One day, in 1989, in the first weeks of my time at Hilltop House in the Tacoma L’Arche community, it was my turn to hang at the house in the afternoon while the other assistants were on their 2 hour `time away`, and other core members were at work.
It was just Bill and I and my only job was to make sure Bill took a nap, or he’d be cranky at dinner time. He loved to get the mail, which would be delivered to the box on the side of the house, as this was a signal that time was passing and nap time would come after. Bill loved to measure time by the expected events that happened.
He and I were sitting on the sofa by the big picture window, he was watching for the mail man and I was reading. He was talking to himself, or maybe to me, I coulkdn’t be sure because I couldn’t understand him. With no teeth and a small mouth his speech was almost impossible to understand, I had been trying so hard, other assistants would translate and I actually thought they were making up shit to be funny and attributing more complex language and thought to him than was real. As we sat together he carried on a one sided conversation, and I at times would nod and say `hmm mm`, so he would think I was understanding him. When he looked at me and spoke to me I asked him to repeat but still I didn’t understand, I felt embarrassed and frustrated and didn’t want him to know so I continued to make non committal sounds of agreement. I was afraid that I would appear stupid if I kept asking him to repeat himself. I felt pleased with myself, I felt I had successfully pulled off a sort of sleight of hand with him, and he was none the wiser to my ineptitude. I congratulated myself for being smart enough to cover my embarrassment and to make him think I was interacting with him. I looked up to realize that in my musings I had missed quite a bit of Bills talking to me, he was looking at me, a question in his eyes but my blank look must have caused him to look quickly away, disappointed. In the minutes of silence that ensued my mind once again took off, yet my ears picked up a quiet mumbled phrase… did I hear correctly? “ Dum dum” I knew it was directed at me because Bills twinkling eyes slid over to me and he looked away again innocently. “ Did you just call me `dum dum` ?” I asked him, I could feel an upwelling of mirth in me… Bills response was to cackle loudly and I joined in with him. We laughed and laughed and he called me dum dum again, only to start us laughing some more.
That was the first time I really connected with the essence that was Bill. I had been pretending to connect, I believed I was connecting, I fooled myself into thinking I was connecting but until he called me dum dum, I had no idea that he saw right through me. Over the months and years my friendship with Bill grew into a mutual one of love and affection, I saw reflected in him my beautiful soul that yearned to be free. And that it didn’t matter to him how clever I thought I was, he connected with me through humor, and saw through me to my vulnerable heart and that was the beginning of me seeing myself as someone more than task-oriented, get things done to be successful. I saw myself as someone who was valuable even when she didn’t have the answers and couldn’t get it right, I was valuable just for myself and my heart broke open with love for Bill and with love for the person he saw in me.