You see, as her sister, I was dragged along to all of Caley's therapy appointments. You'd think I would have hated it, but it was actually hands down one of the best and most enriching experiences of my childhood. You see, on top of being fun, it normalized disability. In the waiting room, I hung out with autistic kids, kids in wheelchairs and on crutches, and kids with countless other disabilities. I didn't think 'this is a disabled child who I'm playing with'. I just thought, great, a playmate! Disability wasn't weird. It just...was.
While we were at therapy, Caley and I became good friends with a whole host of other children who were about our age and received therapy there for various disabilities - K*, V, C (V's twin sister), and A (another autistic girl Caley's age). K and I were best friends, since we were the same age and clicked, and Caley was best friends with V, who was the very definition of ebullience and joy. Therapy was a sanctuary of acceptance, and we had more friends there than either of us did in our classes at school.
One day, when I was in fifth grade and Caley was in second, one or both of our parents** came to school and checked us out early. Any kid would love that news, and to top it off, they took us out to eat at our favorite restaurant. It was too good to be true, and we both knew something was up. At the end of our meal*** they told us they had some bad news. V had suffered a particularly bad seizure and had died.
We were shocked and upset, to say the least. It was one of the first deaths either of us had experienced, and moreover, it was of someone our age who we'd been friends with and was generally an awesome person. Even remembering this now, so many years later, my heart still fills with sadness at her loss, and Caley was hit even harder by the loss of one of her best friends.
After some time had elapsed since V's funeral, which we all attended, the therapists took me, Caley, and C out to Chuck E Cheese (an arcade). I only somewhat realized it at the time, but looking back I think it was their way of expressing support for V and C's parents and helping us kids feel better.**** Not to mention, they, too, were grieving.
C and Caley and I had a blast playing, but one moment from that day sticks out at me. We were playing Skeeball and C, as expected of a child our age, wasn't doing so well. Suddenly, tickets started POURING out of what appeared to be her machine. She was overjoyed! It made me happy to see her so happy, knowing her recent loss.
Suddenly an adult woman snatched the tickets away from C, with a possessive glare. The slots for the tickets to come out were located mere inches from each other, and understandably, C had gotten confused. I don't remember C's reaction to this (it was definitely at least disappointment), but I do remember mine. Even after the woman had reclaimed her tickets (and was still shooting C dirty looks), I couldn't help thinking to myself, why couldn't the woman just give C the tickets? It's a kid's arcade, not one for adults, the confusion was understandable, and that little thing had made C SO happy amidst what I knew to be a hard time for her. Was it really so much to ask? After all these years, those thoughts have stuck with me.
I give you all this back story to explain my reaction to something that happened present day. Today, I took the autistic child I care for and his big brother to a local arcade, very similar to Chuck E Cheese's. As I was desperately trying to watch both children in a sea of a serious recipe for sensory overload*****, which was definitely impacting the child on the spectrum, a man approached me. He had some tickets - would the child I care for want them?
Think what you like, but I feel like the universe just redeemed itself.