Christine, no matter what else she is, is a total sweetheart. She's had labels slapped on her since birth - autistic, bipolar, developmentally disabled, obsessive-compulsive - labels that are so dominant they cause others to forget that she's also a chocolate-loving diabetic with a passion for baton-twirling, achy shoulders that like to be massaged, and an engaging if unending style of conversation.
You may remember that I first met Christine many years ago when we were matched in a program that aimed for more equality for the disabled persons in our community. I was very young and just beginning my work in psychology and social services, and I had no idea what i was getting myself into. As she barreled into the room, lauded me with gifts (stained cartoony sweatshirts still smelling of moth balls and old sweat) and implored me to call her Christine instead of her actual given name (Barbara, which according to her, is old-fashioned), I began to have an inkling that life would never be quite the same again.
Supposedly, my mandate was to teach her "life lessons" to make her more independent, but I sometimes wonder if she wasn't secretly hired to teach me. Perhaps if I can list some of our adventures, you can judge for yourselves.
Lesson #1: Filling ketchup bottles is boring.
Finding a job is tough. Finding a job for the mentally challenged is way, way tough. Especially when the employee is as picky as Christine. Folding t-shirts wasn't stimulating enough; after 45 minutes of her first shift, she made a bed out of them and took a nap. Shredding documents was worse - eventually she found other, funner things to shred, like mouse pads, coffee cups, pens, and petty cash. But filling ketchup bottles was the absolute worst. I guess the monotony got to her, because the Heinz bottles sitting all innocent-looking on unsuspecting customers' tables were actually filled with more "interesting" contents - horseradish, coffee grounds, leftover green peas scraped off someone's dirty plate. The customers complained pretty heartily apparently. The gravy-cayenne-crushed-up-Ritalin was NOT a hit.
Lesson #2: My willingness to apply topical creams depends on the location.
So, 350-pound hyperactive women sweat a lot, or at least this one did. A LOT. Especially underneath her enormous, pendulous, surprisingly brown-nippled breasts. And big boobies chafe when they spend a humid day rubbing against, well, practically her knees! This leads to massive boobie-rash, the sight of which still haunts my dreams. And when she shed her shirt and handed me the tube of ointment, I could not suppress a shudder. I was wishing for a rag on a very big stick, but all I had besides my bare hands was a vague and silly notion of "making a difference." Ha.
Lesson #3: Riding the bus is fun!
You already knew that public transportation could be "fun" - the drunken leching, the frotteurs "accidentally" rubbing their inflamed crotches on you, the plink plink of someone paying the fare with 25 dimes - but I bet you didn't know that it was fun. Fun. Christine knows. Christine feels that the fare is negligible but that high-fives to the driver are of absolute necessity. The driver doesn't realize it's not so much a greeting as a warning. Oh yes, there will be singing. There will be dancing. There will be reenactments of The Lion King, aka, Best Movie Ever. And god help me, there will also be the passing of gas, because as much fun as riding the bus is, so is eating 7 bean burritos for lunch.
Lesson #4: Anti-psychotic meds make you hairy.
When I suggested a day at the beach, i must have been out of my head. It somehow slipped my mind that swimming = taking off our pants. Imagine my embarrassment at having to explain to her that the pube garden growing across the better part of her thighs really needed to be hoed, so to speak. Now picture the horrific shower scene that took place later: obese naked lady perched precariously on the side of the tub, legs spread wiiiiiiide open, big tufts of coarse, curly hair swirling around the drain like drowned rodents, and a razor so clogged with fur it looked like a tiny person with a huge afro.
The razor never recovered, and as for me, well...I drink.