Bethany has this uncanny ability to make new acquaintances. She simply targets a new individual, walks right up to them, grabs their hand and goes nose-to-nose with them. Her only utterance is a gentle yet guttural “AHH”.
These introductions happen so fast that it’s usually done before I even know to respond. Typically, as I peel her off the unsuspecting subject there’s this awkward moment where I have to decide if I want to explain, apologize, divert, or simply run away. Many people are so shocked that they themselves don’t even know how to respond and honestly, we’ve learned how to read the signs and choose our responses “on-the-fly”.
There’s the day she squeezed the stranger’s boobs, I mean – heck, what could you possibly say? And even if you said it, whom are you targeting the response for? Bethany certainly won’t hear the statement “honey, that’s inappropriate”, and the offended stranger - she may take some satisfaction in hearing it but it does nothing to ensure that B doesn’t repeat the behavior. Then there’s the time that I tried to grab her hands before she connected with the boobs and I got my hands shoved onto the ladies breasts ahead of Bethany’s – try explaining that one away…
One Sunday morning in a local coffee shop she did a hard right-turn away from the counter and shot over to a table full of folks who were dressed like they’d just come from church. Bethany immediately singled out the only bachelor in the crowd, gave him a big hug and reached into this mouth to see his teeth. Fortunately for us, the table burst out in laughter as they’d been discussing the very fact that this bachelor was in fact a bachelor and no one understood why. Bethany dispelled their myth of his lack of female attraction in one split second. Saved by circumstance, both of us were – that one sure was a “win-win”.
There are other times where its not so positive, a trip to the shoe store turns into an all- out assault of a woman; in a split second, Bethany has her body-slammed up against the glass window (that one was a “flee” instance). Another time she intentionally shoves a child down and I’m left to hear a fusillade of obscenities unleashed by an upset father. (That one was a brief apology followed by a redirect towards B with a complete dismissal of the father’s response). Another time she knocks down a child at the fairgrounds and the child’s parent’s scream at our 19-year-old helper, demanding an explanation of “why you’d bring a little freak like that out in public anyway” and then in true American fashion, threatened to sue us. I guess the helper handled it well, she simply gathered up B and walked away – I didn’t handle it so well when I heard of it, I cried. Not for Bethany, but for the ignorance of the man assaulting her and for the behavior his children witnessed.
I did have an old woman come up to me once at a campground and mentioned that she’d seen me walking with her and saw some of the behavior. She was probably in her 80’s and told me how proud she was of my efforts. She went on to tell me that she had a “retarded son” and two other children when she was younger. She was pregnant with her fourth child and needed bed-rest. The physician stated that there was no way she could care for the “retarded one” and he said, “he had to go for the sake of the others”. She explained the agony in her heart as she let go of that little hand and he lead him away. “He died at age 40”, she said; “those were hard years”.
I wonder what will happen one day when Bethany is finally living in a group home. This is our dream in some ways, to “get our life back”. To not fear or have to preplan a walk in public, to not have to explain, apologize, correct, to not have to do anything but move from point to point. In some ways I’ll miss the humor of the awkward situations, I’ll miss the beauty of the laughter of the people who understand and find some sort of awakening in the experience. I’ll miss the little hand that I’ve grown so accustomed to having to hold on to. I’m sure that, like the old lady in the campground, I’ll comfort some young couple facing the same challenges with the parting comment” “those were hard years”.