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My name is Kara. I am different. To everyone who knows me, I am worse than a leper. Everyone, that is, except my little brother, Danny, who’d still hug me goodbye every morning before school. Who’s too young to know why Dad can’t look at me, why Mom freezes whenever I am around. Too young to understand hate.
The crickets don’t judge me either. They don’t care what anyone else thinks of me, they’ll sing for whoever wants to hear. Once it warms up outside, I’d prop my window open at night and would stay up late just listening to them. Sometimes Danny crawled into my bed and stayed up with me, his head cocked to the side, his eyes closed in utter peace. I called him Jiminy because he loved crickets even more than I do. He once told me that even though there are hundreds of them out there, they all sing together as one family, because they understand that every single tiny cricket is important. Sometimes I think that Danny, the kid who stuck crayons up his nose and wore macaroni and cheese as a hat, was the only one in this town who had gotten it right.
I love Danny more than anything else. I wish that I could have protected him from everyone, from all the pain and hate and fear in the world. I wish I could have protected him from the mean jokes about how he can’t read or count well. I wish I’d had the guts to tell the jerks who’d go cross eyed and pretend to drool out of gaping mouths whenever Danny passes them to stick it where the sun shines. But all I could do was steer him away and hope he didn’t hear.
I wish my parents would protect him, too. Protect us, their children. But, instead, they just act like everybody else. They’re just as clueless as everyone else as to how to deal with us. But unlike everyone else, they’re supposed to figure it out – they’re supposed to want to. They’re supposed to be our parents. They’re supposed to love us.
My mother grew up sheltered and rich, shielded from everything that was “wrong” with the world. She was raised to believe that a white, straight, healthy, Christian man was the superior person. But that’s no excuse to scream at your eight-year-old son when he doesn’t understand why he’s still in kindergarten because of his Down syndrome. Or to shut out your daughter because of whom she loves.
I hate being at school. Even though I love learning, I can’t focus with all my classmates snickering at me. I can’t pay attention to what the teacher is saying when half the class is glaring at me from behind desks and folders. I can’t participate when the teachers won’t even acknowledge my raised hand. I eat lunch hidden and by myself, and try to stay out of the hallways as much as possible. Gym is humiliating – the girls in the locker room signed a petition so that I have to change in the bathroom. And about five times a day I feel an angry hand shove my back or head or shoulder against a locker.
This month, prom month, I wish more than ever that Danny was still alive. He died last year of a heart condition that came as a side effect of his Down syndrome. Every day I visit his tiny headstone in the cemetery. In early spring I bring him snowdrops and four-leafed clovers, two plants he once told me reminded him of us – snowdrops for my beauty, inside and out, and four-leafed clovers for the lucky boy she loved. Loves, I remind myself. Even though he’s gone, I still love him, and I still see his smile when I close my eyes.
Every day I wish that he hadn’t been born with Down syndrome, so that he wouldn’t have had a bad heart that killed him. Sometimes, though, I wonder if, had he been “normal”, he would still have loved me unconditionally. The way my parents were supposed to. But, either way, one of us would have died, since it was only because of him that I’d made it this far. And now I’m determined to hold on to this pitiful world because of the beauty he used to see in it.
Today, the day before prom, some jock jerk smashed me into my locker. I made out his grin as he walked away from between the fuzzy stars blurring my vision. “Hey,” he’d yelled over his shoulder, “Lesbo! Make sure you wipe your gay off that locker! It’s a crime to vandalize school property, you know!” He laughed with his rowdy group of lettermen jackets, high fiving them as they sauntered off toward the parking lot. A small parade of plastics sneered at me, keeping to the far side of the hallway as they passed. A gaggle of computer geeks had peered at me, seeming unsure of what to do. I felt like a lab rat. No one offered to help pick up my books, or to tell me I was bleeding. They were all just watching – afraid of me, or maybe just “my gay”, as that jock had so eloquently put it. But all I cared about was that it was finally the end of the day, and I could bike to the cemetery to visit Danny. I’d pedaled fast, wanting to get away from everyone who hated me as fast as I could.
The cemetery is at least forty minutes away from the school, so I was tired and sweaty when I’d finally reached the tiny headstone marking my brother’s grave.
“Sorry, Danny; couldn’t find any clovers today,” I whispered, sitting down next to the empty vase. I’d felt tears stinging my eyelids, and had tried to blink them back, but I missed his smile and the warmth of his hug so much… It’s been exactly one year since he died. I’ve lived one whole year without him.
I’ve never felt more alone
It’s been a few hours now, and the sun has started to set. As if on cue, the crickets start up. They sing and sing, mourning the anniversary of the loss of their most precious listener. As I listen, it seems like every cricket is singing its loudest and best, and the tuneless melody washes over me and pulls at my heart. I lie down over the grave and close my eyes, letting the song fill me.
“Do you hear them Danny?” I whisper to the darkening sky, “Do you hear them singing for you?” I open my eyes. The sky’s turned a pretty pink-blue-purple color. Danny always loved the dusk sky. A sharp lump forms in my throat. “They miss you too, Jiminy.”