It’s been five months since my post. Five months. Long enough in real time. Light years in CJ time. We are a million light years from graduation, and nobody gave me a map from there to here. CJ graduated from high school in May. Seven years of high school and at the age of 21, CJ graduated. I have never been so terrified in my life. He walked out on the commencement stage to the call of “Christopher Williams.” Who? You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody knew who that was. Then the crowd saw CJ step out on the stage, and it was pandemonium. They clapped. They cheered. They jumped to their feet. “CJ! CJ! CJ!” He walked across the platform as a celebrity. He hugged everybody and everybody hugged him. He reveled in it.
And then we came home. I could feel the void looming. The emptiness of the days coming.
We shoved it back for bit while CJ went off to summer “college” at the ARC Jacksonville LIFE program. For 8 wonderful weeks, we all pretended that life was going on as usual. CJ loved his time there, growing, living in student apartments, and living the college life without classes.
And then it was over. Life as we’d known it for 22 years was over. And there was nothing waiting, no people, no activities, no bus, no purpose, no place in the world for CJ, except to sit in front of the TV and stare the next sixty years in the face.
School started again in August, and CJ didn’t go. Instead, he and I stayed at home with our new normal. Me being me, I like a good schedule. Sitting at home isn’t an option. So, CJ found himself out and about with his mom doing the shopping , going to the gym, and lunch with mom’s friends. Worst of all has been going to work with Mom. None of these things should ever happen to a 22 year old, but this was turning out to be CJ’s life.
Our options are limited. He can’t stay alone. He can’t live alone. He could go to a day program where he’d sit for hours doing arts and crafts. He could sit home and watch TV all day.
Not good enough. Not for me. Not for him. His world had shrunk to a shadow of what it was before. And the only one who could put it back together again was me.
He needed to get a job, I decided. How, I had no idea, but he needs a busy world full of typical people. Anything less is a waste.
Challenge #1: Money. Not too little. Too much. If CJ makes more than $85 per month, his SSI benefits are reduced fifty cents on the dollar. Yes. I need to find a job that makes almost no money. Because, if he has more than $2000 in his bank account, he loses his benefits entirely. Good luck, me!
Challenge #2: Working with a job agency. I discovered the Vocational Rehabilitation government program which helps people with disabilities prepare for job searches and find jobs. We were passed off to an independent contractor, who only gets paid if CJ finds a job. Great. So, CJ now has to learn how to present himself for a job interview.
He takes it very seriously. He has a “uniform” that consists of black pants and socks, black shoes and a green polo shirt. It doesn’t matter if the job interview is at 2 pm, CJ is up at 6 AM, dressed and ready to go. It all makes me want to cry.
He tries so hard, going to training sessions, watching videos on how to act and answer questions. I know it must seem so strange and bewildering to him, but he never stops trying to make the grade. Meanwhile, I make phone calls, send emails, go to meeting and arrange more interviews.
Could he stock shelves at the food pantry? Take in donations? Do laundry at the hospital? Volunteer at the high school? Anything. I’d take anything to keep him out of arts and crafts for the next forty years.
Weeks went by. Months.
And then I got the call….