The Other William

For the From Left to Write Book Club we read the memoir Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic by Martha Beck. Being pregnant while in graduate school at Harvard was stressful enough, but when Martha learned her unborn child had Down syndrome she battled almost everyone (including herself) over her decision to continue her pregnancy. This post was inspired by the book. 

 In college my sister Christina worked for an organization that helped socialize people with disabilities. They paid very little and I believe she would have done it as a volunteer, but it was the perfect position for her for the few years she was in Iowa City. She worked with a number of clients, but her favorite was a young man with Down syndrome by the name of William.

William lived in a little apartment in downtown Iowa City. He had a job at a bank. He was functional and contributing to society. Christina helped him cook his meals, clean his apartment, and meet other various responsibilities a few times a week. I remember her first telling me about William and more than anything I was shocked that he was living on his own. I remember thinking that his parents must have worked hard to make sure he had every opportunity and overcome their fears to allow him such independence.

Early on in their relationship, as she was headed to his apartment, Christina noticed William walking a block ahead of her. She quickened her step, called his name, and waved for him to wait, so they could walk the rest of the way together. In response William looked over his shoulder at her and started to move faster, which only made Christina run faster and call him louder, which made William move faster... until they were both running. (Can you imagine what people walking by were thinking to see this girl chasing down a boy with Down syndrome in the middle of a busy downtown area?)

William got to his apartment building and beat Christina up the stairs, closing the door behind him. When she knocked, he answered the door and greeted her. She asked if he had seen her on the street and why he ran from her. "Because you're supposed to meet me here," he said.

William loved Christina and understood her role in his life. But, William was IN LOVE with my youngest sister Danielle, who would often join Christina to spend time with him. Like any other young man faced with a pretty young university student, he tried to find ways to convince Christina to give him Danielle's number or allow the two of them to spend time alone, so he could woo her. He would ask Christina to help him make dinner for Danielle with the clear message that Christina was to leave once the meal was ready. He was one in a long line of guys who would be smitten with my sister.

Christina would soon graduate and move back to Chicago, thinking she wouldn't see William again. But, she did... Six years ago I was back in Iowa City with my sisters, we were walking through the main area of the downtown and there was a large group of people with Down syndrome listening to a concert in the pedestrian mall. Christina mentioned that she thought William might be there and as soon as she said it, he came running toward her. He gave her a big hug and gave Danielle an ever bigger hug. It was like they were long lost friends. He introduced us to his "friend," who was a pretty blond girl who also had Down syndrome. He was smiling. He was happy. And he was hanging out with his friends like a lot of other young men on a Saturday night in Iowa City. I'm not trying to simplify his condition and realize William may be extremely capable, but he's my point of reference when I think of someone with Down syndrome.

When I was pregnant with my William, we were pretty set on the name since it was Matt's grandfather's name. But, like most expectant moms I spent plenty of time thinking of possible names and crossing any off of my list that reminded me of someone I wouldn't want to think of every day for the rest of my life. We all do it. Mark was an ass in high school. Blake was the smelly kid in school. Ray stuck his hands down his pants. Mike had small man complex. I don't mind thinking of William every day. I hope he is doing well.

As a member of From Left to Write Book Club, I received a complimentary copy of this book.


Alicia said...

What a sweet story! I'm so glad you named you son William. This book was so amazing wasn't it? I'm anxious to check out her blog as well and see if I can find a picture of Adam.

melanie said...

we have a friend right now with down's syndrome and she makes us happy every time we see her or have her over for supper.

JennieB said...

This was a really lovely story. William is a great name, and many close to my heart share it.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! I wish I met the other William!


April said...

The story of them running down the street is just wonderful! What a beautiful way for all of us to feel like we know a great William, too.