For reasons none of us has ever been able to understand, my sister-in-law, Missy, who has Down Syndrome, rips her clothes. She does this mostly on the inside of her pockets, and when that’s done, down along the sides of the seams of her pants. And I’m not talking about fuzzing. Fuzzing is what little kids do. When our daughters were in their bottle-drinking years they each had a blanket or a stuffed animal that they’d fuzz. Erin had a stuffed bear named, Old Baby, which she ground between her little thumb and forefinger until Old Baby wasn’t much more than a nasty rag with a crooked face. Old Baby was an extension of Erin’s body for a few years, all covered with drool, and a horrible sight, but still a beloved object. Today, it rests on a shelf above my desk, a reminder of what persistence can achieve.
Missy doesn’t fuzz as much as she tugs. You can see her hands working inside her pockets; as if she’s checking on coins or keys to make sure they’re still there. She tugs at threads until they come lose, and then she tugs at the edges of the holes. And she’s as persistent as Erin ever was.
So Marianne does a lot of sewing. We sit and watch TV as Marianne sews. Or as I drive, she stitches. She is a sewing Sisyphus. Just when she thinks she’s done, she’s not.
See how much work you’re giving your sister?” I say, but Missy just ignores me. “Why do you rip your clothes,” I ask. And she ignores me. “Missy, are you listening to me?”
“I’m going in tomorrow,” she says, and I go back to watching the game, or the road. I stew as Marianne stitches. “Please leave her alone,” Marianne says. “I don’t mind.”
Missy has a caseworker that comes to visit us once a month. We all sit at our kitchen table and discuss Missy’s goals. “Would you like to learn how to use money?” the caseworker asks. Missy, who has no need for money, looks at her caseworker, and then at Marianne, and then at me. And then she gives us this delighted grin and puts her hand over as much of her face as she can. She laughs this claxon of a laugh and leans back in her chair. Then she looks at all of us again. And then she laughs.
“She doesn’t need to learn how to use money,” Marianne says. “Can we work on the clothes-ripping thing?”
“I can set up a meeting with a psychologist,” the caseworker says.
“You think that’s necessary?” Marianne says. “A psychologist?” She looks at Missy, who gives her a silly smile and puts her hand back over as much of her round face as possible. Missy has no idea what a psychologist is or does, but she really likes it that we’re all talking about her.
“A psychologist might be able to get to the root of the problem,” the caseworker offers.
“It’s not really a problem problem,” Marianne says.
“But we have people on staff who deal with such things,” the caseworker says.
“It won’t cost you anything. It’s all covered by Medicaid. Really. I’ll set it up.”
“You think that makes sense?” Marianne says. “I mean I don’t see this one responding to psychoanalysis.” She points her chin at Missy, who smiles back at her.
“They can work wonders,” the caseworker says, so Marianne figures what the heck, and I go along.
What the heck.
Anyway, a few days later, Missy goes to the psychologist for her one and only session. The psychologist explains to Missy that anything that she, Missy, has to say will be kept private. “I respect your privacy,” the psychologist says. “You can tell me anything. No one in your program will know what we discuss here. It’s all very private. Okay?” Missy smiles. “Now, why do you rip your clothes?”
Missy tells the psychologist that she’s going to her program tomorrow. "I'm going in!" she says.
When Missy gets home that day she acts like a new woman. She tells us that the lady says she needs privacy. “I need ma privacy!” she shouts at us as she heads toward her room. “The lady say so! Ma privacy!” She shuts the door and tears holes in her pockets. As far as Missy is concerned, the problem is solved. The problem being us, and our constant whining about the ripping.
And that brings me to the tape. Missy knows that ripping her clothes isn’t proper behavior. But then, most smokers know they shouldn’t be smoking, right? This knowledge, however, doesn’t stop them either.
Now a smoker might use breath mints to mask his or her addiction, but Missy uses tape. After she rips a hole in her pants she’ll tape it closed. When she’s made enough of a hole so that the tape can’t possibly hold it together, she’ll hide the torn pants under her bed. Marianne knows where to look, and she gets her sewing basket.
The other day, Missy told me that the TV in her room wasn’t working. “Ma TV’s white,” she said, an incredulous look on her face. “White!” And then she moved her hands back and forth, as if she was wiping chalk from a blackboard. “White!” So I went upstairs and looked at the snowy screen. I figured the cable connection might have come lose so I turned the TV around to get at its back. There was about a half roll of tape wrapped around the cable. It went from the back of the TV down the entire length of the cable and right onto the wall. This is persistence at its best, and a total belief in the healing power of tape.
I checked the cable and it was okay. Then I checked the TV remote and saw that she had accidentally switched to the VCR setting. I flipped the selector back to TV and the picture came back. “Thanks, Poppy,” she said, dismissing me as she sat to watch her shows.
Yes, tape will fix anything that’s busted, and I’d like you to follow the logic that makes this irrefutable:
1. The TV works.
2. The TV doesn’t work.
3. Use the tape.
4. Call Poppy.
5. The TV works.
6. The cure for a busted TV, therefore, is tape.
As it is for ripped clothing. Make sense? Sure it does. Hey, I know people who don’t have Down Syndrome and follow the same sort of logic every day. For instance:
1. The Little League team wins a game.
2. The Little League team loses a game.
3. The parents scream at the umpire.
4. The kids get embarrassed and play a bit harder (just to get the darn thing over with).
5. A kit scores a run and wins the game.
6. The cure for a losing team, therefore, is to scream at the umpire.
Sound familiar? How about this one?
1. The motor works.
2. The motor doesn’t work.
3. Whack it on its side with a hammer.
5. The motor works.
6. The cure for a busted motor, therefore, is to whack it on its side with a hammer.
See? We’re all like Missy in our own way. We just have different brands of tape.
Hug your kids.