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I was a traveling mental health counselor for a full decade in Northern Idaho. It was a job that I loved because I met and spent thousands of hours with a collection of wonderful people each presented with the challenges of dealing with a mental illness most commonly schizophrenia. This is a work of fiction based on some true experiences that I witnessed during that time. The characters are based loosely on some dedicated, loving workers and residents who roam and live in the remote sections of Northern Idaho. The workers provide support services and teach skills to folks who need a little guidance and encouragement in order to live independently.


Any resemblance to any specific individual is purely coincidental and not intentional. I hope you enjoy the tale. All rights are reserved and copyrighted © 2016. This book is dedicated to the many dedicated people who have worked to help bring mental illness challenges and issues out of the dark cave of ignorance, stigma and shame. It is an ongoing battle and their efforts are often met with neglect, resistance or disproved myths. Keep working, loving and trying.


Table of Contents Chapter 1 Get Out of the Way, Hook Arm ...................................................2 Chapter 2 Breakfast with the Crew .........................................................12 Chapter 3 Shopping, Rat Poison and a Hospital Visit..............................23 Chapter 4 Entertaining Confessions and Visits.......................................35 Chapter 5 Get Me Out of Here!...............................................................46 Chapter 6 A Remarkable Night Over the River.......................................55 Chapter 7 Hatching the Plan at JJ's (Day 2)............................................66 Chapter 8 A Scorching Day at the Ball Park...........................................73 Chapter 9 An Exciting Night With Oscar.................................................79 Chapter 10 “She Killed His Two Dogs!”...................................................89 Chapter 11 Johnny Shows Us His Shit Collection-..................................93 Chapter 12 A Death Leads to a New Life..................................................98 Chapter 13 Duke Raised My Son Eddy.................................................104 Chapter 14 A Bitterly Cold Night on the Road........................................111 Chapter 15 A Surprise Message is Received..........................................116 1


Hermit Souls I wonder if you are even slightly curious I wonder if you are even slightly curious In being sharp-eared enough to truly hear In being sharp-eared enough to truly hear About lonely hermit souls afraid of the world About lonely hermit souls afraid of the world That have strolled narrow road steads with me That have strolled narrow road steads with me They hear private voices with secret messages They hear private voices with secret messages Odd communications that dared not be shared Odd communications that dared not be shared For personal autonomy would lay on the line For personal autonomy would lay on the line It's a risk that I doubt even you would consider It's a risk that I doubt even you would consider So they isolate which becomes the safe play So they isolate which becomes the safe play Why open up your world to those so certain Why open up your world to those so certain Of their own more acceptable, usual distortions? Of their own more acceptable, usual distortions? It took me years to interpret, to finally understand It took me years to interpret, to finally understand Hey, know anyone whose thinking is always clear? Hey, know anyone whose thinking is always clear? How about your silly worries, uncertainties, and mistrusts? How about your silly worries, uncertainties, and mistrusts? Are they always well-grounded, organized, or valid? Are they always well-grounded, organized, or valid? But nobody knocks on your door and takes you away. But nobody knocks on your door and takes you away. Once you wear the label of schizophrenic, bi-polar Once you wear the label of schizophrenic, bi-polar Chronically depressed, crazy or mentally ill you Chronically depressed, crazy or mentally ill you In many bleary eyes, permanently lose your humanness In many bleary eyes, permanently lose your humanness You become your personal, deepest challenges You become your personal, deepest challenges When you get righteously angry about an injustice They ask if you are still taking your medications For your opinions, your actions, your feelings Are all often measured through a cloudy prism


We walk, most times in comfortable silence Out in the world we stride together but I am Not the all-knowing leader nor do I want to be A humble companion, another set of eyes I see the dangers, I know the signs and symptoms I can gently warn but I can't act or listen for them My strolls with hermit souls have been rewarding But sometimes they decide to walk into the traffic And I can only watch And I can only watch


Greetings, reader. I am Sherri and I will be your guide through this story. I woke up as nervous as if it were the first day of school. I am starting a new career as a counselor today. This tale takes place over three This tale takes place over three fascinating days. fascinating days. Here's Day One. Here's Day One. 1


Chapter 1 Get Out of the Way, Hook Arm G et the hell out of the way, hook arm,” was an unfortunate choice of words and considering the circumstances, quite possibly the single dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life. Stunningly stupid because the words were directed toward a mammoth hombre, James Jerome McMurphy. This ex-Green Bay Packer defensive lineman and Vietnam vet had been a legitimate tough son-of-a-bitch his entire life and a uncompromising warrior for the neglected and picked on for over thirty-five years. He had volatile, scary temper. JJ, that's what everyone called him, did not hesitate. He swung his artificial limb which connected with a wicked thump to the skull of the unsuspecting bellower, Vincent Morris and put him out on his feet. If it had been a cartoon there would have been stars and cuckoo birds circling around poor, dense Vinnie's head. 2


JJ's close pal, Duke, a quick, athletic guy in his fifties, dove off the porch toward the falling Vincent and managed to divert the guy's tumble heading directly toward the cement sidewalk to a more forgiving landing spot-a patch of overgrown grass and sticker weeds. Vincent landed with a booming thud that threw up a cloud of red dirt. Duke rolled a couple of times, quickly popped up on his knees began checking the motionless Vincent for a pulse and injuries while he yelled at JJ. “You stupid moron! You may have killed him!” JJ gently pushed the two teenage boys toward the van and said, “Get in boys. Everything's cool.” Appearing from the horrid-smelling living room of the shack, a once pretty woman came out screaming and started smacking JJ on his huge, powerful back with a broken broom. “Get out of here you asshole! I'm calling the cops and get you fired!” JJ calmly snatched away the broom and flipped it into the dead brambles of what had once been a neatly trimmed juniper bush and slowly eased down on the porch. “Go ahead. Call the cops, Alice. I'm certain they would like an excuse to look through your garage there. I'll wait and help 'em,” he said in a steely voice as he sprawled out his 6' 8” frame on the steps and clasped his arms around his head. She froze and I noticed her fearful, inadvertent glance toward the shed. She ignored JJ and ran over to the still motionless Vincent whose nose and mouth were dripping blood. Duke ordered her to get some 3


water, washcloths, a pillow and blankets. Alice hesitated. “Now, Goddammit!” She ran into the house and returned a few seconds later with some of the requested supplies. Duke went to work, splashing Vincent with water, propping up his feet and putting his head on the pillow. He wrapped the blankets under and over him and wiped off the blood. He had obviously done this before. I remembered from the files that he been a Vietnam medic years ago. Vincent started to stir and tried to get up for a second before collapsing on the pillow holding his head in both hands and moaning. Duke looked over at me, shook his head and nodded. It was his unvoiced message, a signal to head to the van. “He'll be okay, in a few minutes, Alice, but he'll have one roaring headache. Better go get some Tylenol or something. He'll need it,” Duke said. Alice glared and yelled at JJ. “Why'd you have to hit him so hard? He didn't do nuthing to you.” Even from a distance you could tell her teeth were all fucked up. Duke spoke, “He deserved it with his big mouth and you shouldn't let him beat on those boys... And clean up this place, it reeks in there.” He popped up, dusted himself off, and caught up with me as I ambled back to the van, somewhat in shock but too interested to want to miss anything. “Don't get paranoid now, Sherri, this doesn't happen often,” 4


whispered Duke as soon as he got within earshot. We stopped walking but didn't turn around. JJ was giving out some threats to Alice in a thundering voice that would have made Lucifer wet himself. “You tell Vinnie boy here when he wakes up from his little nap that he better find a new place to live before I come back Monday. As for you, Alice, remember this. I got your ass out of prison so you could take care of Chris and Johnny and I can have you thrown right back in for neglect. Get this place cleaned up by Monday. Trust me, I am not kidding.” He walked over to Vincent and said, “Hey, scumbag. You touch either of those two boys again and I'll be back and we'll talk.” He gave him a none too gentle boot to the ribs with the steel toe of his cowboy boot and moved back to the driver's seat with several long strides. . His speed and quickness surprised me. I had been told at the counseling center that he could be a total asshole. This had been only our third stop of the day but one thing could not be debated. If I were a kid or anyone suffering from abuse or neglect, James Jerome McMurphy would be a good man to have on your side. I thought of my ex-husband for a minute. Perhaps, JJ would like to make him a surprise visit and enlighten him. Duke opened the van's sliding door and the boys and I got in. He jumped in the shotgun side and said, “Let's get the hell out of here.” 5


The van jumped to life and we raced down the river road with JJ at the wheel. I joined the two boys in the back seat and buckled myself in. We were going way too fast on this two-lane curvy road that followed the Clearwater River for my comfort. “Nice shot, JJ, you whacked that prick out on his feet,” fifteen-year old Chris yelled out. “Hey, Chris, knock it off. That's Sherri. Sherri, the big mouth there is Chris and silent boy calls himself Johnny whenever he chooses to speak,” said Duke. Johnny didn't look up. He smiled shyly exposing a chipped front tooth. Chris and I nodded at each other. “Where we eating today, boys?” Duke said as he fooled around with his always present black eye patch that protected his left eye. He constantly fiddled with the thing. We ended up stopping at the Panhandle Cafe and JJ bolted inside before I could get my seat belt unfastened. Duke politely opened the sliding door and waited for me. 6


Man, that guy has a good smell, I thought for at least the tenth time this morning. The two boys, Duke, and I took over a booth. JJ sat off by himself, reading the paper and drinking coffee. “Order what you want boys.” said Duke. Johnny had yet to say a word but Chris made up for him by talking non-stop and ordering the Logger Platter for both of them. He focused on me. “Hey, Sherri, how come you're hanging out with these two losers?” “Good question, Chris. I should know better. I'm getting some training from them this weekend.” “Johnny, did ya hear that? This chick is getting training from these two harelips. That's a hoot, huh, Johnny?” Johnny merely smiled and nodded as he stuffed his mouth with a forkful of pancakes. The huckleberry syrup left purple dots all over the white tabletop. He hadn't uttered a sound yet. I watched these kids eat. Well, devoured would be a better word. It appeared obvious that these two boys hadn't had a meal in quite some time. Duke sat silent sipping on a small glass of orange juice. We had already eaten on the first stop of the day but that didn't seem to matter to JJ who was attacking a platter filled with eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausage while engrossed in the paper. I replayed the scene of the stop at the boys house. 7


After leaving another client at the nearby hospital, we drove on the main highway that followed the scenic Clearwater River for a few miles and turned off onto an unmarked road. After going down a steep gravel driveway that gave this place shelter from the highway, we parked near the little creek. There sat Alice's isolated green shack that should have had a neon sign blinking: 'Meth Lab.' JJ jumped out firstwith Duke and I hustling to keep up. We got to the gate and Vincent yelled out in our direction. “I had to slap the shit out of the smart ass.” Duke immediately jumped in between Vincent and JJ to prevent a confrontation and gently guided JJ into the house. The two men had been right. Duke had given me a jar of Vick's VapoRub and showed me how to put a dab on each nostril. “This place stinks and this always helps,” had been his explanation. We hustled in with this goop as part of our armor and thank goodness. I rubbed the Vick's around trying to make a complete seal as we moved through a living room filled with stacks of newspapers, piles of puppy shit, filthy dishes, oily motorcycle parts and dirty clothes. Big healthy flies zoomed around everywhere and why not? This had to be fly 8


heaven. We hustled through the incredible mess back to Chris's room and found the kid crawling on the floor. “What are you doing Chris?” “Looking for bullets. I'm gonna shoot that son-of-a-bitch myself.” Duke said, “Chris, come on, let's get out of here. I'll get you something to eat.' Johnny peeked his head out from behind the door. “You too, Johnny, out to the van.” The brothers were on the porch before we could catch up. Chris yelled to Vincent, “I'm going to shoot your ass, dickhead, if you ever touch me or Johnny again.” That's when Vincent ran over, yelled and then took a quick nap after what JJ later called his “love tap.” I suggested he call it his “hook shot.” The two men laughed aloud and glanced at me with what I hoped was appreciation. I had to do a hundred hours of supervised counseling before I could start seeing clients and Mark, the owner of Clearwater Home Counseling who had hired me, promised that if I worked this three-day long weekend with these two characters it would count for most of the rest of the hours I needed. I had already been out with Duke a few times to see clients and he had introduced me to the work. I had been impressed by his humor, professionalism and the gentle kindness he had shown to each client I had seen him interact with in the various environments 9


where we traveled. He often took the trouble to explain what he was doing and why. He enjoyed being the main cut-up at the meetings I had attended and some of his comments had cracked me up. We had been told that every client needed to be seen and key papers signed for the upcoming audit. Mark had me come in Thursday afternoon and told me that he needed a current vitae letter for my file and showed me four of the staff's files. I did my vitae in minutes with no problem and spent the remaining couple of hours reading and signing off on the policy manual and looking through the files to get an idea of the paperwork required. I also snooped. I read both JJ's and Duke's files. They had impressive credentials, experience and strong educational background. Duke had two master degrees, one in Special Education and the other in Psychology on file. JJ had earned a PhD in clinical psychology which would surprise nearly anyone who witnessed him roaming around. Duke dressed informally but neatly in tennis shoes, black jeans, a black sweater and a black and orange San Francisco giant baseball cap. JJ, after spending a year in New Zealand, had developed the habit of wearing shorts year around even in the freezing places he traveled to each week in the winter. He wore wool socks that he stretched out to his knees and a sweatshirt of some type. They were quite a pair. Walking side by side after the morning meeting they looked like a dysfunctional Mutt and Jeff cartoon. JJ with his hook arm, shorts and wool 10


socks and Duke, almost a foot shorter, with his black eye patch, and ball cap. Two goofy, aged pirates away from their ships and looking for trouble had been my thought. This had only been our third stop and Duke had told me we had sixteen more for the day. I checked my watch. It read 11:50. My mind had been filled up already with experiences, personalities and events I knew others would find hard to believe and all before noon. I had a feeling this could be one long, long Memorial Day weekend. Now that you're here, let's go back to the beginning. 11


Chapter 2 Breakfast with the Crew A FTER THE SEVEN AM MEETING, we hit the road. JJ drove like a manic, in and out of the little traffic around. At one point, in the morning fog where I could see nothing, he threw up his one good arm, and drove with only his hook arm on the wheel and yelled, “Look Mom, no hands,” and gave out a hearty laugh. “Put both your hooks back on the wheel, you idiot and slow the fuck down. You can't tell me you can see anything out there. Hey, Sherri, can believe this dick? Are you enjoying his driving? Watch it buddy, I've got an eye on you, ' said Duke who was riding shotgun. He readjusted the eye patch on his left eye and laughed. Showing off and screwing around like teenagers. I enjoyed the show. “Duke, Mark told me that we have to meet up with your favorite Valerie in Moscow. She's going to supervise Sherri. And get this, she is going to be with us all morning.” 12


“Are you shittin' me? God, I can't stand her. She knows absolutely nothing, Sherri. She's one of those social workers whose biggest personal trauma happened when she got her pink princess phone taken away for a weekend her junior year. I'll bet you both she mentions “personal boundaries” within the first five minutes.” “Oh, come on Duke. Tell the truth; you want to bone her, ” joked JJ. “Some things aren't funny and that's one of them, you sick bastard,” Duke answered. On the way, Duke told us about Tom, a favorite guy he had worked with for six years, who had some trouble yesterday. He repeated the entire conversation from memory to show us. I flipped on my recorder without them seeing. “I walked in yesterday and he was flopped out on the couch staring blankly up at the ceiling. He normally jumps up when I come in ready to go and he's always friendly. I asked him what he was doing and he told me some cartoonish story about the Queen of England and her flying midgets. It's one of his deals. Whenever he gets stressed out he starts talking about midgets in some way. I interrupted him and I said, 'Come on, get up. Let's go to Denny's.' 'No, I can't go anywheres today, Duke, cause King Tut ate all the minestrone.' 'Bullshit,' I answered. 'King Tut wasn't an Italian.' Tom answered, 'That's what you say.' 13


I moseyed to the bathroom, shaking my head at the kind of things his mind makes up and then returned. 'Come on, get up, Tom. We'll go to Starbucks and get a butterscotch latte for you.' 'I ain't going nowheres today, Duke. The Japanese Jerry Springer is driving me crazy today.' I told him to stay put and when I visited him before I came home last night he was snoring on the couch. I worried about him all night. If he isn't better today, he may need to go to the hospital.” We pulled into the driveway about the same time as he finished the story. JJ gunned the motor a couple of times for some reason and abruptly flipped off the key. He flew up on the porch knocking before Duke and I could get out of the van. The door opened and we walked inside the group home. Tom sat at the breakfast table, with his shirt off and eating cereal from a large green plastic bowl. “Hey, Duke, I'm doing a whole lot better today,” he announced as he threw up his arms in a football touchdown sign. Duke walked over, patted him on the back, and moved into the kitchen. He returned with two coffee cups and handed me one before speaking. “I certainly hope so. Yesterday, your were talking about midgets, King Tut and the Japanese Jerry Springer.” 14


“Well, Duke, that's why when I play in the band, they never give me the microphone.” This cracked up both men. It took me a minute to realize how damn funny that statement had been. We moved into the living room where we viewed a middle-aged woman sitting holding a notepad and dressed in an expensive-looking, long print peasant dress. She had tied her long hair up in a bun where her eyeglasses were perched. That had to be the infamous Valerie I thought. We waited for Tom as he headed upstairs to get dressed before we could take him to eat even more breakfast and do some shopping. We sat down on one of the three couches; neither man made any attempt to acknowledge the sitting Valerie. She seemed irritated, got up, and introduced herself to me. We heard a yelp and loud laughter coming from the basement. The door flew open and up ran Sylvester, a short Hispanic looking guy wearing a tee shirt that said, Reality is Weird. He laughed in a wild way. Right behind him came Kristy who yelled out, “Sylvester is farting in 15


Chinese again.” Sly lifted his leg and let out a solid toot on cue. “That one was in Spanish,” and he let out another wild laugh. “Hey, Duke, I'm wearing the tee-shirt you had made for me. I want you to make another one if you can.” “Yeah, what's it going to say: 'I fart for food?, you sick puppy.” “No, that's happening cause of those whole-grain cookies mom sent me. I want one that says, “We're all sick bastards on the front and a VW van picture on the back.” He pulled out a cigarette and headed out to the smoking porch. Kristy fell into the couch cushions. “I'm bringing this up at the meeting.” “Kristy, he's just playing around. How are you today? This is Sherri our newest worker,” Duke said. Kristy didn't acknowledge my presence. She answered, “I've been having some dreams the last couple of nights about how they're trying to steal my identity and my secrets on being invisible. Sly was in my dreams. He carried around my breasts from room to room in the castle.” JJ snorted, got up, and headed to the smoking porch. Duke, ignoring her odd comment completely said, “Hey, Kristy we're all going to the Breakfast Club. Want to come?” “Well, I would but they serve Eggs Benedict down there and I don't eat traitor eggs.” 16


She headed upstairs without another word. “Now Sherri, there goes a true patriot if I ever heard one,” Duke said to me. “You should have refocused her instead of encouraging her,” said Valerie. Duke rolled his eye, “Oh, here we go. Thank you, Mrs. Peabody.” “That one guy said you bought him a tee-shirt. That seems to be a violation of the counselor/client personal boundaries to me, which is not ethical at all,” said Valerie fulfilling Duke's prediction. “That guy has a name. It's Sylvester and the tee-shirt thing was a successful social interaction activity which is one of his psychosocial approved objectives,” Duke responded. He looked over at me and gave me a wink with his one good blue eye. It was a bit unsettling which I suspected he fully knew. “We have different ways of handling these clients. I think you should stick to proven methods for the agency's protection. ” “You're right. We have different ways. I know exactly what I'm doing at all times and you don't have a clue, ever. Just kidding, Val.” “My name is Valerie not Val.' Luckily, this verbal ping-pong match came to an end when Tom appeared dressed and ready to go. I had never seen such an outfit in my life. He had on these huge sunglasses, a red stocking cap, a red and black checkered hunting jacket, and a pair of cutoff jeans with white 17


long underwear underneath them. He was wearing new white running shoes and wool socks that he had stretched out to the top of his knees. He was almost a large as JJ and looked for all the world like Elmer Fudd without his shotgun. Duke looked at Tom and back at me. “Ready, Tom? Let's go get some of those rascally wabbits.” He winked his one eye at me again. “I thought we were going to get something to eat,” Tom said looking confused. “Hey, I want to go!” said Sylvester. Ricky, a handsome young college guy in his early twenties and the newest of the agency's fifty-eight clients, came out of the bedroom. “Hey, Ricky do you have classes today or are you on break?” Duke asked him. “Nothing today. Where are you guys going? “Heading down to the Breakfast Club, ” Duke said getting up and stretching. “Want to come? ” He did. The scene of the crew stuffed in the van was priceless. I swear it looked like a collection of circus performers or a carnival work crew. I started to squeeze in but Valerie stopped me. “Sherri, ride with me. I want a word or two with you.” I shrugged and strolled over to her as JJ and the crew zoomed off down the street. I waited for her to unlock the door and took a seat in her brand new Honda. 18


“Nobody rides in my car without a seat belt so make certain you buckle up,” she said while adjusting the mirrors without looking at me. We hadn't traveled a full block when she started. “I told Mark I was opposed to you getting introduced to this work by those two. The way they do things isn't based on sound science. They constantly forget the most important thing in counseling, which is adhering to personal boundaries,” she said. She stopped at the busy intersection and then looked at me intensely before continuing. “It's important for the counselor to keep a healthy distance from their clients for both the client's protection as well as your own. I really have a problem with how they do things and wish this program was more office based. “Their clients sure seem to like them. Isn't that important?” I took a chance and asked. “We aren't supposed to be their friends. We're supposed to teach them specific skills. I'll show you some of the things I do while we're at breakfast.” “Oh, brother,” I thought. I already didn't like her and we had only driven six blocks. JJ, Duke, Sylvester, Tom, Ricky were all seated along with two other guys they had somehow picked up on the short trip over here. Another big guy named Mel and a short, long-haired early-thirties guy called Heath were now part of the crew. I got stuck with Valerie at a table 19


nearby. She showed me a bunch of paperwork that I needed to learn and shared a lesson that she used with her clients. The guys were all laughing and having fun and here I sat suck with this humorless, stolid woman. Luckily, before she could order, her pager went off. She took out her cell phone, listened for a bit and told me she had to leave. “Here's the paperwork. I need you to sign that I gave it too you. I'll catch up to you tomorrow and we'll go through the material,” she said. I signed. I noticed that she had never once smiled or said one word to a client. She left through the back door. Praise God and Allah, I thought and moved over next to Duke. “Ricky, this is Sherri. She's going to be working with Kristy.” That was news to me. “Good,' said Ricky, “she needs somebody to care about her and listen to her. I try but she says too many wild things for me and then I start getting messed up. She's on this invisible kick here lately.” “Hi, Ricky,” I said and offered my hand. “Aren't you the one who records and sells music?” “Yeah, I just finished my second CD,” he said and made eye contact with me for the first time. His handshake was firm. “We're going to listen to the latest one on the long drive down to Orofino, Ricky. That song you wrote for my website is a classic,” said Duke. 20


“Thanks, I like that one myself,” he seemed relived that his huge food order had finally come. He dove into it, speared a piece of sausage which he stuffed into his mouth along with a huge forkful of pancakes. Duke took a bite and said, “Hey, Ricky, how are you sleeping these days?” “Oh, not too good. I have been stressed with school. I noticed that whenever I get really stressed out that my hair looks better.” “What? Your hair looks better? Explain.” “Well, when I get stressed, I always rub my hair over and over and after a couple of days it starts looking all glossy for some reason. Maybe it brings the oil out or something.” “Could be,” was all the Duke said. JJ's voice caught my attention. “Sly you can't just point at the menu. Come on man, talk. Tell the young lady what else you want.” Sylvester mumbled something and the waitress looked at JJ for help. “Slow, down Sly. She didn't hear you.” Sly repeated his words and she finally caught that he wanted a large iced coffee along with his food. “Hey, Sly, let's play a word game. Let's think up some good insults. Here, I'll start. Sly, what color undies are you wearing today, you little girl? Pink ones, perhaps?” joked JJ. Sly merely stirred his eggs. “What no response?” asked JJ. He shrugged and turned his attention to his skillet dish that looked like it could fill four people. We sat and ate for another twenty minutes. I was learning about the different 21


personalities and had questions about each one. I had already learned that these were merely people with mental health challenges who needed some simple assistance and someone they could trust and count on. Duke had explained it very well at the clinical meetings I had attended over the last month at the counseling center. Duke got the check, paid and handed the tip directly to the waitress, a young college girl, who gave him a friendly, genuine smile. These guys know people, I noted. We were walking out in a long single-file line when Sylvester suddenly blurted out a comment from the very back. “Hey, Mister JJ, what happened to the jolly part of being fat?” We all busted up laughing. We walked out as one entity, piled into the van, and headed for the mall to do some shopping with the crew. It had already begun to get hot on the Palouse. 22


Chapter 3 Shopping, Rat Poison and a Hospital Visit D UKE GAVE ME THE SHOTGUN SEAT up front as he scrambled into the back of the van with his five group home clients. JJ gunned the engine and took off for the mall. We stopped at the Safeway grocery store . It took a while for everyone to get their weekly shopping done especially Sly, who kept going up and down the aisles with no apparent purpose until JJ helped him focus. We descended on the Dollar Store next where Duke announced that each member of the crew could $15 on hygiene products and snacks. This group knew their way around the Dollar Store and filled their carts in record speed. Tom and Sly threw their selections in their shared 23


cart like they were a game show and stood impatiently in the checkout line three minutes later with the equally effective Ricky and Heath in separate cards right behind them. The friendly checker unloaded the carts containing toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, bags of chips, Fritos, Cheetos, candy bars and liters of soda, baked the items and smiled at Duke as he joked with her and paid. Big Mel, who had hooked up with us at the restaurant, had some trouble. Everyone had finished but Big Mel rolled up and down the aisles with an empty cart. He finally showed up with an unusual choice of goods. He had picked three bags of Cheetos and twelve bottles of aspirin, enough for several hundred thousand future headaches. “Mel, what in the world are you doing with all those aspirin bottles?” Duke asked him gently. “Ahhh... I didn't know what else to get with the fifteen bucks.” “Sherri, go help him would you?” Duke asked me as he took out all but one of the aspirin bottles. I took the cart and motioned for Big Mel to follow me. I offered suggestions. He picked out some sunflower seeds, a bottle of juice, and ten boxes of Junior Mints. I figured an abundant supply of Junior Mints could be viewed as an improvement over a cart of aspirin but wondered what Duke would say. We pulled up to the check stand. Duke looked at the new load and smiled. “Yeah, Junior Mints. That's much better!” He smiled at me and I felt relief. 24


We headed back to the van were I witnessed something I had never seen before. Sly opened his jar of instant coffee and poured a big load in his mouth. He followed it with a drink from his water bottle and I could hear the swish, swish as he mixed it up in his mouth and then swallowed. “Goddammit, Sly, I have told you that instant coffee trick of yours is abuse. Do you realize what that does to your stomach? Don't do that anymore,” Duke shouted at him. “I just wanted some coffee...Geez, what's the big deal?” Sly answered this time in perfectly clear words. “You just drank...what, six or seven cups at the restaurant. Jesus, take it easy.” Tom stopped the minor dispute by saying, “Thanks Duke! Man, this is great! Look at all this stuff. I am set. We did it all this morning didn't we?” He happily took a swig of apple juice. There were mumbled “Thank yous” and we took off after Ricky spit out a glob of mouthwash on the pavement. The van was filled with a combination smell of corn chips, junior mints, coffee, mouthwash and a few whiffs of Big Mel's body odor. I should have suggested some deodorant and mentally slapped myself. Sly lit up a cigarette and everyone started yelling at him to put it out. “Jesus Christ! I just want to have a little smoke,” Sly said in a pissed off voice. He crushed the cigarette out on the back of the seat. A few seconds later , he started singing one of the Larry, the 25


Cableman's silly songs. “Get a job, you bum, bum, bum bum. Money don't grow on trees, you bum, bum, bum, bum.” Several laughing voices joined in. The crew jumped out as soon as Duke opened the van's sliding door and disappeared. But Sly lingered around not saying anything. He finally stuck out his hand toward me and mumbled, “Nice to meet you,” as he stared directly at my tits. I let him do so without comment; after all they are pretty nice tits if I do say so myself. I shook his limp hand. “See you, Sly and no more farting today, okay?” I said. He ran toward the smoking porch. Duke took back the shotgun seat and I got in back. “So, Sherri, what do you think of my crew?” Duke asked as he pulled out a CD from his beat up old briefcase. “Oh, wow! What a crew. They all seem so sweet and innocent...in a way. I love Tom. He's like a big, old teddy bear and the microphone thing could be the best line I've ever heard...What's with Sylvester? He's really funny but off in his own world. They seem pretty happy all in all,” I said. “Yeah, I love coming here. This home is a good place for these guys. It's safe and Wanda, the housemother, keeps an eye on them. She keeps the place running and Kristy keeps everything clean and tidy, although she can get carried away. You will do her a lot of good,” Duke said. After a sip of coffee, he continued. “Sly is doing well, he never used to talk at all. Since he's gotten away from his mother and her attempts at 26


curing his schizophrenia with vitamins and herbs, he's doing tons better. You might not guess it but he has a very high IQ, just can't always make himself understood. He's like a little kid and says something funny every time I see him,” Duke said. “How did you like Val?” JJ interrupted, making eye contact using the rear view mirror. “Oh, I don't know... Seems she likes to keep her distance. I noticed she didn't say one word to anyone and never smiled.” “Yeah, she has her place. Deals with the state workers and great with the paperwork but nearly hopeless in dealing with clients,” he said. The wheat fields and pine trees lining the road whipped by, the heat bouncing up from the pavement. It was going to be a hot one today. Duke spoke, “There are many in this social work who think that being a professional means you treat these guys like sick things to be fixed. They constantly blab about boundaries and keeping a line between client and counselor. I think this is fundamentally flawed. Most of these guys have a long history of abuse, teasing from peers, law enforcement involvement and don't really trust anyone who comes off as an authority figure.” He paused and took a sip of coffee. “We downplay that by the clothes we wear and the words we use. These guys need to know you care about them. Not one of them would ever go into an office to get counseling; that would scare the hell out of them. Frankly, JJ taught me that a good, positive relationship is the only way to help these guys out. We treat them as fellow humans rather 27


than sick cases... And we're pretty successful. We may goof around, cuss and stuff but we're deadly serious about what we do.” This quote is my belief: 'It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Duke spoke this from memory without one hesitation during the Robert Kennedy quote. “We are all ripples of some sort. Those of us who try to help others need to be certain ours are golden ones,” Duke added. “God, isn't he cute when he gets all philosophical?” said JJ. I didn't answer but I thought, “As a matter of fact, yes he is.” “Fuck off! Here's Ricky's music. Pretty impressive the way he puts it all together,” said Duke as he put in a CD. Some pleasant new age techno music came out that captured me in minutes. It's relaxing tone captured me. I found myself totally mesmerized by the sounds. “Wow, that kid did all of this?” “Oh yeah, he's a genius. He gets a 4.0 in his college classes, has his own website and his music is highly rated on the music site he posts his creations on. This next tune is my favorite. He made it for me to put up 28


on my website.” We traveled on starting down a steep grade when the song ended. “Incredible, just incredible!” “Yeah, it really is, isn't it? Some think that if you have a mental illness then you lose all abilities and talents, which is totally false. So many think that way and you will see it by observing how those in the community interact with our clients. It's a constant challenge we deal with,” he said. “Sherri, now you get to meet some of my folks. Get ready for a trip into the Idaho boonweeds. I'll leave it up to your imagination to visualize what these back roads coming up are like in the middle of winter. Next stop, Gary's spooky house,” JJ said. We turned off the main highway and headed up a steep, narrow gravel road through the multicolored rolling hills. There were no houses or buildings of any kind in view. JJ's driving and the narrow gavel roads added up to a jumbo dust cloud behind us. “It's so gorgeous out here this time of year,” I said as we traveled through a patchwork of rolling Palouse farmland. 29


30


The Palouse area showing off its marvelous colors 31


W e traveled for a couple of miles with the trail of dust following us, not a cloud in the sky. We pulled up to an old farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. Not a neighbor or dwelling in sight ,merely acres of now browning pasture land with two lonely horses munching and a few scattered Holstein cows who already looked miserable in the heat. “Let's go see how Gary's doing,” said JJ who vaulted out of the van. We followed as I tried to ignore the grasshoppers jumping around. A crow gave out a caw from up in the one large lonely pine tree that provided some minor shade for this old place. Our appearance sent a skinny cat running from his perch on the stacked woodpile. A skilled carpenter had recently put up a covered, wide zigzagged wooden ramp which we climbed. JJ banged on the door. An overweight Indian man with shoulder-length black hair and a 32


stained beaded ball cap peeked out the corner of the window while seated in his wheelchair. He rolled over and opened the door, turned and without a word wheeled himself back into his kitchen. I noticed his black tee-shirt, covered with dried stains and bits of food. “Gary! How you doing man? Remember Duke don't you? This lovely woman is Sherri who's with us today. Is it okay if we come in?” JJ said in a loud, friendly greeting. Gary shrugged and waved us in. He wheeled himself into the living room. The entire place smelled like recent and dried piss which was hard to ignore. We walked by the sink filled with dirty dishes and into the living room littered with movie boxes, CD's and old cassette tapes all over the floor. A horror flick ran with the volume way up on the small television. “Are you up here scaring yourself, again, Gary?” said JJ as he flopped down on the old dirty, orange couch. A puff of dust came up. Gary actually smiled and said, “Yeah, this one's good.” We sat and watched a couple of brutal murder scenes. JJ said,“Hey, Gary want to head down to the cafe?” “No, I don't go in there no more.” “What? That used to be your favorite place,” JJ said. “They keep spitting in my food and laughed at me all the time,” Gary said as he wheeled himself to the fridge and grabbed a diet soda which I looked at with envy. 33


“Are you sure? They seemed to like you down there. You've been a good customer for years. What were they laughing about?” asked JJ. “The waitress girl said they were all laughing at me because I never fuck no more.” “Gary, that didn't happen. Come on, man. You know that don't you?” Gary shrugged, apparently not totally convinced. “Hey, we brought you a pizza. I'll go get it,” and JJ went out to the van. We sat watching more movie violence in the hot house and the three fans weren't doing much to cool things down. I started to feel wet marks under my arms and the smell of the place and the screams from the television were getting to me. Duke seemed to read my mind and said, “Gary, may I show Sherrie around your property?” Gary shrugged without looking up. Duke handed me a coke as we went outside just as JJ came in with the pizza. He grabbed his nose and made a fake puking sound. “Freaky place, huh?” Duke said to me as he lit a cigarette. “May I have one of those?” I asked him hoping like hell he would give me one. “Sure,” he answered. We were out there puffing away when JJ came out. “Hey! We have a real problem here. Gary just told me he ate a full box of rat poison this morning...tried to kill himself. We have to get 34


him to the hospital.” JJ wheeled Gary, who was struggling with getting his fleece jacket on even in this heat, zipped him down the ramp, got him into the front seat and loaded his chair in the back. Nobody spoke. We raced down the steep grade until we reached the river road where JJ accelerated and we flew the fifteen miles follow the curvy, river road. We pulled up to the hospital where two strong-looking emergency staff took over. We sat in the emergency waiting room nearly filled even this time of day. A doctor came out and talked with JJ in the corner. It was agreed that Gary would only be released to the mental ward in the regional hospital thirty miles away after his stomach got pumped. His mother and father-an elderly couple-showed up a short time later and we left after getting Gary settled. The van had heated up to boiling inside when we returned and smelled like fresh piss. “Damn, that's his third try in the last two years. He has a double whammy... MS, which is why he has such bladder problems and schizophrenia. What a hand to be dealt...One of these times I hope I don't find him...” JJ cut off his words Duke said, “Roll down the damn windows for a few miles before I puke.” I examined these two eccentrics who traveled the backwoods and small towns that made up their weekly routes, their efforts not recognized or appreciated and realized-these guys save lives. 35


Chapter 4 Entertaining Confessions and Visits I T WAS ONLY 10:45 IN THE MORNING when we left the hospital and visited Chris and Johnny's place. After we finished breakfast with the boys, our third stop of the day, JJ pulled in front of the small office that the agency kept in this small riverside town, Orofino. He stopped the van. “You and Sherri get to take that beautiful blue piece of shit over there...Hope it starts. Sherri, you should drive. I'll get Chris and Johnny a place to stay until Sunday and make the Weippe run. be able to check six more off our list and you can get some more. Meet you back here at 3 pm or so.” Duke and I got out and silent Johnny jumped into the vacant front seat. The van took off way too fast and disappeared before Duke unlocked the beat up Nissan Stanza, a blue beast from the late '80's 36


that looked like it had been an auto warrior. “Hop in Sherri. Let's see if this piece of shit will even run.” It started on the first try. He gave it gas and a puff of blue smoke came out. It ran but was awfully noisy. I got in and buckled up as Duke talked on the cell phone. We took off with some sputtering hesitations and headed out of town on a scenic side road that followed the Clearwater River. “Sorry about the noise,” Duke yelled, “sounds like the muffler is completely gone. Better keep the window down.” “Where we going now? Do you guys work at this pace all the time?” I asked as I tied my hair into a ponytail. “We're heading to see Vern, who got suspended from school. It's just a few miles from here. Oh, by the way, I'm a really shitty driver.” He smiled over at me. I liked this guy. He looked and felt around for something. “Damn I left the Vick's jar in JJ's van...shit, let's pray that Vern and his mother cleaned up some... And oh, no... I couldn't keep this pace up. I usually visit the group home and maybe one other client in a day. We need to get all the authorization papers and insurance forms signed this weekend. Mark apparently fucked up and is in a near panic. The agency is being audited next week.” A large creek to our left rolled on and we putted along. The difference in driving styles of the two men couldn't have been more different. Duke drove slowly, pointed out scenic places and seemed to be 37


enjoying himself and the travel. I could imagine JJ racing somewhere in his black van in his daredevil way. Duke drove like an old lady heading to Sunday's afternoon Bingo session. He handed me a cigarette and we both smoked in comfortable silence for a few miles. Slowly, he took the turn into a little trailer park that hung on the edge of the creek we had passed over. It didn't occur to me that his Magoo-like driving might be because he couldn't see that well with just the one eye. I started to mention that when he stopped the blue beast in front of an old trailer. Dogs started barking everywhere and the sounds echoed off the creek. Duke came over and opened up my door, which surprised me. This guy had some damn good manners I noted. I followed as he gave pats and rubs to the two black labs that were chained up on the porch. Their tails made little whacking noises on the deck and you could tell they appreciated the attention. The place was a mess outside. Bicycles with flat tires, old fishing gear, a rusted exercise bike, bags of garbage and a can filled to overflowing with beer and soda cans made up the scene. Cigarette butts were everywhere. Duke pounded on the trailer door marked with a sideways six on it. Some moving around sounds from inside were heard before a hefty teenager boy answered and invited us in. It was comfortably cool and the place neat and tidy but filled with way too much furniture and a huge television that was playing a soap opera of some kind. Vern turned down the television and brought us each a can of Coke 38


without us asking. “It's fucking hot out there already ain't it? Oh, sorry, for the language,” and he looked at me with embarrassment. Vern was a big, wide boy and not all fat. “Don't worry about it Vern. It is damn hot. Hi, I'm Sherri.” I extended my hand hoping that I had done the right thing. Duke looked over and smiled. Vern took my hand and asked, “Are you married?” He gave me the once over. “Down tiger, down boy,” Duke said, “so Vern how come you aren't at school?” “Well, I've been getting in some trouble lately. These kids kept picking on me when I whenever cleaned up in the cafeteria. I got damn sick of it... JJ told me I might need to take some action,” he said. He took a big gulp of soda. “So, on Monday I was wiping off the tables when a group of them started talking shit to me. I threw down the cleaning towel and thought, 'You're toast' and punched out all three of 'em. Got 'em good too. All of them out on the floor. I walked out of school and all the way home. Got suspended for two weeks... Where's JJ? need to talk with him about something.” “It's only us today. What else is going on? ' “It's kind of... I don't know if I should say it with her here,” Vern 39


whispered. “Sherri's cool. She can handle it and knows how to keep her mouth shut. Come on, out with it.” “Well, there may have been some people over here having a party... kind of,” he said with his eyes looking down at the worn carpet. “Were you having a party, Vern?” Duke said. “Yeah... There could have been some people drinking beer over here.” “Were people drinking over here, Vern?” Duke asked. “Yeah... There could have been some people smoking pot over here.” “Were people smoking pot? Were you drinking and smoking pot, Vern?” “Yeah... There could have been a bunch of people laughing over here.” This slow,comical confession might take some time. “Okay, so there was a party, you were smoking pot and drinking and people were laughing. What made them laugh?” Duke asked. He looked at me and tried to hide a grin. 40


“There might have been someone doing something funny.” “What was funny?” Duke asked. His patience impressed me. The soap opera in the background and the noisy swamp cooler were the only sounds for several long seconds. We waited and waited. “Ah... well... you know, someone could have gotten something out of Mom's bedroom,” were the words that finally broke the silence. “What did you get out of your Mom's room?” “Someone may have gotten out her.. her... well, her...dildo and flicking it on people's faces.” “You were rubbing your Mom's dildo on people's faces and people were laughing?” Duke said, resisting with all his being from snorting aloud, I imagined. I bit my lip. “Yeah, I wiped it on Tammy's face as she held the little baby and everyone laughed. The big boy sprang up, headed to the kitchen and splashed water on his face. This confession was wearing him out. “Tammy was over here with a baby? Shit, Vern, that can't be good. You can't let little babies come over here. You could get in all kinds of trouble.” Duke's voice showed concern. “I know, I know!” He threw his hands up to his face and started bawling. Big sobs. “I don't want to go to Juvie again.” “Vern, Sherri, JJ and I won't let that happen. Hey, big guy, it's going to be okay.” He rubbed the man-child's wide shoulders. I beamed inside because he had included me. 41


“What would I tell them when they asked,'What you in for?' What would I say? Dildo flicking?” he said. He grabbed his head in his hands. From out of the darkness of the back bedroom a monstrously overweight woman in a colorful sun dress with obviously no bra on came out and flopped on the old recliner that protested with some distinct squeaks and creaks. I hoped it would hold. She had to be carrying over four-hundred pounds on her short frame. “I usually keep it locked up,” the poor woman simpered. We got the papers signed, patted the dogs and were back in the blue beast. Duke drove really fast and zoomed out of the park kicking up gravel. He floored the thing and we traveled about a mile to the nearest turnout. He pulled off, switched off the key and jumped out. He held his tight gut and smacked the hood of the Nissan. His laughter echoed off the river's water. I got out and screaming and howling, a total laughing spasm. We were soon both in tears. “Sherri, can you fucking believe that? Jesus Christ, you're getting it 42


all today,” he said and gave me a gentle pat. “You know it's a full moon and our guys are really influenced by that. I almost died when she said, 'I keep it locked up!' That scene making my hall of fame.” He lit a cigarette and handed me one. “Here's some more information. That was Pam and she is already in our agency's hall of fame for her attempted suicide. She tried to beat herself to death with a cast iron skillet after getting caught at the prison giving her boyfriend a blow job in the visitor's center a year or so ago. She seriously messed herself up. Tragic but still so wild that we laughed about it after it was determined she'd be okay.” We finished our smokes while gazing out over the river, snickering. We headed out, this time at Duke's usual pace. We made a half-dozen or so other quick stops and had the parents of five of the agency's kid clients sign the needed papers. My head started to swirl in confusion at meeting all the different personalities in all the various living situations. We pulled into a better maintained trailer court and walked up with the needed papers. The growling from a pit bull who wasn't thrilled with our presence stopped our progress. Duke motioned for me to stop and I did. The dog walked around us making menacing low sounds. “Oh, he won't bite you,” said a young, skinny woman who came out and grabbed him by the collar. 'That's total bullshit, I thought. I know dogs and that sucker would have bit us if we had flinched even a little. My heart raced. 43


We moved inside and got the papers signed. Duke stacked up the papers, put them in his briefcase and asked, “How's Jason doing these days?” as we started to exit. “He's nothing but trouble. Never listens to me. I'd give him to his drunk old man but I just bought that car and need the child-support payments. He only shapes up when I give him a good whipping.” “There are other ways to handle things. Would you like me to drop some things off for you to try?” Duke asked. “I don't need no know-it-all telling me how to raise my own son. Who the hell are you anyways? I do my best and you come out here and start shoveling your bullshit on me. Well, go to hell!” She stomped her feet looking like a kindergarten child. “Hey, I just offered. You need to calm down and control your anger,” Duke told her. “I don't have an anger problem!” she screeched which reverberated off the other trailer homes. She stomped her feet again and slammed the door. I hoped like hell that the dog had remained in the house. Duke looked over at me as we hustled back to the blue beast. “Jesus, Sherri. I repeat... you're getting it all today. That was another classic scene. I don't remember a more entertaining day. I'm really enjoying your company... I think you will do well, really well, in this work. Nothing seems to phase you.” “Well, I had six brothers, a mentally ill mom and an alcoholic father. I'm right at home with these people. I know this stuff,” I answered while 44