Thursday, July 14, 2005

Christine Revealed

If you're just joining the adventures of Christine, please read the beginning of her story here, and the second part here.

It's impossible to forget that Christine had a multiple diagnosis: the manic-depression was one of the lesser aspects of her illness; she was developmentally disabled (she was 30, but acted 3), she was autistic, and obsessive-compulsive. That's a tall order. She was on more medication than most pharmacies stock for a month, and they made her crazed.

If she was at my house during one of her "pill times", I could always see the effects of her medication wearing thin. Then, she would take another dose, and it would put her under. Within minutes, she would drop onto the couch and start snoring as if she were a hibernating bear. Her big, lumpy, hairy body, slumped over on the couch, did little to dispel the illusion. She would be solidly knocked out for 20-30 minutes, dead to the world, and she would drool all over my couch. After her rest, she would pop up like bagels from the toaster, ready to go, go, go. Thank goodness the fabric on my couch was removable, because I washed it like crazy after every visit.

Christine was needy. Her mother had little to do with her; after 30 some years of caring for 2 special needs "children", she was burned out. She had no energy left. She didn't check up on them, she turned a blind eye to everything she could, and she used 911 as a bargaining tool. She called the police to her house often, and her son spent at least as many nights a month in jail, as at home. When Christine's mom wanted the house to herself, she would call me and insist I take Christine off her hands. Christine didn't know any better, and she was always excited to spend time with me. She called me in the middle of the night to remind me of her birthday party, which was only 7 months away. She expected me to quit school so that my schedule would open up to her. And then summer came along, and neither she nor I had classes to attend. I had a job, a husband, a home, friends and family of my own, and other volunteer work that was important to me, but Christine could not imagine that I did not want to spend 24 hours a day with her. She wanted sleepovers and dinner parties. She liked to be introduced to my family, and to included in holidays. I spent hours with her to make a "budget" on the social assistance that she received. I brought her to special group outings, with potential friends for her to make, but she clung to me and was more obstinate than you would think a person capable of.

Christine did not know shyness, and so she asked me for everything. Would I shave her? Would I clip her toenails? It was a battle every day. My role as mentor was to get her out into the community; my end objective would be to phase myself out of her life, leaving her with friends of her own, and a system in place for functional living. I was prepared that my job may take me several years, but at some point I had to be honest with myself, because it didn't look like I would ever extricate myself from her life. And that's something you really have to think about when you volunteer: she is a lifelong commitment. I may as well have babies; at least they move away when they turn 18! Christine would be calling my cell, ringing my bell, showing up unannounced, until the day that she, or I, died.

I was not a personal care worker, so I did not clip her nails, or bathe her, or do any of those tasks. The one thing that I could not get out of, however, was doing her hair. Christine thought having her hair done was a real treat, and sadly, she was right. Only her mother had ever cut her hair before, so even my clumsy fingers did a much better job (my mother was a hairdresser, and I seem to have gleaned the basics from her). Sometimes she would even colour her hair with an at-home kit that her mother bought. So one day, Christine showed up at my house with a box of colour and a long list of commands.

The box that she had was older than I was. Her mother had bought it from some discount bin; it was a discontinued colour, but the box was so old and dusty, I thought it likely that it was decomposing right in front of our eyes, and even more likely that the dye inside was questionable, but who am I to argue with a 300lb woman? I left her in my bedroom, looking through my photo albums for the billionth time, to retrieve a towel to put around her shoulders. When I came back, I found her naked on my carpet.

Have you ever seen a naked 300lb woman? Wait, make that a HAIRY, 300lb woman, who was crazy and it showed. She apparently had not been shaved in some time. Pity for both of us. But that was the least of it. Christine had one good eye that looked at you when you talked, and a second eye that was less obedient. It was usually looking at something else, far across the room. Her large jaw jutted out; her teeth stuck out almost horizontally from her gums due to 30 years of an oral fixation. Her knuckles were each as big as jaw breakers, swollen and chapped from much abuse. There was nothing pretty about Christine on a good day...but naked was much, much worse.

She had taken off her shirt so as not to drop any dye on it. She had taken off her bra because it was "new", which meant it had more or less recently been bought from a second hand store, like all of Christine's wardrobe, and all of her "gifts" to me. She had taken off everything else because she felt silly being half naked. Well, not quite everything. She left on her socks, unmatched, and floppy. I saw things that day I hope to never see again.

During the next 45 minutes, she proceeded to splatter hair dye all over my house because guess what? When you're covered in permanent hair dye, and all but completely naked in someone else's home, there's no better way to pass the time than to twirl your baton in the nude. Hair dye got everywhere. When she left, I had to repaint several walls entirely, and yet, to this day, I have never been able to paint over the memories of every ripple, every jiggle that big body of hers made as she pranced about, singing songs that only she knew. I wasn't thrilled with this course of activities, but when I disagreed with Christine, she always played her trump card: "I'm older than you" she would boom, "and that means I'm smarter, too." And really, how can you argue with logic like that?

She couldn't understand why I wouldn't get in the shower with her to help rinse out the dye when her time was up. Somehow, I resisted. I had seen quite enough of those big, pendulous breasts, thank you very much. They were the kind of breasts you see in National Geographic, so completely asexual they depress you. They were huge like dinner plates, but somehow, also flat like dinner plates. And the nipples, my god, the nipples. But it's the hair, the fur really, that I can't get out of my find. Her father was East-Indian, and to look at Christine, the poor dear, you would have believed her mother must have been a yeti. But of course it's the medication that makes the hair grow...I just never thought I'd have to see it.

Christine wasn't pretty, but she was lovable in her own way, if you cared to look for it. Most people don't. Most people would cross the street when they saw us coming (Christine would always hold my hand when we were out). And it's a shame that more people don't know Christine, because she is full of love, and hugs. Some hugs would overwhelm me, when she was sour with perspiration and smelling like something not quite human, and some hugs would threaten to crush my rib cage. But they were always there. And she would remind me how much she loved me several times an hour, and command that I should never "die, quit, or move far away." Christine was a character, and you haven't heard the half of it yet.

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