Caring: JU.S.T TO SEE HIM SMILE
by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
SAN DIEGO -- The first time I was alone with him he scared me half = to death. He was a big man, a schizophrenic, and his voices were acting up.=
I was driving him to have lunch at my boss'es suggestion and at every stop= light -- after I imagined choking her for suggesting this dangerous assignm= ent -- I envisioned the many ways my body could be found if all six-foot-fi= ve of him got gnarly with me.
He laughed to himself most of the way across town and through lunc= h. I couldn't wait to get done with tacos pescado y frijoles and get= him back to the residential center. In hindsight, I know now he was simply= nervous.
After that things got better. I visited with him for a while in the= company of others or at least within sight or sound of others. I found out= he really was a gentle giant.
He'd been a rising tennis star in his mid-twenties when the schizo= phrenia hit him. Now he was fortysomething and the time in between had been= a blur of drugs, fast living, run-ins with the law and locked down psychia= tric wards. Now he'd lost his teeth, most of his hair but not his humor. He= 'd never been anyone's idea of a "good boy," but he was charming in a Beetl= ejuice kind of way.
No one thought he'd follow through with the dentist but he fooled t= hem all. When he finally realized that having teeth would be a big plus in = getting a girlfriend he went religiously for months until they finished his= front partial. He started caring about his clothes and cleaning himself up= . Some days with his boots and white cowboy hat he looked downright hands= ome, even before the teeth. He was quite a presence really, like Jack Nicho= lson in a Western wear ad for GQ.
He loved to get on the CB radio and jive. He could talk faster than= anyone on the airwaves and had a genius in the way he put words together. = I'm sure he had those truckers wondering what hit them.
When he wasn't being a narcissistic nitwit I loved being with this= man. I found his brilliance, humor and spontaneity enchanting. We'd develo= ped the mutual respect and trust that makes what they stiffly call the "the= raputic relationship" work. The voices stopped coming. He even reconciled t= o some degree with an estranged family. He was getting his life back.
Then, because of a change of circumstances, I had to leave as his c= ase manager. Someone else took my place. They didn't go with him to art mus= eums, or hang out at the greasy spoon on Main for breakfast. They didn't vi= sit the horses and feed them carrots. They didn't ride bikes down at the be= ach. They didn't take him into the Catholic church when he wanted to pray a= nd light candles. I worried about him.
Though he was "just a patient" I loved him. There was never any br= each of professional etiquette but my appreciation and love of him went bey= ond a purely clinical interest. I saw him as a human being, not just as a "= sick" person. I saw beauty in his lumbering walk, in his toothless smile; I= heard divinity in his laughter and mercurial associations.
He still called me for a while after I left but I didn't respond. I= knew there needed to be distance until his new relationships could gel. I'= d see him around town now and then. He'd be having coffee in various places= around town, smoking and fast-talking someone. I'd fade from sight quickly= , so he wouldn't see me, but with a slight ache in my heart.
When we switched care managers it was just days before he got his = partial. I never even got to see him with teeth. I could only imagine his d= azzling smile and all the new scams he could run now that he looked present= able. Hell, he might have even landed a job as a car salesman like he alway= s wanted. Then last week, out of the blue I got this message on my cell pho= ne:
"Ciiiiiiiiiiiiiii-nn-daaaaaaaay, this is the big cowboy coming at ya fro= m my new place. I like it, living by a swim and tennis club, lottsa girls. = Yeah, startin to muscle up and lookin good. Still got that cowgirl hat for= ya. Don't be such a stranger -- come on down and see me."
I rememb= er his mother telling me he could charm birds out of the sky. Think I'll ju= st have to fly down there and see him one of these days real soon.
Cin= dy Hasz is a nurse and freelance writer based in San Diego. Contact her at= firstname.lastname@example.org.