Barbara Roberts: Up the Capitol Steps
Blog Post 2 – Bliss gives way to chaos
Reaching out, responding to an offered love.
Reaching out to caress, and later to comfort.
Reaching out to bridge the crevasse of misunderstanding,
And discovering nothing to grasp on the other side.
Reaching, nearly stretching, even as in darkness,
For some familiar object, some familiar warmth.
Then finding nothing as a guide, no longer reaching.
Finally returning outstretched arms to encircle only her.
And she reached no more.
This is the poem Barbara Roberts wrote after the hardest and most emotionally painful moment of her life.
This week in Josh and Ethan’s Excellent #13Percent Adventure, things get less excellent. This week’s post will be as upsetting as my previous week’s post was idyllic. Let us rewind and get the whole story…
In high school, Barbara paints herself as a social butterfly. She was academically accomplished, but no bookworm, and was interested as much in socializing and extracurriculars as school work.
She dated frequently and enthusiastically, seeing boys from surrounding areas as much as those from her own school. Her father was aware of this, and would remind her of his presence with the flash of a porch light when her driveway conversations with suitors got a bit off topic. Everything was good, everything was normal, everything was healthy.
In 1953, she met Neal Sanders, a senior who had moved to Sheridan from Durango, Colorado. By the time he graduated they were going steady, and he announced he’d be joining the Air Force. Love letters occurred back and forth all year, and by the time he was out of basic training the two were engaged. They married in December of 1954.
After graduating herself, she had hopes of Neal getting assigned somewhere in Europe where they could travel and experience the world. As it turned out, they would have to settle for Texas. She moved there to settle down with him as he began his service, and they had their first child, Mike, in 1956.
In 1958 her husband was set to be discharged from the Air Force. And combined with the birth of their second son that same year, Mark, the two decided to move back to Oregon. Neal accepted a job at KOIN and began attending college while Barbara looked after their boys. Everything was perfect.
Then she began noticing certain oddities in Mike. He would have trouble paying attention, his speech was developing very slowly, and he struggled to relate to other kids.
Today, he would be diagnosed as autistic. At the time, he was designated as “extremely emotionally disturbed.”
One must be cautious looking into the past with judgement, however the circumstance of being a mother of an autistic child in the late 50s was emotionally traumatic. In the medical community, she noted that it was considered to be as much the mother’s doing as it were anything else. Imagine the feelings of a young woman, being led to believe that her child’s state was in some way due to her negligence as a mother.
Mike was pulled from school and not allowed to come back.As there were no institutions in Oregon to provide proper care and education to little Mike, Barbara was at a dead end, and didn’t know where to go.
Just days later, Barbara’s sister Pat was involved in a bad car accident, leaving she and her husband injured, and their daughter dead.
Barbara’s resolve was truly being tested.
Some good news came in that Mike had been accepted into Oregon’s Parry Center for Children, a place where he would be cared for for a time, but marital stress mounted, and soon her husband Neal announced he was moving to an apartment closer to campus. The two grew steadily apart until, right before graduation, Neal suddenly dropped out and moved in with another woman.
Mike’s return from the Parry Center a year later helped to soothe her struggle, as did his acceptance into Portland’s new Parkrose Project, a program specially designed for children like Mike. Neal came back to her, wanting to make amends, and for the next couple years it seemed as if they would.
Things were falling into place for her, professionally and personally. Things with Neal were better, the kids were thriving, she was attending college classes, all was being repaired. Even when the Federal Government announced it would be cancelling funding for the Parkrose Project, she felt not dismayed, but hopeful that she could advocate for her son and for the renewal of Parkrose’s grant money.
The cancelled funding of the Parkrose Project turned out to be a blessing in disguise. She and the other parents of children attending Parkrose formed a group, with the intention of re-securing funding for the program. After a phone call to the sympathetic ear of State Representative Frank Roberts, and a meeting with the group, she found herself the spokesperson of a lobbying effort to pass a bill that had been drafted to re-fund Parkrose. Out of the blue, she would be a lobbyist!
And at the height of her hopefulness, Neal announced that he had been cheating on her with one of her close friends, and that he wanted a divorce.
She stepped away from the marriage for the last time, with two children to care for, intermittent employment, and three weeks to advocate a bill that could change her child’s life.
She couldn’t handle the pressure, so she sat down and wrote a poem.
More next week…