Finding Rachel

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As a child, I was quite the passionate Disney fan; I owned over fifty VHS tapes, knew the words to every Disney song imaginable, and even had Disney birthday parties. However, despite the intensity of my devotion to the movies, it paled in comparison to my little sister’s.

Most of my childhood memories of Rachel consist of us either watching Disney movies, reciting the dialogue word for word, or us imagining ourselves as our favorite characters partaking in new, daring adventures. As I grew older, however, I began to think of myself as much too sophisticated for these “childish” plot lines and predictable happily-ever-after endings. The so-called “Disney magic” had lost its appeal to me, but the magic never ended for my little sister. Although I always knew that I could count on Rachel to embarrass me the way a normal little sister would, I noticed that my sister acted much more peculiarly than my friend’s little sisters and that she was anything but “normal”.
At a young age, Rachel was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of High-Functioning Autism where individuals have normal intelligence and language development, but marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. Many with Asperger’s Syndrome are very talented or knowledgeable in a certain field or subject, like math or science. My sister, however, is a Disney expert. She knows bizarre facts about the most obscure and strangest of movies. She’s fifteen years old and is still in love with Peter Pan. She knows every song, character, and storyline from countless Disney movies, and if she doesn’t, she’ll conduct “research” (on Wikipedia and Youtube, mind you) to make sure she does not stay ignorant of this new movie for long.


It was difficult for me, especially in middle school, to comprehend why Rachel could not simply act like everyone else. I didn’t understand why her cheeks flushed red with excitement whenever Peter Pan was mentioned, or why she couldn’t at least pretend to be normal around my friends. I hated attempting to account for my sister’s eccentric behavior, and then ultimately making up an excuse. This built-up frustration about disguising her behavior eventually made me ashamed of her. I wouldn’t talk to her, except for when I would occasionally yell at her for not acting the way I thought a “normal” little sister should. Because I couldn’t, or refused to, understand her behavior, I was not able to connect with her.


As I grew out of my narrow-minded middle school mentality, I slowly realized just how unfair I was being to her: I was essentially blaming her for being herself. Although I had resolved to somehow make amends with Rachel, I was unsure of how to do so. I began replacing my harsh, sometimes scathing comments with kind, encouraging ones. While my sister slightly began to trust me, we were still quite far from a loving sister relationship.


One fateful day however, she came home from school crying about a classmate who had been teasing her relentlessly. Rachel did what she always does when she needs to escape: she immersed herself in a Disney movie. In an attempt to comfort her, I sat down and, for the first time since we were young children, watched the movie with her. As the movie played, I slowly came to a realization that both surprised and shocked me: I was enjoying the movie as much as Rachel was. I laughed at every clever- though moderately tacky- joke, waited in anxious anticipation when it seemed all hope was lost, and even felt a wave of relief flow through my body when the good guys indeed won. Everyone lived happily ever after. Though an admittedly predictable ending, I couldn’t help but feel totally entranced by the movie from beginning to foreseeable end. When I later thought of how genuinely absorbed I had become while watching the movie, I immediately understood what this meant: I had finally found a sincere means to connect with my sister.


I’m finally able to see the “magic” of Disney movies that Rachel has been able to see all along. Not only do they provide my sister with an escape from reality, but they also give me the one, genuine connection I have with her. Now, though I am a senior in high school, I still love Disney movies. It may sound a bit silly. But then again, as my sister taught me, so am I.





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