One Sunday in the back corner of our fourth grade religion classroom sat a Chinese girl with a choppy boy hair cut, dressed in a striped turtleneck and baggy gray sweat pants. An old man with a scruffy gray beard sat with her, a smile painted on his face that has not quite reached his eyes. He held her hand while she shook her body back and forth, back and forth, head-bobbing, eyes-rolling. She babbled like a baby. We were not introduced to her, and we didn't ask. We all just stared.
She came back every Sunday, with the same man, and sat in the back of our classroom head-bobbing, body-rocking. The teacher did not call on her. The children did not talk to her. I never learned her name. I never asked her name. I just stared. I feel bad about this, the kind of guilt that will not be forgotten, the kind of guilt that makes me want to be better.
There were more like her in our middle school. A group of babbling, head-bobbing, body-rocking girls and boys. I never learned their names. I stared until I made eye-contact and then looked down at my scruffed pink Adidas. Who were these people and why were they different?
I saw grown-up people like her in our acting center. Why did they never get better? I wanted them to stop. To stop rocking, to stop shaking. To stop being so different.
My sister had to do community service for her Girl Scout troop, and our neighbors mom heard about this organization called Buddy Sports where kids help other kids with disabilities play sports. She drove the gang, Amanda and Lia, me and Erin to the town next to ours to embark on a journey that will change each of our lives. We walked into the gym on a Sunday morning at 9:45. Three years had passed since I saw this Chinese girl in the back of the classroom, head-bobbing, body-rocking. There I was in this gymnasium of people like her.
I attached myself to Erin, and prayed that I did not have a big kid. The big kids were as tall as my dad, shooting in children's basketball hoops. They were eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one-year olds acting like five-year olds- crying, babbling, holding toys and holding hands. I wanted them to stop. To stop being so different. The little kids faces were deformed, smushed in and uneven. They fell as they walked, the lucky ones assisted with a helper holding their hands to steady them. I wanted to go home.
I was paired with a boy the same age as me named Michael. He wanted to hold my hand. I did not let him. I talked as little as I could, recieving the ball and passing it back to him. I went home after an hour and a half, confused that these people I deemed so different from me, were not all that different. They were people like me.
I went back next Sunday with Amanda and Erin and Lia. Erin and I worked together with this boy named John with thick glasses and pointy teeth. He seemed like your average seven-year-old boy, until he had an attack. He screamed and cried and the big men came in to hold him down. He pinched me. There was a bruise the size of a walnut on my arm.
I went back next Sunday. Erin and I worked with John again. His mom apologized. I did not accept this "I'm sorry". He needed to say it, not her. I just stared at her. Why did she let her son hurt other people? John participated in the group basketball game. He smiled and I smiled because he smiled. His pointy teeth protruded out of his tiny mouth that broke the skin on the girl with the ponytail's leg. Can we move past that?
I went back next Sunday. John giggled when he saw me and started calling me silly. We laughed together for the first time. He made a basket and I was proud. This was the first time I felt happy for someone other than myself. This was the first time I cared about anyone other than myself.
I went back next Sunday. I saw John and I was happy. I did not want to go home anymore.
John and I are friends. He goes to South Middle school and sports an L.L bean backpack bigger than himself. We write letters. He is doing well.
Every Sunday was dedicated to Buddy Sports. This organization is a part of who I am and who I will become. As I get older, the big kids will become my friends. As I get older, I will see that most people think the big kids are scary. As I get older, I will see that these men who run Buddy Sports will not treat the big kids the same as the little kids. Everyone deserves the same treatment. No exceptions. I start Bring it on Bingo for the big kids, for the grown ups, for the adults with special needs. For all of those people who cannot stand up for themselves, I will work to stand up for them. Buddy Sports was the start of everything I believe in. Buddy Sports was the start of everyone I believe in.
Bring it on Bingo is the event Kirsty and I brainstormed in 2012. We wanted to create something that will change the world. We wanted to provide a free event for all special needs people to participate in regardless of their disability. We wanted fair treatment for all. We sent flyers to all the special needs organizations we know. We reached out to the local pizza, ice cream, bagel and sandwich shops. Most people donated. Most people wanted to help. We raised over 1,000 dollars, and threw a successful event where every person who came won a prize. Bring it on Bingo will happen every year forever. Bring it on Bingo is changing lives.
I met Allison Green at Bring it on Bingo. She waltzed into Bingo, head-bobbing, body-rocking. These familiar movements comforted me. Her dad asked if I would be a personal assistant for Allison. I went to Allison's house and we sat and talked and ate and read and danced and sang and somewhere in between it all I was no longer Allison's caregiver, but her friend. Allison's dad called me to tell me that she was moving into a group home when I was miles away from where she lived. I sulked. I wanted to be there for her. I got over it and visited her in her new home. It is a good place. She is happy.
I took up another shift with a ten-year-old girl named Lauren with Angelman's syndrome, an intellectual disability characterized by a lack of speech, seizures, walking and balance disorders and laughter. Most Angelman's kids are constantly smiling. Lauren is one of them. I walked into the Miller house on a gloomy Wednesday and asked Lauren how she was three times before her mom told me Lauren does not talk. Lauren and I would sit together and read books and watch T.V and play in the pool. I realized I loved Lauren, when I knew that I would do anything for her. I wanted her to be happy.
I worked at Camp Venture for three years and had thirty different campers with thirty different stories. These people have helped me write my story.
I worked as a personal care attendant last summer. Jenny showed me every day that she wanted to be better. I learned that I wanted to be a little better everyday. I wanted that whisper in the back of her head chanting "not good enough" to go away and never come back.
Peter, standing over six feet tall, would hide behind me, barely five foot three, when we went to play basketball. He was scared of what the other boys would think of him. I told him to be himself and everyone would love him. Everyone did. Some of the other caregivers sat on the bench and texted and talked and sunbathed. I think my job is the most important job in the world. My job is to support another person, whether they are feeling insecure about meeting new friends or on top of the world about making the winning basket. The texting, the talking and the sunbathing can wait. I want to make a difference. I cheer and cheer and cheer. I won't stop even after I have gone home. I will never stop caring. These people are a part of my story.
There will be countless helpers and aids and assistants and volunteers that will come and go into these people's lives. My goal is to always stay connected and write letters and call and be there for these people, these people who I once thought were so very different. These people like me. These people like us.