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Raymond Abbott


Raymond Abbott            

Donald Wyatt. I have written of him before and did not plan to write about him again. Then, just today, something happened.

I was slated to meet him at the usual place. We’ve been having lunch together once a month for more than seven years. Not coincidentally, it’s been exactly that many years since I last worked as a social worker for a local mental-health agency. Donald was one of my clients. When I was about to retire, his mother asked me if I would have coffee or lunch with Donald once in awhile.

“Sure,” I said, never thinking it would go on for so long.

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You Have a Split Personality

Raymond Abbott

I am a social worker working with severely mentally ill adults. One of my clients is Lawrence Walters, a small, thin man in his late fifties, very schizophrenic even while on medication. He talks about spirits holding him down, making him do things he doesn’t wish to do. He is impossible when off meds, tolerable when on, and difficult just about all the time. But at last I’ve got an edge on Lawrence–and it’s not because of any particular social-work skill.

Lawrence often asks me to take him places–usually shopping, but sometimes to medical appointments, such as an eye exam. (Lawrence is missing one eye, which some say he himself poked out when especially ill. I can’t confirm this story, however, and I’ve not asked him.)

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How Will I Know You’re Not Dead?

Raymond Abbott

I never thought it would go on for so long–seeing Donald Wyatt, I mean. I certainly didn’t plan it this way.

More than six years ago, I retired at age sixty-six from my social-work job at a mental-health agency. Donald had been my client there for about eight years.

As I was cleaning out my office, his mother called. She explained how Donald’s father had left when Donald was not much more than an infant, which had made him sensitive to abandonment, especially by male figures. Could I, she wondered, meet Donald once in awhile for coffee or lunch?

“Yes,” I said, “I can do that.”

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I’m Happy

Raymond Abbott

On my voice mail is a message from Donald Wyatt. He doesn’t often call, but every Monday morning he comes to see me at the Louisville, Kentucky, mental-health clinic where I’m a social worker.

His message is brief: “I’m not feeling well, and I am planning a trip to either St. Louis or Elizabethtown.”

I smile, wondering at the odd pairing. Elizabethtown is a small city of 50,000 people. And, well, St. Louis is St. Louis, a metropolis.

This behavior is not unusual for Donald. He’s disappeared before, always out of state and by bus. He doesn’t have the money to travel any other way, although once he took his parents’ van and drove to Ohio. (He has no driver’s license.) Never before, however, has he called beforehand.

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Getting a Grip

Raymond Abbott

“Ray, can you bring me some Poligrip?” says the message on my voice mail. “My teeth are falling out.”

I know Barbara means just her uppers, because she has no bottom teeth.

“I don’t get my check until Tuesday,” she adds. It’s now Friday afternoon.

I smile, thinking, Where does she think I might get Poligrip? Does she think I have a supply in my desk drawer?

The support staff, who have a lot of items, won’t have Poligrip. If I asked them for it, however, they too would smile.

Smile is the word you want to remember in this account, because Barbara makes me smile–and I especially value those who can do so these days.

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