Many of you have asked what we have been up to since being back from Europe. Well, a lot. One thing I decided to do was take some writing classes at the local community college here in Charleston. This post is an adaptation of my first assignment. Being that it's February, which celebrates the birth month of my wonderful husband, it felt fitting to post this true short-story, which is ultimately about how I am the luckiest girl that ever lived. Just wait, you'll see...
I am the sister now that I wish I'd been when we were younger. It took many, irrecoverable years for me to realize that I came up wildly short as his sister back then. Why didn't I take him to prom or bring him with me to Friday night football games? I had countless opportunities to give him moments where he could feel like any other teenager, but I rarely, if ever, took them. There isn't much that I wouldn't give to go back and be the sibling then that I am to him now.
Well... if I’m being fully honest, I wish I was the sibling then that my husband is to him now.
Jon Michael was born two years before me, a joyful baby, as I'm told by my entire family. He was a stop-you-in-your-tracks-gorgeous, doe eyed little boy; Blessed with thick, dark ringlets that kinked just enough to stay out of his maple eyes, and lashes that curled right up to his eye brows. He was a wide-open, generous heart from the beginning, and he has loved his baby sister with the intention of any able-minded person since the moment I was born.
It wasn't until he was five years old that my parents learned that he is developmentally disabled. What an unfair and heart rending notion for a parent to have to accept after all those years. Until then, he had seemed like any other kid his age. But that is where he would stay. Physically, he would always appear “normal”, but his mind would remain a child’s.
Jon Michael comes to visit my husband and me for a week several times a year. We are active guardians from the moment he wakes up to the moment his night time medications carry him to sleep. The first week he visited us in Charleston, my work demands were heavy and my husband lovingly took on the role of head care giver.
"Can we go fishing today, Bro?" Since we got married, Jon exclusively refers to Lincoln as Bro or Bro-Bro.
"Yeah buddy." Linc Replies as he finishes his Raisin Bran. "We are going to go to a great spot I found for us under the -"
"Can we go bowling too?" Jon is less than two minutes into a game of Tiger Woods on XBox.
"Bud." I chime in to rescue Lincoln. "Let's just get through breakfast and see how things go today. The weather may-"
"I know, Linds, I know." He cuts me off, agitated. "Hey Bro! I know what we can do today! We can play some ball with your friends."
"Jon, guess what!" I distract him. "We have 4 more full days after today - isn't that great? Plenty of time to do everything we want to do!"
He knows that we do, but he loves to play the numbers game out loud as a way to take, and somehow hold onto, inventory of our time together.
"Today's Friday. Then we have Saturday. Then Sunday...." He continues to Wednesday, counting each day of the week on his tremoring fingers, a side effect of one of his many medications.
After three hours of conference calls, I finally push the rest of my work off so I can join the boys, and take some of the load off of Lincoln. I head to Waterfront Park with packed lunches and purple Gatorade, Jon’s favorite.
Their shirts are off and Jon is splotchy with sunscreen. Lincoln is a gem for applying it extra thick to ward off the relentless June heat in Charleston. Jon is wearing one of Lincoln’s hats, but it’s just barely resting on top of his head. His hair is short now, and thick like carpet, still dark with no signs of gray yet. The same round eyes and Disney-princess-lashes he had when we were kids.
"Jon caught a fish!" Lincoln is brimming with a fatherly pride.
"I suck! I can't get the worms on the hooks!" Jon says. I go in for a hug, but he barely leans forward towards me. His hands are up, shoulders shrugged, and his head shaking side to side.
"What's wrong? Bro said you're doing great! He said you caught a fish! That's awesome, buddy!"
"My hands shake too much! I can't do the bait."
Lincoln leans into me and says quietly "I think it's just hot out here, love. He's getting tired."
I find a spot in the shade and unpack our lunches. Within seconds, Jon has forgotten about us as a father and his young son start to settle in for some fishing nearby. He begins to pepper them with questions. "Are there good eatin' fish in this ocean? Do you like Duke or Carolina? Where did you go to high school?"
"Hey Bro!" Lincoln calls over to him. "I'd be so happy if you came and sat next to me and put some good fuel in your body. It's hot out here and your sister brought us Gatorade!"
"I'm not hungry.”
Lincoln watched him and I could tell he was becoming frustrated. “I just wish I could make him happy” was all he said.
This back-and-forth, this up-and-down, this roller coaster... it is the majority of the day, and every day, that week.
When we were leaving the pier, I walked behind the boys, Lincoln carrying both of their poles in his right hand and his left arm around my brother's shoulders. My heart grew so big that I felt it's swelling push hot tears from the bottom of my chest into the corners of my eyes.
That night, when Lincoln and I were finally unrolling our wound up minds into bed, lights off, eyes and heads so heavy that our pillows felt like Jell-O instead of goose down, I turned to face him and put my hand on his back.
"Thank you for all you do for him. You have no idea what it means to me. What it means to him."
Lincoln could have said any number of things at that moment. He could have said that it was the right thing to do, or that Jon was family, or that anything that's important to me is important to him. He could have said nothing, and I would have been no-less filled with awe.
Instead he just sighed, in such a way that even in the dark I knew he was smiling, and said "man, I just love that guy so much.”