Sunday, April 10, 2016

Happiness is a choice

"What's wrong with that girl?? Where are her two front teeth?? Look at the retard."

I spent most of my childhood hearing some variation of all these phrases. I vividly remember the time at Fay's Drug Store sitting in the back seat of my mom's car with my sister Mary in the front seat while my mom ran in the store. I noticed the boys immediately when they started pointing and staring.

Oh my God they see us, I thought to myself.

I slid shamefully down the tan leather seat with my head down; not my finest moment.

I'd been here before. It was familiar. My older sister, Mary, has a developmental disability. I knew the ridicule of being the girl with the retarded sister well. I had developed a deep shame. Guilt by association when you're 12, I guess.

Mary had a disability my whole life but she wasn't born that way. She got sick when she was 18 months old and developed a high fever. The high fever caused her to go into a coma and the doctors said if she lived at all she would be what they called in those days, a "vegetable."

My mom would not accept this.

My sisters tell the story of that day with tremendous clarity.

It went something like this.....

.....We were terrified and waiting in the back seat of mom and dad's Buick in the hospital emergency room parking lot while they rushed Mary inside.
We were scared and time seemed to go by so slowly when eventually dad came back out. 
He said, "Your sister is in a coma and she isn't going to make it. Get on your knees and pray. Get on your knees right now and pray. Pray harder than you've ever prayed."
So there in the back of the old Buick, my sisters knelt down crying and prayed harder than they ever had. 
And Mary lived.
And now, 30 years later in the back seat of a different Buick, I slid down deeply ashamed.

Again, not my finest moment, but it was in the sinking that I finally rose.

Consumed with embarrassment and even with my face covered and my ears plugged, I still heard the boys laughing at her. It was a hot summer day and the windows were down.

 "What's wrong with her? Duh. She's ugly. Look at her," they jeered.

After awhile it stopped and I cautiously unplugged my ears. As I sat there with my heart pounding I suddenly noticed Mary's head down. I peeked out and leaned forward enough to see a tear stream down her cheek.

There's no way she understands, Darcey. No way.

I tried to convince myself of this for several torturous minutes.

"What's wrong, Mar?" I finally gathered the courage to ask.

"They no like me," she answered.

And there in the car my shame disappeared and was replaced with a deep anger for anyone who would dare utter the word "retard" in my presence from that day forward.

Today, I got the chance to visit Mary. She lived with my mom her whole life and upon my mom's death moved into a group home. I am her guardian now. Of all her siblings she is arguably doing the best of any of us. Every single day she chooses to be happy in spite of many, many changes and many, many challenges I can't even fathom.

I broke her out of the group home tonight for dinner and ice cream.

She never ceases to amaze me.

I looked at her and couldn't help be happy. The girl that so many in the world just dismiss, get's what life is really all about. 

I run miles and miles and more miles to try to capture what my sister Mary already knows and lives every single day.

Happiness is a choice.

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