Read Life Happens Next Online

Authors: Terry Trueman

Life Happens Next (7 page)

You might ask, how can you turn a self-pity party into a positive? My answer is simple: Just pay attention to your world.

3. Cindy just played my favorite Mozart (Sonata for Piano in D, adagio movement).

4. A few minutes ago, I heard Mom laugh on the phone, her loud, happy, totally real laugh, which reminded me that she's the coolest mom in the world.

5. Yesterday I saw two sparrows mating out on the railing of our deck—hey, gimme a break, a guy's gotta get his jollies when he can.

6. A ton of self-pity lifts off my shoulders like a cloud of morning fog evaporating in the sunlight. A flood of thoughts races through my mind about how my life is great: the view from my window of Puget Sound, my sister's sweet smile, Mom's patience when she feeds me. And now about a billion more ridiculously random good things: Corvette automobiles, cool T-shirts, the wail of a sad saxophone, pralines 'n cream ice cream, soft breezes, and the way totally new socks feel when Mom first slips them onto my feet.

7. Thanks to Rusty, I can seriously jump-start my life and drop all this “poor-me” crap. There're way too many things to enjoy.


ince I've been in special education classrooms for all my life, I've spent a lot of time around developmentally disabled people, including kids with Down. But I've never understood any of them the way I do now, living full-time with the Debster. She's an adult like Mom but she's stuck mentally with a young child's mind.

Debi doesn't require a lot of attention. She doesn't like to watch TV with the family or interact with us very much. She prefers to follow her own very rigid schedule: making her lunch in the morning, going to school, eating dinner as soon as she gets home at 4 p.m., then a shower and quiet time in her room. Whenever Mom invites her to join us, she always gets the same answer, “Shower now … bed … I tired.”

But I gotta admit, things are not always sugar and spice and everything nice with Debi. She has bad moods that sometimes last for an entire evening and stretch into the next morning.

Like yesterday. Debi brought home a flier for Summer Funshine Bible Camp for Special Needs Adults and demanded that Mom sign her up. Mom had asked, “Are you sure you want to go to this?”

“Yeth,” Debi said firmly. “My course is yeth … my choice.”

Mom said, “Of course it's your choice, Debi, and if you'd like to go—”

Debi interrupted, sounding almost angry, “I say YETH! I want go, YETH!”

“Okay, Debi,” Mom answered, “I'll sign you up.”

Her mission accomplished, Debi turned and stomped out of the room, hunched over and looking angry.

This morning Debi walks into the kitchen just as grumpy as she was yesterday. “Can I say some'tin?”

Mom looks at Debi and kind of smiles. “Of course, Debi.”

Debi says, “No Bible camp!”

Mom asks, “You don't want to go to Bible camp after all?”

“No,” Debi says.

Mom asks, “You've changed your mind?”

Debi just stares at her.

Mom says, “Debi, you have decided you don't want to go to Bible camp after all?”

Debi still stares, her expression confused and unhappy. Finally she says, “No go!”

Mom says, “Okay, I'll cancel your registration.”

Debi just stands there looking pissed off.

I know that my mood has been pretty rotten lately too, but I wonder what has gotten Debi all worked up. I know the frustration of having something eating away at you and not being able to express yourself.

But you can turn your outlook around if you want to badly enough. Knowing that Rusty is watching out for me really lifts my spirits—and even though I can't have Ally, I'm glad that she has a good guy like Paul, and proud that my brother landed such a hottie. And Cindy came home holding hands with Tim last night—you shoulda seen her face, I couldn't help but feel happy for her. Maybe Debi will pick up on this vibe too and catch a ride on the love train.


HAT THE BLEEP …?” Mom is screaming, and my mom
screams. And
is a swear word I've
heard her say before.

Both Paul and Cindy jump up.

“What is it?” Paul yells. I feel his adrenaline from ten feet away.

Mom screams, “MY God …
,” this time more sad than angry. And now I hear her sob.

Cindy cries, “Mom!”

Mom says, “My albums … my God … NO! They're ruined! They're—” Her sobs cut her words off as Paul and Cindy reach her side. Mom's been putting together family albums, histories made up of pictures and press clippings, school photos and miscellaneous stuff. I know how important these albums are to Mom because she's often asked Cindy or Paul to stay with me so that she can go to the Scrapbook Store and have old pictures blown up and reprinted.

Mom, standing stiff and clenching and unclenching her fists, cries “DEBI!” at the top of her voice. I can see Mom trying to calm down and getting control of herself as she marches downstairs. We can all hear her speaking to Debi, loudly and firmly, without any threats or violence, but making it
clear that Mom's scrapbook albums are one hundred percent
-limits from now on.

It takes me a while to get the whole story straight. At her day program, Debi cuts up magazines and makes collages from the pictures. She does this each week on crafts day. Every Wednesday, when Debi gets home, she proudly displays her day's efforts. Her collages are cutout pictures of car ads and shampoo models, miscellaneous food items: pizza, a bag of frozen peas, and a hot dog on a plate. Sometimes she's included a speedboat or a racecar and anything relating to Disneyland or Winnie the Pooh. These are often in weird combinations: a newspaper shot of some mother on trial for killing her own child right next to a picture of a kitten with a ball of string. A blurry image from a surveillance camera of a suspect in a 7-Eleven holdup and a dinner plate piled high with carrots. You can never tell what might make its way into one of Debi's creations or why it's there.

Apparently Debi discovered Mom's scrapbooks and grabbed her scissors and glue stick and made what I'm sure she felt were big improvements: cutting off the top of Cindy's head from her fourth-grade school picture; removing Paul's legs from a newspaper photo of him running with a football; cutting me altogether from quite a few family shots.

Talk about your perfect setup for a big-boom disaster—Mom's albums and Debi's “art.” Mom always makes a big deal of Debi's collages because she knows that to Debi they are important, but Debi had no clue about the difference in value between Mom's precious albums and Debi's chopped-up-magazine art. I don't think there was anything especially logical about Debi's choices of who to cut, and I'm sure that nothing she did was meant to be hurtful. Everyone thinks I'm a veg. But I'm smart. I know right from wrong, whether anybody knows this about me or not. They think that I can't be bad or mean or hurtful. That's not really true. I do get irritated like when Debi makes me crazy watching
The Sound of
over and over again at supersonic sound. And you already know about my sarcasm. In this situation with Mom and Debi, I feel I'm connecting in other ways. I can feel other people's heartbreak and pain and grief. I feel sorry for Debi that she's in trouble for something she didn't know was wrong, and I feel sad for my mom for what's she's lost.

After Mom comes back upstairs from scolding Debi, I hear her talking to Paul and Cindy in the family room.

Mom says, “A university in central Missouri is collecting all your father's papers.”

“Papers?” Paul asks.

Mom explains. “Anything to do with his career as a poet and writer.”

Cindy asks, “The family albums were for them?”

“Not now,” Mom explains, “and for as long as either of you want to keep any family things, of course they're yours. But Shawn isn't ever going to have a family, be a father, or have children. And since your dad's career is so closely attached to Shawn's life, it felt good to me, comforting to know that Shawn would live on, that his album would be of interest to people years and years from now, after we're all gone. But now it's ruined—your brother's album, irreplaceable photographs of Shawn as a baby … all the—” She starts crying again.

Tears are weird things for me; sometimes they show up without my even feeling sad, other times the most heartbreaking news in the world—stuff that makes me wish I could scream and weep and beat up the whole universe—leaves me dry-eyed. But hearing Mom talk about her album she made for me, how making it somehow made my condition and my life easier for her to handle and helped her feel better—well, to be honest, that made me feel worse. I have a sick, empty, gnarly feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wish I could cry right now.

An hour or so later, after Mom has calmed down and Cindy and Paul have gone up to their rooms, I can see Mom in the kitchen and overhear her on the phone, telling my dad what has happened. I can tell that Dad is reassuring her. She nods sometimes, a funny habit she has when she's talking on the phone, as if the person on the other end of the line can see her.

“I know,” Mom says finally. “Thanks for talking me down.” She pauses, laughs a little, and says, “No, really, I feel better. I'm not even sure how many photos are wrecked—I didn't have the heart to look all through.”

She is quiet again. “I know,” she says, “you too.... Thanks and good night.” Mom hangs up the phone.

Rusty lies at her feet and stares up at her. She looks down at him. “You're not in any trouble, Mr. Rustoleum,” she says. “Catastrophe canceled. Everything's going to be okay now. I'm sure Debi has learned her lesson.”


he next morning, Debi's bus picks her up for “schoo” and Mom is getting ready to take me to my schoo … I mean my school.

The doorbell chimes. Rusty barks like a maniac until Mom shushes him and says, “Lie down,” which he does as she answers the front door.

I can't tell who's here until Mom walks into the kitchen, followed by a uniformed officer of the Seattle Police Department. He's a young-looking guy, in his early twenties, and even though my mom looks pretty much like your typical suburban housewife, this young cop actually has his hand resting on the handle of his gun. His eyes shift back and forth across the room, like he's expecting to be attacked at any second.

Mom says, “You're welcome to look around.”

“Thank you, ma'am,” the cop says in a stern no-nonsense voice. He adds, “We take emergency calls very seriously.”

Mom says, “Yes, of course.”

Emergency calls? What's going on? Lately, Paul hasn't been raging around as much, but did something make my brother lose his temper and go off on somebody again, the way he used to? Is Cindy okay? Maybe something is up with Dad?

Mom says, “I'm so sorry about this.”

But the cop ignores her and asks, “May I go downstairs?”

“Of course,” Mom says. She pauses. Then she adds, “Debi left about ten minutes ago and should be at the North Neighborhood Community Center soon. You can go there and see for yourself that she's okay.”

Debi? What the hell?

I hear them moving around downstairs, and in spite of Rusty's whining I can still get most of what Mom is saying.

“Yes,” Mom says, “she lost her father a little over two months ago and has been with us … the change has probably been very traumatic … must have used the phone in the laundry room … I scolded her last night … ruining my albums …”

Now I hear the cop: “We have to respond to any …”

Mom again. “Of course … I'll talk to her … I'm sure that …”

Now they have disappeared deeper into the basement, probably into Debi's room because I can't hear them at all.

Soon they come back upstairs to where I'm sitting and the policeman, who looks far more relaxed, says, “It's good that she knows how to use 911, but she needs to understand that it's for emergencies only.”

Mom says, “Of course. I'll talk with her about this when she gets home. I'll make sure she understands.”

The cop nods at Mom. “Everything here looks fine.”

I'm thinking, “Hey officer, if I could speak, I'd tell you all about Debi. Sometimes she has her moods, but she's also funny and goofy, like her red cowboy hat that first morning, like her joking around with Cindy and Paul. She doesn't do bad things from meanness. In fact, most of the time she doesn't seem to have a clue what's really going on.” Instead what comes from my mouth is “Ahhhhhhh.”

He glances at me.

Mom says, “My son Shawn.”

The cop smiles. “I've got a son too.”

Mom says, “Really? You look so young.”

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