Wednesday, April 23, 2008

One is Silver and the Other Gold

In the excitement of starting this blog, I sent a link to everyone I know, hoping that they would help in getting the word out to anyone they know who might find it interesting or helpful. This process led to some affirming e-mails and even a long-distance phone the morning! (For those of you who grew up before the days of unlimited free calling, this was a big event.)

Florence called, because in my haste to get the information out, I had made a typo in the web address, and she couldn't open it. She's the kind of friend that would go to the trouble to call me and find out how to access what's going on in my life. As I walked her through the process and we opened the page together, with the correct address this time.

I realized that friendship is something that I treasure above most anything except family, and that this is one area where Walker doesn't follow the expected patterns. Or does he?

Walker has one "best" friend. His name is Steffen and he and Walker rode the school bus together for several years. They were always the last kids dropped off every afternoon, and Steffen was attentive and kind to Walker. The first time I met him, he and his mom came by our house with a Christmas gift for Walker, the first one he had ever gotten from anyone other than the "Secret Santa" things at school or family and godparents remembering his birthday and Christmas.

When Steffen turned sixteen, he got a driver's license, and began to stop at our house for a visit sometimes. Eventually, I hired him on occasion to drive Walker to something I couldn't handle for one reason or another. Then one day, I realized that we hadn't seen or heard from Steffen for quite some time.

By this time, Walker had graduated from high school, and Steffen had kind of outgrown him. So I assumed it would be just like it had always been with the kids in our neighborhoods, when they outgrew Walker, we just kind of never saw them again. I realized the sadness of this when I put Walker in a high school Sunday School class, mainly because there was no real place he belonged. The adult classes were entirely too cerebral for him. The kids he had know all his life at church and in the neighborhood were nice enough, but eventually they graduated and he was left alone to make new friends with the next batch of ninth graders.

Eventually, I ran into Steffen's mom in the parking lot at the grocery store. When I asked about him, she seemed uncomfortable, but finally told me that Steffen had been admitted to a mental health facility. I didn't know at the time that a seemingly normal, bright youngster could become mentally ill and be diagnosed in his teens.

Months after that episode, we returned from a vacation to find a large number of messages from "an inmate at the county jail", which had we answered, we would have been charged a substantial fee. After puzzling over this for a day or so, it finally dawned on me that it could be Steffen. I called his mom, who eventually explained the circumstances, and was so angry with him that she wouldn't make his bail "if it was only two dollars, not two thousand". I was stunned, to say the very least. The Shelby County Jail is a terrible place. I had feared for my safety the one time I had entered the building adjoining it to contest a parking ticket. This was no place for a skinny adolescent from a nice neighborhood.

I eventually screwed up my courage, and made Steffen a visit. He had been charged with some sort of assualt against his mom, and to my knowledge, it entailed simply slamming the door in her face. I don't have any idea how bad things must have gotten for his mom to handle this by calling the police, but that's what she did. At the time, the mental health facilities that would have normally admitted Steffen and given his mom some respite from their conflictual relationship were overcrowded, and weren't accepting new admissions. He had been stuck at the jail for several weeks just awaiting a hearing. Somehow, I made the connections that were necessary to testify at that hearing, and Steffen was sent to a mental health facility for a thirty day evaluation. In the meantime, I worked on finding a suitable place for him to live upon realease, either from the facility or from jail.

When he called to let me know that he was about to be moved back to jail awaiting a second hearing, it was a holiday weekend. The thought of Steffen being placed in the jail again, even for a few days, was unbearable. So, I had my first, and only experience with a bail bondsman. Steffen was released to a facility that helped him manage his medications and learn some independent living skills. Through it all, Walker remaind his friend and champion.

Steffen eventually moved to an apartment, and manages well independently. He uses a computer to research movies and other entertainment opportunities for Walker and him to attend. We only see him only a couple of times a month, but given the choice of who to go out with, Walker always chooses Steffen.

This leads me back to the whole driving thing. Neither Walker nor Steffen drive. They can't do the things that young adults do, because they are dependent on their parents to pick up and deliver them, just like kids in junior high. Steffen has made a few friends in some of his mental health groups, and I think he has somewhat of a social life and includes Walker a bit occasionally, but mostly Walker has to make sure we're willing to provide the transportation.

I hope that someday Walker will someday have the freedom to pursue friendships freely, invite a friend out for a movie or dinner, and not have to seek our permission. Now that would be a blessing.

Friendship to all, Janie


Terri said...

Sounds like you've been a good friend to that young man, too, Janie. It's hard that his mother got to a place where she couldn't handle him anymore, but lucky that he has you in his support system.

Leah said...

I'm glad that Steffen has you. My guess is his mother didn't know how to get him the help he needed. Or was just too close to the situation to do it. I've had to have my son removed from the home several times, but each time he was brought to a hospital facility, and eventually was put into a residential treatment facility where he spent a year. But now that he's an adult, I can't do anything for him that he doesn't want me to do. And really...he doesn't want his mom doing any of it. I'm trying disparately to get him hooked up into the county adult mental health system (because the day he turned 18 the dropped him like a hot potato!) so that THEY can follow him and it doesn't have to be his mother doing it. It's a tough spot to be in! For me, I've learned that Down Syndrome is easy...mental illness is TOUGH to live with!