The first time I saw my sister Jamie (Jamileh) was I think in Los Angeles in 1975, when I was visiting the U.S. with my father. She was my mother's first child from her first marriage. Jamie and a few other mentally-disabled "children" were being taken care of by a family paid by the state of California.
Jamie was thrilled to see us. She was sitting on a chair, hands on her knees, laughing and smiling like a sweet little girl. She was in her early 20s.
In 1992, my mother had gone through her fourth (fifth?) divorce and was living alone in Florida. She took Jamie out of state care and brought her home. But after a couple of months it became obvious that living with Jamie was easier said than done. Even with all the numbing pills, she was a challenge. She may have had the mental capacity of an eight-year-old, but in many ways she was an adult whose needs and wishes were difficult to control. She needed professional supervision. Jamie had to go back into state care in California.
On her way to California, Jamie stayed with me for a few days in Albuquerque, where I was a student at the University of New Mexico. Every morning she would dress up, purse in hand, ready to go out. It was not easy saying no to her, and I didn't want to. She was going to be with me for a short time so I thought why not let her do what she likes? We would get into my Volkswagen beetle and drive to the mall. Oh I can still see the excitement in her face, craving a Big Mac with fries and a Coke! That twinkle in her eyes when she saw a shiny purse or dress or shoe behind a store window!
I used to equate mental illness with insanity. But Jamie was far from it. She understood. She comprehended. I could see it in her eyes and gestures; she was a smart girl. A trapped little girl.
Jamie passed away Friday after complications from a severe cold. She's free at last.
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