Thursday, September 21, 2006

A rock and a hard place.

The elementary school down the road from our house was where I worked a few years back. This was before Columbine, 9/11 and Homeland Security. We actually thought we were pretty safe and sound in our own little corner of the world. In a small town like ours, everyone knew you and your kids, maybe even your parents and grandparents depending on how long you lived there.

Richard was a fixture in our town. He was a nice enough guy. We would usually see him on his bicycle or walking on the side of road. Sometimes he would be in the plowed fields picking up rocks, arrowheads, or other mementos he found in the overturned soil. He was right around my age, 40 or so. Friends said that when he was younger someone had slipped him a mickey, and he never was the same. Nonetheless, he was a happy sort who pretty much kept to himself. Everyone seemed ok with that, and he did, too.

One usual day at work, I sensed someone standing in front of my desk, looked up, and there he was. He wore a plaid flannel shirt, jeans, work boots, and an army jacket. His hands looked as though he had been in the fields collecting rocks. All in all, he had the appearance of a working man. He emptied his pockets onto the top of my desk. There were about a dozen rocks of various sizes, shapes and colors and the usual pocket fuzz, which he sorted out and put back in his pocket. He told me about the rocks with great amazement. I blinked my eyes, opened my mouth, and he was gone; in and out of the school in a matter of minutes. It was a singular conversation, no response was necessary, and exclusive of everyone else in the office.

This ritual was repeated every couple of weeks or so. We thought maybe he visited because this was where he went to school as a little boy. There was always a pile of rocks on my desk. Some of them were arrowheads which eventually made their way into the classrooms. Some were pebbles that ended up outside as a rock garden. My favorites were two rocks which he explained were used by the Indians to grind grain into meal. I always thought they were just two rocks which fit very nicely together, my proverbial "rock and hard place".

Toward the spring of the second year his behavior appeared a little different. In as long as it took his clean shaven face to become stubble and then bearded, his clothing followed suit. His speech faltered and within days he made no sense at all. Along with the rocks, came cigarette butts, tabs from pop cans, and many other things that found their way into his pockets.

It really was an easy decision. We had to call the police and have him picked up. It took a bit of doing to convince the chief that this was not a good situation. After all, everyone knew Richard and he was "ok". Finally he told me to call the next time he came, and as usual, he was in and out in minutes. By the time they caught up with him he was several blocks away. It took three officers to subdue him and boy, were they surprised. Shortly after, an alarm system was installed.

It turns out that Richard had been living with his father, who suffered a stroke. He was not being cared for and what we saw was the result of not having medication. He was hospitalized, they straightened out his medicine, and he came out of it in great shape.

This was one of those "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situations - couldn't take a chance with the kids, knew he wasn't taking care of himself, but sure hoped that he would be ok. I'm so glad it turned out well, but it sure felt like being caught...

between a rock and a hard place.


Blogger willi said...

Amazing how schools were like without security. Yet, interesting that because of the lack of security Richard eventually received what he needed -medication and care. Great, that after all he was okay.

On another note, I always wondered about that set of rocks on your desk that fit together so nicely and reminded me of the grinding stones that the Bolivian Indians used to grind peppers for salsa.

9:59 PM  
Blogger mjd said...

Though the ending is happy, your story is sad. However, Richard bringing rocks and arrowheads to you probably brought him in joy in those days for those moments. Sadly, life does place us between many rocks and many hard places. You do seem to be especially deft at handling these kind of situations.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Swampwitch said...

When I was in the classroom, we could hug kids and never feel afraid of flack from anyone. It was a wonderful profession. The fringe benefits were from the chldren with their enthusiasm and love for learning. Seeing the light bulb go off made my day, everyday. The pay sucked but I loved my days, thenemjsy

11:00 PM  
Blogger gawilli said...

Willi - the rocks are a treasure and have gone with me from desk, to desk, to desk. They were important to someone who for some reason felt they should be mine.

Mjd - You know this story does have some sadness. In fact it has sat as a draft for a bit as I imagined some may not care for it, and that's ok. But there are some underlying questions. What becomes of the people who cannot fend for themselves and do we have a responsibility there?

Swampwitch - You sound like someone who's focus was in the right place! It is a wonderful profession full of people I greatly admire.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

Yes, I have been there many times, with patients that are not cared for by relatives long deceased..the young mentally challenged patients that have no carers anymore, brought in by police or do-good people(tahnk God!)
You certainly did do the right thing. He may not know it, but I know it, well done :)

12:19 AM  
Blogger debi said...

I am glad you posted this story. I enjoyed it but I do feel sad now. And yes it does make one wonder.

12:28 AM  
Blogger gawilli said...

Cazzie, in your work you must see many things both happy and sad. I guess sometimes our paths cross with other's for a reason; we just don't always know what it is!

Debi, sorry to bring you down. These rocks over the years have really been kind of a comfort thing! I guess that sounds silly. But when things get tense, a glance at them helps me keep my perspective - as my husband says, I tend to get a little overwrought with things I cannot control. Things generally do work out!

8:45 AM  
Blogger Betty said...

Great story. I have noticed, here in my small town, that when we become aware of someone in need of care, the "village" takes care of him. Stories like yours make me feel that there is still good in people.

12:11 PM  
Blogger debi said...

No, don't be sorry. It made me sad because it was a sweet tale. I am glad I read it. I love that you have kept those rocks.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I'm glad it all worked out and he got the help he needed. A lot of times in that situation people just get thrown in jail and left there.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Gary James said...

That was an absorbing and poignant story. Thanks for sharing it.

4:25 PM  
Blogger SongBird said...

What a great story. I'm so glad that Richard was able to receive the care he needed. My classroom is full of little tidbits of things that my students give me....a feather, a rock, a wrinkled note, a plastic ring....the list goes on and on. The gifts I love the most are their laughter, their singing and their love!!

Thank you for visiting my site. Please come back often!!

5:43 PM  
Blogger gawilli said...

Betty and Jay - I always thought there should have been someone close enough to he or his dad to see what was happening, and in that sense our "village" failed him. Jail was the main worry when we made that call, especially when he became belligerent with the police. All in all, a good ending.

Hey Gary! Glad you stopped by.

5:47 PM  
Blogger patsy said...

a sad story but you have a great rock.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Tod said...

That was a sad story but you know you did the right thing. Strangely, I had to do something similar this summer. It is a difficult position to be in when you know that someone is not getting the care they need and have been abandoned relatives and social services.

5:27 AM  
Blogger daddy d said...

Helping is sometimes hard to do. One must pick the balance of the choices in what is the best course of action. You are good at doing just that.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

This is a powerful post. The decision to take action must have been very difficult. Just imagine where it might have ended up if you, and your fellow teachers, had failed to act.
Obviously Richard knew instinctively where to turn for help..

3:35 PM  
Blogger graymama said...

What a gift you gave to Richard! It took many months for my sister to get the help she needed. She has schizophrenia. She was arrested after leaving my neice (2 at the time) in her carseat, alone, in the summer heat, for 2 hours. You probably saved Richard's life, as well as others.

4:16 PM  

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