Today I saw Julie for a few hours for the first time in over five years. I keep trying to think of a way to sum it up, but it just seems as if things were different and the same.
After having gotten up this morning at 5:30 to go to work, getting home a bit after noon, then cleaning before they arrived, I thought I was prepared for a visit. But nothing could prepare me for the complete exhaustion I experienced afterwards. I was flooded with memories of all of Julie’s old behaviors and the funny little phrases and noises we shared when we couldn’t talk because she couldn’t communicate her feelings; the autistic rocking, the hand flapping, the squealing and something she calls “flipper” when she pulls up her elbow, takes a deep breath, and threatens to smash her elbow onto her hand.
Jennifer was more nervous about the visit than I was. Julie obviously had concerns about what was going on and people don’t often take the time to at least try and put themselves in her world. I can’t imagine what the past few weeks have been for her. Most likely, it’s been a constant barrage of “Jennifer’s moving here and you get to see her all the time!” “Courtney’s going to come and visit you!” “Do you remember Courtney? You’re going to go to her house!”
Julie works on very specific timetables. She doesn’t experience time in the same way most of us do. I always found it was best to give only as much information she needed, when she needed it. Otherwise, you have to work down to the very moment, mark days off calendars, set timers. Why overwhelm her with what’s going to happen in two days or two weeks? I don’t think it’s possible to really “prepare” her for something big or different.
I thought it was best to let her wander and take everything in when they arrived, but everyone kept talking, moving around, asking her questions. The radio was on, then Charlie turned on the television to show Jennifer’s boyfriend the PS3. When one person was speaking to Julie, someone else was, and two other people were talking at the same time. If I’m over-stimulated after work, cleaning, and seeing her, imagine how someone with her challenges must feel.
Some of the old behaviors were back, like her trying to pop and crack all her joints. She lunged at me at one point and went for my earrings. I immediately blocked her hand and took out my earrings. But she was doing better than I thought she would. I don’t trust her guardian, the woman she calls “Mom,” and I honestly believe the best time of her life is now behind her – when she was living in an age-appropriate environment, doing most things young women her age would be doing. Now she’s 34 and living with her mother again, most likely spending most of her days rocking on the couch.
Then again, I could be breaking my own arm trying to pat myself on the back. Julie seemed happier and better balanced when we were last housemates, but is it possible my memory is editing things to make myself feel better?
I don’t really think so.