Now that I have my journals at my disposal, I can fill in some details about Mike and his social environment. As much as I am itching to share specific holiday experiences, particularly, Halloween, I am going to wait until the appropriate time of year for that.
I met many of Michael’s housemates and schoolmates during the times I visited him. There was C___, who always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. I always and asked him how he was. He didn’t talk much, but he seemed to liked it when I shook his hand. J___ and H___ were twins. J___ was very attentive when he saw me. I had to draw H___ out, to talk with him.
I was sitting next to Michael as he played with his slinky, on one of my visits to his day program school. Suddenly I got this cold, wet feeling on my head. (Losing one’s hair makes one sensitive heat and cold.) It was M___’s nose on the top of my head. He had just introduced himself to me. The counselor told me that M___ was practically blind and he liked to smell things; it was his way of saying hello. M___ went to Willowbrook when he was 5 years old. He was able to talk when he went in. He didn’t talk when he came out.
I wanted to see more of the life that Mike led, so I got the ok to join him at some of their social gatherings. The first one I went to was at Mike’s residence. I was surprised to see so many people there. It so happened that clients from the other residences were invited to their party. It was sometimes difficult to determine who was a client and who wasn’t. Another fellow named Michael, posed with my brother for a picture. He asked if I was Mike’s brother. I said that I was. He said that we looked exactly alike. It was then I decided that he was a resident at another house. Mike seemed to be at ease, even debonair. His wandering in this context could be seen as “mixing”. He had a smile on his face most of the evening: my brother, the party animal.
The next party I attended was held in a big hall for residents from many group homes in the area. I did usual careful planning for the subway ride and had no problems even though it was freezing. I got there just as Mike’s van pulled up. I was happy to see familiar faces. I caught up with H___ as he entered the cavernous inside entrance. He seemed surprised to see me, as was J___, who gave me a big hug. C___ was there, a little cranky, but I think he was ready for the party. We were shunted to the area where the party was to be. As we were waiting for the elevator, I saw my friend who introduced himself at Mike’s school. I said, “Hi M___,” and he looked up in my direction. There was no one with him, so he shuffled toward me. I extended my hand and he took it as trustingly as a child gives his had to a parent. M___’s hand was warm and smooth, but his entire body was vibrating. Physically connecting with him gave me a new understanding of his life. This shaking person was a warm, living, totally dependent, trusting soul.
The dance hall was huge. There were tables around the perimeter of the dance floor. I saw many of the people from the other parties; some of them remembered me. Mike was surrounded by his friends. I was really surprised to see that he actually seemed to pose for one of my pictures.
When the party was breaking up, the coat situation was becoming difficult. Clients and counselors were milling about, getting the right coat to the right person. I followed my brother, who was heading for the door, just as this woman was came up the steps. Clearly she was from the outside and knew nothing about the party or for whom the party was being held. As I was following my brother, heading in her direction, a horrified look appeared on her face. She almost physically recoiled. “Eeewww, don’t touch me,” she said. Was she addressing Mike or me? The blood rushed to my face I was embarrassed for her as well as angry at the cold slap I felt: A slap of reality.
This was the danger of the dark, bitter coldness of the night I was about to enter to find my way back home. I felt very lucky for having been at a warm and loving party among friends.