“Well Cowboy, what do you think, do you like this one or shall we keep looking?” I asked while carefully examining his expression for clues as to his true feelings.
He wanders around the two bedroom duplex His eyes dance around the simple surroundings as though he is standing in the center of grandeur. His shaky right hand opens and closes closet doors. When he opens the refrigerator he stares inside like it holds the answers to the universe and the smile on his face is ear to ear. There is nothing in the refrigerator to look at, but Cowboy sees something that most of us take for granted; Comfort and a place to put groceries. Food he will be able to buy when he needs it. Food he can put in his refrigerator, in his home. The home he won’t have to worry about losing when someone grows tired of being charitable and asks him to leave. Walls, heat, running water and a front door he will have the only set of keys to, an address of his own. Watching him now, I had to suppress tears when I looked at it the way he must be seeing it.
This was the second place we had looked at in our search to find a home for the man we affectionately called Cowboy. His given name was Brian but over the years the nickname had evolved and stuck. Cowboy always wore his old worn cowboy boots along with an even older dirty black felt cowboy hat that had seen better days and possessed an odor that was quite unpleasant. The hat was his prized possession; in fact, it was his only possession with the exception of two pairs of hand-me-down wranglers as well as a handful of shirts. I was hoping that by the end of this day I could convince him to throw all of these items into the trash; I anticipated that he would not be so keen on the idea. I would cross that bridge when I came to it; right now the most pressing matter was to find him a home. The first home he had ever had of his own.
Cowboy is fifty-three years old; he lives in a vacant bar with the permission of the owner who is trying to sell it. Before that he was living in a tent wherever he could pitch it. The temperature outside had been in the triple digits when the bar owner extended his offer to Cowboy to stay there instead for a short period of time. Cowboy thinks he is protecting the vacant property. It is the vacant property that is protecting him; but his dignity is important to those who know and care for him. This arrangement, however, is not ideal and this man needs help. My friend Robin and I stepped up when we realized that a long ago application for disability for Cowboy had been neglected and was about to expire, meaning starting from the beginning. Three years of waiting was too much, he had already waited too long.
Cowboy had been one of my employees at a restaurant where I was the kitchen manager and head steak cook. I knew him as did most of the people in this part of town. Even those who did not know him knew of him. He could be seen walking up and down Main Street every day, looking for a job. Most people would not think to hire him, he smelled bad, he stuttered badly, could not read or write and he drank; often to excess. He survived by mowing yards or performing some other labor that most people would not consider doing themselves. Cowboy was not too proud to get dirty and he wasn’t lazy. Cowboy was developmentally disabled and alone in the world, despite having thirteen siblings, they were neither involved nor interested in his life or his plight, He never asked for handouts, he asked for work.
This gentle fellow walked into my restaurant on a busy Friday night and asked if we were hiring, he proceeded to tell me all the things he knew how to do. His words were jumbled and each sentence was filled with many and –and- and’s and I, I ,I’s. Due to his stuttering, it effectively took him 20 minutes to tell me he could sweep and mop and wash dishes. He said he would change light bulbs and clean toilets and take out the trash. He had trouble meeting my eyes but when he did I saw that his had the shine of an excited child’s and there was that unmistakable look of desperation and hope that was hanging by a thread. His smile, which seemed to never disappear, was genuine and disarming. Normally, if an applicant were to show up to inquire about a job on a busy Friday night, I would hand them an application and make a mental note that I would not hire that person. You just don’t enter a restaurant seeking a job when they are busy. But my heart told me I should give this poor man a chance. I handed him an application which he stared at and became visibly nervous. I knew immediately he could not read.
“Do you need me to help you fill this out? “I asked.
He humbly, but appreciatively nodded his head and answered “yes.”
I filled it out, wrote hired on it and told him to report to work the next afternoon at 3:00. After he promised to be there I watched him exit the building and noted he was rubbing his hands back and forth in excitement and was muttering thank you, thank you, over and over again.
At three o’clock the next afternoon he arrived for work wearing the same clothes he had worn the day before and he obviously had still not bathed. I decided this was something I would have to address; and soon, but not today. I showed him around the dish room and introduced him to a young man who washed dishes there three days a week. Thomas was getting ready to go back to school and would be leaving the job soon; he would be training Cowboy, who we called Brian at the time. By the end of the night it was obvious that this man wanted to work and would do whatever was asked of him but he was slow and easily distracted. Thomas came to me and said that he didn’t think the poor man would be able to keep up with the busy restaurants demand for clean dishes. I had my doubts too but I told Thomas to stick with training him and try to see if there was not some routine that could be developed to help Brian accomplish his duties even if we had to modify some things. I wanted to give him every possible opportunity to remain employed. By now I had discovered some information about him and I made it my goal to help him if I could. As it turned out I did not regret this decision.
In a short period of time it became apparent that Cowboy was a blessing to have as an employee. He did not argue or make excuses, he found his own method of performing his duties and they worked well enough. He took longer than another might have taken to get the job done but he was thorough, reliable, and took pride in “his dish room” Within six months he was using any extra time he had of a night to assist others in their jobs. He enjoyed being helpful and needed. We allowed him to modify the job to fit his abilities and in that environment he thrived. He missed work only a handful of times in four years, twice he was drunk; but he came in and told the truth. The other two times were to attend the funerals of his mother and his grandmother. He did not take off any time to grieve. Another employee I might have fired for missing work for being drunk, where Cowboy was concerned this thought never occurred to me. He could have lied and called in sick, the fact that he chose to tell me the truth placed him a caliber higher than many other people I know. I decided I always had a job for an honest man. It was the right decision. Sadly, the restaurant had to close its doors after over 50 plus years.
While the rest of us managed to secure employment elsewhere or obtain unemployment while looking for a new job, Cowboy was not so lucky. When I had last seen him he had found a job and I was relieved to know that. What I did not know was that it lasted only a week and they fired him for being too slow. Due to my schedule I rarely saw him walking along Main Street and had no idea that he had become homeless again when the people he had been staying with kicked him out. It was not until my friend Robin saw him taking down his tent in a tract of field by the railroad tracks that anyone who cared discovered his living situation. Cowboy told Robin he had been living in the tent but that a bar owner who had closed the doors to his business and was selling the building had asked Cowboy if he would like to stay in the building until it sold. That was where Cowboy was headed that day Robin saw him and stopped to see what he was doing. He had been living there when we discovered that he had not had any help following through on his disability claim. A claim the couple who kicked him out had initiated and then ignored. They never gave him the letters that Social Security had sent let alone read them to him. Somehow Cowboy ended up with the last letter that had been sent which stated that he had one day left to respond or his claim would be thrown out. That would mean starting over again. It had been three years since his initial filing. Robin and I filled out the paperwork; we wrote letters on Cowboys behalf and waited.
A court date was set and Robin took Cowboy to court that day as his representative. We could have secured an attorney for him but we knew an attorney would take thirty percent of the money awarded to Cowboy if his case was decided favorably. We were certain that a favorable decision would be reached even without a lawyer and we wanted Cowboy to have every penny he was awarded. He would need it and he deserved it. Cowboy had been eligible for disability his entire life. I wondered why no one ever bothered to help him get it before. Within two weeks the letter came that would change Cowboy’s life.
Fully favorable was typed in bold black letters across the top of his letter, a date and time to go to the local social security office was included along with an appointment at the regional mental health department to assess his needs. Together Robin and I took a nervous and confused Cowboy to his appointments. At the mental health department an assessment was made and it was determined that he had an IQ of 59; we also discovered that Cowboy had worked for Bendix for fifteen years when he was a young man. He had taken some Special Education Vocational classes that landed him this job. He eventually lost that job when he lost his driver’s license and would often be late. From that day forward he had not had any substantial employment or any place he could really call home.
What all this meant was Cowboy would need a payee to handle his money; he did not understand the difference between ten dollars and thousands of dollars, to him twenty dollars was a lot of money. He could not count his change after a purchase to see if it was correct. Robin and I suddenly found ourselves in charge of handling the large lump sum of money Cowboy was awarded along with his monthly SSDI checks. Our job was to help him find suitable housing; procure furniture, and all necessary household goods and personal hygiene items as well as proper clothing. Grocery shopping, utility set up and automatic bill pay. After this there is health care arrangements such as a physical and added to that would be a checkup to see if he had been affected by Beryllium, a cancer causing agent that has recently been brought to light concerning past employees of Bendix. There is a potential settlement there as well. I look at the sores and scars all over Cowboys arms and face that I am told are likely caused by this exposure. I pray that is not the case, but my rational mind tells me he has probably been affected and that it has been neglected for far too long. I try not to worry about that today though. Ten years from now he will have a pension from there as well. I pray he is still here to collect it. I can’t think of a more deserving person.
This unassuming man has become my responsibility as well as Robin’s; it is not something we take lightly. A guardianship must be established legally soon, one of us will fill that need as well. Already people who have heard of his good fortune have begun to come around, trying to ingratiate themselves to him, hoping to gain from this. We will not let that happen. Cowboy would, if left to his own devises soon be left with nothing. There is the sum of thirty-eight thousand dollars from SSDI back payment. After all his basic needs and a few well deserved wants are met, the balance will be placed in a CD or some other interest bearing fund in order to protect his future independence and well-being. That is all in the back of my mind but today we are laying the foundation for his future. Today we are looking for the perfect home for Cowboy.
Cowboy is nodding yes as I repeat my question; I want to be clear with him. I ask the question again using slightly different words. “Do you want to keep looking at other properties, other places for rent?”
His eyes meet mine and I almost fall apart, there are tears in his eyes as he inquires “Can I live here for a long time?”
“Yes” I answer, “if you want to, you can live here for a very long time. You do not have to worry about being able to pay the rent or the bills. You have enough money to live here and have some money in your pocket to do some things you want to do for fun too”.
He considers this and then softly confesses “I don’t have any furniture.”
Now I have to smile, He still doesn’t understand that we have lots of shopping to do. We have explained this to him but I don’t think it is clear to him yet. We will go shopping this afternoon for a whole wardrobe of clothing for him. He will get new Cowboy boots, tennis shoes, a new Cowboy hat, maybe two, one for summer, and, one for winter. He will be picking out a beautiful silver belt buckle with a horseshoe on it to go with the new leather belt he will buy. If he chooses a place to live today we will be buying everything needed to make this a home for him. He doesn’t have any Furniture. I can’t wait to take him to Nebraska Furniture Mart to pick out furniture for each room. I am most anxious to see his reaction when he discovers that he will, for the rest of his life, be sleeping in a bed and not on the floor or ground in a sleeping bag.
I tell him again “Cowboy, you have enough money to fill this place with the furniture you want and like. It will belong to you. You will be buying it with your own money; you do not have to beg for work anymore. If you want to work somewhere you can, but you do not have to.”
He really does not understand this regardless of how often I repeat it or how I word it. I will continue to search for the right words that will help him understand. Right now I just want to know if he likes this place or wants to see some others. I start to ask again if he wants to keep looking when he timidly asks “would it be okay if I lived here in this place? I really like it here.”
I have to smile, typical of him to want to know if what he wants is okay with someone else. I give him my most approving look and tell him I think that he should live wherever he wants and if he wants to live here then that would be fine with me and Robin tells him the same thing, adding that it was perfect because it is halfway between Robins house and mine, he will be flanked on both sides with his support system. It is decided at that moment, this is the place. This will be Cowboys new home.
We turn to the nice woman who owns the property, Rita, she has been told in advance all about Cowboy’s life and how we got to this point with his care. She is smiling and her eyes too are tearing… She reaches for Cowboy and gives him a hug. He hugs her back and turns a little red in the face. He is not used to this kind of compassion from strangers, but he likes hugs.
Rita pulls away slowly and then shakes Cowboys hand and says to him: “welcome home Cowboy”, picking up easily the nickname given him,” I hope you will be happy here and I am glad to have you as a tenant” Cowboy smiles and nods not knowing what to say in return. A response isn’t necessary.
We fill out the necessary paper work, the lease is signed. We write her a check for the deposit and three months’ rent in advance. Within an hour and a half the utilities are arranged and we meet Rita again to pick up the keys to Cowboys new home. He is beaming, and we are as giddy as he is. There is something magically heartwarming in witnessing someone else receiving blessings that most of us take for granted.
We spent the rest of the day shopping for clothing, hygiene products, and other incidentals necessary for setting up housekeeping. The furniture shopping will have to wait a couple of days but he doesn’t mind, he is happy with what has already been accomplished.
We inquire, “Do you want to sleep on Robin’s sofa until we get the furniture”?
“I guess so” He says, but we exchange knowing glances, we know. He wants to sleep in his new home.
I ask outright: “do you want to stay in your new house while waiting for the furniture? You can if you want to, it is up to you”
There is not a moment’s hesitation as he almost shouts, “yeah, yeah I I I want to stay there, yeah”
I place a call to my daughter asking her to return the blow up mattress she had borrowed for a camping trip. When I tell her what I need it for she happily tells me she will bring it right away, along with some sheets and a pillow and even a radio to keep him company until he gets a television and a radio of his own. She arrives later with these items and a few others that she gathered up that she thought he could use in the interim. When he opened the door to let her in, he took her on the brief tour of his new home. With great pride he pointed out every little thing as though these were things never seen before. His happiness and enthusiasm were contagious. After inflating and dressing his temporary bed we discussed plans for the next week, including the purchase of a scooter for Cowboy to get around town on. At some point someone mentioned we had not eaten all day so we all decided to go to dinner to celebrate the culmination of months and even years of Cowboys struggle finally resulting in him finding a soft place to land.
As we sat at the table in the restaurant preparing to order, the waitress, noticing our festive behavior commented that we were all sure happy tonight. Robin told her that we were celebrating. “Oh” she said, “What are you celebrating?” We all looked at each other, searching for the best way to answer when it came to me; I pointed at Cowboy and told her “we are celebrating our friend’s retirement.” She congratulated him, took our orders and as she walked off I looked at Cowboy, it was as if a light had turned on in his head. He looked at me and questioned, “I’m retired? That means I don’t have to worry about working anymore doesn’t it?”
Finally, he understood. Social Security along with the word Retirement made sense to him. Disability was not a concept he understood. Cowboy has never thought of himself as disabled, to be honest I have to agree. The disability in my mind lies in the people who are unwilling to give someone like him a chance to work, or unwilling to accommodate his special needs. That is their loss. I am glad I was not one of them. I would have missed out on the pleasure of knowing him and witnessing his simple gratitude and happiness at having those little things most of us don’t give much thought to, a bed, a meal, a shower, a home.
A Home for Cowboy; Part Two.
A New Life for a Good Man
My phone rang at eight o’clock this morning. I fumbled around the top of my nightstand until my hand found the ringing cellphone, flipping it open; I put it to my ear and mumbled a sleepy “hello”?
“Good morning” Robin replied. “How do you feel about picking up Cowboy and taking him to Nebraska Furniture Mart today?”
I yawn and stretch and wait a moment for my brain to come back online before I answer. “Sounds good to me” I finally reply, just give me an hour to shower and dress and I will call you back when I am ready to head out”
“Works for me” Robin says, “I will go on over to Cowboys and have him get ready. I will wait for your call over there”
After ending the call I climb out of bed and head in to start a pot of coffee before jumping in the shower. I let my mind wander through the past and I had to smile when I thought about all the events that had led us to this moment in time. It is pretty amazing when you look at the big picture. To illustrate I am providing the background or history of Robin in regards to my relationship with him.
The facts that Robin and I were great friends, now combined with our joint responsibility for Cowboy, are as ironic as can be. Seven years ago Robin and I lived together as boyfriend and girlfriend. How that transpired is still a mystery to me. We had known each other for years; but not well; Robin had a history of being a ladies man, an alcoholic and drug addict. He had kicked his drug habit but still drank .Like many people I know, his favorite watering hole was a local bar called The Corner. This is where I would usually see him.
I had a part-time job there tending bar and so when he would come in we would talk. Long story short, Robin had become homeless and needed a place to stay. His only option at the time was to stay with an old friend from his drugging days and he wasn’t too keen on the idea of living there. As we talked one afternoon and he was telling me all of this, I suddenly heard myself saying “you can stay at my house for a while until you get on your feet, I have room if you can stand being around two teenage boys” He gave me a quizzical look and after a moment he accepted the offer, promising not to be a burden.
Within only a few weeks it became very apparent to me that Robin had a serious mental illness. Robin has Schizophrenia. Trying to get him to understand that would prove to be very difficult, and although today I have no regrets; at the time this was a horrible burden. It was not a burden he could control and I knew he needed serious mental health care.
Taking him to the VA more than a dozen times in two years’ time, he would be released once stabilized and sent home with a regimen of Medication that would, if taken, keep him on a level plane mentally. Gone would be the thoughts that tormented him when he was not medicated. The problem was when Robin began to feel better he would cease taking his medication and soon we were right back at the VA.for another two to three-week stay.
During one of his periods of stability we entered a twelve step program together and quit drinking. We were both alcoholics. In order for Robin to stay on his medication he first needed to address his self-medicating tendencies. In the beginning I told myself that I was only going to those meetings to help him, in the end I kept going because I realized that I too had a problem. Robin would go back and forth with his sobriety and his mental illness for several years.
During one of the periods when he was drinking and not taking his medication he entered into a place in his mind that had him believing some horrible things about his self and about me. I had taken him to see someone at The Social security office to apply for disability. I had medical records as well as my own testimony to offer as proof of his eligibility to be placed on SSDI. We had been through this before but Robin would never follow through on the things they required of him. His negligence to do what they asked resulted in his case being denied. This last time I was determined to get something accomplished. I convinced him to put me on the list of people who could speak to his doctors as well as the people at Social Security, Not an easy thing to do when he thought I was the enemy.
During the time that last claim was made for benefits Robin again fell off his meds and was drinking again. He moved out to live with his brother. He just came in the door one day acting erratic, angry and paranoid and began to pack. He moved three different times in as many weeks. At the post office, he had put in so many changes of address in such a short period of time the mailman actually knocked on my door one day and asked me what was going on. I told him and I promised that any mail that ended up in my mailbox I would be sure to get to Robin.
Robin eventually ended up back at his brothers and there he remained until he was finally awarded disability, we did not speak during that time, and in fact we did not speak for a year. However Social security sent forms to my address to be filled out. I opened them and filled them out myself. I Knew Robin would not do it himself I wrote a long and detailed letter outlining everything I knew about him, I included some things in his past that I believed were the catalyst to launching his mental illness.
In 1981 Robin had been charged with a DWI and a double vehicular manslaughter. He had been leaving the Airshow at Richards Gebaur Airbase when while trying to merge onto the highway an elderly couple had moved over into his lane and his car hit them from behind. The couple, from Texas, died at the scene while Robin was trying to administer first aid that he had learned in the Navy. His BAC was just at the legal limit. He was tried and found guilty. He spent two years in jail for this. Robin was never the same again. That chapter in his life changed him. His guilt could not be eased and he suffers from PTSD. Robin carried that around for years and it has only been recently that he has come to terms with it.
I never took him the letters Social Security mailed until a court date was set. I was nervous, but I took him that letter, told him what I had done and offered to take him to his court appearance. He agreed to go and allow me to take him. Court was short, confusing, and the judge seemed cold and impersonal. I spoke on Robins behalf and at that point the Judges demeanor seemed to change, she became a little softer spoken and there was a kindness and concern in her eyes that had not been there at first. I was not surprised a month later when a new letter arrived stating he had been awarded his disability.
Things changed for Robin around that time. Things changed for me too. I had met and become engaged to a man we both knew. He was a widower and Robin and I had been friends with him and his wife prior to her death. I had been sober for 4 years at that time and Robin had finally maintained a little under two years of sobriety He had begun to take his medications faithfully and his life was now a happy one. When I married my husband, Robin moved back into the small house we had lived in together. He now has over four years of sobriety and I have over seven.. Our friendship grew and remains strong to this day. As part of our twelve step program we have to help other people. That brings us back to Cowboy.
After we had secured housing for him and purchased him a new wardrobe, we now needed to get his furniture and other items he would need to make his new place a home. We had all been looking forward to going to Nebraska Furniture mart and to Reno’s in Martin City, Missouri to buy his scooter. Today would be that day. I think we were as excited about this as Cowboy must have been.
When I was finally dressed and ready to go, I called Robin and told them I was on my way. After picking them up we made our way to that huge furniture store. Cowboy was wearing a big grin and talking about all the things he wanted to buy. He was especially excited about the new bed he would be picking out. No more sleeping on the ground or on a hard floor. He had not slept in a bed for years.
The look on Cowboys face was priceless as he took in the surroundings when we first walked in the store. Awe would be an understatement. It was eleven o’clock in the morning when we got to the store. It was six o’clock in the evening when we left. Most of the items purchased would have to be delivered. That is scheduled for Saturday morning. What we could fit in my Pick-up we hauled to his new home ourselves. A 47 inch flat screen Visio television, a surround sound system, a DVD player, a kitchen table with four chairs and two prints that had charcoal drawings of horses on them.
We dropped these items off and headed to Kohl’s where we picked up two watches for him. One for dress and one for every day wear. Next was Wal-Mart where we bought dishes, towels and wash cloths. A dish drainer, silverware, pots and pans, pot holders, cookie sheets, smoke and carbon monoxide detector, iron, and ironing board, a toaster, vacuum, mop, pillows, bedding, knives, microwave, curtain rods and curtains, a hand mixer, cutting board and a few knick knacks. I cannot recall everything we bought but it took three shopping carts to haul it all out to the truck. By the time we loaded it all in there, we barely had room for ourselves. Looking in my rearview mirror all I could see of cowboy was the top of his new Cowboy hat. I could hear him fingering through the bags in the back seat eyeing his new possessions. If I had tried to smile wider I couldn’t have! I know I was overwhelmed and I could not imagine how overwhelmed he must have been. We made our way back to his new home to unload these purchases as well. But, we were far from done.
At the Dollar General we stocked up on hygiene products as well as house cleaning supplies. Although Cowboy does not smoke he insisted on buying two ashtrays so he would have them on hand for guests who smoke. He wanted to be a good host. I silently hope that his guests will be considerate and not smoke in his home; that is his call, not mine. We picked up two new trash cans and two laundry baskets while we were there.
Almost done. Now for the last two major purchases; a washer and dryer, and that beautiful black 50cc Zuma scooter he has been wanting.
The washer and dryer were picked out quickly. A very basic set that he could operate easily, since he does not read or write, and they were inexpensive. A set of Ropers, not the best on the market but not bad either. They will be delivered tomorrow.
I ask Cowboy with every purchase made, “Are you certain this is the one you want? Do you need more of these or will four be plenty? Can you think of anything else, you might want from here?”
His answers are simple, “yes”, “yes” and “no”.
I have never been shopping with someone who was so easy to please or who knew exactly what he did or did not want. He did have me pick out the color scheme for his bedroom and bathroom. He also asked me to help organize his kitchen and to do the decorating as far as curtains, wall hangings and kitchen decor goes. I am happy to do this. When we arrive at Cowboys with this last load, we carry it all inside and go straight to work. The television gets set up first. From there we place things in their prospective rooms and go about putting things away.
I tackle the bathroom, hanging the new shower curtain and the new towels. I put his personal hygiene items away and set in place his new toothbrush holder, soap dish and shaving kit. I line the new waste basket and place it in a corner. Locating the floor rugs we bought and the bath tub mat, I put those in place as well. Lastly I place a roll of paper on the toilet paper holder and put the rest of the package in the closet just outside of the bathroom. Cowboy, having finished putting his kitchen table and chairs together comes to see the bathroom. He eyes everything appreciatively and nods his approval. We discuss potential artwork for the walls in there. For now though, he is pleased with it just the way it is.
It has grown quite late; I look at my phone and realize that it is almost midnight. I head back to the living room where Robin has just finished setting up the DVD player and surround sound system. Cowboy follows me into the room. We all step back and look at the fruits of our labor. We are satisfied with the day’s progress and decide to call it a night. We will pick up the scooter in the morning. After hugs all around and a high-five to each other in self-congratulations, I leave to go home, I will set my alarm for early the next day to get an early start picking up the scooter and putting the finishing touches on anything we missed.
The next morning we get off to an early start. I called Robin and told him to pick up Cowboy and meet me at my house at Nine o’clock. When they show up we all jump in my truck and head to Martin City.
We pull into Reno’s to buy the scooter. It is a beauty. Bigger than I thought it would be too. We had already bought him a helmet to wear when he rides. After signing all the paperwork and listening to a brief tutorial on how to operate it, we fitted his helmet on his head and he tentatively approached the scooter. I pick up on the feeling that he is nervous about riding it. He swings one leg over the seat and sits down, he starts to giggle and then he stands up while holding onto the handle bars. I give him a questioning look.
“I have a cramp in my leg”, he says, “Give me a minute”
“That’s fine Cowboy, take your time” I tell him, but I exchange a knowing glance with Robin and the salesman. We all know he is stalling. He is not so sure about this scooter now that he is actually sitting on it. We had asked him if he had ever ridden one before and he had replied that he used to ride a mini bike all the time. This had to be easier than that, but, we could see that he probably was not going to try to ride this just yet. We patiently wait; giving him time to work up his courage or rid himself of this cramp if it really exists. No dice, I can see that we will have to change our plans to get the scooter home for him.
“Cowboy”, I ask, “do you want Robin to drive it home for you? You have done a lot of running around these last few days, maybe you need to rest up a bit before you try to ride it.” Relief shows on his face as he quickly replies, “yeah, yeah, let Robin ride it home for me, my leg has a cramp” Robin rode the scooter home. As Cowboy and I followed from behind we both began to laugh hysterically. Robin is a very large man. That scooter looked huge until Robin got on it. The comedic value of this scene is impossible to describe justifiably, but I will try. If you have ever seen one of those really tiny motorcycles that were so popular a few years ago, I think they were called Pocket Bikes, try to imagine a six plus foot tall man who weighs almost three hundred pounds riding it up a steep hill. We laughed so hard we had tears running down our faces.
When we had to stop for a train, Robin rolled the scooter back next to the truck. I rolled down the window and he shouted to us over the sound of the train
“This thing corners a bit funny, and it loses a lot of power going uphill, but it is easy to ride. Cowboy, I don’t think you will have any trouble learning to ride it”.
Cowboy confesses as we cross over the train tracks “I didn’t really have a cramp; I was just scared a little. I’m not scared now that I have seen Robin ride it. I will ride it tomorrow”
We will see, I worry he may not be comfortable riding it at all. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get to it. We arrive at Cowboys and go inside. The three of us begin to discuss where each piece of furniture should go and what we have forgotten if anything. We feel confident that we have not overlooked anything important, heck we even filled the medicine cabinet with the basic necessities, Ibuprofen, aspirin, cold medicine, Alka Seltzer Band-Aids, peroxide, alcohol, Q-tips, you get the picture.
Conversation turns toward the past as Cowboy talks about his life growing up. He talks about his poor relationships with his siblings. There are two sisters he still wants to communicate with and Robin agrees to take him to see the one who lives in town. She actually lives in the small house that they all grew up in. We discover that when his last living parent died Cowboys older siblings kept Cowboy from inheriting anything at all. They knew he would not know how to pursue the issue and that even if he did, he wouldn’t. It is not in his nature to make waves. It appears that all of his life he has allowed others to walk rough shod over him and never fought back. He may have a low IQ but his emotional IQ is high. He knows that people have treated him poorly; he knows he doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment and he is aware when people are being condescending toward him.
He regales stories of when he was young, laughing when he reminisces about the family owning two limousines used to transport the large brood around in. They were dirt poor but traveled in a limousine to school or wherever they went. He seemed to enjoy that memory and we couldn’t help but laugh with him as he told the story. He said he didn’t have many friends growing up and even as an adult most of the people he had called friend were really just people who took advantage of him. He told us about one job he had where a co-worker would send him on numerous personal errands including walking to the store to buy beer and lottery tickets for her. She would have him do her side work at the end of the night so she could leave. For doing these things she would pay him three dollars. He felt powerless to tell her no. Fearful of losing his job, Cowboy would not say no to anyone or anything. He just went along with whatever was done to him or said to him.
He confessed that some people had started calling him Sling- blade, he had no idea what was being inferred because he had not seen the movie. When he finally saw the movie and realized what that nick name implied he admitted that it hurt his feelings and that it embarrassed him. He realized that what he had thought was a term of endearment was an attempt to humiliate him. He said he used to smile when people called him that and now, when he thinks back on those moments, he feels hurt and angry. Who could blame him?
Emotions are running high at this point for all three of us. We assure him that he doesn’t have to worry about those things any longer. No person can take advantage of him like that again. He can live a relatively easy life from now on. He could take a vacation, something he has never experienced, His eyes really light up at the thought of a vacation.
“I want to see the ocean and some mountains. He says. I want to ride in a boat at the lake. I want to spend the night in a hotel sometime, I haven’t ever done that!”
It is hard to listen to his dreams without getting a little choked up. These are all things he should have an opportunity to do, however, someone will have to take him to do these things, because he could not do them on his own. Robin and I make mental notes to try to plan a vacation for Cowboy that would include all of those things he would like to do.
It has been another long day; there is only the delivery of the furniture for everything to come full circle. That is tomorrow, the three of us are all excited to be so close to having everything completed.
As I am preparing to leave, Cowboy says suddenly, “I haven’t had a beer since all of this started happening. I don’t even want one. I think I will quit like you guys did and start going to that hall sometimes.
This is music to my ears. I believe that Cowboys years of drinking in the bars had more to do with the need to socialize than the need to get drunk. He just wanted to belong somewhere. Looking around his new home, I think to myself. This is where he belongs. Nobody should have to live without the simple comforts of home. Nobody should be so alone in the world. And nobody deserves this break more than Cowboy.
Before I leave I remembered one last thing. I went back to the closet by the back door and reach in to find the bag I had set in there earlier, finding it I walk to the front door. I pull out a small simple green throw rug and set it in front of the door. Then I pull the other item out of the bag and I open the door. Cowboy is watching me, wondering what I am holding and why I am taking it outside. I smile at him and invite him to come see as I place this second rug on the front porch. There is one word written across it. WELCOME