Ride for Life: Chapter 2

I still haven’t figured out exactly what’s going to happen to Kid and John Birmingham. But you can be certain, you cannot guess the ending! I promise, if nothing else, you will be surprised on an almost constant basis. And, for those familiar with The Unpeople, my zombie novel, you’ll be happy to know there is very little politics, almost no death, and absolutely no terrorism.

With that, here’s chapter 2.

Kid returned to jotting down notes. Occasionally, he looked up from his notebook long enough to peer into John’s eyes. What captivated him about them, he could not decide. They felt familiar. Each time epiphany bubbled up, it disappeared again before reaching his brain. He told himself he had all the time in the world to figure out John’s identity later, he had to pay attention for any other pertinent information his Intake Physician may provide.
Being so new, he had nothing to add to the conversation himself. His notebook page filled with John’s full name colored over several times and scribbles of his known conditions. In the margins were the words ‘individual’ repeated up and down the page. It was unclear why it felt like such an important word, but he was certain it held enough importance to cause ripples between his superiors.
Between bullet pointed notes, Kid drew small blobs that mildly resembled eyes to any average onlooker. Why, why, why, reverberated through his head. John giggled at something. Or nothing. Perhaps both.
For fear of getting caught up in John’s uncomfortable elongated stare, his Direct Support Staff tried to keep from looking at him any further. Instead, he stayed focused on tracing over each word already written out. Silence filled the room for some time. Filling the void was John’s ripened scent coupled with his occasional wet chuckle. Suddenly, Kid’s phone vibrated in his pocket. It itched his skin and echoed in his ears. He wondered if anyone else could hear it. His mother always called at the most inappropriate times. He thought at times she did it on purpose, but he realized how crazy that sounded. She would have to wait until the end of shift. Then the door behind him opened.
“Sorry I’m late.”
Entering the room was a tall, frail woman with short deadlock red hair about ten years Kid’s senior.
“Ah,” said the boss. “With no responses to my emails, I assumed you weren’t coming.”
His phone stopped vibrating.
“Yeah. Been one of those weeks.”
“This here’s our newest staff,” the long haired boss pointed openhanded at Kid. “Kid, this is John’s SLP.”
Unsure how to respond, Kid remained sitting and reached out for her unusually firm handshake.
“Speech Therapist. All those letters just feel cold to me.”
From there, John’s Speech Therapist continued to stand. Though she remained the only one standing, Kid was certain she would still hover over him if he stood beside her.
Kid’s phone vibrated once more, letting him know whoever called left a voice mail.
She made several hand gestures resembling movements in John’s direction suggesting she was about to mime a vomiting episode. Kid assumed she was attempting Sign Language with his new client, or individual as his Intake Physician preferred. Having no formal training in Sign, he hoped his ignorance would not change his boss’s positive assessment of his ability to work with his new client.
Kid cocked his head back in confusion when the therapist gave John a hug before pulling back and making a face and pinching her nose. John laughed his cackling laugh as the woman with knotted red hair finally sat down, still towering over everyone as she sat up straight between John and his new staff.
“Well,” chimed in the boss, “We were just finishing up with Mr. Birmingham’s intake Eval. Do you have anything to add?”
“Sure. First, I’m so glad they found you.” She turned to John and Signed at the same time she spoke. “What was it, like six months? What have you been doing? You had us all worried sick, silly.”
John cackled. Then he rubbed his shaking right fist in a circle on his sternum.
“It’s quite okay, silly.”
“It was closer to eight months, actually,” the boss corrected. “The Club was set to close his file.”
Finally confused enough to speak, Kid asked, “I thought this was Mr. Birmingham’s Intake. Was he here before?”
His therapist patted John’s dirty and shaking hand, “Sorta,” she said to Kid but never taking her eyes off John.
The long haired boss smiled as if he took this as his sign to explain.
“John here did come into the system almost a year ago. He was in such bad shape that we decided to just put him in twenty-four hour care. With no I.D. or records, the powers that be decided to wait until he was better before they looked into his history or even did much of an evaluation on him. The same day this sly devil was slated to be released from twenty-four hour care and sent for his intake evaluation, he disappeared.”
His boss returned his attention to John, “That was about eight months ago. We assumed you were dead, John. But that’s water under the bridge now. Right?”
A flutter in her throat, the woman with knotted red hair said, “I worked with silly here while he was still in the hospital. He seemed to understand some Sign Language but couldn’t repeat much of anything. God, I missed you, silly. I’m so glad you’re okay.”
The woman verged on crying, but managed to dam her tears. Four years of coursework and more than eighty hours of in-the-field training could not have prepared Kid for the emotional connections playing out. He wondered if he too would end up an emotional mess. He wondered if he made the right career choice in the first place.
John did look familiar. But who? It was impossible that they knew each other at all. He thought back to his early college years in Denver. Nothing. Thinking back to his small hometown of Nunn, Colorado, John still remained a mystery to him. There were no Birmingham families where he grew up. Still, something about John’s eyes made a voice echo in his mind that buried just out of view was a memory of who this man was, or how he knew him
“With that, are there any more questions, Kid?”
Kid shook his head though he remained confused. Why did John take off when he was better? Why did The Club not do a better job of watching someone they knew so little about? Was he going to lose John, too? And, if so, who’s fault would that be? He second guessed his education. Running back over his last semester, he realized he retained nothing. All those courses for no reason. It all disappeared from memory. He wondered if anyone would fault him for jumping out of his chair and running for the door, never to be seen again.
“Now then, John,” the boss bellowed again, pulling Kid away from his thoughts. “This meeting is all about you. Our job is to make sure you lead the most positive, constructive life you want to lead. Our job is to help you get out of life what you want to get out of life.”
John chuckled again with his watery, near toothless smile and pointed at the long haired man across from him.
“So,” he leaned in as if to whisper a conspiratorial secret, “what is it you want to do, John?”
John just chuckled.
“What is it you like to do,” he asked again. This time, the boss added a few unsteady Signs.
Taken aback, Kid watched his boss mime each action as he spoke them loud enough to wake a deaf child. First, his boss tossed one hand over his shoulder. Then he flung that same hand in John’s direction. With his left hand close to him, he spun his hand in circles, “Fishing?”
Were it not for the nerves eating at his unanswered phone message, Kid would have laughed at the over exaggerated movements of his long haired boss. As he continued enacting various verbs, Kid kept from smiling by trying to figure out what his boss was mimicking before he bellowed the verb into the room.
Studying?
“Reading?”
Damn.
Flipping burgers?
“Cooking?”
Not too far off.
Oh, this one’s easy.
“Sleeping?”
Got it.
Kid made a mental note of as many Signs as he could piece together between the woman with knotted hair and his boss. Very few made sense. Even worse, those that did Kid was certain were not real Signs but the boss’s attempt to entertain John.
Giving up trying to follow the new language, Kid wondered if his boss had been in this line of work too long. Perhaps he, like everyone else in the room, sat too long and had more energy than he knew what to do with. His toothy smile alone would have exhausted Kid. Where his energy at his age came from, he could not tell.
“Do you know how to clean your room,” he asked. The boss hissed sounds of an imaginary spray bottle before proceeding to wipe the table off with an equally imaginative cloth. “You’ll be living in your own room in this facility, John. It will be your responsibility to keep your apartment clean. It’s not like last time. The state isn’t giving us enough money for that.”
John stopped laughing, appearing like he just witnessed a ghost float passed the animated man’s head. Squeals deciphered as either something akin to a ‘really’ or a ‘what’ or any other number of one or two syllable words to express exclamation squeaked from his flapping and cracked lips. His eyes widened so much his therapist moved toward him, assuming her lost and found individual was nearing a seizure. Then she spoke.
“I have to object to this,” the therapist said.
With the calm of a teacher trying to keep a rowdy group of teens from becoming unmanageable, the boss asked John’s Speech Therapist to explain herself for clarity.
“Absolutely. This individual…”
“John,” corrected the long haired boss.
“Yes. He exhibits no capacity to understand even the most basic safety precautions. He appears to have no functioning fear of things that could harm him. Alone he could hurt himself beyond repair.” She placed her hand gingerly on John’s shaking attempt at twiddling his thumbs pretending to listen attentively.
“This little guy needs our full support right now. Not coaching. No offense, Kid. He needs to be cared for.”
Tears welled in her eyes. Her lips quivered. Kid was not offended, but her crying kept him from commenting about it. He knew she only had his interest at heart, and since this was not John’s first time into the organization, how could he get angry for someone worrying John would get lost in the system again?
“He’s so fragile at this moment in his life. Who’s to say he won’t try to run away again? Then what?”
Her eyes gave in to her emotions and fell down her face. Noticing this, John shot out of his chair, knocking it backward and startling everyone else in the room. He hobbled over to a small corner table where a box of tissues sat alone.
“What the hell…” the Physician started, but did not finish.
Stumbling back to the group, he handed the box to his Speech Therapist.
“Oh, my. Thank you, Sweetie.” She touched her mouth with an open hand turned in and brought it out and down. Kid wondered if this Sign meant “Thank you.” If so, he wanted to remember it. He jotted a note to himself.
Once John sat back down, Kid noticed he too was crying. He watched John watching his Therapist. He’s so kind hearted, he thought, How could he possibly be developmentally disabled.
A small pile of soiled tissues collected in front of his Therapist before the boss with long hair deemed it appropriate to continue.
“Then we will deal with it then,” the long haired boss said, leaning in. His voice softened considerably, “John is an independent person. He’s restless in these walls. I think we all would be. If the state is not willing to give us the funding to ensure Mr. Birmingham’s success, we have little other choice but to make do with the funding they do provide.”
The boss with pulled back hair returned his attention to the dust ball across from him, bellowing, “What exactly do you want to learn, Mr. Birmingham?”
It was then that John splayed both fists out in front of him nearly punching the Speech Therapist and the Intake Physician in their petrified faces. He wrenched one fist as if working an imaginary screwdriver. Groaning a boisterous, long-winded and putrid grumble, it took Kid no time to realize John wanted to ride a motorcycle.
Kid closed his eyes, hoping when he opened them to find John miming actions resembling needlework or painting or perhaps even basket weaving. Not that Kid knew any of these tasks nor did he take pleasure in learning them. However, each sounded impossibly less difficult than working on a life goal of riding a motorcycle with a man who hardly stood without falling or requiring assistance. Fear tickled his throat as he chewed the inside of his cheek.
Opening his eyes he found the same grisly shell of a man straddling the same loud Harley.
“Oh, hell no,” cried the woman with dreadlocks. A sense of relief smothered the tickle in Kid’s throat. “Please,” she said, turning to the boss, “You really can’t be taking this seriously?”
For the first time, Kid watched his boss’s smile quiver, quiver and not fail, “We are here to assist Mr. Birmingham with his life goals. Not the goals of what we think he’d want or what we think he’s capable of.”
“For the love of Pete.”
“I agree,” chimed in the Physician with short peppered hair.
“Settle down,” he said, “Nobody is getting anywhere near a motorcycle anytime soon. There’s no need to freak out.”
The woman with dreadlocks sighed, “Jesus, thank you.”
“Not yet, anyway.”

Kid watched as his boss’s smile returned with fervor, “In the meantime, it’s my job to figure out how to make John’s goals become a reality. Shall we leave it at that?”

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