Amelia, over to you.
Remember what happened to you last year? Well, something like it just happened to me.
Amelia, I’m out of control. This man, – boy – has totally reshaped my perceptions. I’m stunned. I’m 20 years older than him and want to be 20 years younger. I need space to think things through. Take over like I did for you. I’m learning about love from a nineteen year old!
Can you help? It’s a standard review of a voluntary worker. I’m seriously out of my depth and have lost objectivity.
Meet him at the unit. Meet him when he’s with the client Sarah. There’s something there, between them. Sarah is 21, though she looks about 10 years younger, is congenitally contorted, lies on a trolley because they can’t fit her into a wheelchair, smells bad (hygiene is a struggle against contracted and rigid limbs) and has yellow teeth (she won’t let people brush them). With everything deteriorating, she probably has only a couple of years to live. Unable to talk, there is no evidence she understands language. She’s a physical and neurological tragedy without any real diagnosis. This voluntary worker, Mike, perceives her in a way so far out of our professional, social or medical paradigms.
She hardly reacts to me. I’ve only had eye-contact with her a couple of times. Here are his comments during the concluding abstract of our last interview:
- Sarah, yes this is really about Sarah. She’s what keeps me here so much. I know she’ll die soon. I just want to be around her as often as possible. I think … really think … she likes me.
- I used to come here just as a voluntary thing. You want to do stuff – put back into the community.
- Sarah, ugly: no! Beauty flows from her. Oh… (Lost concentration.)
- I adore her. How can I not? How can anyone not? The unit is short-staffed. Sometimes I have to take her to the toilet and help her there. What greater thing can you give? Don’t you see? It’s a … breaks all barriers. Dignity, intimacy, needing help, giving it and seeing there’s no problem … no problem between you. She doesn’t care about something so … so not worth bothering about.
- Don’t tell the staff this … when I take her for walks I lift her from the trolley. We sniff grass and flowers. I take her shoes off and dip her feet in the stream sometimes. I’ve never understood why people put shoes on someone who will never need them. I’ve shown her butterflies, buttercups and stuff too, all sorts of things.
- Look, I’m an artist: you may think that sounds fun. My weeks are grinding, humiliating. I have to deal with gallery owners who want commercial crap. The struggle is to squeeze in something real that people will notice. Sarah helps me survive all the hopeless desperation.
- Loving her is so easy because she needs gentle. She taught me gentle. Sarah made me bigger – deeper. She’s done so much for me.
- Can we go back to your last question? It’s her smile. She doesn’t do words. She smiles. Right, it’s not the smile you get from ordinary people – she’s not ordinary. She’s so happy, so full of (vague for a moment) absolute joy. I really try to paint the way she smiles and how that makes me feel. Everyone should experience something this pure.
- I don’t know, it’s like being smiled on by an angel, like only a tiny part of her made it into this world, as if most of her never left Heaven or something. I don’t know how to say this but Sarah comes from somewhere better and takes you there in her eyes. Her smile says you are perfect and always welcome at her place.
Sorry, Amelia, I’m in a daze. Take over for a while.
©Gary Bonn, 2021