Every Wednesday for 6 and a half years I get up to the sound of the alarm clock. O.K. maybe not every Wednesday but the majority of Wednesdays over the past 6 and a half years I have gotten up to the sound of that thing known as an alarm clock. I didn’t a week ago but I did this past Wednesday.
Every Wednesday I spend 12 plus hours with a severely mentally challenged man and for the sake of this post I will call him Buddy. Over the years I have come to know Buddy pretty well – I know what he does right before he is going to sneeze (which is a sign for me to run for the hills or at the very least cover my face.) I know what he says when he wants me to turn up the radio in the car (which has nothing to do with turning up the radio and everything to do with changing the station) so he can “rock out” as I refer to it. I know what Buddy will do if he doesn’t want to go outside or get out of the car. There has been many a time I have driven 2 plus hours to what I thought would be our destination for the day only to have Buddy not get out of the car.
And I know when I need to get out of the car or house when Buddy has a meltdown. I have stood outside the house in the pouring rain, I have stood outside the car on the side of a 4 lane major highway, I have stood in the strangest places – in the strangest attire (say after Buddy ripped half my sweater off) – while Buddy melts down and cools down in the car or house. He doesn’t do this often and over the years his meltdowns have become less frequent.
This past Wednesday Buddy and I went for a lengthy ride and had a pretty good hike. Buddy loves to hike and he will hike in anything. I have hiked with him in brutally hot temperatures and I have hiked with him in snow. It amazes me how much he enjoys it and for someone with all his disabilities – he just amazes me in general. He did really well this past week and though, even after 6 years, I don’t fully know what he understands and doesn’t understand, I speak to him as if he understands absolutely everything. I pointed out mushrooms and the beautiful colors of the changing leaves. I told him how sad I have been feeling and how I wished I had worn better shoes. I have often said I would give a kidney to climb inside his brain – see what he sees – hear what he hears – just for 5 minutes.
One look at Buddy and it is pretty clear something is wrong with him. Over the years I have had a few incidents where I am utterly taken aback by the reaction of grown adults towards Buddy. I can understand kids – children staring – asking questions – and I always answer them. But I do not understand grown adults who snicker or make rude comments. Makes me wonder what kind of home they raised in. Is it just pure ignorance? Lack of education? Don’t they realize how lucky they are – how lucky their children are – to have been born healthy?
It can be very hard sometimes – very challenging and I have had some pretty bad Wednesdays with Buddy. Buddy is a grown man with unbelievable strength. Buddy has very limited verbal skills and communication can be difficult. Buddy is considered to be legally blind with one eye and very strong glasses to correct the vision in his good eye. And when Buddy has a meltdown he self harms and it can be a very difficult thing to watch. Luckily – again – these meltdowns are becoming less frequent. Unfortunately no one really knows what brings on these meltdowns.
But the good days definitely out weight the bad days and the majority of the time we have fun.
Why I have chosen to write about my Buddy?
Because it is real easy to lose myself when I am the “public me.” The “public me” can cause a big head or huge ego. It bothers me that “people” who don’t really know me chose to put me in a category – a sort of “guilty by association” type thing. It bothers me because if they just got to know me – if they just sat down and talked to me – then maybe they would see the “private me” but often it is the other case. I have already been “labeled” and I am already “one of them.”
Being with Buddy keeps me grounded – keeps me humble – keeps me down to earth. Being with Buddy keeps me grateful. When I get a bad case of the “woe is me’s” being with Buddy can help snap me out of it. Buddy makes me realize just how lucky I have been and just how lucky I am. Buddy puts things into perspective for me.