James and I

close up photography of microphone
Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

We sang together at civic clubs, spring events, and church Christmas parties. I was 5, with a high voice and introversion and did this for 3 years. James was 15 with a deep voice and an extroversion to beat all. He could fill up a room, and he wanted to. I wanted to sound pretty and make people smile. So together, we did that, practicing in our choir class at school for performances outside of it, and generally hanging out at school.

Looking back, it was unique because we thought nothing of our age difference; we were simply people going to the same school. James had no problem talking to anyone, and helped me do the same when I could. In choir, he’d encourage me to sing louder and told me I was a good singer.

When I left the school at 9, I thought James would go to a different one, not fully realizing he was 19 and that there were few other schools for disabled people in our area. Teachers talked a little about some people staying at the school, but I thought that might be people who had health disabilities, which James didn’t. He had cerebral palsy, blindness and a mild intellectual disability, which to me really just wasn’t a big deal, so I thought they’d mainstream him too. I was sad when years later, we reconnected and he told me he had stayed and missed me. I would have tried to keep in better touch if I knew, knowing that as much as I support connections between disabled people, he was lonely and isolated with many of us not there.

When James found me again, he told me that what he most remembered was how kind I was, and how shy he remembered me being. I was touched at his memory, and when we could, he brought his keyboard to my house and played while we both sang. It was sweet, and we still talk and see each other.

I’m glad we sang, and still do. It’s important and long lasting and because of it, we are still friends.

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