Sunday, July 18, 2004

Summer's back,

meaning long cold mornings, sun-filled warm afternoons, and cool as February evenings. This is June in the S.F. Bay Area. I love such days, though I sometimes miss the heat of the valley. On such days this time of year, there can be a 20 degree difference within a 15 mile radius. If we really want "summer" it's just a short trip away by car. Micro-climates are a feature of our area -- year round. In winter, we drive to the snow. Three hours and we're up to our bellies in the white stuff. "Going to the snow" is much like "going to Disneyland." We ski and loll around the hearth sipping cocoa for a day in a rented time-share then leave it all to return to what passes as winter for us with no streets to plow nor pipes to burst. Nature has treated us quite sensibly, I think. For that, a little June morning and evening fog is a reasonable trade-off. As my late Uncle Louis remarked on one of his two trips from New Orleans, "...(laughing crazily!) who ever heard of vendors selling hot soup at a baseball game!" He'd gone with friends to Candlestick Park to see the Giants play -- that was in June as I recall.

Dorian just called from the Mall. We're entertaining one of her friends from Clausen House this weekend. He is Chris Moore, a stocky 5'5" who is also mentally retarded, but who is literate. He is easily identified by his coke-bottle eyeglasses and protective white bicycle helmet -- worn at all times as a defense against the unpredictable seizures he suffers. He has a shunt in his head that drains off fluids that collect and effects his ability to function.

I sometimes forget how much harder life could be. Chris's mother died when he was just a baby. His father remarried but lives many miles away in a small town on the Mendecino Coast. Chris lives a lonely life in a small apartment shared with a blind roommate in an Oakland Lakeside District near to where Dorian lived. He is another client of Clausen House and the Regional Center of the East Bay. For a while they shared case managers.

Dorian and Chris have an interesting friendship. She is bossy and very maternal and here's a guy who needs mothering desparately. She has imagination and a flair for the dramatic, but has no way to record any of that since her brain damage lies mainly in the visual perceptual areas making her illiterate. You might describe her as Dyslexis-Extremis (if there were such a word). She is highly verbal with a surprisingly large vocabulary. Chris is almost mute with various grunts, but can express himself adequately when the need arises. He reads well, and has worked in the mailroom of Kaiser for many years despite serious narcolepsy. Their accommodation to their deficits? Dorian dictates her journal in a lovely cloth-covered binder while Chris faithfully records every word for her. It's a wonder to watch.

Every six weeks or so, Chris spends the weekend with us here. He's an easy guest since there's nothing more interesting to him than wandering through Hilltop Mall -- just a block or so away from our condo.

Yesterday was eventful.

First mistake: Not wanting to drive in to pick him up at his apartment in Oakland, we carefully gave him directions that would bring him to Richmond on the BART train. He makes an occasional 150 mile trip by bus to Willits (in Mendecino County to the north), to visit his father, so it didn't seem too outrageous. He called us as instructed as he was leaving home to walk to BART. We figured about 45 minutes for the walk (at his slow pace) and the boarding of the train and trip to our station. We left home at 3 o'clock in plenty of time to meet him. We waited until 9 trains has come and gone. No Chris. We asked several times for the booth attendant to page the other stations so that we could find out where he'd mistakenly landed. She became impatient and finally told us to move on. Could he have had a seizure?

We left the station and drove to two others, and found him not. Finally, at around 5:30 we returned home to find a phone message that he was "at the station and waiting for us." No station named. The answering machine timed the call at 4:11. Frustration!

After much driving around, again, we returned home (it's now after six) and he called again. This time he told me that he was standing near Walgreens, Burger King, and one other building that I could identify as an intersection near the Richmond BART station. "Walk to the corner of Marina Way and Macdonald Avenue (this was it!), Chris, and we'll pick you up in about ten minutes." Back into the car, to the center of old Richmond, no one standing at the intersection. Dorian happened to look at the front of Walgreen's in the nearby strip mall and there was Chris. His bicycle helmet, crammed backpack, and as always -- ski jacket making him easily identifiable among the people and cars. He'd not heard the pages since he'd left the BART station immediately upon arrival. We'd told him to stand at the ticket booth until Dorian arrived to claim him.

That was yesterday.

Today the two of them walked to the nearby Hilltop Mall. Not long after they'd left, Dorian called to say that Chris was lost again. He'd wandered away soon after they'd arrived at Sears and she couldn't find him. We spent the next two hours standing at the railing of the upstairs -- scanning the Sunday crowd for a sign of that damned bicycle helmet! When found (and it was Dorrie, again, who picked him out of the crowd), he was emerging from a cellular phone store with a new phone. It was all quite logical. He was aware that he was lost, couldn't find a phone anyway, and therefore went into the cellphone store and made a $252 contract deal for a way to find us.

Remembered then the irony that yesterday he'd found himself lost, but lacked the ability to know that calling Dorian on her cell would have reached us while leaving messages on the home phone would not (since we were out looking for him).

This is life with the retarded.

Upon reaching home, Dorian and I immediately helped Chris to pack his overstuffed backpack for the drive back to Oakland. He'd (we'd) spent the entire weekend being lost. That this was not extraordinary for him was obvious by the fact that at no time did he exhibit either fear or frustration. Being lost in the world was simply a part of "being." He'd tried to enlist the help of one of the security people at the Mall, because he was carrying our address and phone numbers. He couldn't make himself understood, obviously, so the purchase of the phone.

Being "lost in the world" is also common to most of us at some time or another, I suppose. It may simply be that we have the sophistication to mask such feelings. For poor Chris, it's a constant factor. He's learned to live with it. I do wish "the world" would deal with these fragile souls with more compassion, though. So much effort has to be expended into simply dealing with time and space ... .

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