Meeting Each Other's Needs

Special needs couple has a relationship based on love, admiration

Advertisement

Like many couples newly in love, Richard and Elaine Brooks can't get enough of one another.

She's constantly playfully teasing him, and he responds with "your so cute," or "you silly goo."

The newlyweds were married a month ago in Meeker, and after getting hitched at the Rio Blanco County Courthouse, moved to Craig to start their lives together.

Elaine, originally from Mississippi, speaks with a slight southern drawl. Her husband's speech pattern is rapid. The way his body jerks in the chair as he rocks back and forth when he speaks, it almost seems he can't contain himself from the excitement of sharing stories, memories and ideas.

Richard dominates the conservation, which doesn't seem to bother his soft-spoken wife. She absorbs every action and word that comes from her husband with a loving, often amused gaze.

Elaine's intrigue and love for Richard is obvious in how she is constantly soaking him up with her loving eyes.

But her husband never returns her gaze. Their eyes never meet.

Richard is blind.

But spend a short time with the couple, and one realizes that they communicate on another level. It goes beyond sight, beyond words.

FFF

"This is definitely the odd couple," Elaine says of she and her husband, lounging in the couple's living room/kitchen.

She's sips coffee, seated behind the driver's seat of the RV the couple calls home.

In the middle of the tight quarters sits a tiny space heater. The heat recently went out in the RV, and the tiny eight-inch box is the only heat source inside the couple's home.

They live in a house on wheels, a house that neither can drive.

Elaine had a stroke a little more than a year ago. A stroke she says was brought on by a car accident. She has not driven since.

Outside the window a cold, wet snow flies through the air horizontally on the coldest afternoon this month.

But all the couple needs for coziness is the little space heater, and pot after pot of hot coffee.

Elaine gets up to fill another cup, but she is holding the cup upside down. Coffee spills all over the counter.

Neither Richard nor Elaine seem concerned about the spill. She gathers up a few paper towels and dabs up the spillage. Laughing at herself she tells Richard what she did. He chuckles.

The stroke, she says, impacted both her physical and mental ability.

The former bookkeeper and truck driver says her short-term memory is not what it used to be. She says she had to learn to write all over again after the stroke, and now has difficulty walking even one city block.

She has needs, and Richard has needs. And they'll be the first to tell you that despite their disabilities, they're able to meet one another's needs.

FFF

When the couple met last year, Richard was a volunteer at a nursing home in Meeker, where Elaine was a resident in a wheelchair.

Richard said he was drawn to Elaine.

"I thought she was real interesting and I knew she didn't belong there," he said of his initial visits to the home.

He offered to rent her a room in the apartment in which he was living at the time.

The friendship continued to progress, and Richard could still recall the date the relationship escalated to the next level. It was Jan. 9.

"And then there was the kiss," he said. "It was just zing. I thought then I might want to marry this girl."

Then one morning last month Richard woke up and decided to pop the question.

That afternoon Richard and Elaine, who each had been married and divorced in the past, went to the courthouse and made it official.

"I knew I'd get married again but I didn't think I'd marry someone with some type of disability," Richard said.

But it's working, both said. And they believe that the relationship might be stronger because of their disabilities.

"We both knew going into this thing that we both had some very serious disabilities," he said. "But she took a leap and I took a leap."

According to Richard, having a disabled partner is almost more ideal.

"Someone without a disability tries to understand how the other feels but they can't," he said.

He said his wife from his previous marriage was not disabled, and said it put him at a disadvantage in being motivated to do things for himself.

"It was too easy to rely on her for too much," he said. "It got to a point where I wasn't doing anything on my own."

It is hard to believe that Richard would allow that to happen if one listened to the other stories he tells of his life.

He's lived all over the western United States, has sky dived, snow skied, water-skied and scuba dived.

He told a story of leaving a party once that was getting out of hand. He had no ride home, but found his own way, walking 18 miles.

He worked as a mechanic for years.

One time, he said, he dropped a gasket while working on an engine by himself, and had to find it. He did.

"I looked for that gasket for an hour," he said. "That's just what you have to do. You have to have absolute, complete determination."

And Richard and Elaine are determined to make their new marriage work.

Elaine does all the cooking, and Richard does all the cleaning.

A well organized home is necessary for Richard so he can find things when he needs to find them, and not accidentally run into things when he doesn't mean to.

And Elaine is learning that she has to help keep things organized.

"I have to have things organized," he said. "She's used to putting things wherever. I've knocked a few things off that were set on the edge of some furniture, but she's realizing it has to be organized."

Only two glasses have been broken so far.

Elaine said she was a live-in caretaker at one time for a blind person, so she knew what she was getting herself into.

She knows she can help Richard, but knows that there is a limit to help much she should try to help.

"I refuse to take away independence from Richard," she said. "He's been independent all of his life. Why would I be a hypocrite and try to change it?"

Because her short-term memory is not the best, Richard said he has to help remind his wife of things throughout the day.

Because it is difficult for Elaine to get around, Richard, ironically, is responsible for going places and getting things, when it is necessary to walk somewhere.

Elaine handles aspects of day to day life like filling out forms and bills.

"She can still balance a checkbook like a trooper," he said.

And her cooking?

"I've gained six pounds since we were married," Richard said. "I haven't gained that much weight in 20 years."

FFF

Richard is a storyteller. Like many baby boomers, he likes to tell stories of the peaceful demonstrations he was involved in during his youth in the sixties.

He was even tear gassed by the authorities on a few occasions.

"I think you got some brain damage from the gas," Elaine cracks. One of the many subtle jabs made between the couple during the conversation.

He also likes to tell stories making light of his disability, and situations he has found himself in because he can't see.

One time he was working on a car engine at night and his former wife, who he had been married to for some time, tried to shine a flashlight under the hood to help him.

"I kept telling her 'shine it a little bit over here, a little bit over there' before she finally figured it out," he said laughing.

One time he walked home from work, entered the front door and began undressing.

He then heard a voice he didn't recognize, and half undressed, figured out it was the woman who lived next door to him. He was in the wrong house.

"I wondered why she let me get as far as I did," he said with a smile.

In telling his stories, Richard repeatedly said he's "seen" this and that.

When asked why uses those words, despite actually having seen nothing, he became serious for the only time that afternoon.

His speech and movements became more rapid.

"Why change your terminology?" he said. "Last time I said I felt a girl she hit me."

He then went into the frustrations of being a blind person, and the struggle of trying to be looked upon as the same as everyone else

"You need to learn to be thick skinned," he said. "You need to learn to let things go by you. A disabled person needs to live in the real world. If you don't, you're a mental vegetable."

The best and only way to learn, he said, is to make mistakes.

Even if there's the potential for injury in trying. He used the analogy of learning to cut with a knife.

"A cut heals, but fear doesn't," he said. "I've seen a lot of people who have disabilities who think they can't do things and they're a basket case."

The same goes for riding a horse, or any other activity, he said.

"That's pretty much it," he said. "If you fall off a horse, get back on. You will heal."

He doesn't even want the ability to see.

"When asked if I would want to see if I could, I say 'absolutely not,'" he said. "This is a kick. I look at a disability as a challenge."

But there is one aspect of life the former mechanic would like to be able to do -- drive a car.

"That's the one thing I would want to be able to see for," he said. "It would be great to drive because of the freedom it gives you. I would have a Harley and a small plane."

Although he can't legally drive, Richard did admit to having test driven vehicles in the middle of the desert that he had worked on with his partner.

"Driving is easy," he joked. "Steering's the problem."

FFF

In the midst of a freezing April snowstorm, the two newlyweds joked about how great it would be to sit outside and enjoy margaritas in place of their hot coffee.

They both love the outdoors whether it be fishing or yard work.

At least Elaine loves yard work.

"I love grass and flowers," she said. "I even love cutting grass."

"Oh God, you have a problem girl," Richard said.

But they do have a common interest in fishing.

"We're dying to go out to the river and do some fishing because she thinks she can out fish me," he said.

Like any couple, Richard and Elaine have dreams for the future.

Richard wants to open campgrounds throughout the United States that are accessible to the disabled, but not only for the disabled.

"Too many of these places are designed for people with disabilities, but don't incorporate regular people with them," he said. "I want a site where everyone is integrated. That's how it is in the real world."

He also hopes to do computer work for the Independent Life Center in Craig.

He already works with computer technology systems for people with disabilities. He does so, because of the benefits improved technology has provided him in his life.

"Computer technology has done more to help people with disabilities than anything else in the last 100 years," he said.

What computers allow disabled people to do not only benefits the disabled community, he said, but the community as a whole.

"You're going to have a whole workforce available that hasn't been because of computers," he said.

Like many people, Richard finds out what goes on in the world daily using the Internet through audio technology hooked up to his home computer.

Richard has inspired his wife to learn more about computers, and she is considering taking computer classes.

"I'm doing this for me," Elaine said. "My mind says 'do this.'"

FFF

In the midst of the conversation, Richard started feeling around the seat for something. "Where'd I put the phone," he asked, interrupting the conversation.

He feels around for it, and Elaine doesn't know where it is.

"These are the little things we go through," he said.

He finally finds it, then runs his hand along the wall until he finds the phone jack.

And so it goes for Richard and Elaine, common everyday practices to many aren't so common in the cramped RV. But they make it work.

"Having a disability doesn't mean you can't accomplish a task," he said. "It means you have to find other ways."

Richard described he and Elaine as having an "intuitive" understanding of one another.

But even with that understanding, they sometimes have to be patient.

"We take a little extra time to understand one another rather than assume," he said.

One has to be persistent, yet humble at the same time of what he or she is able to do.

"With any disability you have to give up some control and rely on someone else," he said.

Sometimes that understanding means explaining things to others.

One time the couple had friends over for dinner when they were living in Meeker.

Richard was talking about a plan he had for the future, and the friend responded with, "But Richard, you can't see."

"I told him (Richard) can see things that you can't," Elaine said.

Richard again used an analogy of not being afraid of the consequences of trying something new.

"If you make a mess it's no big deal," he said. "Neither is falling down. When you fall you need to get back up and dust yourself off."

Which is why he wasn't afraid to marry someone else with a disability.

"She's given me a reason to be alive," he said. "I wanted someone to do things for and to help. And she's been able to help me in the ways that I need help."

A husband that can't see has broadened Elaine's vision of the world.

"We have a lot of fun," she said. "His experiences have opened my eyes and my way of thinking. Our life is very interesting."

Richard got up to go to the bathroom at the conclusion of one of his stories, and his wife smiled as he felt his way along the walls into the bathroom of the tiny RV.

Her eyes were still glowing.

"This man's amazing," she said. "I admire him so much."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.