Patiently, Patty held the small hand in her own, showing the wee tyke how to push the brightly lit keys on the musical toy. Over and over again she tried to help the child understand.
“Thank you for working so hard with Susie,” the young mother said, eyes brimming with grateful tears.
“Trust me, Mrs. Pearson. It is a privilege to teach your Susie,” Patty murmured.
Patty made her appearance into the world five years after her older brother. She grew up thinking Charles was the coolest person on the planet. He always had time to play with his baby sister.
Soon after her tenth birthday, Patty invited a new friend to the house. Cherry was the most popular girl in class. Patty was thrilled she had agreed to visit.
“What’s wrong with your brother?” Cherry asked with her beautiful face screwed up in distain.
“Huh?” Patty asked. “Something’s wrong with Charles?”
“Yeah, how come he looks funny, his eyes all scrunched up like that?”
Nonplussed, Patty glanced at her brother. “Oh, he has Downs,” she said nonchalantly.
Horrified, Cherry asked, “Downs? Is that some sort of freak disease? Is it catching?” Her eyebrows disappeared into her pert bangs as distress covered her face.
“No, of course not.” Patty laughed.
“Sorry, I gotta go.” Cherry took off running, never glancing back to wave good-bye.
Patty went to her room and flopped on her bed. After a few minutes, she flipped over to scowl at the ceiling. For the first time in her life, she saw Charles through other people’s eyes.
Charles had always been the most important person in Patty’s life. He could always make her laugh and feel special. But now he was threatening her middle-school social life. What if Cherry blabbed to the whole school about her brother? Horrified, Patty made some quick decisions, none of which included him.
The years passed. Patty never invited any more friends to the house. She never discussed her brother at school. She busied herself with as many school activities as she could crowd into her life.
Always, Charles was there, cheering on all her achievements along with her parents, but she scarcely noticed.
“Oh, Mom,” Patty whined. “Do I have to go to the hospital to visit Charles? I have to practice for our next play. Besides, he’s always in the hospital. He won’t notice if I miss just this once.”
A week before graduation, Charles died of heart complications. Patty felt annoyed that it would overshadow her big day.
Immediately after the funeral, her mom called her from her room.
“Patty, Charles left this stuff for you.”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. He was quite secretive about his special box, but told me he wanted you to have it when he died.” Mom extended a cardboard box covered with Charles’ awkward artwork.
Patty took the box and returned to her room. Plopping down on the bed, she held the box in her lap. What would Charles have to give her that she could possibly want?
Impatiently she flipped off the lid to reveal newspaper clippings and photos of all of her accomplishments. Stunned, she rifled through the entire contents, at first fighting tears and then giving in to genuine repentance and grief. She rocked her perfect body back and forth as she wailed.
Patty’s mother came into the room, holding out a single letter. “Charles told me to give you this after he went to Jesus.”
“Dear Patty,” her brother wrote in wiggly block letters. “I am so proud of you. You are the best and most perfect sister in the whole world. I am sorry I got sick a lot and sometimes kept you from your fun things. I know I will go to Jesus soon because the doctor says my heart gets worse every day. When I go to Jesus you won’t have to worry about me any more. This makes me very happy because I like to make my sister happy. I love you forever. Big Brother, Charles.”
“Oh, Mom,” Patty sobbed. "Would he forgive me? Could he?"
With wet eyes, Patty’s mother replied, “He didn’t have to forgive you, Patty, because he never understood the concept of NOT forgiving.
Again Patty guided Susie’s awkward attempt to push the keys, tenderly caressing her flat cheeks and smiling into her distinctly Downs eyes.
“We’ll keep trying for as long as she needs,” she assured Mrs. Pearson.
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