It’s 6:30 a.m. on a school day. My brother, Dan, peeks his cheery face in my room. He’s already upstairs and ready. I should be long awake.
That’s one of the things that makes me love Dan and our relationship so much. Through good and bad times, some of which are sad and ongoing, while others are just having to wake up in the morning, Dan and I stick together.
Dan has Down Syndrome which makes which makes everything harder for him, mentally and physically. Despite this, Dan is almost always in a good mood, overcoming his adversity. He’s the only person able to cheer me up after a hard day. From letting me choose dinner to simply making one of his many funny faces, he knows what to do. Dan’s just one of those special people in the world that softens the mood.
Dan “The Man” is the person who says hi to everyone in the halls. Dan is the star of my snapchat stories. And he is one of my best friends.
For as long as I can remember, Dan has said to “be happy, be friends.” Whether it was in an attempt to win a fight, or just get his way, it worked, even before I knew that Dan was so different from me.
Growing up I didn’t think twice about why I was helping my big brother with his math homework instead of the other way around. As I got older I wondered about the reasons more often, but I didn’t really care that much. I knew that he was different, and even though I didn’t know why or how, it didn’t affect me.
My mom told me in second grade that he was different. She told me that he has something called trisomy 21. This meant that Elli, my other sister with Down Syndrome, and Dan have one extra chromosome in their twenty first pair.
I didn’t comprehend it, but I remembered. That the chances of someone having two children with Downs was extremely small. That they are going to be slower. That I needed to be patient with them. That even though it may be hard, they’re a blessing. And that although it may seem like a burden at times, I would learn more about life from them.
I learned the most from Dan starting on Oct. 24 2010. That’s the day our childhood home burned to the ground while we were all visiting my brother, Jack, at college in St. Louis. Dan was there for one of the hardest times I have ever had to face.
For two weeks my family and I stayed at a neighbor’s’ house, living out of suitcases, finding ourselves looking for things we may have owned a couple days ago, but by then they were still warm ashes. My closet went from having a range of clothes to choose from, to having a weekend’s worth. The pictures, though, were the worst. Even finding a picture of just Dan and me together for this page was a struggle. Every picture not shared with prior to the fire, or taken by other people, were gone, never to be seen again.
Dan would ask if our dog, Buster, had come home yet every morning. I would lightly say that she probably wasn’t for weeks. Daily Dan would ask when we could go home, or where most of our things were. Sometimes my mom would have to remind him what happened, and honestly all of us. It was shocking and sudden. Sometimes though, I would have to remind him.
Being 10 years old and having to be reminded of a tragedy daily by Dan was hard, but again, Dan was there.
He was sad and confused and hurting of course. We both were. But he had, and always has, a brave, and more importantly, happy face, eager for a smile back. That just reminds me how lucky I am to have him by my side. As long as Dan was there, nothing could be so bad.
For more than just me, Dan is the person to brighten their day. His thumbs-ups and high-fives make happiness contagious, both at school, and when he gets home.
“It must be so much fun to get to live with Dan!” Yeah, I get that a lot. It is fun. We have a lot of fun teaming up against the rest of the family to get what we want, having sleepovers on our screened in porch, or jamming to Taylor Swift together before school.
Through some of these slumber parties or jam seshes, Dan never ceases to teach me how to be happy.
We do things for each other, both ultimately wanting to make each other happy in the end.
He let’s me steal his t-shirts. I download all of his music for his daily “band time.” He cheers me on at every swim meet throughout the year. I carry his “pack pack” home just so he doesn’t have to.
There are so many quirky things that make Dan his own unique person. Although annoying at times, these things enhance our friendship.
Dan’s punctual. Never late for class, practice, or God forbid, a meal. Dan’s always ready for a spontaneous “chicken butt” joke. (See him for demonstration.) He uses his Homecoming King title to score shotgun. Though the simple “I love you!”s afterwards always take me back to that feeling of how lucky I am to be so close to such an exceptional human.
There’s a lot I don’t know about life or the future. But I do know Dan will always be able to bring a smile to my face. I know that I am a better person because of Dan. I know that as long as Dan is here, nothing can be so bad.