ISO a Life: Special Needs
This Is My Life
By December it's usually pretty cold here in the evening but this night was mild. The moon and stars shone clearly overhead. We had driven around a while looking for parking and finally settled on a pay lot not too far from where Luke would be performing. I drove. Anna paid. I've been in a car with her driving before and she spent most of the time looking in the rear view mirror playing with her hair. That wasn't going to happen again. She had invited me to go see her boyfriend sing. Luke is an Elvis impersonator and Anna was head over heels in love with him.
"Thanks for coming with me, Emily. I know you'll have a great time!" Anna said with childlike enthusiasm as we walked down the sidewalk towards the park.
"I'm happy to finally be meeting Luke," I replied.
"He's so good. And he's so handsome too. Ileen is supposed to meet us there but she has to make dinner for her kids first."
We arrived at the park, which is actually a strip of grass in the middle of downtown. There were some people on the stage getting things prepared for the show. Anna spotted Luke.
"There he is! Come on."
I followed her over to a man in his late thirties, about 5'8" with a bit of a belly and thinning brown hair. He and Anna hugged. She gave him a big kiss on the lips. He seemed a little embarrassed.
"Emily, this is Luke. Luke, this is my friend Emily."
"Hello," said Luke.
"Hi," I said.
"I have work to do before the show, Anna," he said.
"Well I'm hungry. Are you hungry? Emily, are you hungry?"
"I can't eat," Luke said a little impatiently. "You go get something."
"Well, where? I don't want to spend a bunch of money. I'm not going to some fancy restaurant. All I want is a burger or a hot dog or something. I'm not made of money, you know."
"There's some booths down past the Christmas trees," Luke pointed to end of the park.
"OK," said Anna, "You want me to get you anything? Some french fries or a piece of pizza or something?"
"I don't want anything."
"Are you sure? Cause I can get you something."
"Come on Emily," said Anna. "What do you want? I don't know what they have down there. It better not cost too much. I'm not made of money you know. A burger would be good. Do you want a burger? Or maybe a hot dog. I like hot dogs. Do you like hot dogs, Emily? Oh, look at the boxes. They're so pretty." Some giant boxes covered in gift wrapping with large bows on top had caught Anna's eye.
"What do you think, Emily? Isn't it beautiful?"
"It is beautiful, Anna. Look at that tree," I said pointing to a huge Christmas tree covered in golden decorations.
"Wow!" said Anna, "This is great. What do you think of Luke? Isn't he good-looking? He's a really good singer too."
"He's very handsome. How did you meet?"
"Down at the Food Bank. We both work there. I've been working there for three months now! My dad pays me. And I get to see Luke there." Anna's father owns a luxury hotel in Oregon.
We walked down a lane with season-trimmed pine trees on either side. Several different organizations had done the decorating which created a patchwork of styles. When we arrived at the food court only four of the booths had people in them and of those only two were open for business.
"Hot dogs, pizza slices, french fries," said Anna as she looked at the menu overhead.
"The pizza isn't ready yet," said the girl at the counter. "The hot dogs are ready though," she added hopefully.
"Well, there you have it. Do you like hot dogs, Emily. I hope so. The popcorn place is open. Or do you want to wait for something else?"
I looked down the row at the darkened booths that held promise of better fare. But I was hungry and there was no indication that those booths would ever open. I bought myself a hot dog and smothered it in ketchup. I washed it down with a 7-Up.
As Anna and I stood there eating our hot dogs a pretty, thirtyish black woman, walked up to us.
"Hi Anna," she said, briefly looking up at her.
"Hi Chrissy," said Anna.
"Have you seen Ileen?"
"No. I don't think she's here yet. She better come. She said she'd come. She promised."
Chrissy looked at me with a slight wariness.
"This is my friend, Emily," said Anna, "Emily this is Chrissy. We met at Morrison."
Morrison is a rehab place.
"Hi, Chrissy," I said.
"Are you hungry, Chrissy? Are you going to get something to eat? There's only hot dogs and popcorn right now. Oh wait, that guy's opened his place too."
We all looked down the row at a booth selling steak sandwiches. I should have waited. I don't eat a lot of red meat but if the choice is a hot dog or steak, I'll take steak any day.
"We have pizza ready over here," called the girl from the hot dog counter.
Chrissy went and bought a steak sandwich. She then got a slice of pizza and some french fries and a Coke. Then she bought a hot dog. Damn, where's she put it all?
"Whoa, Chrissy. Chow hound!" said Anna laughing. She walked over to the hot dog booth to get another Coke.
Chrissy looked at me and said, "Is she joking?"
"Yeah, she's joking," I said surprised.
"Seriously, she's joking?"
"Yeah," I said. Kind of touchy. And considering that Anna's no Kate Moss I didn't see how she could be insulted. Obviously, she didn't know Anna very well. She continued to look suspicious as she ate her sandwich. I considered mentioning that Anna was mentally challenged but if she hadn't noticed it for herself then I didn't really want it getting back to Anna that I was telling people about her issues.
"Where'd you meet Anna?" she asked.
"I'm teaching her how to use her computer," I sidestepped.
"Ok, let's go back. I don't want to lose our seats. You coming, Chrissy?" said Anna.
"No, I'm going to look for Ileen," Chrissy said as she drifted away.
"Nobody better take our seats," Anna said sternly to no one in particular.
A small crowd had gathered, filling up the seats. But our seats, right in front with jackets still sitting on them, had been safe from poachers. It was a free concert in celebration of the season. Luke had his costume on, wig included. White polyester, bell bottoms. Oh, yeah. His band started plucking strings and adjusting the mikes. They weren't quite ready so, having the taste of hot dog still in my throat, I decided to get some coffee.
"Anna, I'm going to go find a Starbucks. I want something hot to drink. There's bound to be one around here somewhere. Do you want anything?"
"No, I still have plenty of Coke."
"Ok," I said and took off towards the restaurants and cafes which sat perpendicular to the park. I also needed to find a bathroom. That 7-Up I'd had earlier went right through me.
I found the Starbucks one block over from the park but it was insanely crowded. Honestly, you'd think they were giving away gold. So I went back to a cafe I'd seen earlier which was not crowded. I used their bathroom and then checked out their pastry counter. Damn. Decadent looking things. Creams, chocolates, custards with little berries on them. Oh my freaking, meaking God. I have a fondness for good pastry. I bought a tiny, dark chocolate tart and some hot cocoa with whipped cream on top. The whipped cream tasted slightly like coconut. To hell with diets. I didn't want Anna to see me eating it though, so I sat down at a tiny bistro table. I didn't want her to think that the hot dog wasn't good enough for me. I just don't like the damn things. Unless they're charred black. That, I like. I ate the tart in two bites. God, there's nothing like dark chocolate. It chased that nasty hot dog taste clean away. I picked up the cocoa and went back to the concert.
Luke and the band were onstage when I returned and Anna was bouncing in her seat.
"Oh, oh, this is just so...", Anna looked from me back to the stage and waved.
"Well, let 'em get started before you get too excited," I told her.
The amazing thing was they were good. Better than good even. Luke had a great voice and he became very lively and personable when in persona. He had the moves down pat and joy just seemed to radiate from his face. It was a lot of fun. Much better than I had expected. I joined the rest of the crowd in applauding and calling out our delight.
As the evening wore on, Anna would jump up from her seat and dance in front of the stage. Every once in a while she would point to Luke, look back at the audience and yell out "That's my boyfriend!" I secretly prayed that he couldn't hear her. A woman sitting near us took out her phone and started recording Luke. Anna saw this and did the same. She had some trouble figuring it out and I wasn't any help since my phone didn't have that feature. She finally got it to work. With all of her bouncing around though, I had doubts about the outcome.
After about an hour the last song was played and Anna was ready to leave. She walked over to Luke, who was talking to a friend, and said goodbye followed by a quick kiss. She came back to me as I buttoned up my jacket.
"Well, what'd you think?"
"He's great," I said with a big smile on my face. "I really enjoyed myself."
"Ileen never came," she said seriously. She was pissed. "I looked around and she knew we'd be in front. I would have seen her. She just didn't come."
"Maybe something happened."
Her sulky attitude didn't last long.
"Isn't he wonderful," Anna said loudly. As we waited to cross the street, she looked at some people on the other side, strangers, pointed back the way we'd come and cried out "That's my boyfriend! That's my boyfriend!"
Oh, for the sulky attitude.
I'd met Anna some time ago. Almost a year. At first, I was supposed to make her into a "new and improved" Anna. Clean and dressed appropriately. I was hired by her sister and her wealthy father. Anna had gotten into some legal trouble. My guess was that she'd been arrested for doing drugs. At the time I didn't know what kind but since then Ileen, who is basically her handler now, told me that she had found meth paraphernalia in Anna's pants pocket. She could spot it because she's been in recovery for several years.
I thought the mentally challenged part was obvious but as it turns out, the family had never noticed it. I told them about some of her behaviors, like repeating lists over and over whenever she became anxious, and they told her psychiatrist. I also told them that I wasn't the right person to do this job. However, since her sister had bought her a computer for Christmas, I would come over once a week to teach her how to use it. Well, she also had a serious attention span problem. Surely they'd noticed. Nope. But, thank God, the sister told the shrink and Anna got a hefty dose of lithium. After that I was able to teach her. She still talked way too much but at least she was able to learn. And we were able to become friends. I really do like her. It's just sometimes my nerves get a little frayed when I'm around her for too long.
Anna's smile just lit her up. She was talking a mile a minute and waving her arms about. She was almost unbearably happy. We were walking past an expensive restaurant, talking about Luke, when she noticed some people inside, sitting near a window, eating their dinner.
"Look at those people eating," she said and started to laugh.
It was just too much. Unable to contain herself any longer, Anna ran over to the window and made faces at the people. I continued to walk.