, and he went back quietly into his room.
Knowing that this would not be the end of it, I stood by his door listening to see if he would try the bathroom door again. Instead, I heard sounds on the closet side of the bedroom. He was moving things around in his closet. Listening further, I heard him mutter, “door … hide … come in … not see … gone … look house … escape.” Those few words told me that he had hatched an elaborate escape plan. He would hide in the closet. I would come in to check on him and see him gone. He knew that I would run through the house trying to find him, and while I was upstairs looking for him, he would escape from the house. Not so dumb, I thought.
I sat at my desk trying to decide how to handle the situation. On one hand, if I were to tell him that I knew of his plan, he would come up with another, and the game would continue all night long. It was twenty minutes from the time that I needed to give him his medication, so I waited until it was time for his meds and entered his room. I heard him shift slightly in the closet getting ready. After a minute, I went to the closet, and I opened the door.
“Here is your medication, David.” I waited until he took the pills and closed the door on his disappointed face. He did not stir from the closet. It was now a matter of pride. He wanted to be in the closet all along. There was no plan for escape. Right… After the rest of the residents came home, his roommate, Bob, wanted to know where David was. Bob wanted to tell David what a great movie he missed. After telling Bob where David was, I heard him open the closet door and exclaim, “What are you doing in here, David?” David muttered some reply and got up out of the closet to join the rest of the group, the great escape foiled.
That Christmas, Gil got in touch with David’s parents, and they came fearfully to bring David a present. It broke my heart to see the guilt they felt when they saw how well he was doing. Despite the fears that had kept them away from seeing David, they discovered that, indeed, they had produced a human being. Of course, it was understood that they would not care for him within their family home as they were not equipped to handle his needs, but at least, he was now included within their family circle with holiday visits. And, after all of those years, the best present that they could give him was the acknowledgement that he was part of a family.
It was a good Christmas, and as things settled back to normalcy after the excitement of the holiday, I was content. We hired another program aide, the city’s high school homecoming queen, Mary. She certainly turned the heads of the residents and of some of the staff, including Gil. Mary worked the evening shift with me, and as Gil worked the day shift, it did not worry me. The residents were on their best behavior to impress her, and she enjoyed working with the residents. Brian, who attended the high school’s special education program, was the only resident who did not want to work with her; however, he would eventually overcome his hesitancy around Mary, which relieved my mind as she was competent in her work. At least, I thought so. It may have been that I was trying to compensate for my own jealousy of her obvious attraction for Gil. For the two hour overlap between shifts, Gil was always talking with her. His body language, as well as hers, told me more than I wanted to know.
One day, I had to return to my house to pick up something that I had forgotten. I could see Mary’s car in the driveway. When I tried the front door, it was locked. It was never locked! In our small town, it was unheard of locking the door during the day. After opening the door, I saw Gil on the couch with Mary next to him. They were surprised to see me, and their body language was clear to me. I am afraid that I went on a tirade. I told Gil that I had had it, and that I was leaving him. One looked aghast and the other puzzled. I don’t remember much after that. I had called my mother to come rescue me, and my brother came with a van the next day to pick up my stuff. After spending three years trying to teach my guys normal behavior, I had gone berserk, but under the circumstances, it was normal wasn’t it?