By: Timothy Eaglebarger, Elizabeth Whiteman, and Caroline Braun
With the help of Marilyn Florey and Shelly Zabukovic
Timothy Eaglebarger often struggles with having his voice heard. “They sometimes tell me what’s important… I want them to ask me what I want to do.” In the writing and sharing of his life story, we hope to show that Tim’s life history and aspirations are important and worth hearing.
Timothy, or more fondly known by his friends and family as Tim or Timmy, is in most ways a typical 38-year-old man. He enjoys playing sports, especially volleyball, he loves movies, he has a variety of girl problems, and he aspires to acquire new skills. However, throughout his life, he has been treated differently than your average person. Tim has a dual diagnosis; he has both an intellectual developmental delay and an impulse control disorder.
Tim was born in Walkerton, Indiana on June 4, 1976. He lived with his mother, who also has an intellectual delay and his brother Johnny, who is close in age to Tim. When asked about his father, Tim said, “he is a child molester.” He molested Johnny but he never molested Tim. Tim never really got to know his father, who was taken to jail when he was still very young. Tim’s half-sister Katina, whom he is very close with, grew up in a different household. When he was growing up, Tim really enjoyed going to Camp Red Cedars in Fort Wayne. About Camp Red Cedars, Tim said, “We swim, do some art, and eat. Sometimes we go and pet some horses. I go for just one day.” Timothy went through special education in Walkerton and received a certificate of completion. Tim loved school. However, when asked if he was treated differently, he responded, “sometimes. Johnny had friends and they were mean to us. The other kids were mean to us. They threw us in a pond when we were little. They threw Johnny in too. This one girl was trying to warn us about the boys but we didn’t listen. She went to the gas station to get help.” After Timothy graduated from school, he was assessed by the state and they determined that he was eligible for IDD services. The only residential services offered were either institutions, nursing homes, or group homes.
At that time, if a state did not have services, it purchased services from other states. Tim was in need of a high-structured placement and Indiana did not have that available so they purchased a service from Wisconsin, which is where Tim went to live for over a year. He lived at Okaniwa Training Center. “They were mean,” Tim said, “They restrained me. This one lady was mean. She cussed at me and I cussed back at her and she kicked my stomach.” Tim did not have much else to say about his experience at Okaniwa Training Center. Marilyn, however, said, “With that experience he undoubtedly has the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.” At that time, there weren’t very many group homes. This meant that there were long waiting lists for group homes. Tim’s name was on a waiting list while he was at Okaniwa Training Center and his name finally came up. After a year at the Training Center, he was finally able to leave.
Tim moved to Cherry Tree, an eight person group home in South Bend operated by Bethphage. A lot of what happened at Cherry Tree was Tim trying to get back home to be with his mother, whom he missed terribly. Tim made lots of friends at Cherry Tree group home. Terry Harris, for example, is one of Tim’s friends from the group home. Tim and Terry still see each other because they both receive services from Logan Center. However, Tim did not get along with everyone. “Debby came at me. She bit me and I smacked her face to get her off of me. She came at me with hot water and I threw it at her. I just came out and pushed her. She started coming at my leg and I threw it at her head.” Tim was there about two years. Marilyn said, “that’s when I first met Tim. We received a referral on Tim through Adult Protective Services. We have a liaison through the prosecutor’s office. There was a state law that came about in the late 1980s and it was a system of protection and advocacy for the elderly and the disabled. My program assisted and to this day partners with the Adult Protective Services program to investigate and follow through with any kinds of reports of abuse or neglect with people with IDD so Tim was referred to us. What was happening was Tim was so unhappy at the group home and all he could think of was that he wanted to go back with his mom because he had always been promised that. Some of his behaviors really got him into trouble. Mainly it was self-harm and self-mutilation. So he was making weekly trips to the emergency room. I met with his case manager and we decided we would have him go back home because we knew that until that happened Tim would not be happy anywhere.”
Tim lived with his mother in Walkerton for about a year. In Walkerton, he walked everywhere. He would walk to video stores and the dollar tree. “One dog came after me. It chased me. Going towards me right through the middle of the street. It tried to bite me right in the middle of the street. I had to get him away from me. I scared him. With my big voice. I went ‘roar’ and then he went off running. I had enough of that dog so I had to buy me a cap gun. I had to shoot it in the air to scare him.” In Walkerton, Tim loved to go to the Barn Sale. He said, “I used to buy and sell things there. Sometimes I bought some animals and my mom got mad. I can’t remember what I sold there. When I bought a rooster, my mom got mad because we didn’t have anywhere to keep it. She wanted to kill it because it kept making noise.” When Tim lived in Walkerton, there were a lot of supports put in place. He would receive services in Walkerton that he would have in South Bend but he would get them through Plymouth. Unfortunately, in a short amount of time, Tim did not utilize them. He did not go to the day program. One day, Tim was going to the Barn Sale when a sheriff picked him up walking down the highway. He was pushing a buggy full of the things that he wanted to sell. The sheriff took him back home and then contacted Adult Protective Services and said they had a young man who is a risk to himself. “I could have gone the other way around it,” Tim said about walking on the highway. Adult Protective Services did an assessment and Tim ended up going to in-patient psychiatric at Memorial Hospital. At this time, Marilyn had lost contact with Tim. “After we placed him at home we kind of phased out,” Marilyn said. However, she was contacted when Tim was taken to Memorial. The Logan Center became Tim’s guardian and immediately tried to find another place for him to live. This took a while because of the waiting list. “Tim was probably in the hospital nine months waiting on a home. He transferred from Memorial to Riverside Hospital, a freestanding hospital for people with IDD. He made lots of friends there, including Trish Miller. He was there for a few months and the state finally said that they would pay for him to live with another roommate so he moved out with a man named Danny. Danny and Tim lived in a house. Tim said that living with Danny was a “little bit good little bit bad.” Because that did not work out very well, Tim then moved to an apartment with a girl named Mary Beth. However, they needed a third roommate to make all of the expenses work and Mary Beth chose another female but that did not work out for Tim because she screamed all the time.
Tim then moved to Middlebury, where the Amish live. He lived at a place called Golden Rod, which was supposed to be a little self-supporting community out in the country for people with disabilities. There, he had a cat named Charlie. He became friends with a police officer named Officer Smart. He also became friends with Mike Burns, Tim’s behavior therapist and closest friend. Mike and Tim used to do karate lessons together and used to go camping, go kart racing, and fishing. Out in Middlebury, Tim volunteered at LoveWays, a place that has therapeutic horseback riding. Mike got him that job. In Middlebury, he worked at a greenhouse. Middlebury was not the best place for Tim. He was not taking care of himself very well and that became a health and safety risk. He left Middlebury and moved in with Kenny, who is still his roommate today.
Marilyn, Tim’s caseworker, describes him as “the most focused person I have ever met. Because when he starts something he liked to finish.” One of Tim’s favorite things to do is to make lists. Tim is also so kind and giving and one of his favorite things to do is give people presents. Marilyn says, “He looks forward to Christmas immensely and starts making his Christmas list way before Christmas. And puts a lot of thought into what he wants to buy people he shops and wraps things up himself. He’s very thoughtful and he buys presents for a lot of people. And he remembers people’s birthdays. If it’s his friend’s birthday he wants to buy them presents.” Often, however, money is a stretch because Tim only receives ten dollars a week to spend on his own. This money is used for snacks, art supplies, presents, movies, and all personal items, such as hygiene products.
Tim is a very caring person, especially to children and animals. Marilyn says, “Tim loves to think of other people. He used to have a box where people could make donations for children in the hospital. He always felt very sad for children in the hospital. We try to think of things to donate to them.” Tim also has a strong love for animals, including dogs, cats, and horses, and has rescued many animals throughout the years. He shares one particular rescue: “Me and Mike rescued a snapping turtle. I found these boys picking on him so I had to say something. I found him on Darden Road by Dollar General. I took him home. I took him to Lone Star First. And then animal patrol.” Marilyn also shares one experience of his love for animals, “One of the caregivers, Margaret, was afraid of a cat that ran into the apartment. Tim protected her and told her it was okay. That changed their relationship. Margaret used to be the protector. She respected you because you were a cat expert.” Tim liked that he could protect her and knew things that she did not know.
One of Tim’s favorite things to do is to plan for his birthday months in advance. He has already set a day and time for this year, Thursday 5 o’clock, and a location, Chuckee-Cheese. As he drew us invitations, it was clear he is very talented at drawing. One of his favorite things to draw is what he calls heart people. Marilyn tells us, “Tim put together a whole book of drawings for children to explain different emotions.” Other than drawing, Tim also loves to do math and write. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday he attends a day program operated by Bench Mark. At his day program, Tim participates in 15 clubs, and his favorites are reading and writing. He used to write articles for their monthly newsletter about stories in his life, such as stories about his grandmother. He expressed frustration with his day program and says, “I don’t want to go back to the Day Program because Paige always gets on me. She’s the boss there at the program. She always tells me to go to your clubs, do your chores, and she’s going to put down that I refused.” He enjoys certain aspects of his program but does not like to be told what to do. One of his favorite parts of Day Program is seeing his potential girlfriends and one of his dearest friends, Mike McClean.
On the days that Tim does not go to Day Program, he spends much of his time watching movies in his room. He has hundreds and hundreds of movies that line his walls and even has two televisions so he can watch both VCRs and DVDs. His favorite movies include “Red Skeleton” and the Harry Potter series. Tim’s room is scattered with movie posters, from “American Pie” to “Pokémon” to “Ponyo”. Tim also is a huge sports fan and has in the past attended a Notre Dame football game and a Silverhawks baseball game. He is very involved in the Special Olympics and especially looks forward to volleyball every year.
Tim lives in an apartment complex called the Arbors at Ironwood with two roommates, James and Kenny, and at least two 24-hour staff. Tim enjoys his time with James because he is very easy going and easy to live with. He does not like living with Kenny very much because he does not respect Tim’s privacy and steals Tim’s things. Their apartment complex has a clubhouse that sometimes has events for the residents that live there. This is a good way for Tim to escape the constant watch of the staff members, which sometimes becomes an intrusion on his life.
Like an average young man, Tim struggles with relationships and girlfriends. Currently, he is torn between two young women, Kim and Carolyn. Both of them cannot make their minds up about Tim. He likes taking girls on dates, and his favorite date includes going to dinner and then watching a movie. He likes to shower his girlfriends with presents and most recently gave Carolyn a necklace and earrings for Valentine’s Day. However, Tim realizes that he is still searching for the right girl.
Tim also maintains strong relationships with his family. Marilyn says, “Mom is very involved in Tim’s life and Tim listens to her. She gets mad when she hears things sometimes.” Tim always listens to his mother and she has helped guide him out of certain relationships, such as one with an ex-girlfriend who took advantage of him. Tim says, “She’s a good mom because she keeps me safe. She teaches me to behave, be nice to people, clean your room, get a nice girlfriend that will treat you good.” Tim wishes he could see his mother more but it is often a struggle because she does not drive, and she still lives in Walkerton. However, they do celebrate special occasions together, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. Marilyn says, “A couple years ago they stayed in a motel together for Mother’s Day and had breakfast it was a treat. She had never stayed in a motel before.” Tim also has maintained a close relationship with his sister, Katina. She lives in an Oaklawn supported living home in South Bend and “watches over Tim”. Tim visits her often and calls her on the phone to keep her updated on his life.
Tim is also still close to his brother, Johnny, as he was when he was young. His brother lives with his mother in Walkerton and has two little girls. Tim has met one of his nieces, Alexis, but not the other. Tim tells us that Johnny’s girlfriend “won’t let my niece see Johnny. But, he’s going to go to the judge and get custody for the two girls.” It bothers Tim that Johnny cannot see his little girls and he wishes he could see them grow up. Tim loves his nieces, especially Alexis, and enjoys buying them Christmas presents. He looks forward to his family reunion that happens every summer with hundreds of extended relatives.
When asked if he has ever been treated differently or called names, Tim at first replied “no” and then later changed his answer to “sometimes”. The first thing he thought of was his roommate Kenny calling him names. However, then he began to tell us about how he was mistreated as a child and how sometimes people take advantage of him. People do not listen to or respect Tim as much as he would like them to and he tries to show people that he has his own ideas. When describing his struggle of wanting his family to take him in, he says, “that’s the way God made me. I can’t help myself. None of my family takes me for how I am. This is the way I am. God made me.” Although Tim is defined as disabled, he proves that he is enabled in every way. He embraces who he is as a person and hopes to share that with others.
In one of his meetings, Tim expressed to the group many things he would like to accomplish for the future. With the help of his new case manager Tara, Tim finally made his list heard. He shared that he wants to learn many things such as how to play the piano and how to speak Spanish. He also wants to learn sign language. He wants to start taking karate again and tour the Pepsi factory. However, he also has life goals that he wishes to accomplish someday. Tim wishes to live in the country with a lot of animals. He also hopes to get a job, hopefully at McDonald’s, the Pepsi Factory, or Wal-Mart. Tim also tells us “I want a girlfriend. I want to get married and have a family.” Ultimately, Tim wants what most people want out of life, a family and a place to live that makes him happy.
Tim’s story does not stop here. As Tim continues on through life, he will share his experiences with anyone who is there to listen. As long as someone is willing to listen, a meaningful, important story can be found in all people.
A special thanks to Timothy Eaglebarger for letting us listen to his life story and for the beautiful, original drawings, and Marilyn Florey and Shelly Zabukovic for additional information and facilitating the interview process.