Kristi - My Sister This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   Swimming is one of the few activities that my younger sisterand I can do together because Kristi was born mentallyretarded with autistic characteristics. On a Saturday inOctober, 1994 I went to the local college sports center withKristi and her respite-care provider for a swim. I rememberthat day as if it were yesterday, though I'd rather forget it.

Kristi was anxious to get into thewater so we changed quickly and walked to the shallow end.Slowly my sister stepped down the ladder to the water while Iwaited impatiently on the side. Kristi had just celebrated hereleventh birthday but she splashed like a five-year-old.Almost immediately the two lifeguards moved to the shallow endand started laughing, imitating my sister's childish behavior,acting as if they too were only five. But it didn't end there.Their actions were clumsily intertwined with hurtful commentsand profane language that aren't even worth repeating. Eventhough my babysitter and I were within earshot, the commentsdid not cease. Their words spun me into a daze of emotion. Myheart felt like I had just been stabbed and the knife had beenturned maliciously. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungsbut couldn't. Instead, I just stood there.

My sisterdid not understand what the words meant, but I did. I stoodmotionless, knowing I had to do something but not knowingexactly what. Luckily the babysitter was there; she told us toget out of the pool and change; I coaxed my sister quietly,practically dragging her to the locker room.

When Itold my parents what had happened, they were infuriated. Tothink that two young adults would behave this way wasincomprehensible. My family brainstormed ideas and wroteletters to everyone who could help.

We quicklydiscovered that doing the right thing is not always that easy.Many people replied that they did not have time to deal withsuch an incident, while others did not reply at all. But, myfamily would not give up. They felt the need to educate peopleabout mental retardation and try to prevent this fromhappening to others. After weeks of waiting, a letter camefrom the president of the college. She was concerned andthought it would be a good idea if I were interviewed by thedean and a panel of others. Her letter brought mixed emotions.Part of me was ecstatic that she had taken time to respond,but the other half shut down. I have never been very good atspeaking in front of groups and I certainly did not want totalk to a "panel" of strangers. But I decided I had to do it.After all, the situation was not about me, it was about mysister and her well-being. Her rights had been violated and Ihad to do everything I could to prevent that from happeningagain.

When I went for the interview, I had a knot inmy stomach, a lump in my throat and my head felt like my bloodcirculation had been cut off. The interview was not theinformal and friendly one I had hoped for. But when it wasover, steps to solve our problem were put into action. All thestudents who worked in the center were required to go througha sensitivity training course. The two lifeguards'schedule were changed so they did not work on Saturdays. Myfamily was pleased with the outcome. We were not seekingvengeance on the insensitive lifeguards but trying to createawareness. I was only 12 years old but could comprehend whathad occurred that day.

I guess a blunt lesson indiscrimination is inevitable at some point in one's life; Ijust didn't expect to have mine so young. I had never viewedmyself as different or my family as unique; I figured allpeople have challenges and my sister's handicap was ours. Ihave never wished my life was different or my sister wasanother person.

Although my sister is now 15 years oldand cannot multiply eight by seven, she enjoys life more thananyone I know. She relishes every aspect of life, whether abig dish of Oreo ice cream on hot summer days or playing cardgames with her school friends. She will never learn to driveor attend college but to her these things are not important;being near friends and family and making lasagna are. Manypeople view her as inferior and her life as sad, but I believeshe is happy. When I look at my sister, I see a wonderfuladdition to the world. The question is, why don't others?



This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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