My friend, Karen P., was a one-to-one aide at my special needs school, long before I
‘nabbed’ her to become my teaching assistant. She had what I call ”the patience of Job,”
with a little child (age 3) with autism. With this child she worked by using both sign
language and verbal cueing. She learned also, through workshops and the therapists, to
use positive reinforcers. His special pleasure was playing with tractors. Casually, you may
have heard the word, ‘fixation,’ when his parents talked about his tractors. He was quite
an independent child, which was hard to explain to his parents that his ‘shrieking’ was
not because of his being ‘rebellious.’ I would consider Justin’s intelligence level to be
found somewhere on the Asperger’s Spectrum; as ‘higher functioning.’
When I think of friends, I remember that old Girl Scout song, which was a ’round’ which
repeated itself. It goes like this:
“Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other is gold.”
The nine years I had dear “Saint” Karen by my side, in the ‘trenches, and sometimes
taking all the dirty work, quite literally, make her my Gold Standard of Friend. You will
think we are quite ‘sick in the head’ when I tell you that we still roar with laughter about
one Christopher who threw chairs across the room, we felt he was ‘possessed!’ We were,
in our private moments , just barely able to contain ourselves. Our favorite way to make
light of Christopher, was to say to one another,
“We know that face will be on the “Wanted” posters in the Post Office one day, we just
Also, the dirty work, was meant (by me, I reassured her when she came to be my assistant)
to be split fairly. When there were diapers which needed to be changed, we took turns.
But another ‘sick’ sense of humor moment was when “Miss Karen” was stuck with ‘her turn’
AND THE BOY HAD DIARRHEA.
But apparently Jonathan did not just do it in his pants. It went down his leg and into his
cowboy boots! When the expression is “Up to your neck in ‘shit,'” for Karen it had been,
“Up to her armpits!” Poor Karen did not feel well the rest of the day, like she could not
seem to get the odor off her hands. She was incessantly washing until she took the vanilla
air freshener spray and soaked her clothes and hands with it.
I would like to tell you a short history of Karen’s life, since she overcame a lot of tragedies
to come out wonderfully. She taught me many things more than I was able to teach her.
At age 8, Karen lost her mother to an accident. Three of her grandparents were deceased,
the one who was left, did not want her. She was raise by her two elderly aunts. When her
Dad came back and forth into her life, she had to adjust to a wide variety of women, his
alcoholism, and some verbal abuse. She always ended up calling her aunts, begging them
to come and save her.
She got good grades, wore clean but plain clothes. She met her husband, her only “love
of her life,” while going to community college to be a nursing assistant (STNA). He was
at a bar, he was ogling her, sometimes making loud comments and trying to get her
attention. She was 19 years old, she certainly wasn’t attracted to this wild motorcycle
man, who appeared much older than she, at the time. The summer she met him, he
pursued her, found her almost each time she and her friends were out in Marion, Ohio.
Karen used a dramatic way to describe Dan: “He was relentless!”
Karen is strong willed, she claims to have broke him of his ‘pool gambling habit’ and
his drinking. Dan, on the other hand, gives her credit, saying that a ‘good woman like
Karen’ can cure anything. They have been married for forty years, raised three kids
and three grandkids. A fourth grandchild, from their son and his wife, was born this
year. So, this was a new beginning for their adventures, continuing the family saga.
On Friday, October 24, 2014, we got together and laughed until we cried. We ate
at the local restaurant, Old Bag O’ Nails. We had numerous refills on our beverages
and ate our ‘fish and chips’ slowly. We had been apart for 2 years, trying to adjust
our busy lives and schedules to fit our friendship in.
Here are some of the subjects covered while we were there for almost four hours:
1. Grandchildren, of course.
2. “CSI” and cast changes over the years.
3. Hilarious episode of “According to Jim,” when both men’s clothes were blown off
when the water pipes in basement explode.
4. My divorced husband, what he was ‘up to.’ (She had been with me through 9 years,
through thick and thin, and only one year, while I was single.) Still no car, working
close to his apartment. Got online PhD in Religion.
5. “Camel toes,” when the younger teachers taught us what this expression meant.
6. Condoms. My first “Secret Santa” gift as a single woman, in multiple hues and sizes.
7. Changing over from my old way of wearing “granny panties,” and our trip to Victoria
Secret. (We had multiple shopping trips for supplies, but our trip to Tuttle Mall was
8. Barney, my famous bachelor gym teacher, who showed up my first Single Spring
Break, in a bathing suit, with a towel and a bottle of baby oil, in hand. We ‘cracked up
all over again when we remembered his announcing, “I’m your cabana boy, Robin.”
I had insisted all the female teachers, some who were in their twenties, go out
with me dancing once a month. Somehow, when we ran into Barney, they fell in
love with him. (He looks a lot like Tony Danza, seriously.) Karen was sorely
disappointed in the fact we are not still in ‘touch.’
9. The ‘girls’ insisted we attend the football game when Barney coached the
opposition; our main rival. He was on the sidelines when his team played
“our school’s” team.
The Speech Language Pathologist and Trina, who talked me into drinking before
the game. We ran into the Superintendent and hugged him. We ran into 2 parents
and also, a school board member. We found the other girls in the bleachers,
climbing over people to get to them.
10. Which of the ‘girls’ have gotten married, which have babies and who is still
single, besides me.
Karen will always be my “Hero.”
Fred Rogers, Presbyterian minister and the nice man wearing the sweater on,
“Mister Roger’s Neighborhood:”
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.
It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’
Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people, my heroes.”