The Sexual Power of Joy

“I used to marvel at the fact that getting Becky in or out of the work area involved almost the whole crew, with the male clients practically tripping over each other trying to win her attention and her gratitude.”

In the lunchroom, Becky spent most of her time chatting with clients and staff, but sometimes she’d spend a few minutes by herself, copying verses from the Bible. Or she’d plug the earphone into her transistor radio and listen to her favorite Christian station, letting out an occasional “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Praise the Lord!” She was an effusive Christian, upbeat and outgoing, and would have fit right in at a revival meeting or a church social.

Becky was in her mid-twenties. Her parents divorced when she was four, and she had lived with her mother ever since. She was extremely thin, and when standing in one place, she swayed like a blade of grass in the breeze. She needed a walker or a crutch to get around. The walker gave her greater stability, but Becky preferred using the crutch, seeing that as a step toward greater independence. Yet with it she would totter and stagger and bang into tables. She’d swing the crutch wildly, either straight up in the air or way out to the side, in a great roundhouse arc. Then, just when her forward momentum seemed about to bring her down, the crutch would find the floor, stopping her fall and saving her, at least until the next step.

Her physical disability brought out the chivalry in the male clients. I used to marvel at the fact that getting her in or out of the Spanish/Florentine room involved almost the whole crew, with guys practically tripping over each other trying to win her attention and her gratitude. Ken would move any chairs that were in her path; Duane would carry tools and supplies to her work station; Leroy and Henry would vie for the honor of tying or untying her apron; Leon would ask, “How was your class, Becky?” or would remind her, “Time to go to class, Becky”; and Neal and Stan would mumble, “Hi, Becky” or “Bye, Becky.” Only Charles, with his aversion to any interactions with other clients, wanted nothing to do with this operation. Becky always smiled and said thank you to anyone who did her a favor.

Becky’s job was to apply antique paint to the decorative trim on the Spanish and Florentine glasses. This was a dry paint that you rubbed on with your finger. Becky worked steadily, but her finished glasses always had a few spots that needed more paint. When I pointed these out to her, she’d laugh and shake her head and say in her high voice, “Oh Glenn, you caught me again! How in the world did I miss those?”

Becky had an exuberant expressiveness about her, but she was also a good listener. Her intellectual disability was mild, and in class her hand was frequently in the air. If, in the Spanish/Florentine room, I cracked some small joke, she was one of the clients who responded with quiet laughter. In conversation, she always made eye contact with the person she was talking to. As she listened and replied, she’d shake her head, nod, giggle, shrug her shoulders, look thoughtful or puzzled or sympathetic—whatever was appropriate. Her responsiveness made the men clients, especially, feel noticed.

Part of Candy’s appeal was that she aroused concern; part of Becky’s appeal was that she exuded concern. William, a client whose intellectual disability was classified as borderline, was a glum and solitary man who wanted a regular job, away from the Center. He was so detached from the other clients that his case manager once asked him if there were any clients he liked. He thought for a moment, then said in his deep, serious voice, “Yeah, I think Becky Rawlins is all right.”

At lunch William might talk to Becky about his work frustrations, or Ed might tell her about his burgeoning problems at home. Other days, on a much lighter note, Becky and Roger might do a crossword puzzle together. She especially liked sitting beside Ben—among our clients, the only married man. Becky and Ben would exchange lingering looks, or she’d rest her hand on his knee while he spoke quietly about his troubles. Sometimes they’d both laugh at something he said, and Becky would squeal, “Oh, Ben!” You could see his spirits momentarily lifted. Becky won men over with laughter the way Candy won them over with tears.

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