We crips are always on the lookout for a good personal care attendant (PCA), aren't we? One who isn't slovenly or snarly, who doesn't complain, who will come to work when he's supposed to. One who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't stick needles in his arm.
One like Raul, whom I found six months ago.
I think you'd like Raul. Neat and pleasant, he's as good a PCA as you could ask for. When we get to the store, he has my wheelchair ready in seconds. He's very strong.
If I'm too tired to go, he takes the car and my grocery list, and when he comes back he puts everything away, washes the dishes, and sweeps out the kitchen. Then he vacuums the house, puts my clothes in the dryer, irons them, folds them, and places them in the dresser. When one of my orthopedic corsets needed fixing the other day, he sewed it up for me.
He'll make me my favorite sandwich for lunch, and if I want to go out to a Japanese restaurant for supper, he'll get me inside the restaurant and park me at the table. Then he'll talk to me cheerfully during dinner—even though he doesn't much care for gyosa or sashimi.
When it's time to go to bed, he helps me get my clothes off, handling me very carefully, almost tenderly. His one diversion, when there's nothing else to do, is watching TV. He always asks politely if it's OK. And he always keeps the sound down.
He's a dynamite worker.
And he robs me blind.
It first happens after he's been here a month, while I'm taking a shower. He helps me take off my pants and hangs them on a hook, just out of my line of sight. He lifts me onto the shower chair and pulls the curtain. The water is running, so I can't see my pants, or him. Anyway, when I'm taking a shower, I'm not thinking about my pants, or him, or the wallet in my pants.
Later, we go to Target to buy some shirts for me—and one for him, too, because he's poor and his clothes are a bit shabby. At the cash register, I notice that I don't have as many $20 bills as I thought I had.
I don't habitually count my money, but it seems that over the next couple of weeks, I'm always a bit more broke than usual.
Once, when I send Raul to the supermarket, he comes back with a package of chicken, some vegetables, bread, milk, and cheese. The bill is almost $50. “Did you get a receipt?” I ask. “No,” Raul says.
The issue finally comes out in the open because of Jennifer, the woman who lives next door. We share the house, and her kitchen is connected to mine. One day, while Jennifer is at work, I send Raul over to her place to look for some books I lent her. When Jennifer comes home, she bangs on the door, steaming, and says to me, “Ask Raul if he stole my $35.”
“I had $35 on my desk,” she says. “Now it's gone. Ask him if he did it.” Since no one else goes in and out of her place except her dog and me, Raul is the obvious suspect.
“Now?” I ask.
Raul speaks only Spanish, which means she can't cross-examine him directly. I ask him, “Robaste $35 de la habitación de Jennifer?”
I look at that thin pale handsome face of his, the small mustache, the ruddy cheeks (even ruddier right now), and he says no.
Jennifer now locks the door between her part of the house and mine. She doesn't visit anymore.
I don't fire Raul. How in hell can I fire the best worker I've ever had? Instead, I start acting as if I am under siege. I never let my wallet out of my sight. When Raul goes to the grocery or hardware store for me, or puts gas in the car, I always ask him to bring me a receipt with the correct change.
When I fly to Florida to visit my family, I hide the checkbooks just in case he's a check forger, too.
When I come back from my trip, I go through the checks, one by one, thinking, “I hate being a policeman.” But none of the checks is missing, not even from the middle of the checkbook. That's where my last PCA stole them from.
Then Jennifer tells me that Raul was using my car while I was in Florida.
“Well,” I say to myself, “at least he didn't sell it for parts or run into a tree, or rob a bank, or run home to Mexico with it.” But now—finally—Raul and I will have to talk.
“Look, Raul,” I say, “I really like having you around. You're a great worker. You're willing, and you do what I ask, and you never complain.
“But I think there are two Rauls working here. One is clean and neat and a nice worker. This Raul I like. Then there is another who takes things from me and from Jennifer without asking. That one I don't care for.”
He smiles his winning, shy smile, shrugs his shoulders, and looks at me innocently. He says nothing. My hands are shaking. I drop the subject.
Until I get a call from the long-distance telephone service. They're terribly sorry, the operator says, but they have to cut off my calling privileges because of the excessive number of long-distance calls to Mexico.
I say nothing to Raul because in a few days the telephone bill will be here. For the first time, I will have proof—written proof—that he is a thief. Proof that I really don't want.
Meanwhile, I've just sent him to the store in my $20,000 van to get us some steaks for supper. He and I will cook them, to celebrate his sixth month of working for me. We'll eat together, and we'll talk. I'll have some wine. He doesn't drink, so he'll have a Fresca.
He'll tell me about his family in Mexico City—his poor family, with scarcely enough food in the house, not enough clothes for his eight brothers and sisters.
And maybe I'll tell him about the time when I was a kid when I, too, was two people. When I used to steal from my family, driving them crazy with my thievery. I was good at it—as good as Raul.
But, you ask, what am I going to do about him? Easy. When the telephone bill comes, I'll show it to him, tell him I'm taking the money out of his salary. We'll spread the payments out so it won't be too much of a hardship for him. And I'll tell him he shouldn't do it again.
Because in Raul I've got a jewel. A jewel with just a few flaws. And I am not going to lose him unless he steals my computer, totals my car, burns down the house, or sells me into white slavery.
Meanwhile, I'll try to explain to Raul that it's better not to risk his security, and our future relationship, for his instant gratification. I'm going to try to teach him that self-pity—and I am convinced that thievery is a rank form of self-pity—is not the answer to his problems.
I'm going to send Raul to school, the University of Lorenzo, where I'll try to give him classes in humanity, try to convince him to treasure Raul the Worker, instead of Raul the Robber.
And isn't a good PCA worth his weight in gold?
From New Mobility (March 1999). Subscriptions: $27.95/yr. (6 issues) from Box 15518, North Hollywood, CA 91615-5518.