When Patty Taylor was born in 1956, doctors diagnosed her with Down syndrome -- a condition caused by the presence of extra genetic material -- and said she likely would not live more than 30 days. She had numerous health problems, including a misshapen head and a hole in her heart the size of a silver dollar. Somehow, she survived, but progress came slowly; she did not walk until she was 4 years old.
Patty's family, except for her older brother, Ken, moved from Washington to California, where the services and programs better met her needs. The family moved into a house on Modesto's Jasmin Avenue when Patty was 13 years old. Outside of school and periodic events, Patty spent her time in either her bedroom or her play room. For the most part, she came out only to eat.
Her parents were protective and strict. While Patty was in her early 20s, they had her undergo surgery to ensure she never could get pregnant, either by abuse or through consensual sex. Love was out of the question.
As sheltered as her life was those first 45 years, it offered far more freedom than the alternative: the state-funded care homes where many people with Down syndrome end up living.
Care homes are rigid places. The good ones are homes of special magic, fostering personal growth and community purpose. However, people who work with the developmentally disabled say those facilities are outnumbered by places where the main function is sustaining life. They are businesses, often housing 20 or more residents overseen primarily by unskilled people making little more than minimum wage. Waking, eating, learning, playing and sleeping become timed exercises. Individuality is rendered useless and nearly impossible.
It's a setting William Beaber called home his entire adult life. He was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1970 and diagnosed with a moderate mental handicap.
After his family moved to California, he lived in and out of foster homes. When he was 11 years old, his mother abandoned him for good. William fell into the arms of the state.
He is a jovial teddy bear of a man, intensely curious about the world. An infectious smile rarely leaves his face. He effortlessly lapses into laughter. Yet not far below the surface lives an intense fear that those around him someday will leave him.
William and Patty met about seven years ago while they worked in a now-defunct delicatessen at the Modesto Airport. Their friendship evolved into something more, but they had no opportunity to satisfy their simmering sexualities.
Because her father didn't allow her to date, Patty saw William whenever she could: A friendly conversation at the Special Olympics. Holding hands at a holiday dance. A secret kiss at a bus stop.
Patty knew from the beginning that William was the man for her, but their love was forbidden.
And, at the time, the woman who would ride to their rescue was traipsing around Canada hounding child molesters.