One of the women that lived in the home, let’s just call her Sandy, was as sweet as she could be. She was a forty year old woman with Down’s Syndrome and her life revolved around two things - Disney princesses and cats. So when a local high school was playing host to a nationally recognized cat show, Sandy was the first to hear about it and make a specific request to attend. It was such a big deal to her though that just going by herself would not have sufficed - she had to share the experience with her other seven housemates - anything less simply would not have provided the visiting cats with the respect that they were due.
So Saturday morning comes and Sandy puts on her tiara (I’m not even kidding - she really did), her Persian cat sweatshirt, and packed up her tattered Special Olympics tote bag with cat magazines, coloring books, and a stuffed black cat she had named Spooky. We packed up all eight people plus 3 staff (including myself) into our big old van and headed up to the high school. We paid the minimal fee to get in the doors of the fairly large gymnasium and snapped pictures of Sandy and her roommates in front of aisles and aisles of colorfully decorated tables and cages containing nearly every type of cat you could imagine (even a Mr. Bigglesworth-esque hairless one).
This is where roommate #3 enters the story (I don’t know why I chose the number three, just go with me here). Let’s call her Casper the Friendly Ghost. I’m calling her Casper because she also was as friendly and as sweet as could be, however, she did not speak. She couldn’t talk but occasionally throughout the day, she would go through spells that sounded like a mix between a ghostly moan and a shriek. Typically she would do this as she walked around the house or sat in her chair and rocked. As far as we could tell, she was never in any discomfort or anything, it just seemed to be a way that she either released stress or expressed herself. Usually this sound started off small and grew to a noticeable but not disturbing volume. On occasion it would get louder but was still controlled. On very rare occasions, however, it would become like a fire engine siren that could not be soothed or quieted. Unfortunately for Sandy, Casper chose Cat Day 1999 to display the true vocal range she was capable of.
About half way through the first aisle, Casper began her quiet moan. It wasn’t a big deal to us (we were used to strange looks from passersby and the noise itself), so we just continued on. Even Sandy, who was taking the whole experience VERY seriously, was not bothered by the noises coming from her friend and woman who lived in the bedroom next to her. It was just Casper being Casper. The cats, on the other hand, were not as tolerant as her moans grew to a volume level that we would consider slightly louder than normal.
As Casper walked past the cages, one by one, her high pitched noises were upsetting the hoity toity felines. It was like she was a cat whisperer and she was breaking some sort of terrible news to them as she passed. In response to whatever vibe she was sending their way, they responded with noises of their own. Some just made these low guttural noises that sounded like drunk dogs growling. Others meowed pathetically and several even screamed (I don’t know what else to call it, but it’s that same sound you hear coming from alleys during that special time of the year when Tom Cats are out sewing their wild oats). This mixture of noises proved to be the impetus that launched a somewhat calm morning into utter chaos.
Casper shrieked even louder - propelling her to full blown engine number nine status. Casper’s roommate covered her ears with her hands and began yelling at Casper to “Shut the heck up doggonit!” Another gentleman from the home, who had Intermittent Explosive Disorder (yes it is as bad as it sounds), insisted that he was just going to go on ahead without anyone else and wait in the car (which was parked on the far end of the parking lot). When he was asked to wait for staff to go with him, he got very belligerent and grabbed a cat magazine from Sandy’s hand and threw it over an aisle - thus upsetting yet another one of the gentleman who lived in the home who spat on the ground and began yelling (although he was deaf so what he was yelling was actually not able to be deciphered). Any semblance of control that we had as staff, was quickly vanishing before our eyes. So when I saw an uptight looking woman with an official looking name badge walking towards us with a scowl on her face, I knew she wasn’t going to be offering us her assistance. I wanted to stop her before she got to us and let her know that we were going to beat her to the punch and would work on getting everyone out in a way that was as quick and as peaceful as possible. But she made it to us and before I could say a word she said, “I’m very sorry, but we have had several owners and guests complain that you are upsetting the cats. We are going to have to ask you to leave - we will refund your money at the door. I am so sorry.” I wanted to tell her that she had no idea that she was about to be a LOT sorrier, but actions speak louder than words. When Sandy heard, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” all you-know-what broke loose. She actually screamed and smacked the woman on the back of the calf. Why she bent down and chose to smack her there, I’m still not sure, but it was hard enough to make a sound loud enough to be heard over the shrieking cats and Casper. She wailed and cried that she didn’t want to leave.
I’m not sure what cats do when they are embarrassed or afraid so I’ll use a dog reference and tell you that we tucked our tails between our legs and tried as best as we could to get all eight out of them out of there before they gave any of the emotionally weak animals heart attacks or physically assaulted any more cat fanciers. We tried everything from stern voices to bribes of soda and candy. By the time we got everyone back to the van safely, we were sweaty, exhausted, and frazzled. Casper kept it up for a good hour, Intermittent Explosive Man got one good whack in on the rear window with his elbow and then calmed down. Casper’s roommate continued with her verbal jabs and had even worked up some tears…”Why do I have to leave the gosh durn cat show, Rhonda!? I didn’t do no durn yellin!” And poor Sandy just sat and stewed the whole way home, looking at her cat magazines and fiddling with her tiara. When we got home, she went to her room, refused dinner or snack and didn’t come out until morning.
I tell you all of that to get to this one, very short point. The next day when Sandy’s sister called her on the phone and asked her how the cat show was, she responded and said, “It was kind of crazy at the end but the cats were B-U-tiful” and then she went on to describe all of her favorites that she saw.
I know Sandy wasn’t a child, but she had the heart of one. If every day I could look at all of the crazy things around me that are happening, acknowledge them for what they are, and then move on and focus on what is good, my life would be so much better. Today I am going to try and reset my mind and be more like Sandy.
“From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise.” Matthew 21:16
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” Philippians 4:8