Anyone who knows me knows I am no stranger to mental illness. My family tree, although far from dead, has been known to bear if not strange, then at least curious fruit. Schizophrenia, developmental delays, depression, autism have all hung heavy on my ancestral bough, ripening in the leafy recesses among the less extraordinary offerings that comprise the bulk of the harvest. We never hid our peculiar family members. We weren’t refined enough to feel the well-bred shame of difference inherent in many WASP homes. Difference is as fundamental to my family as success is to the Kennedy’s, which is why it was surprising I was so shaken when the two people with Down’s Syndrome walked into the bar.
“We want a drink,” she said.
I panicked. How old?! How old!? Do people with Down’s have driver’s licenses?
“What are you thinking about?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, turning to her companion. “Do you know?”
He screwed his face up like a cartoon of someone trying to think. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Do you two like chocolate?” I asked
They both nodded emphatically.
“How about Mudslides?”
“Yeah, Mudslides!” he shouted. She smiled broadly, as did he, thrilled with their success.
The blender whirled and I could feel the crowd shifting, trying to figure out how to be.
“So where are you two visiting from?” I asked.
“My boyfriend and I are visiting from Connecticut,” she said.
“How long have you been dating?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Do you know,” she asked her boyfriend.
“’I don’t know,” he said.
She sighed, taking his pudgy hand in hers.
“All I know is that I love you,” she said
We had all been listening, and we all melted, just a little. Why not love? Why not them? A second round of Mudslides followed the first, and soon he and she were chair dancing and fist pumping. “This is the best bar EVER!” she exclaimed, and in that moment it was. Not just for them, but for all of us. Their happiness was so infectious, so basic, not in a developmentally delayed way, but in a germane way – a way I’d imagine we all could be if we didn’t pay attention to all the reasons we are told to be unhappy.
They were my favorite customers of the year.