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The Long Road to Independence

At 58, Roger finally has his own bedroom.

It is bright and orderly, though crammed with toys, stuffed animals and police gadgets. The bed has a bright patchwork comforter, and Roger's name is in bold red letters on the sheets and pillowcase. On the walls hang posters, photos and a sign: "Beware of Pickpockets and Loose Women."

After 13 years, he left Elvans Road in September and moved into a large two-bedroom apartment in the Cloisters, a brick complex in Northeast Washington near Catholic University, within wheeling distance of stores and Metro.

Roger Butt celebrates Christmas Eve with Linda Tarlow, her husband, Alvin Rosenbaum, and his son, Sam, in Roger's new apartment. The marble game on the table was one of Roger's presents. (Photos Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

Medicaid pays for most services. Until the paperwork was recently sorted out, the city picked up the cost of the apartment, about $1,500 a month, and paid for 24-hour care. Roger soon will have a roommate for that other bedroom, someone on his intellectual level who doesn't need a wheelchair.

His transition went relatively smoothly. There was a scare in November when he was briefly hospitalized for a bladder hernia. Linda rushed to his bedside, spoke with nurses about his special feeding needs and taped up signs to help the staff communicate with him.

"I understand everything you say," read one. "Remind me to blink."

Linda bought a TV and entertainment center for Roger's living room. Her husband, Alvin Rosenbaum, and his teenage son, Sam, helped Roger settle in. His main care attendants, Angel Lewis and Will Conte, still tend to him, taking him to movies or other activities he loves.

A few weeks after moving, Roger threw a housewarming party. He invited Darnell, his best friend, and others he knew at Forest Haven. For the umpteenth time, he tricked a guest into opening his fake can of potato chips, the one the toy snake springs out of. He laughed with his friends. Linda beamed.

Ask Roger if he loves Linda and his head bobs up and down, yes. Because she takes him to fun places and buys him things? Yes.

Is she like family? Yes, he nods, turning to look at her. Like a mother? No. Like a sister? Yes, he answers, grinning.

At Christmas, the first in his new apartment, Linda brought over her own tree and decorations. One of her presents to him was a gumball bank; he wants to sell the gum to staff and visitors.

Linda helped him pick out gifts for his care staff but wasn't around when he used his $70-a-month government allowance to buy her a silver bracelet and a CD of Beatles classics.

Recently, Roger went to the parade in Chinatown and hosted his first Chinese New Year party, with pink paper lanterns. Several D.C. officials attended, including Brown, director of the mental retardation agency. She gave Roger a ring she had made him and an idea for his next vacation -- a train trip.

Linda, now 49, recently became director of human resources for the D.C. Public Defender Service. Ever Roger's champion, she is helping him with his latest quest: He wants a part-time job as a security guard, one of those men in uniform he admires.

"Despite everything he's been through," she said, "he is eager to learn and embrace life. He's a true testament to the human spirit."

Maybe, Linda reasoned, a communication device could be programmed to say, "Please show me your identification badge." Maybe he could assist a guard. Maybe he could do this as a volunteer.

Maybe, after all these years, Roger is ready for a new challenge.

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