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naked

On the occasional weekend I work for Lillian, a friend of mine who owns an adult foster care facility. I supervise the lives of a few developmentally or mentally disabled women who otherwise might do things like only eat Top Ramen or run up an eight-hundred dollar cell phone bill. Sometimes that happens anyway on my watch and then I feel incompetent.

I love this job for three reasons. The first is the satisfaction of spending my energy contributing to something bigger than myself. The second is the money. The third is it's just fun.

On one such Sunday afternoon, Shannon, Judy and I were gathered in the kitchen. I had intended to cook, and Shannon, our ineffably sweet eighteen-year-old resident, came in to hover inside my personal space, which for me is anything closer than a foot away from my body. Judy had come in to yell at us.

"YOU'RE A SONOFABITCH!" she screamed at nobody in particular.

"Shannon, would you like to go put in one of your CDs for us?" I asked and at the same time, tripped over her foot, sloshing boiling water across the floor.

"You mean you want to hear my crappy music?"

"Your crappy music?"

"That's what Lillian calls it."

"It's not crappy music. Especially" - and here I dropped my voice down to a conspiratorial whisper - "especially if it puts You-Know-Who in a better mood." I glanced over at Judy.

"YOU'RE A SONOFABITCH!" she yelled at us, eager to be a part of the whispering.

"Okay," Shannon said, turning to fetch her collection of praise and worship CDs and then turning back and looking skeptical. "You don't hate Christian music?"

Hmmm. How to answer this honestly.... "I grew up Christian."

"No way! That's so rock and roll!"

I grinned, pleased as punch with this declaration.

On her way out to the living room, she said over her shoulder to me, "The reason Lillian thinks it's crappy is because she wasn't raised Christian so she doesn't understand the bias of the music."

Shannon has Asperger's Syndrome and happens to be the highest functioning person in this foster home, including when I'm here. She makes better boyfriend decisions than I ever have, and now, only partially out of amusement, I run each relationship past her. From men who yell to men who say they love me too soon. From the one I left behind in Texas to the one I met in Brooklyn. Dr. Phil would be proud of her. Dr. Laura even more so. I think she doesn't understand gray areas, but, then again, her black and whites have served her well so far.

Later that day, she let me jump online, interrupting her instant message conversation with her boyfriend Derwin. (Kudos to Derwin's mother for her fearlessness in naming her son the least trendy of all names in the history of naming children.)

Shannon hovered beside me. "Just keep it going so he doesn't get offline."

I was in no mood to accommodate. "Why can't you just call him?" I asked absentmindedly as I flipped through some paperwork.

(Hold on. Let's pause a moment and take a closer look at what I had just done. You may think that that was a pretty low move, executing a brutish and manipulative computer take-over on a mentally handicapped girl. Well, it was. I'm not proud of it. But there it is, another reason I love working at this home. I spend much of my time there being patient and nurturing, protective and kind, but I also let show my ugliness. I used to be vigilant about tucking away my impatience and irritations from clients like Shannon, believing them to be deserving only of my best. Turns out, they can smell a rat. The first time I let myself lose my patience and had that honesty met with love, I knew this was the place for me. A place where the highest virtue is being naked and then dealing with it. As it happens, the second highest virtue around here as far as Judy is concerned is being literally naked.)

"Why can't you just call him?" I had asked. It wasn't meant to be a question and any one of my other friends would've called me out on my greed. But blessed are those who work with Asperger's clients: they will be endlessly pardoned for using manipulative language for selfish gain.

"Because," she answered. "He's deaf."

I turned in the chair to face her, looking up in wonderment at the girl with this heart. I knew her boyfriend was deaf. Hell, she even goes to his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for Deaf Mormons or something. I just hadn't bothered to pay attention. She had just risked losing out on a conversation with her Derwin because I couldn't wait my turn like a regular grownup. I began to laugh.

"Why are you laughing?" she asked, smiling and ready to join into the joke just as soon as someone would explain it to her, her uneven brow furrowed in confusion.

I closed out my email and stood up. "Because you're endearing."

"What does that mean?"

I leaned in to cup her acned cheek in my hand. "It means I want to be like you."

-Coop

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