The Unforgettable Now: Jerrold Thomas’s Story

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You can call me sexy. That’s what I told Miranda the first time she met me. Then she gave me water and asked if it was cold enough. I told her it tasted like gin. I like to say funny stuff to staff members like Miranda and my co-workers. I try to keep a straight face, but my grin always gives me away.

When I talk on the phone with my girlfriend, Debbie, she tells me I’m beautiful. I guess I’m doing something right. My cousin Charles says I’m a hound dog.

What kind of guy am I? I’m a good-looking guy, like my dad. Sometimes when I look in a mirror I see him. Dad was a heck of a baseball player. He pitched. They called him Lefty. He was a big guy. He needed to be. He was an international union organizer and worked with Walter Reuther, a former president of the UAW who survived several assassination attempts.

Dad fought for what he believed. He was a tough guy, except with me. I was his soft spot. He taught me to drive a tractor. I drove the tractor all the time working the land, mowing the grass.

School was okay, but I would rather have been driving through the fields. I like to move. I like to go places. I don’t like to sit still. There’s too much to see, too many people to meet.

My parents took me everywhere. We drove to California on Route 66 with Charles’s family. Staring out the window, I could name the make, model, and year of every car we passed. It’s kind of like a superpower, I guess. I still can do it some. I was never allowed to drive on the road, but I’ve always loved cars. I’ve got a picture of a Mustang on my wall in my room.

Charles tells me that I picked on him all the way to California and back. I remember standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. I remember the wind and thinking I was going to fall in. I scared the dickens out of my family. There are a lot of moments I don’t remember. I wish that I could remember more about my mom. She was nice, really smart, never swore. She was a good teacher. She never drank. Dad on the other hand . . . when I turned 21, he got me drunk. I definitely don’t remember much about that night. Dad would always take me to the bar with him. He was a Delaware county commissioner and he had a lot of meetings there.

Mom and Dad took me to Hawaii. I saw some Hula dancers. Even today, I can’t say “hula dancers” without wiggling my eyebrows. People loved my parents. I loved my parents.

My parents have been gone a long time. When they were here, they visited a lot. They were proud of me. I go visit them at the cemetery. I still miss them, especially during the holidays. Someday I’ll be next to Mom and Dad.

Last Friday my roommates and I met Debbie at KFC. It was a hot date, yup! I tried to play it cool. I ordered my three-piece chicken meal. Got my drink, and then spilled it all over the table. Miranda said it was okay. We switched tables.

Debbie works at Hillcroft, too. I love to work, especially with her. I’m not going to say how old she is. Okay, you really want to know . . . she is 30. Yup, there’s an age difference between us, but who gives a heck.

We first started dating in Florida or was it the Bahamas? Debbie says that we’ve only been dating a few weeks. What does time matter? We’re not sure where we went in Florida. We think it was a beach. I know I felt happy.

Some days at work we recycle CDs. Today we stuffed marketing envelopes for a local photographer. The outside of the envelopes read: “Unforgettable Moments Preserved Forever.”

At KFC Debbie sat at the table next to me and introduced herself as my girlfriend to a new friend who joined us for dinner . . . it’s not easy to eat fried chicken while smiling.

I had trouble thinking of what to talk to her about, so I said, “Debbie, are you eating a cookie?” I batted my eyes at her and she laughed. Someone asked her what we talked about on the phone every night. This was too much. I’m kind of shy.

“More Pepsi, Debbie?” I asked.

I went to get her a refill. My sixty-seven-year old knees have arthritis, but my thirty-year-old girlfriend needed a refill, and I needed an excuse to escape that embarrassing conversation.
When I got back I posed for a picture with Debbie. That means I got to scooch over right beside her. When it was time to go home, I said, “Bye, Debbie. See you Monday, honey. Don’t forget to call me tonight.”

And then I went home. I have fun at the house with my roommates and the staff. I love it . . . every minute of it.

I’ve hit home runs just like my dad. I like the Colts and the Reds, cars and cruising music. I love my cat Lovie. I’ve shaken the hand of the mayor and sold paintings of horses. I drink one O’Doul’s a day. It’s the best beer because you can take your medicine with it.

I think I’m living a good life. I’m having fun so far. The secret to living a good life and having fun is getting out and doing things.

I’ve had a lot of unforgettable moments. I know that. I know I felt happy in the Bahamas. I know that I enjoyed working at Bob Evans, Wendy’s, and the Radisson, but sacking groceries for people at Ross’s made me the happiest. I don’t remember many of the details, but remember how I felt: I’ve always felt loved.

My favorite unforgettable moment is now, and I feel great.

Written by:
As told to Kelsey Timmerman, co-founder of The Facing Project and the author of Where Am I Eating? and Where Am I Wearing? 

When Mental Fortitude Surmounts Fragility: Jim Benadum’s Story

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My Bocce partner and I stand along the 12-foot baseline. The June sun heats up an already intense outdoor tournament at the College of New Jersey outside of Trenton. I can see the pallina ahead of me, a target not quite as big as a tennis ball. Our Bocce balls have to be closest to the pallina in order to win. We are so close!

Whose turn is it to throw? Shoot! Ah well, I am sure they will let me know when it is my turn.

I have practiced for this moment. Twice a week for the past two months on the field-hockey surface at Ball State University. And before that with my nephews on the 60-foot-by-12-foot court that my dad spray-painted in the backyard. Grass courts like this one can be tricky — a less-reliable terrain where slopes and divots can alter the landscape of the match.

But I am a veteran to this game, a sport that is similar to bowling. A three-time national athlete. I love this game, and my eyes light up at the thrill of competition. My grapefruit-sized Bocce ball feels hard as a rock in my left hand, and I clench it with authority. “Jim, you got it. Let’s do this,” I think to myself.

We, along with my teammates from Marion, represent Indiana at the 2014 National Special Olympics.

I have a mild intellectual disability; I struggle with my short-term memory. While playing Bocce, I can sometimes forget who threw last. At this particular tournament, the organizers also changed the routine: They wanted competitors to leave the court after each frame, or round, and I would continue to forget that part.

Sometimes, as with this most recent incident, I can get mad at myself for not remembering what they wanted. My memory disability can also frustrate me: In my 40+ years, I have learned to write down the most important things. That helps me cope with it. I also need to repeat things time and again in order for them to stick. But it is all there — I just need time and strategy to retrieve the information. And I occasionally need a bit of help recalling details such as dates and places.

For instance, my Mom and Dad can help me recall how I got here. My partner and I earned first-place honors in the statewide tournament that occurred in June 2013 in Terre Haute. That achievement made us contenders to represent Indiana in the National Games in June 2014, but the coaches ultimately decide. My mom had offered a word of caution.

“Do not count on it. You have been to two National Games. Do not count on going to the third.”

But the coaches wanted me, and I was stunned. I was lucky to get picked once for the Games in 2006 and again in 2010, but I was just downright surprised to be chosen for the team for a third time! My eyes just lit up, and I was like, “All right!” I knew it was time to practice — a lot — just like any athlete. The New Jersey team—a state well known for Bocce—would have home-turf advantage, and from past experience, I know that they are a force. They are pretty tough.

I do not have a specific training regimen, but repetition is key to success in this sport. In the end, I want to have my four Bocce balls closest to the pallina every frame. Just like bowling, posture, speed, and terrain make a difference. Just like any sport, pressure, emotion, and focus also factor.

Practice can be frustrating for me. I rarely show signs of frustration on the court so as to not give advantage to the competition. But practice is different; that is when I try to improve my muscle memory to achieve greater accuracy. I want to be able to feel just how hard I need to throw each ball.

It is a game of strategy. You can throw your ball(s) against those of your competition, knocking theirs away from the pallina so yours are closer. You can use the wooden sideboards around the perimeter of the court to “bank” your throw. I tend to be my team’s strategist, vocalizing tactics to my partner as I detect them.

I get nervous. I also get caught up in the moment. The crowd can definitely help me, make me play better.

As it turns out, my partner and I did not face New Jersey in the gold-medal game but instead Missouri. We beat them under the lights, at night, in an atmosphere similar to a Friday-night football game, the crowd oo-ing, ah-ing, and cheering as we eventually threw our way to victory. I refuse to gloat in front of my peers, but it felt like I had reached the top of a mountain — on top of the world! Another national championship! I love this game, and I will probably play it for the rest of my life.

Written by:
Dr. Adam J. Kuban is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at Ball State University. This is his first opportunity to contribute to The Facing Project — but definitely not his last!

Answers: Daisy Alaniz’s Story

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Everything has a right answer. I know it does. I just haven’t learned all the right answers yet.

The answer to “How are you?” is “Great.” One of my therapists told me that’s a way to answer that question.

The answer to “What is your name?” is “Daisy.”

The answer to “How do you spell camel?” is “C-A-M-E-L,” and the answer to two plus three is five.

If someone asks me a question like, “What is your favorite color?” and I don’t know the right answer, sometimes I throw myself on the ground and scream. If I’m at therapy, that means my therapist’s piece of paper gets turned over to red and I need to start over and earn six more tokens for not crying so that I can get a reward. So now I cry less.

I think the answer to a question I don’t know the answer to is “I don’t know. Can you help me?” Someone once told me I can say that instead of crying. Then we can talk about what the answers could be, so I can pick an answer and then that’ll be the right answer to that question from now on.

I think I know what a compliment is. It’s when someone says I’m smart or pretty or cute or says they like my clothes. The answer to a compliment is “Thank You,” and the answer to “Thank You” is “You’re welcome.”

I remember everything. I didn’t used to talk a lot but, even when I was a baby, if I saw a commercial or television show just once, I learned every body movement and facial expression the characters made. Now that I’m a good talker, I can recite entire television shows for you.

You’re welcome!

Other kids make me feel scared sometimes. I don’t know the right answers to how to play with other kids. When I was really little my mom used to take me to the library to play, dance, and sing with other kids. The clapping made me scream, and I hated when the other kids would use egg shakers or drums to make music. Sometimes I would hit or bite the other kids, and sometimes I would bite myself. Then my mom stopped taking me to the library and only a couple of kids would come to our house sometimes.

I don’t like having other kids in my house. The same adults who would come over to do therapy with my sister started coming over to do therapy with me. I really liked that. Then I turned three years old and the therapists stopped coming to see me.

Now, my mom or dad drops me off at the ABA clinic every day where I learn with other adults and they make me play with other kids. The adults are helping me learn how to play well with others. They even come with me to my preschool to help me learn how to be near the other kids. I’m getting better. I don’t cry very much at school anymore. Besides, we get to do worksheets at school. I love worksheets. I like to play board games with the other kids. Board games have rules. I always know what the other kid is going to do and what I’m supposed to do next when we’re playing a board game.

The answer to the question, “Is your sister a big kid or a baby?” is “Big kid.” My ABA therapists help me to understand that my sister is little like a baby and isn’t able to do what other three-year-olds do but that she is still a big kid. My sister has eight fingers and I have 10 fingers. She is deaf and blind. That means her eyes are always closed and her ears are always plugged. I’ve never held my sister, but I hug her.

I used to go live at the hospital with my mom and my sister a lot. I call the hospital “the home base.” Other kids don’t get in my space at the home base. I like it there. Sometimes it gets really loud at the home base and there are lots of doctors around. Mommy used to put me in a play pen with a toy when that happened.

Sometimes I imagine things when I’m sleeping and I wake up screaming. My mom says I’m dreaming. After I got good at talking, I told mom and dad that I scream when I dream about my sister at the home base. In my dreams, the doctors hit her and squeeze her too hard and poke her in her chest. It’s just like when I’m at the hospital with my mom and sister. Everyone is hurting my sister and my mom is crying. It scares me. Mommy doesn’t take me to the home base anymore.

I remember everything. If you sing those songs we used to sing at the library when I was a baby and no one thought I was paying attention, I can do all the dances and I know all the words. I saw a bucket at the store and kept telling my mom it was for baseball. It was the same bucket my tee-ball coach uses to transport the balls. It took my mom awhile to figure that out. She doesn’t remember everything like I do.

Be careful what you say about me in front of me. If you say I can’t do something or we should do things differently because of me, I will remember that too. Just because I don’t look like I’m paying attention, I am. Even though I don’t express my emotions very well yet, I still feel the same things you do.

The answer to “Do you understand?” is “Yes, I understand.” And the answer to “Are you okay?” is “Yes, I’m okay.”

I’m going to learn all the right answers.

Written by:
Rachael Alaniz is happy to be included in this project as a writer telling her own daughter’s story. Rachael is the stay-at-home-wife to her husband, Kevin Gatzlaff, and stay-at-home-mom to her two daughters: four-year-old Daisy who has CASK gene mutation including autism, and three-year-old Aria who is living with Fanconi Anemia. Rachael hopes that her writing has done justice to the unique ways in which Daisy experiences the world. She would like to thank the Hillcroft ABA Clinic for helping Daisy to break out of her shell a little more each day.

Exceptions and Expectations: Rachael Alaniz’s Story About Her Daughter, Daisy

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Genius. There. I said it.

Of course most parents believe their child has superior intelligence but unlike those parents, I have the paperwork to prove it. In fact, I have the paperwork to prove that Daisy’s intelligence is “very superior.”

Daisy isn’t even five years old and can sit down with workbooks meant for second graders, read the instructions, and complete the assignments like it’s her job. Her ABC’s were nothing to learn and no one even had to teach her to read; she just started reading one day. And, in trying to do things like talk me into giving her just one more cupcake, she incidentally does basic arithmetic and algebra.

It’s incredible to see her soak up every single thing that she hears and sees, even the things you wish she wouldn’t. It’s with these displays of intelligence that I realize just how brilliant Daisy truly is.

And while I have the paperwork to prove that my child is an academic genius, I also have the scores to prove that she is pretty low- functioning socially. This is where the conundrum comes in. You see, it’s hard for an outsider to see an IQ score when the child in front of them seems completely unaware of her surroundings and just threw herself on the floor and started to scream because another human being entered her personal bubble.

I could lie and say that these behaviors are rare, but they aren’t and they can last anywhere from seconds to minutes to hours. With intensive ABA therapy these meltdowns are getting better every day, but they’re still a huge part of Daisy’s identity in the eyes of those around her. It’s still anyone’s guess, but some days Daisy will function very well within her environment and on other days she may come across something unpleasant and scream for seemingly no reason. With that said, I wish people knew that venturing out in public with Daisy is pretty similar to any family’s experience venturing out with small children; unpredictable and a little chaotic, which also sums up our entire life.

Despite the chaos, we work to hold high expectations for her like any parent would, but it’s hard to get other people to hold Daisy to the same standards as they would a child without the autism label. I’ve found that once someone hears the word autism, their expectations are drastically lowered because of a lack understanding and assumptions that she just won’t—or even worse can’t— understand.

As a parent, I can appreciate what you are trying to do with your acceptance of her diagnosis because believe me there are days where it is needed, but, for the most part, I need you to treat my child like you would treat any other child. With all the therapy Daisy has received and the incredible strides she’s made we expect her to be mainstreamed. So, if your kid takes a toy from Daisy and she has a completely irrational meltdown as a result, don’t make your kid change their completely normal behavior in order to prevent Daisy’s maladaptive behavior.

Instead, allow Daisy to work through her meltdown and then help her to communicate the problem and come to a resolution like you would with any other kid. If she is playing a game and breaks a rule, tell her. Please stop giving my child a pass because you think she won’t understand or you may set her off. Nine times out of 10, she will actually be excited to have learned a new rule. That’s actually one of the perks of Daisy’s autism—we call Daisy “the police” at our home because she takes rules a little too seriously. If you give her a set of rules, I can promise you those rules will never be broken again.

Don’t be afraid to reprimand her in the same way you would any other child, because you will actually be helping both of you by explaining the error to her. Problems arise when you are scared to tell her, “No,” and you allow her to continue to break the rules.

When you change the expectations for Daisy, you are telling her that her autism makes it ok for her to not reach her full potential and nothing will frustrate me as a parent more quickly than seeing someone make a choice of that magnitude for my child.

If you could only see the changes in Daisy since she started intensive 30-hour per week ABA therapy for her autism, you would think twice about lowering your expectations in any way. If you could see her remarkable progress, you too would see past the seemingly disconnected child and into the extraordinary mind of an exceptional child.


Written by:

Clarissa Bowers is a consultant and communications graduate student located in Indianapolis. This is Clarissa’s second opportunity working on a Facing Project and she is honored to be a storyteller for the Muncie community.

A Mother’s Journey to Letting Go Joyce Cline’s Story About Her Son, Jason

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Jason loves Christmas. He calls it “ho-ho.” Frosty the Snowman is one of his favorite songs. We used to let him unwrap everyone’s Christmas presents. He just loved the unwrapping, didn’t care what was inside.

The first time Jason had one of the fevers was when he was two, at his big brother’s birthday party. It was early fall, cool outside, we had the windows and doors open. I had given him a bath before everyone arrived and he was fine. My mother asked me during the party, “Where’s Jason?” When she said that I realized we hadn’t seen him. I went looking for him and found him pressed against the screen door, curled up, lying down. He was burning up. The fever came on so fast it frightened me, and we took him to the hospital. They didn’t know why he had the fever, maybe a virus. But I knew something was wrong.

He kept getting very high fevers after that, off and on, for the next two years. Jason was different after the fevers started. They affected his brain. I asked a doctor why he was different, why he was losing things, like speech, things he had done before. The doctor said “He’s tired, he’s just been sick, wouldn’t you be tired?” But I knew that he wasn’t just tired. He was different. Finally the doctors started to see what I saw.

Jason loves babies. He loved his nieces when they were babies; he was always wanting to hold them. He loved to hold any baby, anytime. His dog, Snowball, she was so special to him. He loved that dog more than anything.

Jason lived at home with us until he was about 13. He was in school, in a special program, and rode the bus to a special after-care place until I got done working. But as he got older, he started to seem depressed, sad, and was down all of the time. The doctors said he needed a different environment with more structure. We found a place for him in Cicero, close to our home in Tipton. He was there for a few years but then that place closed. We took him to a place in New Castle. I thought it was okay at first, but he was assaulted there by a staff member. We found out later that the man who assaulted him had a criminal record, but was somehow hired. To this day, years and years later, Jason cannot be in a corner. He is afraid that if he is cornered someone will come at him and he won’t be able to escape.

After the assault I told his caregivers about not letting anyone corner him. “Don’t let that happen.” I said. “He is so loving and gentle but if you corner him, he will come at you. He will do it because he is so afraid after what happened to him in that shower.”

They didn’t listen, and kept putting Jason with another boy who would get too close. I warned them, again, because I was worried. One day they put Jason in the back corner of a van and sat this other boy next to him. The other boy got too close and Jason came at him. Then, after that, the doctors said we needed to move Jason to Fort Wayne. They said Jason was “aggressive.” He isn’t aggressive, he was afraid. He can’t say how he feels, but he experiences strong emotions like anyone would.

I didn’t feel good about Fort Wayne. I would bring him home on the weekends and go up to visit him and take him out as much as I could. Even just taking him out to the mall and watching people on the ice skating rink, he loved that. I felt like I needed to check on him a lot there.

Jason loves to go, he loves things that go. Trucks, buses, cars. “GO!” He wants to go for a ride, that’s what he says. “Go! Go!” He can watch traffic for hours. Jason loves music and playing his guitar.

I love Hillcroft. Jason has been at Hillcroft for 15 years or so now. His caregivers communicate with me about his doctor appointments and how he is doing. I don’t visit him as much now as I used to when he was at other places. I had breast cancer since he has been at Hillcroft, and when I was going through that I couldn’t take him on the weekends or visit him much at all. The doctors told me during that time I needed to start weaning him off of the visits and the weekends at home so that, when I’m gone, it isn’t such a shock to him. I take care of my mother and my aunt too, they are both in their 90s, and they need a lot. Jason’s older brother lives in California now, but he visits him when he is back home.

Throughout Jason’s life, there have been times when I was skeptical of what his doctors said. But I think they were right about my illness being a time for transition for both of us. I really believe now it is best for Jason to stay in his routine, and in his home, with Robert and Barry. If I do bring him home to my house now, he doesn’t want to stay. He knows where his home is. They let him play his music, play his guitar, and take him out to see what he likes to see.

As long as he is taken care of and can do what he wants to do, I am happy.

Written by:
Kira Childers hasn’t written anything creative in far too long. She loves telling stories through photography, particularly those little moments that seem so ordinary but are really what you want to remember about your life, family, and children. Her favorite subjects are her daughters, Mia and Charlotte, and she would like to thank her wonderful husband Ryan for his unending support of her quest to balance work, family, and creativity.

A Mother’s Journey: Jeanette Geisler’s Story About Her Son, David

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When children are little, you don’t notice that milestones aren’t being met. It is only when they are older that you notice the differences. I can still clearly see the chart the doctor drew for us. It showed the typical child gaining upward progression in all areas, but David’s line only progressed horizontally.

Does it really matter why he’s this way? This is just the way he is. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A mother wants to know.

David Anthony Knight’s life began in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1971. It was a difficult pregnancy and birth. My husband and I had been married three years, but divorced after David was born. David seemed sickly from the beginning; he didn’t walk until he was 18-months-old. Did something happen during the pregnancy?

When David was two, he was hospitalized for a long while with a high fever. After that, he was no longer saying his ABC’s and stopped spelling “cat” and “dog.” He also started falling. Was it the fever?

My journey to find out what was wrong with my son took us to the Cleveland Clinic. The pediatric neurologist performed many tests and finally told us David would never be independent. Of course, we weren’t seasoned for that prediction. The doctor told us David had a mixed bag of issues: speech, motor skills, and learning disabilities. He drew us that chart.

In addition to his low functioning speech, his poor motor skills, and his learning disabilities that were becoming more evident each day, David was also experiencing a type of seizure. He would shake all over—we knew this would hinder his independence further. What made the beginning of this journey so difficult was we were told David needed all types of therapies: speech, physical, occupation. None of these were available in our school system.

There was a man named Leonard Kurtz who opened a facility similar to Hillcroft because he had a child with disabilities. This new facility offered therapies—all the parents were welcoming and kind. David was fortunate to attend. While the facility was not perfect, it was a definite step up from the previous school. David did well while there, but I kept searching. I even considered enrolling him in a school in Pennsylvania. I asked questions. I searched. No one could tell me exactly what David faced and where he could get the most help. As the years passed, I finally accepted that this was the way it was going to be and that I would do the best I could with the situation.

When David was 20, we moved to Muncie and discovered Hillcroft. We are so happy David has Hillcroft. Although he is no longer able to attend all day due to his health issues, he still is able to attend on a daily basis. Because he is a people-person, he thrives there. When Isanogel was open, he enjoyed attending dances.

In addition to dancing, music, and singing, David loves his baseball caps, his jewelry, especially watches, and dressing up. In fact, Christmas or birthdays just aren’t celebrated correctly unless he receives both a new hat and a new watch. I had always hoped he would be a little more independent, but he needs help with selecting clothes, with dressing, with bathroom needs, with nearly all motor skills. I have finally accepted the fact that little tasks like tying his shoes will not be mastered—that I will always need to help and that’s just the way it is.

David’s favorite activity is talking. He doesn’t know a stranger. If given the chance, he would go off with anyone. Because he doesn’t recognize danger, he cannot be left alone. My daily routine revolves around David. He showers when he returns from Hillcroft; has a snack and watches some TV. He loves to run errands at Wal-Mart and to stop by McDonald’s. He loves the mall and loves to visit with his friends.

Part of our journey involves many, many, many doctor appointments. Two open-heart surgeries, spleen removal, gall bladder surgery, blood work, irritable bowel syndrome, anemia, oncologists, and a fractured patella— the list goes on. Last year alone, David underwent four major surgeries. This goes back to what the doctor said all those years ago—he has a mixed bag of issues. Whenever he is in the hospital, I stay around the clock with my boy. Each time he is hospitalized, it is comforting to know that Hillcroft awaits his return.

Sometimes I am sort of like an energizer bunny. I take one day at a time; I have friends I talk to; I keep in touch with my family. I used to play cards in a club, but I had to give that up. I try to do lunches with my friends, but I am often occupied with David.

I’m not depressed; I just feel that we are here together. We are doing what needs to be done.

To David, his handicap is his boo-boo knee. Other than that, he doesn’t recognize that he is handicapped. That’s a blessing. He wants to have a girlfriend, wants to work at McDonald’s, wants to have his own apartment, wants to own a car. He also wants to get married ”someday.” He reminds me that he is now 42, and I remind him that he will need to wait a little while longer.

He doesn’t quite grasp why he isn’t able to do what he wants to do.

In response to that doctor’s question all those years ago—no, it doesn’t matter why David will never be fully independent. All that matters is David is happy and I am still able to journey on this road with him.

Written by:
Cheryl Williamson has recently commenced her 33rd year of teaching French and English to high school students. Participating in the Facing Disabilities Project has helped her gain new insight into her special needs students.

Stopping to Forgive: Beverly Zgunda’s Story About Her Son, Greg

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If I told you, “Take it one day at a time,” what does that mean to you? What does, “You need to forgive,” mean? It meant nothing to me years ago, until I experienced it. We learned the meaning of those clichés. Me, my husband John, my son Greg and my family.

A day at a time. Days in the hospital. Days waiting for a little boy to wake up from a coma. Night shifts to the hospital and back. Days of physical therapy. Days of prayer. Days of joy in a cottage, on a lake with children and grandchildren. A flashing moment of forgiveness. If you listen, I’ll tell you the story of how I learned to take life one day at a time. I’ll tell you how I learned to forgive.

Our days in retirement now seem busier than when we were young. In the morning, John takes care of Greg’s breakfast and shower. Greg always wakes up at 6 A.M., and then I take care of his clothes and teeth cleaning, nails, all those little things. Then John drives him to Hillcroft. He’s been there 36 years. Greg is 52 now.

He has friends at Hillcroft. He had a girlfriend for a little while. We have dinner in the evening together, or go to a game . . . volleyball season is coming up. John and I have our time, too. The only thing different, I guess, about our life is that we can’t drop everything and do something spur of the moment. We’ve been really blessed with the sitters we have through Hillcroft. They’re fabulous. Corey and Cheryl and Vicky. Greg loves them.

The accident happened when Greg was 11. He was very, very bright, a straight A student, high IQ. He was involved in church, in fact he was a lector. We go to St. Francis. He was in the Boy Scouts and always active in sports.

Greg was in the hospital a year-and-a-half. First, he was taken to Parkview in Ft. Wayne, then he came here to Muncie at Ball Hospital. Then he went to Community . . . no, first he went to Riley. It’s hard to remember the timeline exactly. He was unconscious for almost a year before he went to Riley Children’s Hospital. Then he went to rehab at Community East. When we brought him home he was still in a wheelchair, still in diapers. But he made a lot of progress after we brought him home. Years of speech and occupational therapy and physical therapy.

At that time, he went back to school at Morrison Mock. The school had a wonderful physical therapist who worked there, Jenny. I had a van with a lift for the wheelchair, and when I went to pick him up one day, he . . . walked . . . out to the van! Everybody was out there. The whole school. It was a surprise because I didn’t know he was walking! That was three years after we brought him home. He was 16 when he walked. And when he started going to Hillcroft. Now if we go somewhere, like a volleyball game, we take his wheelchair. But here at home and at Hillcroft, Greg can walk with assistance.

We’re really thankful he understands most things and has an even-tempered personality. He’s social, happy.

He likes to be with people. Greg only speaks about 12 words, but he understands everything. We have a lot to be thankful for.

* * *
In the hospital we had a tape recorder playing right by his ear, all the time with our voices and his brothers voices. We wanted him to have as much stimulation as possible.

You know, the nurses are in and out and the doctors see him once a day. So we were seeing things before they did. And then one day, I was sitting in his room and he had some toy trucks on a tray up high. He was reaching for them. I said, “Are you trying to get those, Greg?” And of course he couldn’t say anything. So I handed the toy trucks to him and I could tell he was glad. You tell the nurses and they would chart it. And you tell the doctors and they would shake their heads and say, “That didn’t happen.” We read articles that said, “The more stimulation they have, the better it is. Stimulate them as much as you can to wake them up.” And so we did.

The accident happened in the fall and it was the middle of summer the next year, and he was still not waking up. We asked the nurses if Greg could be taken outside on the gurney. There’s a fountain in the courtyard. The nurses were happy to do it, they were wonderful. But of course, you have to have an order from the doctor. The nurses would say, “We’ve asked the doctors and they won’t give an order. They think it’s insane, they think it’s silly.”

So John called the doctor, and honest to God they went round and around and around. They did. The doctor wasn’t even nice about it. He said, “I’ll write your mm-mm order.” And he did. It wasn’t two weeks after they started taking him outside, you could see him coming around. Was it coincidence, was it timing, or did it help? I don’t know. And the doctors realized, “You know what, he’s coming out of this coma.” And they wanted him to go to Riley.

Greg is the oldest. We didn’t take his brothers to see him for a long time. It wasn’t until Riley where we started thinking that Gary and Grant, Greg’s two younger brothers, needed to see him. When the boys first saw him, they climbed in bed with him. Both of them. They didn’t hesitate a minute. They had their arms around him, and they were in bed with him, and talking to him.

The accident. We haven’t talked about that yet. Greg was with a group of Boy Scouts. They were coming back from camp. It was a station wagon loaded down with kids; this was before minivans. The scout leader ran a stop sign at highway 3 and 218.

I’ve asked him this many times, “Greg did you see the car coming, do you remember?” Yes, he remembers it. Greg and his friend EJ had an argument that day over who got to sit by the door in the car on the way home. Greg won the argument. You know, a lot of the kids and his friends shied away from Greg after the accident. But not EJ. EJ would come over and he would take pictures of the two of them, and develop the film himself. Later he went to Notre Dame, but he would always come back and see Greg. And he would sit for us. Greg needs help with everything, even going to the bathroom. And EJ would do that.

The other car that hit them, the one that T-boned the Scout Master’s car, they were an older couple. They both died instantly. I really struggled with this Boy Scout leader for a long time. And I knew I had to forgive. We are taught in the Lord’s Prayer that we have to forgive. I couldn’t do it. Someone told me, “Write a note, tell him how you feel.” I wrote him a note, so as far as he knew I had forgiven him. But I didn’t believe a word I said.

Then one day I ran a stop sign. It wasn’t that long ago . . . 4 years, 5 years ago. I was coming back from church, and I ran a stop sign. I don’t know what I was thinking about, preoccupied I guess. These two Ball State students were going through the intersection. I’m in a big Tahoe and they’re in a little bitty car. I hit the front of their car and about took the front end off it.

You know what, those girls were OK, one had a bloody nose. If I had hit them further back in the car I don’t know what would’ve happened. It was my fault, I told the police right away it was my fault. I felt horrible. But I forgave the Boy Scout leader, immediately. I thought, how quickly and how innocently something like that can happen.

You know everyone told us, “Take it a day at a time.” That didn’t have any meaning then. The accident happened in October. We didn’t want to have Thanksgiving or Christmas; we had no desire. But we had to because we had two little boys at home who needed us. We learned to take it “an hour at a time,” when Greg was so critical. It’s not just a cliché. There’s real meaning inside that you have to find for yourself. Our sons, they kept us going and laughing. A day at a time.

Forty years later we’ve had a rich life: work, friends, weddings, grandchildren. And the Lake. I can see in my mind all the days in our cottage on Lake Chapman. I can show you a wall of pictures. Greg swimming with his life vest. Greg splashing me, and playing with his nieces and nephews. Cousin’s week. Special days. John and I passed out on the couch, exhausted and peaceful. Family traditions that have grown up around us. We say, “The lake is where we can pack a little luggage but leave our baggage behind.”

Perhaps another cliché, but it means everything to me.

Written by:
Stephanie Fisher graduated from Ball State University with a degree in English. She lives in Muncie with her husband and two daughters and is a content developer for SpinWeb. Stephanie loves reading, cooking, home brewing with her husband, and visiting new places.