Over the summer I was hanging out on my neighbor's driveway with the girls. Lily loves Scott and Georgia (my neighbors) and anytime she spots them outside she likes to go say hi -- and I enjoy chatting about life with Georgia, too.
At some point in the conversation Scott mentioned that his daughter Christie wanted him to give her an Eskimo kiss while they were out shopping. Christie has special needs and is nearly 28. She relies on her parents for everything: eating, bathing, dressing ... survival. Scott said he knew people were staring at him but that he didn't care because Christie will always be a little girl to him.
This image stuck with me. In fact, I went home and jotted the story down (well I typed it on my MacBook's handy Stickie notes ... digital Post-Its .. genius!) It was such a wonderful moment. And it was such a universal one, too. I'd just shown Lily how to give Eskimo kisses, and they're just about the sweetest thing you could ever imagine (even sweeter than my sister Laura's chocolate mousse pie which might be the sweetest and most delicious concoction ever). Every parent can identify with giving their kid an Eskimo kiss, right? But at the same time, Scott's Eskimo kisses were totally outside my realm of experience.
And the timing of his story -- right around when I'd taught Lily about them seemed more than coincidental. The parallels and non-parallels of our shared experience embedded itself in my writer's brain.
In the months that followed I added a few more things that Georgia mentioned about life with Christie on my Stickie.
Like how she doesn't like going to the local mall because the railings on the second level frighten her. Or, how she didn't want to get on a water taxi at Baltimore's Inner Harbor so they had to pick her up and carry her on. Or, the one day Georgia -- who was clearly shaken -- told me about how Christie nearly choked to death on her dinner.
I didn't know what I was going to do with any of it -- I just knew that there was a story to be told.
Especially after the day she said of Christie "Some days I don't know where I end and where she begins."
It was such a beautiful thing to say. And when I added it to my list of Georgia's anecdotes, I felt like a thief. Do all writer's steal their best lines?
A few weeks ago my editor gave me the deadline for my next column and I knew it was time to ask Georgia if I could write about her. Georgia was very gracious and agreed to let me interview her. Amidst the chaos of my two babies and the cats and dogs and lunchtime and giant messes, she told me about Christie.
We talked for more than an hour that day and spent another hour on the phone another day and then I had to sit down and write the story that had been simmering on a back burner in my brain for the past few months.
You can read the result here.
The hard part (and, ironically, the original reason I was writing this post) was distilling everything she had to say about the past 28 years of her life into an 800-word column ("no kidding" says every journalist ever). So I cheated and gave myself 400 or so extra words (sorry April!)
Even with that, there was so much I didn't get to include. Luckily, I know have the magic of the internet at my fingertips (take that word count!), to share more of Georgia and Christie's story:
- Christie had such difficulty eating as an infant the doctors recommended Georgia give her pre-digested formula, which they couldn't afford.
- Georgia said she spent years trying to get Christie to play like a normal kid, she'd buy her toys and try to interact with her but to no avail. “Once I realized that that was never going to happen, that Christi was happy the way she was, that was a big relief for me,” Georgia said.
- Scott and Georgia both have living wills that state that if they're ever injured or become sick in any way that leaves them brain dead, they are not to be kept alive on a respirator or feeding tube because they want to make sure that every cent possible goes to caring for Christie.
- They continue to be impressed with how much Christie has learned and continues to learn. Most kids learn about the world around them by asking questions, Georgia said, but Christie never knew to ask the questions -- but anytime she's given information she absorbs it.
- While she knows that taking anything away from Christie wouldn't make her Christie, Georgia said, "I would give my life for her to not have this disability."
Thank you internet net, for allowing me to include some bonus footage (wordage?).
* I know I keep saying I'm going to use fewer cliches - but I'm a big 'ol liar. I'm not even really trying.
** I tried to find out the origins of this idiom but didn't have any luck. OK - I did a Google search and scanned the first two pages of hits and then gave up because I really didn't want to spend more than two minutes on yet another tangent. Priorities.