Thursday, June 26, 2008

The tent

I have this memory. I don’t know when it happened, although I know that our family was still living on the other side of Michigan, the Detroit side, so I had to be younger than seven. It’s a fuzzy memory, more like a feeling. When I think about it everything is kind of yellow and I can feel the hot sun on my face.

My parents and my brother and sister and I were at an outdoor party, a barbecue, I think. I had been running all over, gorging myself on watermelon. My palms felt sticky, I was sweating, there were tons of people around. I wore my bathing suit under a pair of shorts. Every once in a while I would pass by a parent or a family friend and they would yell at me to slow down.

It was a fun day. There were lots of people and food. Us kids were free to do what we pleased. There was a swimming hole and laughter.

Some people must have been planning to spend the night. Tents were up. It was a party for the duration.

Half way through the day a woman caught my diminutive eye. She sat at a picnic table. There was something about her that was different than everyone else at the picnic and I got scared. I remember my breath catching and a little tidal wave of fear beginning to brim in my stomach. I looked away from her, afraid to look… wanting to look again.

I found an empty tent. Swimming was no longer appealing. I didn’t want anything to eat. The inside of the tent was cool, everything was a luminous blue as the sun pushed through the tent’s navy walls. I hid inside. I was afraid to see the woman again.

Eventually my mom and dad found me. They tried to get me to talk. I was silent. There was something terribly wrong and I was sure I was the only person who noticed it. I refused to leave the tent.

As a parent I can imagine how my folks felt. They offered me soda and chips. They tried to get me to come out of the tent and rejoin the party. After a while, we left, no one in the family really knew why, except for me.

I was petrified. I didn’t know that I simply had something new to learn and that it was OK to talk about it and ask questions.

Looking back, I can’t pin point what special needs that sweet woman had. Of course, my mind’s eye now sees her with Down syndrome.

After Polly was born and we learned of her diagnosis, I received a lot of emails and phone calls. Sometimes I was told I was blessed with Polly because of my ability to handle the situation. “I can’t think of two people who could do better,” some have said to my husband and me.

Really, I think I had Polly in order to finally ask questions, to talk about it, to learn.

To come out of the tent.

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