01 July, 2012

John's people

John has never learned to read or write. His parents took him to a special school, when one was set up close enough to home to reach. And while he was okay with things like shapes and colours and describing pictures in a rudimentary way, he never learned to recognise letters and reproduce them. His brother sometimes wonders whether better schools, more knowledge of how to teach, something, would have helped, and maybe they—he included—just didn't try enough.

John has a great memory, though, often dredging up little details that his family never remembered until he brought them up. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what he is referring to, partly because of his slurred speech and limited vocabulary, but also because of the way his mind files away associations. Since he can't always find the right word, or say it clearly if he does, his brother will ask him question after question, going around the problem word, free-associating, playing with related thoughts, until, suddenly, it all falls into place. His brother will say "aha!" and John will say, "that's what I said only!"

John remembers people well. Occasionally, it may seem otherwise, when he refers to X as "Y's wife" or B as "A's father." Until you realise that he will, in another conversation, refer to Y as "X's husband" or A as "B's daughter." His brother has concluded that he remembers people by linking them with others. His brother got that from reading about how peoples without written languages remember things. His brother thinks that was significant. His brother is a little slow sometimes.

28 June, 2012

John, who will never grow up

John was born almost forty-eight years ago.

But if you ask him how old he he is, he might say sixteen. (He did that for a long time. Perhaps it's because his birthday falls on a 16th.) With his brother, though, he has one answer: I a two-year-old child.

Which, in a way, will always be part-true. Because, you see, John will never grow up. Sure, he needs to be shaved, and he has body hair, and his voice did break at about the right time, and now, though the hair on his head shows no sign of receding—defying genetics and thumbing a nose at his balding kid brother—it has acquired a few sprinkles of gray, and his pale, sun-deprived skin is showing the beginning of a few tiny wrinkles. Sure. But he will always be a child, he will always need to be taken care of.

He hasn't, and probably never will, learned diplomacy, though he can fib if he wants to. He can't articulate all he feels, can't describe physical symptoms, not to his father, who has a hearing problem, or when she was there, his mother, who understood him best of all, or even to his brother, who understands him best now. He never learned to write, or to read. He likes 'looking at pictures,' but quickly tires of it. He doesn't mind TV, but lost interest after his mother died, because she was the one who would tell him what was happening. He loves conversation, and people who talk to him at his level of understanding (too many talk around him), but will settle for noise and bustle around him.

He understands affection, though, and has never learned to hide it.