Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
This is the first of three parts of a story I wrote last year, a true story based on my daughter's graduation - told in a fictional setting. Finding joy is sometimes a question of balancing today's news with our own experience - I was truly humbled by this young man's kindness to my daughter. Humbled by his actions, and humbled by the fact that for whatever reason, his actions were unexpected -
“There’s always a story”, the voice cut through the velvet-quiet of the Home, “behind the story.” Her hand was cool, skin papery with a map of blue veins and those old-people discolorations, resting on the arm of the chair. Her chair. Upholstered in thick pink satin and embroidery – just a little worn at the piped edges. Like her - buttoned into a Zsa Zsa bed jacket, hair all poufed and perfect in a fine-line-powdered-face way – just a little touch of lipstick coloring outside the precisely drawn mouth. I watched her mouth as she spoke.
“She was just a little girl – cute in that special way of hers – and thrilled to be in that cap and gown. Her eyes danced between us all – flitting from person to person like a hummingbird. And her smile just lit up the place. She swished when she walked, making the gown and tassel swing. Looked like she was playing dress-ups – even though she had just celebrated her 21st birthday. Oh, but that was our CeCe. She had a way of showing us the joy in the smallest things – and it was contagious, that joy.” The old woman, my Great-Aunt, shifted in her chair, smiling – and reached to point to a photo in the album on her lap – focus all gone fuzzy, like looking through vaseline.
“Can you see her? In the blur? That’s my CeCe – the little one, right next to the big one. His name was Daniel – going to one of the big Texas Universities on a football scholarship – six-two at least, and around 240….” Her mouth stiffened slightly, “Silly camera could handle lights or distance, but it just couldn’t do both.” Pause. “Sure wish I’d taken pictures of all the moments between the two kids. She was over a foot shorter, probably at least three years older, and you can just imagine the social distance - between my Down Syndrome girl and the football star….. “ She raised her eyes from the book, seeking mine. “That’s the story…. ”
Sniffing a little, shaking her head, she continued. “It began on rehearsal day. I had to take CeCe up to the high school to practice the lining up and walking in and all that pomp and circumstance. Oh, but my girl had a funny way of saying things – kind of Yoda-speak, always putting the verb before the subject, and mixing up her pronouns and tenses. She just couldn’t get her mind wrapped around time – everything was last year….”
This pause lasted a long time – like listening to a thousand-mile stare. Then abruptly she tapped her finger back on that out-of-focus picture, “….last year,” she smiled slowly and continued. “Every once in awhile, my girl would come out with a completely understandable sentence – perfect syntax and surprising clarity.”
“Mom, I am nervous. She said in her deepish voice – the ‘r’ not quite pronounced sounding more like nauvous.”
“I could usually put a positive spin on stuff like that, Nervous? You’re just excited, sweetie. I told her. Shoot. I was nervous. I had no idea how CeCe would do with this graduation thing – but better that she try….”
“Anyway, we made our way into the auditorium where the kids were gathering. I kept looking around for CeCe’s teachers, or for one of the aides from her classroom – but I didn’t see anyone. The high-schoolers were moving toward the front of the room and finding seats – so I told her to go on up. “
“I watched from my seat in the back. When she’s nervous, she walks with one arm wrapped around her back. I remember thinking she was so brave-she just forged ahead with that arm reaching up behind… She was unsure, but wanted so badly to do and be with the other kids.”
“And then she was in the bleeder-seats with me. Her face was twisted up in that stop-my-lip-from-quivering thing that comes before tears. “
“Mom, stay with me,” she said, and she reached out to take my hand. Her hand was shaking. She doesn’t know what to do, where are her teachers, she’s scared to death, don’t they know she can’t do this alone, why am I making her go through this, she’s so anxious. Thoughts were tangled up in my head – empathy, blame, pride. I told her to stay with me until things got started. As she sat down, I held up my right hand to her left – thumb, forefinger, and pinky up – she bent her fingers into the same position and we I love you’d – kind of our secret ‘It’s ok’.”