Michael

“Lauren, come watch with me! Come on! Let’s go!”. Michael was already
tugging on my arm and pulling me toward the living room. It was Christmas Eve.
Garlands and twinkle lights were plastered against every wall and railing throughout the
house and Bing Crosby’s, “White Christmas”, could just barely be heard over the loud
hustle and bustle that is my family. Mike’s voice, loudest of all, came blasting into my
ear for the second time in the course of three minutes. “Lauren! Are you coming now?
It’s starting!”
We had been close since birth—born less than two weeks apart and living nearly
ten minutes away from one another. As toddlers, we bathed and took naps together and as
three year olds, we caroused with matchbox cars, Barbies, and Legos. It was not until I
was about five that I realized Michael was different. We would sit down to watch a
movie and he would constantly stop, rewind, and replay the same scene over and over
until he knew every line.

He would line up all of the cars, toys, books—almost
everything—across the deep blue carpet of his family living room, and I just wanted to
play. Aside from reciting movie quotes, he did not talk much. He still wore diapers, still
needed help bathing, and stayed in preschool while I moved on to kindergarten. As we
got older, the dissimilarities between us became even more apparent. He would not play
hide and seek, would not play soccer, and became a loner, only interested in reciting the
order of the United States Presidents and lines from Disney movies. It astounded me that
he could rattle off every word of every Dr. Seuss book, and yet even at fifteen years old,
needed his hand held to cross the street. Autism, the scientific term for Michael’s
disorder, did not mean much to me at the time. In my pubescent eyes, it simply seemed as
though, for some unfathomable reason, I got to keep on growing up and he was going to
stay four years old for the rest of his life.
I saw the unfairness in this harsh truth at a very young age and as a result was
much more tolerant than most other children. I befriended the outcast in every group or
activity and deemed it my responsibility to make everyone feel included. I can recall
many instances in elementary school where I was denied the privilege of recess-time for
getting into fist-fights with bullies who had been picking on my friend Oscar, who like
my cousin Michael, was autistic. As I went on through the years, I found that bullies, like
those I had encountered in grade school, were afraid of Michael and Oscar simply
because they did not understand. If only they had tried to accept someone different than
themselves, they could have learned something…something life-changing…something
powerful.
Michael has taught me many things, life long lessons that I will forever cherish. I
began to ponder those lessons I had learned as I sat there with him last Christmas Eve,
rewinding and fast forwarding our favorite scenes over and over, laughing as we recited
lines and repeated the “Hot Chocolate” dance, knowing it meant the world to him. I
understood him, how to connect with him, and that is how we have managed to stay close
all of these years, despite a multitude of differences. Michael has taught me not to judge;
he has taught me to be a sensitive person; he has given me a drive to learn how to help
and understand others, and he has taught me to appreciate the little things in life, all
without even saying a word. I have learned that Michael’s autism is by no means a curse,
but rather an inspiration to others, opening not only the eyes, but the hearts of each
person he encounters as he recites his way through life. The writing of this essay
symbolizes a harsh reality: I am moving on to a new and exciting future and sadly,
Michael may never be able to experience the things that lay ahead of me. Yet, despite the
inevitable expansion of the space between us, one thing that will never change is our
annual Christmas tradition and all of the learning and laughter that it brings to our
friendship.

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