When it comes to abuse and neglect, a shower may never be the solution, but it can certainly help.
This is part of a recently-finished memoir about Kase’s work with students with disabilities.
One morning, in 1997, I showed up with a hangover to the LIFE Program, a program established to assist students with disabilities until their 22nd birthday. My brain beat against my skull, and the smoke from the night before clung to my hair and skin. Beer dripped from my pores, and a haze drifted through my brain. No matter how much water I drank, I still felt dry, and no matter how many quesadillas I microwaved and shoved down my throat, I felt like I had to eat to cure my morning, self-inflicted ills.
The night before had been a typical night during my collegiate years. I would have studied until about five or six, hung out to see if anyone called to go down to Beatniks, and when I got the call, a call that always came, I’d head to the bar about eight o’clock and close it down. The morning, like all mornings when you close the bar down, came too quickly, and without a shower, I headed to work and stumbled in, still a bit drunk, late.
Nate and Erik waited for me in the school waiting room that led to the vans outside, but John did not join them. John never missed a day at school. So something was fishy. I asked the two young men where I could find their friend, coworker, and classmate. Erik thought the chainsaw guy may have taken him and cut him up, but Nate had a more tangible answer. He pulled one hand off his buckle that he had a stranglehold on, winked at me for a reason that is still unexplainable, and pointed toward the office.
“Jan needs you,” he said.
Shit, I thought. Late. Trouble. Not here to deal with it. My brain bounced against my skull, and my cotton-laced mouth choked the thick base of my tongue. I walked into the office, where all the older ladies sat and chatted about the ward house or their favorite recipe or how easy their job was, and searched for Jan. Women sat on chairs and sipped on juice or water. Students ran in and out of the office and asked where they would be going and what they would be doing that day. Jan did not sit with the other ladies. Jan worked harder than anyone I knew. She made sure every student wound up where they needed to be, made sure they all ate, made sure they were all clean, and did her best to make them laugh and smile and feel like they were a legitimate cog in the machine of society. She did all of this with me too, a boneheaded college student, the same age as the students with disabilities running around.
I stood in the office and tried to gather words from a very cloudy brain, but none came. The LDS ladies in the office didn’t understand, having never closed down a bar, or for that matter, gotten drunk in their lives. They just kept on with their conversations, paused briefly to say good morning, and moved on.
Jan poked her head into the room. We made eye contact, she squinted to look at the redness that swirled in the whites of my eyes, squeezed her nose with her thumb and index finger, and waved her hand in front of her face. She knew who stood in front of her, she knew why he stunk, and she knew why he was late, but she also knew why they hired men for this position. With her other hand, she beckoned me with her index finger. She nodded her head to show that there was no option, and her spiked hair bobbed in the air.
I followed her out of the main pod and to the door of what used to be the boys’ showers for a long-gone middle school. Jan, who couldn’t have been a better person and couldn’t have treated me better, patted me on the shoulder and pushed the door open in front of me.
“Goooooood morning,” she said. Then she pretended to sniff me again, to wave her hand in the air, and to choke from the remnants of a smoky pub. If she judged, she did not condemn. She was a good friend, but her tone became more serious. “He’s waiting for you,” she said. “It was another bad night for him.” She did not need to explain. She patted me on the back again and shoved me into the old locker room. “Maybe you should take one too,” she said before walking down the hallway to make sure the Canyonview world still spun.
I walked in. I knew what to expect. The locker room smelled of shit and urine and horrible body odor. A mist lifted out of the shower stalls and the steam mixed with the smell of defecation and made the locker room feel like a giant toilet, wet and gross and shitty. John’s clothes had been thrown on the floor between the entrance and the shower stalls. There was no need to examine them for evidence. Just like all the other times Jan led me to the showers in the morning, they would be covered in feces, caked with dried urine, and stained with the sweat of a weekend’s worth of beatings.
John’s parents didn’t much care for the kid. They didn’t much care for the fact that he had nearly no verbal skills, had minimal motor skills, and would live with them for the rest of his life. So when John got in trouble, they locked him in a closet for a day or two, did not feed him, or bathe him, or let him out to relieve himself. And they beat him upon entrance, bruises exploding in purple and red along his skinny, frail arms. When he walked in that morning, I knew what Jan saw, and I knew what she asked, because I had been there too many times when the question of “have you eaten” had been raised. John would simply answer the best he could, a simple answer that filled in all the gaps.
“Closet,” he’d say. Then we’d escort him to the locker room and then on to the kitchen to make him breakfast.
That morning, I could hear the running of water and the unmistakable splashing against skin. Jan had set a ragged pair of Spiderman pajamas on the edge of some bench seats that lined the lockers on the walls. A giant basket of clothes had been filled and shoved into the cleaning closet for students who didn’t quite make it to the bathroom and had accidental blow outs, but we found ourselves digging into the basket more and more for John, not because of a bowel blow out but because of a parent blow out that left his clothes in the same state: filled with shit and urine. The Spiderman pajamas nearly fell off the bench onto the floor when I reached for them, and as if they were the American flag, I protected the red, white, and blue from the oily, wet floor. If this outfit was the only one Jan could find for John that day, I couldn’t afford to get it wet.
The water continued to splash in the showers when I walked in. John, a mangy-haired, dangly boy, who shivered naked under the head of the shower, seemed so vulnerable and scared. Only the back of his hair was wet. He had shielded the front part of his body and let the warm water run over his back, butt, and calves. His hands clutched together at the center of his chest, and he pushed his chattering jaw into his knuckles to try and stop the shakes.
“Hey, buddy,” I said to him. I held up the Spiderman pajamas to show him that I had clothes for him to change into.
He looked up at me, said my name, and pointed to his ass. By God, I felt like ass that day, but I doubt John was referring to my hangover. I hung the pajamas on the handicap bar that lined the tile in the shower and took off my shoes and socks. My momentary hope to avoid getting wet disappeared. I rolled up the bottoms of my jeans and walked behind John in the shower. Caked-on-shit traveled from the center of his back to mid hamstring and his lower legs had begun to turn yellow from the dark tone of his urine. There was no way this mural of neglect built up in one day. His parents had to have left him in that closet, in those clothes, in the pool of his own bowels, for the entire weekend. Brought in as a man to help out with these situations, I was shocked – even I was shocked – at the level of criminality and abuse.
“Kase,” John said. Then he pointed down his legs.
“Got it, buddy,” I said. After turning the shower nozzle to douse the worst areas, I reached for the giant bar of soap on a rope that hung from the shower nozzle. The smells that came from John tickled my queasy stomach and made me gag and spit in the corner of the shower, holding off a spew of vomit, which would make the whole moment a little bit messier. I put the soap in John’s right hand, placed his hand behind his cheeks, grabbed his forearm and elbow, and used his hand like a lever to clean the worst areas. The full-service wash took about 20 minutes, and when I had finally got John smelling good, toweled off, and into the Spiderman pajamas, he looked up at me and thanked me. Two words strung together made the horridness of the morning implode and swirl down the shower drain.
After exiting the shower, I found my shoes and socks soaking wet. Without my full capacities, which were minimal to begin with, I had neglected to put them far enough away for the spray. John and I spent the next 30 minutes digging in the clothes bin to find me some socks and a pair of shoes that fit before we headed out to perform our jobs in a Spiderman outfit, two different colored socks, and shoes from the 1950s.
John and I would work together for the remainder of that year, he would be able to work in the community and learn from the world, and the incidents at home would continue, even at a more alarming rate than before. One day, John got taken away from his parents and moved into a group home for his own safety. I cannot speak of the legalities, I cannot say that Jan called the cops on the family, and I cannot say that Canyonview had anything to do with getting John out of his parents’ closet, but I can say that it would be a huge-fucking surprise to think they didn’t have their hands in his rescue.
—Photo kevin dooley/Flickr