82. John

82. John

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

John

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.

~Helen Keller

Gathering my things as I headed out of the office, I said, “I’m off to pick up my brother from the light rail.”

My co-worker shot me a sideways glance. “That sucks,” she said, then paused. “I thought you said your brother was older than you. He doesn’t drive?”

“Nope.”

“And you have to pick him up every day?”

“Well, yes, and no. Yes, every day. No, but I don’t have to. I get to.”

John, two years older than me, has Down syndrome. Reactions to that vary. Like Great-Uncle Fred who, when John was born, voiced his opinion that John should be institutionalized, as that was the only thing to be done with “kids like that.” I didn’t even know I had a Great-Uncle Fred until my late teens when Mom mentioned him. Our family hasn’t spoken to him since that episode.

In contrast, people who meet John before meeting me always say, “You’re John’s sister! He talks about you all the time. You are so lucky to have him around! You know, John always calls you ‘my beautiful sister, Meghan.’ Isn’t that the sweetest thing ever?”

Those who know me well will occasionally get up the nerve to ask me the tough question: Was it hard growing up with John in the house?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is, “Well, there were some differences . . ..” John required a lot of Mom and Dad’s attention when we were young, but I never felt neglected. My parents faced some challenges — finding the best programs for John, helping him learn motor skills that come naturally to most children, learning how to communicate with him. But for me, all those things were normal, because John had been there my entire life and that was all I had ever known.

Growing up, I had friends who would tell me about horrible fights and strained relationships with their siblings. In particular, my friend Kathryn’s brother screamed that he hated her. That was the first time I realized how different my relationship with John was from the “normal” brother/sister dynamic. When I got home from Kathryn’s house that evening, John met me at the door with a smile, a jubilant “Meghan!” and a gigantic hug.

But more than just loving my brother like crazy, John has taught me about dedication. He has an almost unnerving ability to state a goal and achieve it, no matter how unlikely it seems.

When John was in seventh grade, while he and my parents prepared for John’s IEP meeting, he said, “I don’t want to take all special ed classes anymore.” With Mom and Dad’s help, John lobbied the teachers and principal. By his senior year in high school, he took mostly normal classes with an aide and only took a small number of special ed classes.

In his freshman year of high school, he saw the homecoming parade and declared he wanted to be Homecoming King. Mom and I glanced at each other, thinking we had to find a way to let him down easy. “John, I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Mom said. “We’ll just have to see.”

Three years later, my friend Tess nominated John for Homecoming King. John came home with a card from the student council wishing him good luck. He was beside himself. “I’m going to be Homecoming King!”

Every few days for the next two weeks, the student council had runoffs to narrow the field of contenders. Each time, John brought home another card that read, “You’re still in the running!”

Eventually, John was in the top four. At the rally, the nominees were announced one by one.

“Danny Hochstetler!”

Polite applause followed Danny’s name, as it did for Todd White and Stephen Wright.

“And John Maste — ”

We couldn’t hear the last part because the gym erupted into screams, cheers and applause. For a second, I worried — loud noises scared John — but he charged through the doors with his signature smile and his eyes alight. The cheers redoubled as he stepped up to the platform next to the other contenders. The other boys put their arms around John’s shoulders, and everyone smiled as the cameras flashed.

John had won.

But John wasn’t finished. Next, he said, “I want to go to college!”

John attended the transition program at Sacramento City School District and was wildly successful. He graduated in December 2008. He was the only person slated for graduation that winter, but the program made sure to hold a ceremony just for him. We ran out of chairs half an hour before the ceremony began. My brother’s graduation was a standing-room-only event by the time he walked to the makeshift stage.

But that’s not all. After Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to the governorship, John said, “I want to meet the governor . . . No, I want to work for the governor.”

His contacts at the transition program set up John with an internship in the governor’s mailroom at the Capitol. John became friends with the governor and Maria Shriver, and he met all sorts of visiting dignitaries. My favorite picture of him at work shows John standing between Governor Schwarzenegger and the president of Mexico.

John asked the governor if his internship could be a real, paid job. A conversation was had, papers were signed, and on his twenty-second birthday John took his oath of office. He has worked as an employee in the gubernatorial mailroom ever since.

Part of John’s success comes from his dedication. He sets a goal and goes for it without restraint. He’ll tell all his friends about it, gather support, and have at it. I have never seen him fail.

Though I am biased, John is wonderful. Since John is so fantastic, people are excited for him, willing to help him on his way, and go the extra mile.

So, no, it wasn’t hard to have John around. In fact, it was inspiring to watch him grow up into the incredible man he has become. And every day, I sling my bag over my shoulder, grab my keys and head for the train, because I get to pick up my brother.

~Meg Masterson

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