Thursday, September 26, 2013

Beautiful Love Part 2 - She Had Something Important To Say.

In the spring of 2013, as the school year came to a close, I became very concerned about my daughter India.  She was transitioning to high school and I found myself unprepared emotionally as “Daddy”.

Back in the 1980’s when I was in high school, some kids had cars, most had sex, we drank rot-gut booze, fought and used drugs. And we had one hell of a good time.  But there was a darker side to my high school experience that I didn't know would affect me in my later life the way it has. 

There wasn’t “political correctness” as we know it today when I was in high school. Seeing students treat handicap peers or minorities with complete disregard and cruelty wasn’t uncommon. And now my handicap and helpless daughter who was also a minority as a result of her condition, was about to be transferred to high school in very same school system.

One morning just before the summer break as we were getting India ready for school and going through the routine of feeding, dressing, medicating, and stretching, she did something out of the norm. India reached up and placed her little hand on my face. India can only use one arm, she's triplegic and so her touching me like that, so gently is really sweet can be difficult for her to do. She clearly wanted my attention.  When India knew I was listening, she moved her hand away from my cheek and gave me a nervous smile then said: “left thumb going up and down” (sign for India’s name) + “anniieeeell” (verbal for Daniel) + “koooolllll” (verbal for school). Then she lay there waiting for me to respond.  She had just asked "Are India and Daniel going to school?" 

This was a daily question that to be honest became so repetitive that I found myself frustrated at times being asked over and over every single morning. But every day I smiled and said "yes" you'll see "Daniel" with the occasional poking fun by saying "young lady, you better not be kissing him!!!" Always said with an exaggerated frown, Richard Nixon voice and demeanor. But I knew all kidding aside, India just wanted reassurance that she was going to see her "boyfriend".
So when I gave India the usual response of “yes, Daniel will be at school today”, India curtly replied “no”. Placing her hand back on my cheek. 

That's when I realized my daughter was making a serious effort to tell me something. I smiled at her and said "what can I do for you pal".

Then she did it, and I mean India really did it.  My profoundly disabled daughter was looking up at me with her beautiful eyes and said:

“Why” (verbal) + “anniieeeell” (verbal for ‘Daniel’) “by-by” (verbal for ‘going away’) + “koooolllll” (verbal for ‘school’) + “left thumb going up and down” (sign for India’s name) + “uuhhhhhh- uuhhhhhh” (verbal for ‘crying’)” + “patting her heart” (sign for love) + “anniieeeell” (verbal for ‘Daniel’)” + “no by by” (verbal for ‘don’t go’).  

I sat there with India’s head on my lap while she looked up at me, a cautious smile on her face.  She wasn't sure if I understood what she’d just told me.  Most people can’t understand India at all and seeing her frustration when her just trying to ask for something to drink can be heartbreaking. Especially when people talk back at her like a baby.

So as I looked down at India, I realized I was crying. Tears were dropping directly from my eyes and onto her face.  India didn't flinch or react when each landed on her skin; she just kept staring at me, waiting to see if her message was understood.  It was.

My daughter said: “Why is Daniel leaving school? I’m going to cry, I love Daniel, and I don’t want him to go.”

As India and I always do when we communicate, I repeated what I thought she’d just told me for conformation. This time I started by saying "Did you just say..." when the last word passed my lips, India started to nod her head up and down while her chin began to quiver. Her eyes filled with tears. I could see she was trying to hold it in but just moments after her bottom lip began to stick out, she loudly said "yes" as the dam broke and she cried harder than I'd seen in a very long time. India knew I understood, her voice had been heard. 

I stroked her hair and said "I'll take care of it, don't you worry" India slid her hand onto the back of my neck, pulled me to her, held me and said “taaank ooo Daddy” (verbal for ‘thank you Daddy’).  

About an hour later, I watched India's bright yellow school bus pull away from our house as she grinned at me out of the window. This beautiful, beautiful girl had been so afraid of losing her boyfriend and the frustration of not being able to tell or talk to anybody about it was overwhelming for her. I was feeling so happy in so many ways.  So much sorrow for her knowing how frustrating and cruel her world is being trapped in a painful broken body where can hardly communicate. I felt fear because I had no idea what was going to happen to her boyfriend, where he would be transferred to. He too was in the 8th grade and scheduled to move onto high school next semester. 

What if his parents were going to transfer him to a school too far away for India to attend; should I be prepared to move to that part of town so they could be together? And what if Daniel's parents were leaving the state. I had no idea and I'd just told my daughter that "I'll take care of it, don't you worry".

Later that morning, I drove to India’s school. As expected, India and Daniel were sitting next to each other, holding hands. But I was caught off guard when the teacher walked straight up to me and before I could say a word asked “what are your plans for India next semester”? So I told her what had happened between India and myself that morning.  When I was finished, the teacher smiled at me and looked down at the ground. Then she said “You know – I hear Daniel is going to stay here for another year. I can’t say for sure but you might want to check”. 

The relief I felt was intoxicating.  All I could say was "thank God".

So before the school day was done, I let the school administration know that India would be remaining for another year. I think it caused some heartburn in the system. To be honest, I didn't give a shit and felt like saying to the irritated "paper pusher" who was urging me to move India onto high school – “fuck off sunshine”. But I didn't, I just said "no thank you", my daughter would like to stay at this school for another year. 

That night when I tucked India into her cozy bed she asked me: “left thumb going up and down” (sign for India’s name) + “anniieeeell” (verbal for Daniel)” + “koooolllll” (verbal for school) = Are India and Daniel going to school?

I said with a grin “you bet baby girl". India smiled, curled up in a ball and squealed with delight.

"Fall is here, hear the yell 

back to school, ring the bell 
brand new shoes, walking blues 
climb the fence, book and pens 
I can tell that we are gonna be friends 
I can tell that we are gonna be friends 

Walk with me, India B.
through the park, by the tree 
we will rest upon the ground 
and look at all the bugs we've found 
safely walk to school without a sound 
safely walk to school without a sound 

Here we are, no one else 
we walked to school all by ourselves 
there's dirt on our uniforms 
from chasing all the ants and worms 
we clean up and now it's time to learn 
we clean up and now its time to learn 

numbers, letters, learn to spell 
nouns, and books, and show and tell 
playtime we will throw the ball 
back to class, through the hall 
teacher marks our height against the wall 
teacher marks our height against the wall 

and we don't notice any time pass 
we don't notice anything 
we sit side by side in every class 
teacher thinks that I sound funny 
but she likes the way you sing 

tonight I'll dream while I'm in bed 
when silly thoughts go through my head 
about the bugs and alphabet 
and when I wake tomorrow I'll bet 
that you and I will walk together again 
I can tell that we 
are going to be friends 

yes I can tell that we are gonna be friends. 

... Jack White - The White Stripes