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There's a pink gorilla sitting on a couch a few feet away from me. Now, this wasn't by choice, but because my cousin Troy has become fascinated by this neon monkey. Right now, whenever I look over at the inanimate primate, she is staring back at me, wearing her familiar little smirk that never seems to fade.

I mean, when I think about it, I've had worse dates. That's what he calls it, after all; my "date." Ever since he feasted his eyes on this little doll I'm now courting, he has thrusted it upon me at every opportunity he finds. Even though I've dropped numerous hints that I have no interest in pursuing a relationship with the pink gorilla, Troy still insists that it is my date.

Troy is in his thirties. He suffers from autism, a condition that inhibits his social interactions. He has a hard time communicating his thoughts to us, so a lot of the time he simply doesn't speak. When he does speak, it's quiet, almost pained, as if he is straining for every single word.

Troy hates the feeling that consuming alcohol gives him, but loves to drink wine coolers. Whenever he is at grandma's house, I see one in his hand. It's always the same routine. "You boozin' already Troy?" someone will jokingly ask him. "No no, this is the only one I've had today," Troy will insist, after long consideration.

His condition has manifested itself in many ways: on most occasions, he is reserved. Sometimes I'll find him sitting alone in a room, staring off into space.

Troy is very paranoid. He always thinks people are staring at him, making fun of him, or are out to get him. When he's not in public, he worries about things of minute significance. This week he is stressed out because he thinks dairy products are messing with his digestion. He won't eat chocolate, popsicles, or anything that he thinks might contain milk.

With all of this knowledge, I was always very apprehensive when I would come into contact with Troy. He was weird. He was hard to understand, difficult to talk to, and never seemed to be very happy.

But this past week, I've learned that Troy is more than just an autistic person. Troy loves to make people laugh. The pink gorilla (which he now moved onto the armrest of my chair, because he claimed that my date "wasn't close enough") is the latest of his jokes.

He has a strong affinity towards our other cousin, a young girl named Zoey. She loves his jokes, and he always tries to cheer her up when she's down. "Tell me a joke Troy!" she exclaims. "Ok. Why does the turkey like to eat?" Troy asks, laughing in anticipation of the punchline. "Because the sky is purple!"

Troy never got a chance. His parents never really saw the potential he had, but saw him as his disease. He was never asked to truly apply himself, since they thought he wouldn't be able to do it.

But I know he could. Troy is smart, even though he sometimes has a hard time showing it. He is extremely compassionate, and loves being around family. He loves to laugh, and being a comedian comes naturally to him. And it's hard to deny that fact when staring into the lifeless eyes of my date, a stuffed pink gorilla who doesn't like it when I wave to people in passing cars and loves being close to me.





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