Laura has an adopted brother who lives in a group home in Goldsboro, and we share the same psychiatrist, who travels to Greenville once a month. I see Dr. Saba once every sixty days, and my appointment with him is coming up soon, (but that is another story). And whenever I visit Andrew, I cannot help but think of the ugly theories of a hundred years ago, when Havelock Ellis wrote about the task of social hygiene, when the rich preached the doctrine of Social Darwinism and the natural selection inherent in breeding human beings like cattle, when society refused to look at its own blemishes in the mirror, and instead went to war against handicapped people. The sense of solidarity I feel in being part of a once vilified minority is very acute. I love Andrew as if he were my own, and I’m sure he is getting the care he needs and he is happy.
Laura and I left Robersonville at about midmorning to meet her parents at the Food Lion parking lot in Tarboro. Billy and Mary Ann were both sitting in their van waiting for us when we arrived. With hugs and greetings all around, Laura locked up her car and we entered the van, got strapped in, and off we went. I was sitting in the back. I looked out the window as the streets and the avenues of the city gave way to rural roads, empty fields waiting for the spring planting season, and farm houses which dotted the landscape, passing through open spaces, villages, and other small towns. When we arrived in Goldsboro through the back way, we travelled down Norwood Avenue until we went through a wooden privacy fence with its gate open. We parked behind a large house, observing that the van which transported the residents to their daily activities was not there. When Billy called the Nova employees on the phone, he found out that the staff on night shift failed to tell the people on day shift that we were coming.
We chatted as we waited there for a while, then their van finally passed through the gateway and we saw the people in it. Andrew waved when he saw us. When the van parked, he got out and approached us as I opened the door. He couldn’t walk in a straight line, and as he stood slightly hunched over, he looked at us with his blue crossed eyes. “Hey, Tom,” he began with his slow, childlike drawl, “Hey, Laura. Hey, mom. Hey, dad.” Billy led Andrew inside the house through the back door to sign him out, asking him if he had lunch yet. Andrew said he was hungry and ready to go to the restaurant.
When Andrew entered the van, and Mary Ann put on his seat belt, Laura and his mother presented him with some gifts they had brought. Laura gave Andrew a small bag of candy, while Mary Ann gave him a ball cap and three car magazines with a lot of pictures in them. Andrew expressed his endless gratitude. He showed us the first place ribbon he received at Special Olympics for shooting a basketball through a hoop. I looked at the writing on the blue ribbon. Embroidered on it were the words “Achievement, Courage, Joy.” I congratulated Andrew on the fine job he did.
Laura picked out the restaurant and when we arrived, Laura, Andrew, and I left our jackets in the van. When we all stepped out, Andrew held his arms out. “I love you, Tom.” I gave him a great big hug, replying, “I love you, Andrew.” Then he turned his crooked eyes toward Laura and with outstretched arms, declared, “I love you, Laura.” She hugged him, too, declaring her everlasting affection. As we walked across the parking lot, Mary Ann straightened out his shirt, which was a little askew, then, as Billy held open the front door of the eating establishment, we all marched in. Billy always pays for our meals, and I hope he knows how much I appreciate him. This place was buffet only; Billy settled the tab at the register in advance. When we found our place to sit, Billy took Andrew up to the buffet aisle to help fix his plate for him. We all got our plates to the table, held hands, and blessed the food (Billy is a retired minister). I didn’t eat anything that day prior to lunch, my stomach was empty, and the two plates of food I ate felt good going in, but when it sat there awhile, it started to hurt. All of us had full stomachs when we left. As we passed by the cashier on the way out the door, Billy, with a wink and a nod, said to her, “We left some food behind for you.”
When we returned to the group home, Andrew put on the ball cap that covered his grey hair, and we all hugged him again and said goodbye. Soon we were back on the rural highways and I was looking out the window again at churches, country stores, and farm houses that whispered by. As we were traveling faster than it was probably lawful, Billy had to put on brakes. “What’s this?” was his interrogative exclamation when we drove up on what looked like an old washing machine which had fell off the back of a truck. Billy swung around it and we continued, but Laura got out her iPhone and called the highway patrol. After she did this, a news article popped up on her screen. The longest government shutdown in US history had now come to an end.
I pulled out my own iPhone to get the details. NBC News wrote that President Trump agreed to open up the government for three weeks, to give federal workers their back pay, while the Republicans and the Democrats continue negotiations over border security. It seemed that Donald Trump did not get the border wall that he demanded. I read some other news articles describing the airline traffic jams at major airports, the damage done to the economy, and the blame Trump was receiving for it, who declared on camera, “I’ll be proud to shut down the government.” Now Laura and I will not get our food stamps held up, and Laura will be able to distribute meat again to the clients at the food bank.