When I Get My Balance Back: Phil Zearbaugh’s Story
Written by Leah Chandler
He used to hit me when I’d misbehave or have a seizure, right upside the head. When I was a teenager I told him that if he hit me again, I’d hit him right back so he’d know how it feels. My brother got between us and said to dad, “You hear him? He’ll hit you right back!” My dad never hit me again.
I’m about 70 years old now. I like to work. I like to go out.
I went to school until eighth grade. I lived with my mom and dad until my dad died on August 3rd in a car accident. I don’t remember how old I was, but he died.
Then mom died, I don’t remember how old I was, but she died of a heart attack, right in front of me.
I like animals, especially horses.
I used to take care of horses at the fair. One of the groomers was mean to the horses. He didn’t take care of them the way he should. I took care of his horses for him. He should have paid me, but he didn’t.
The horses like me. When I meet them I put my hand out to touch their nose and pet all the way up the head, down the mane, over the back and down to the hooves so they get used to me touching them. So they know I won’t hurt them, and they don’t hurt me. I pet and brush them, clean out their stalls, and feed them. Sometimes I would exercise the horses, ride them. I slept on a cot in the barn sometimes, in a room by the horses, so I’d be there in the morning when they needed me.
I took care of six horses—Bob, he had one eye out, so I put a patch over his bad eye, and I liked Jay County Sue and Miss Night Tag, too. They were good horses.
I was in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and Ball State homecoming parade with the horses. I drove the horse and buggy and everyone waved to me as I rode the buggy down the street.
I lived by myself for a while, after dad and mom died, but I didn’t know how to cook. I wasn’t eating anything good. I got down to 98 pounds and was taken to the hospital to recover. My stepbrother wanted to put me into a home, but instead I went to Hillcroft. They set me up in a group home, helped me get a job, and learn how to cook and balance my checkbook so I could take care of myself.
Whitney comes every payday to help me balance my checkbook, but I like to do it myself before she gets here. Then she looks at it and tells me I did a good job. I live in a house with roommates, and when it gets too loud I go to my room and close the door. I have a bed and chair, a T.V., and all of my trains in my room. My dad, uncle, and brother all worked on the railroad. We would ride the train all the way to California when my dad was alive. I like trains.
I’ve flown in a plane to Florida. I like to go places. When I get my balance back, I’ll go to work again. I like to be out. I like to do things. I don’t much care what, but I like animals.
J.K. comes from Hillcroft to take me out some days. We go to feed the ducks at the pond. We go out to eat. I don’t have any teeth left, but I still like to eat. I like to get coffee. I want to go to the dog show this weekend, see the dogs and pet them. I like animals.
Once I feel better I’ll see if I can go groom the horses at the fair again. I have a pace maker now, and a cane. I have to go back to the heart doctor in three weeks. They said my heart was only working 30%, but I had surgery and should feel better soon.
I like to go out. I don’t much care where.
I want to meet the mayor and go to see the police station. I’ve seen kids go in there. I think they’ll let me go.
I’ve been to the Kentucky Derby. My stepbrother took me there. We watched the horses run. I went to Anderson to watch the horses run and won $1,800.
I watch Lawrence Welk every Sunday night, and the Gaithers. I like their singing. I go to church every Sunday at Gethsemane and my pastor says I know the words to all of the songs without reading them. He says I know them by heart, sing from my heart.
I’m a good dancer, to any kind of music, it doesn’t matter what kind, but a lot of my friends like Elvis. At Hillcroft they have a Thanksgiving dinner every year. They have Elvis come and sing. I go out on the dance floor, even if no one else is. The ladies like when I dance. Sometimes they dance in a circle around me. J.K. thinks this is funny.
I like to dance. I like to go out, I don’t much care where.
When I get my balance back I’ll go see the horses again.
Leah Chandler is an inspirational speaker, writer, and sometimes poet, as well as mom to four crazy kids, one codependent dog and a moderately overweight cat.