In the latest nightmare, I need to teach a college-level course in Geography at a moment's notice. (Isn't that every perfectionist's desperate fear, getting thrown into a situation with no preparation whatsoever?) I stand in front of the class, feeling the sweat on my palms and thinking, Soon, they are going to figure out that I have no idea what I'm doing. Quickly, I invent a feeble icebreaker, inviting the students to share their favorite place on earth. I feel sure that they will start mocking me and demanding a “real” teacher. But then, Willie makes another unexpected appearance on my dream stage, and he saves the day. He raises his hand and begins speaking eloquently about … what? I can't listen; I am too astonished. When he meets my gaze, I can barely contain my elation: Willie is in a college course, blowing everyone away! But more wonderful than his articulate speech is his kind, supportive expression. He looks at me as though he knows I need rescuing, as though he's drawing upon untapped inner reserves to help me. I hate to wake up.
In real life, here's the latest: Willie fell and skinned his knee while out on a walk with Chevy, the family dog.
“Willie, what happened on the walk today?” I ask over the phone, having been briefed by our mom.
“I fell down!” he exclaims. It's as surprising to him as it is to me; both of us have always had good balance. I used to figure skate competitively, and Willie can ski like nobody's business. I search my memory, but I can't remember a single instance of Willie falling on the slopes.
“Oh, I'm sorry to hear that! How did it happen?”
“I … I tripped!”
“Oh, I see … was it just you who fell down, or Chevy too?”
“It was … just me,” he says.
“Are you feeling okay, Will?” I ask, concerned. I'm glad our parents give him the responsibility and independence of taking Chevy out for daily walks, but when he comes home bleeding, I can't help but get a bit concerned.
“Yes! I'm oh-kaayy,” he answers. His voice starts out strong, but then he trails off into a little melancholy syllable. I know that “oh-kaayy” well; it's the sound of my brother in need of comfort. In this situation, we fit into our usual roles: Willie needs help, and I try my best to offer it. I wish I was close enough to hug him. If I could, I'd offer my shoulder, so that he could lean on me.
In real life, our mom tells me that Willie gets frustrated when his shirt rips under the arm. He has to change clothes before his bus arrives. He gets upset at the unexpected event, rolling himself up in the living room rug to de-escalate. He has a rare outburst at work, too. (Given what I know of his workday routine—hours of sitting down and shredding x-rays—I'm surprised he doesn't melt down more often.)
In real life, Willie's annual IHP meeting rolls around. In it, his team discusses ways to help him grow within his present work situation. For example, he can play “Happy Birthday” on his portable keyboard during participants' birthday parties, and he can write one letter to a distant family member per week. These are small, practical, manageable changes. My head understands the desire to maximize potential within this placement, but my heart trips and falls. I can't help but feel like it isn't enough for him. I can't help but wish that we could develop a plan for Willie to transition out of the “behavioral unit” at work, which seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever there was one.
Our parents plan to investigate another possible work placement, but they want to learn more before proposing a shift. It makes sense to be prudent, to do research before setting such a potentially major change in motion. Yet in my mind's eye I remember the Willie from my dream, the one who did more than I'd ever imagined he could. And I believe that he deserves a chance to come to life.