A caregiver and I were out and about running errands one afternoon a few years ago and decided to stop in a restaurant for lunch before heading home. Looking the hostess in the eye, I said that we needed a table for two. She ignored me. It was not until my caregiver repeated exactly what I had said that she began leading us to a table.
Once we were seated, the waiter came. He took my caregiver’s order and then asked her what I wanted for lunch. His discomfort became more obvious when my caregiver suggested that he ask me directly. I told him what I wanted and then attempted to make polite conversation about something else after he walked away.
“Wait Lorraine. Aren’t you mad? I want you to be mad.” This caregiver, whose name is Courtney, cared about me deeply and was becoming visibly upset. She didn’t like the way I had been treated by any of the staff at the restaurant.
“I am not going to deny that this stuff irritates me Courtney, but it happens in one form or another pretty often. For the most part, I don’t think people are being intentionally malicious. I think it is more likely that they don’t have much experience with people with disabilities, and they don’t know what to do, so they feel awkward. I’m willing to bet is because of that awkwardness that they ignore me. If I let it get under my skin every time things like that happen, I would spend a huge amount of energy being angry, and that is not how I choose to live my life.
“But it’s not fair!” She said.
“No, it’s not.” I calmly agreed. But I’m not going to make it fair by getting mad about it. There are people who are going to understand me and there are going to be people who don’t. Either way, I’m okay with being me. Let’s enjoy lunch, okay?
She came over to me and gave me a hug. Courtney understood me. Many of my friends and former caregivers do.
A few years later, I hired another caregiver. For the purposes of this story, I will call him Russell. We got along well and had some good times together. One year on my birthday, he sent me a text with good wishes. In his message, he told me he really loved his job, and he hoped that I would want him to work for me for the remainder of his time in town. That text was, without a doubt, my favorite birthday present that year. In fact, I never deleted it from my phone. A few months later, he got a job offer for the summer in Boston. He told me that he would be gone for three months, but gave me his word he would be back and planned to work for me in the fall. I believed him. Therefore, I didn’t work hard to advertise or hire any new caregivers late that summer. And then he quit without notice over an email five days before he was supposed to start working for me again.
His actions caused a whole lot of stress for several people. One of my other caregivers had to work for three or four weeks by himself, while also holding down another full-time job, while I scrambled to get other people hired. Russell let me know soon after all of this that he considered working for me to be “just a job” and he quit without notice over an email because he was simply “taking care of business.”
A few months ago, Russell approached me again. He wanted a second chance to work for me because he had “deep regrets” about the way things had ended between us, and he knew he “couldn’t take them back, but he wanted a chance to do it right.”
I interviewed him twice. He told me he had changed significantly and he said all the right things. He told me he would be in town for the academic year. I sought out the opinions of several people who support me and asked if it would be a good idea to hire him back. Everyone said “yes.” Then, I searched my soul. After a few days of turning it over in my mind, I decided that I wanted to be a person who could trust that people were capable of change and who would give others second chances. I hired him, and at the time I offered him the job, I asked that he be honest with me if anything was going to change. I made it clear I wanted him to communicate with me. He agreed.
He worked about a month and a half. Then late one night I found out from a Facebook post that his girlfriend put up that they were planning to move out of the state in a matter of weeks. When I asked the next day why he hadn’t told me directly, he got very defensive and said several times that “his personal life was none of my business.” I wondered if he would have talked to another employer like that. There didn’t seem to be any remorse about the way he had chosen to handle the situation whatsoever.
For a while, I was mad at myself because I had let him back into my life and he showed me once again that he didn’t at all care how his choices affected me. But talking to the same people I had asked for guidance in hiring him back made me understand that having curiosity and compassion for people who want second chances is not a bad thing. It may mean I get hurt sometimes, but there are other times when it will work out. And I want to be the kind of person who is willing to take the risk.
There are people who are going to understand me and there are going to be people who don’t. Either way, I am okay with who I am.