ODE TO A FRIEND
On Thursday, September 13, 2007, he walked into the office and my life. He was about to be evicted from his family home by his younger brother. Both of his parents died, with his father passing nine months earlier, December 2006. Although we had not met, we already knew each other. Since January or February of 2007, he often called me at work, especially Tuesday nights, when my shift on the warmline occurred.
Like clockwork, he would call every Tuesday at 6 pm for all those months. Except for my days off or vacation days off, we spoke about his family issues, struggles with mental health issues, and lack of self-esteem. His name was Fred. He was born on December 11, 1946, in New York. Fred grew up in Wantagh, where he graduated from high school. He never went to a trade school or college or university. He never drove a car. He never was married or engaged, but he had girlfriends.
His parents often discouraged him throughout his educational years, made fun of him, criticized him, made him feel like a second-class citizen, treated him not as a son but as a servant. Basically, except for school, they sheltered him from the world. When he tried to make a conversation with someone else, especially if there was a possibility of a friend, his parents told him that he was stupid and he does need to socialize with anyone.
As a teenager, he displayed symptoms that possibly were a form of Asperger’s Syndrome. Neither confirmed or officially stated he was also diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia. All these caused several hospitalizations during his life. Over the years, he was given different medications on and off.
According to Fred, he had no “real” family, and he had but his Psychotherapists and I to talk with or to be with made it hard.
For family, he has a younger brother, by about two and a half years. After the funeral of their father, they haven’t spoken more than maybe a handful of times. That is the way they both want this. Also, he had one female cousin that he talked to about once a month. None of his family considered him a family member when his family left him home on vacations and mainly was home on day trips. He used to eat alone at a small table and or allotted a kid’s portion for eating. Besides going to school, he was at home inside his bedroom alone, so he read most of the time. When there was an event, the invitation was made out for three, not four.
Although Fred was intelligent, he lacked common sense and the knowledge to do everyday tasks but could balance a checkbook and high financial or the stock market. His political knowledge was vast, plus he read many newspapers, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, plus magazines like National Geographic and Time. However, he did not know to use a vacuum cleaner or wash his clothes.
During the time we spent with each other, he assisted me, and it was my pleasure to aid me. When my significant other died, he called me more than once a week to say hello. He died on Monday, April 26 of this year.
For the years we spent time together, teaching him to wash the floor or find bargains in the supermarket was my way to assist him with everyday chores. In addition, he learned different ways to manage his symptoms or whatever was needed to make his overall life better. We went to restaurants, the movies, and fast food places.
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