After His Only Relative Passes Away, 30 Year Old Disabled Man Finds A New Home
Popcorn and Pillows
Chris walked aimlessly in circles around his room. He was happy to look at the details around at his surroundings and especially liked the popcorn walls. Few things brought him more joy than running his hands across them like he was going on an adventure around them.
But today wasn’t a wall exploration day. Instead, he found a pillow on the floor and squeezed it tight. Even that wasn’t doing it for him. He wondered what he could play with next when he saw a dusty set of blocks in the corner. He decided that would do nicely, and started stacking to his heart’s content.
Playing with Blocks
Except that Chris was not a child to be playing with blocks. He was a thirty-year-old man on the autistic spectrum. Chris was extremely cognitively delayed, to the extent that he functioned at a six-year-old’s level.
He was very emotionally aware, but was unable to express himself in a way that other people would understand. There was one person, many years ago, who understood him in a way that no one else ever had. But she was long gone, and since then Chris had felt alone.
The Latest Mystery
His life today was a different story. He lived alone with his father, who had not left his bedroom in months. Chris was not allowed in there, the one time he was permitted to visit his father, he was hooked up to all sorts of tubes and surrounded by machines.
This sight scared and puzzled Chris, who left the room screaming, inconsolable for hours. A woman came to talk to him about his father, but all that Chris took from it was that he would not be staying with him much longer. Again, Chris didn’t understand what was going on.
The woman told him that his father was gone. Chris wasn’t sure what she meant, he thought maybe he’d left the house for a little while. Perhaps the woman understood Chris’s confusion because she took him into his father’s room.
Chris’s heart was pounding; something was obviously very wrong. The woman in green led him to his father’s bed. The tubes and machines had been put away; instead a man in white was holding a sheet. But this didn’t make sense, his father was already dressed…
The Awful Truth
Chris finally looked at his father’s face. He looked like he was sleeping, but something was off. He tried to wake him, but nothing happened. He shook his father, squeezed his hand….nothing.
The woman in green guided him out of the bedroom and returned by his father’s side. Chris would later come to understand that his father had had cancer for a long time and had been bedridden for months. But now, Chris was alone in the house. It was fun at first, being able to do as he pleased, eat what he wanted, play as he liked.
Not the Condiments!
But the fridge started to empty until there was nothing but a jar of mustard left. Chris hated mustard, even the sight of the jar made him feel sick. Clutching his stomach, he had to find a solution.
He knew that people went to stores to get food. Even though he didn’t like being in that environment, he knew that he had to be brave and deal with it. So he carefully dressed in his winter jacket and worn-out white sneakers and left the house.
The world was a difficult place for Chris. Although he felt happy most of the time, many things were challenging. He didn’t like loud noises or bright lights as they made his skin crawl.
As a child he was taken on outings to stores and amusement parks, but it was usually a torturous experience for him. He had never before been out by himself, but he knew it was either that or starve.
The problem was that Chris had no idea where he was supposed to go. He decided to follow his instincts and started to turn left onto the main drag, where there was a tree that he used to climb. This was familiar enough.
He continued to find various landmarks, but these became fewer and fewer. He started to get worried when he reached a freeway onramp. All he could do is keep moving, and so he began to walk on the edge of the road.
Cars were speeding by and honking at him. People were yelling out the window, telling him to get off the freeway. Chris didn’t know what to do, and instead, he sat on the ground shaking. Tears started to fall down his face onto the snow-covered ground.
He was cold, hungry, lost, and had no way of solving any of these problems. He found shelter in a gas station bathroom and hoped that someone would come rescue him in the morning.
He was rudely awoken and kicked out of the bathroom by a gas station attendant just a few hours later. Chris got up, stretched, and kept walking. He was feeling thirsty and tried eating snow, but it just hurt his stomach.
He spent the rest of the day walking and finally found his way off the freeway around two o’clock in the morning. Chris was close to breaking point. His feet were very sore and had developed lots of painful blisters. He was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to be home running his hands across the popcorn walls.
Finally he found himself on what looked like a regular street. There were houses, supermarkets, and stores just like he would go to as a child. He ran into the supermarket, feeling his limbs defrost as he walked around the aisles.
Cart in hand, Chris found all the things he liked to eat. He found the exiting area and, mimicking people around him, placed his items on the conveyor belt with his mouth watering.
Cash or Card?
The cashier asked whether he was paying with cash or card. The problem was, Chris didn’t know he needed money to take the food home and was confused as to what was being asked of him.
He was threatened by the cashier to leave the store or to pay, and when he froze in fear, a burly security guard grabbed him by the arm and forcefully dragged him out of the store. Chris was once again stuck outside in the snow, much hungrier than he was before. He wandered aimlessly around when he was accosted by the sheriff who was out on his donut break.
The sheriff bombarded him with questions, none of which Chris was able to answer. He asked about his family, again, Chris maintained his silence, not understanding how he was supposed to get around this situation.
The sheriff was starting to understand that Chris needed extra support in communication and slowly asked about whether or not he had friends. He gave Chris a PB&J and started his questions again in a gentler tone.
Someone to Call Friend
The sheriff’s patience paid off, and Chris whispered a name. For some reason, the only person who came to mind was his middle teacher from nearly twenty years prior. She had been very kind to him at the time, and the only person he felt understood him at all.
The problem was that they had been out of touch since he’d graduated junior high. Chris wondered whether she would also call him friend and whether she remembered him at all. He blurted out her name, wondering what would come of it. Chris would be in for a great surprise.
An Unexpected Phone Call
The sheriff dubiously looked up the name Chris had given. He found out that the woman was indeed a teacher in a special needs school.
She was surprised to hear from the sheriff’s office and even more intrigued when he told her who it was regarding. Michelle let the sheriff know that they were dealing with a young man who essentially had the mind of a child.
Michelle came down to the station and was very happy to see Chris. Chris was on his end jubilant. He hadn’t seen his teacher in so many years, and she had been a large part of the best years of his life. He gave her a hug, which she gladly returned.
The next few hours were a blur for Chris. Many people came to ask him questions, which he was again unable to answer. It turned out that the teacher was trying to understand what Chris’s options were as an adult with complex needs.
An Easy Decision
He was not eligible for a group home as he was too old and needed too much support and would therefore have to be institutionalized. This was not an option for Michelle, who took one look at the young man she knew so well and knew that the right thing to do was to take him in to live with her as his legal guardian.
This decision was unusual, but given her years working with people with special needs, Michelle was the best person to understand what exactly an institutionalized person with needs like Chris went through every day. Besides, she was close to retiring, and her children had long moved out. She was happy to have someone to look after and keep her company.
No More Popcorn!
Once Chris had gotten his head around what was going on, he was over the moon. He understood that he was going to have a family again, and the days of being entertained by popcorn walls were now over.
Best of all, that speaking was a challenge for him would not be an issue because she seemed to be able to read his mind. Michelle was indeed a special woman and a wonderful guardian to Chris, who was about to be in for a big surprise.
Michelle and Chris got along wonderfully. For the first time in his life, Chris was treated as an equal at home. Michelle’s grown children accepted him as their brother, and for the first time, Chris had grandparents to dote on him.
This was all very new to him, who had spent many years alone with his father. Thanksgiving came around a few months into his having moved in with Michelle. This was also new to Chris as his biological family didn’t celebrate holidays beyond eating a TV dinner together.
Turkeys and Gourds
He spent days helping Michelle cook mountains of food and decorate the house, usually ending up with more scotch tape and construction paper in his hair than on the walls.
But it was all in good fun, and when the little family was done decorating, the house looked pretty good. Michelle’s whole extended family came over on Thanksgiving day, and finally Chris met aunts, uncles, and cousins. He was a little overwhelmed at everyone buzzing around but happy to be included in the festivities.
A Winter Full of Firsts
Regardless it had been one of the best days of his life until another event were to change things forever. The rest of winter was dotted with other firsts.
Chris built his first snowman, made his first snow angel and even had his first snowball fight. At the age of thirty, he was finally reaching milestones that should have happened years prior. But there was one milestone that had yet to be met.
An Opportunity to be Embraced
That February, Michelle was going through some of Chris’s documents when she saw that his birthday was coming up in a couple of weeks. A smile came to light up her face.
She knew that this was yet another opportunity to give Chris, and so she started making plans. She decided that an ordinary party was not going to be enough. Chris needed something really special for his first-ever birthday.
King for the Day
So on the day of his birthday, Michelle laid out Chris’s nicest outfit and gave him a crown to wear for the day. Chris was unclear as to what was going on, but he’d had so many new experiences in the last few months that he was taking them in stride.
She covered his eyes in a blindfold and led him into the kitchen, where his new family was waiting for him eagerly. There was a big cake with a row of red candles on the table. The family sang a song that Chris had heard on television but did not understand the significance of until that very moment.
The Fishing Trip
Chris was shown how to blow out the candles and was told to make a wish. It was decided that they would then take a boat ride to the local lake and take Chris on his first fishing trip.
He’d loved their trip to the aquarium, and Michelle and her sister, who would sometimes help look after Chris, thought he would very much enjoy himself. They were absolutely right. Chris puttered around splashing the water with his feet and learning how to drive the fishing boat.
A Brand New Family
It was the most special day of Chris’s life. For the first time, he felt what everyone should be able to experience on their birthday. Not only had he had participated in a fun activity, but he had been honored, sang to, and been given gifts.
But the best gift he had been given was that of loving surroundings. He was no longer left alone playing with pillows and blocks, but included in a family that, though unusual, he could call his own.