Not knowing what I was getting into, I finally picked up that book my mother had lent me perhaps almost a year ago (if not two!), and began reading it. For some reason Interview With a Vampire just wasn’t cutting it for me, so it remains temporarily abandoned by the side of the bed.
*SPOILER ALERT!* (Just the first chapter)
As I delved into the first chapter of Kim Edward’s novel, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, I became very aware of how the book was being set up, how the characters were hastily being built – I knew something was going to happen to one of them, and since the view was from the father, I suspected that they would get in a wreck on the snowy roads to the hospital as she went into labor, or die during birth.
They made it to the hospital safely, and baby was born safely – and to my surprise, it was a boy that was born! Where is this daughter that is spoken of in the title? This perfect little baby boy came into the fictional, snowy world of 1964. The wife at this point was unconscious with exhaustion (and probably the drugs as well), and another baby followed, to the father’s surprised.
The second baby revealed the definite signs of Down’s Syndrome. Without even telling his wife, he had the baby taken away to an institution.
*SPOILER ALERT OVER*
When I came back from living in the UK, and only had waitressing experience under my belt, I found myself in the world of direct care, working with adults with developmental disabilities. It was rather terrifying at first. I had friends that did it, and assured me I would love it, but I was hung up on well – the details of the job.
My first client I ever had was known throughout the company as being difficult to win over. She was a little slower mentally, but for the most part was all there aside from her mostly physical disability. As a result she was depressed, and filled with self-loathing, and a loathing for everyone else as well. She had CP. Eventually, I figured her out, figured out when things upset her and why, and how to avoid it, and how to even get her to like me. I gave her hugs regularly and filled her in with empty gossip, and we got along fairly well. It was a disagreement with staff that caused me to move onto a different team within the company, where I found my truest of friends.
She had Down’s Syndrom, was non verbal and sassy to boot! She appeared to have one focus in her daily life, but as I got to know her over the next two years, being the only staff that worked with her multiple days in a row, she was so much more than anyone gave her credit for. We had a special way of communicating, and training other staff to work with her was hard for me because I knew the particularity of her ways.
I left that company after reporting them several times to the state. The clients that were a part of it were each amazing and beautiful and so much fun – but the company itself was horrendous, making money off what these people got from the state, putting it towards their head office, instead of the care of their staff. I injured myself working with another client three times, going on L and I each time, because they refused to train any of us on how to lift properly – a minor example of their lack of care.
While working there, and continuing on in my direct care experience, I learned what it used to be like for anyone with a disability of any kind in the past, and it was so ugly and hurtful. One client I knew of didn’t walk so well. When they were put in the institution after they were born (which was very common and accepted at the time), they were put in a crib, and never learned to walk until they were seven. As a result, their feet didn’t form right, since they were never used. This client also never learned to talk, because no one took the time to teach them.
Many clients I came across that had been institutionalised had been raped, which was also an ugly, common thing – obviously not condoned, but it happened. Many had fears of men as a result.
Doing what I did, in the line of work I was in, clients lived in their own homes, and our goal was not to control them, but to help them be independent and successful. We would help them with the tasks that they couldn’t safely perform themselves, and would encourage them to learn new skills all the time.
I once knew a guy who believed that everyone that has a developmental disability should be put down.
It makes me sick to think of anyone thinking or saying that, without knowing the challenges that have been put before – any person.
Working in the direct care field gave me something all writers want and need – perspective. I learned to see people and situations differently. I learned to understand different ways of processing things. Many people can figure out different ways of thinking, but different ways of understanding and processing is something entirely different.
People Down’s Syndrome, are so loving and beautiful. In fact, all of the clients I came across shared a common thing: love. Every single one of them had this amazing ability to love, and while some took a while to get on their good side, once you were there, you were there.
The area that I live in has done away almost completely with institutions, and I think it is the best thing in the world for these people. It has allowed them the chance at life to be human, something we all take for granted.