Forever Garrett

Forever Garrett

From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul

Forever Garrett

We shared so much laughter, shared so many tears.
We had a special friendship that grew stronger each year.

We were not siblings by birth but we knew from the start,
We were put together, to be siblings of the heart.

Megan Youpa, 13

I followed Garrett into the kitchen to find Mom. Garrett had been with our family for about a month, and even though I was only five and he was eight, we had been getting along pretty great. Like me, he had a lot of energy and liked to run and play ball. Up until Garrett came to live with us I had played with three boys who lived on our street that were around my age. They liked Garrett right away, and the five of us had been playing together every day. Now, Garrett and I had argued and he was mad at me.

“I want to go back! I don’t want to be here anymore,” Garrett announced to Mom.

Garrett’s face was set with determination and his eyes were shiny with unshed tears. I looked at Garrett and my face crumpled. I started to cry.

“I hurt him, Mommy, I hurt him. I didn’t mean to!” I liked Garrett, and I didn’t want him to go back to the adoption agency where he had lived before he came to us.

“You two wait until your father comes home tonight,” Mom said as she cleaned both of our faces. Then she made me blow my nose as she said, “He’ll have something to say about this.”

When my dad got home that night, he sat us down and said that when he and my mom married they had a dream. They wanted to have a big family with both biological children and adopted children. He and Mom had been involved in the civil rights movement and wanted to adopt kids of mixed racial background because they knew how hard it was for these kids to get adopted. He told me that we were lucky to have Martin, my little brother who was a baby, and Garrett come to us.

Then Dad explained to Garrett that sometimes in families there are arguments and disagreements, but that didn’t mean that we didn’t care about each other. I knew all about that—I had had plenty of disagreements with my sisters and we always got over it. Dad said that Garrett belonged with us now and that was the way it was going to be; we were a family and families stick together forever.

I don’t know who felt better after Dad’s lecture, Garrett or me, but I do know that I really can’t remember having another bad argument with Garrett after that day.

When I was in the third grade, our family moved from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. When I was younger, we had moved a lot because of my dad’s job in the Air Force. In fact, my first words were in Italian because we lived in Italy when I learned to talk. But this was the first time that we had moved since Garrett and Martin had become a part of the family.

I didn’t like moving. I was pretty shy anyway, and trying to make new friends wasn’t the easiest thing for me. There was one exception: when I got on the playing field, whatever it was—soccer, football or volleyball—I felt like I was at my best and I was myself, 100 percent. On the playing field I could make friends. Garrett and I had that in common. We both loved sports.

I used to watch him play soccer and baseball and be amazed at how well he could play and how fast he could run. Not only was he fast, but he was also so competitive that what he lacked because of his size he made up for with his speed and aggressive actions.

Garrett would take me to play ball with the other kids, and when he got to pick his team, he always picked me first. I was his secret weapon. He liked to see the surprised looks on the faces of the boys on the team when I ran circles around them. Even though I was younger than most of the kids and I was a girl, I was a better player. With both Garrett and me on the same team, we couldn’t lose.

Pretty soon, our whole family felt settled in our new home and started to love living in San Antonio. We lived right on the base and had tons of freedom to come and go without my mom or dad having to worry about us.

When we were finally all perfectly happy in San Antonio, we moved again. I was in the sixth grade, and for me it was the hardest move I had ever experienced. I had to leave behind the friends I had made and start all over again. Although our move was back to Wichita Falls, I didn’t remember very much about living there before and missed my life in San Antonio. I told myself that the moving didn’t matter, because my true home was the playing field. I threw myself into every sport that was offered, and I started to feel better.

We had been back in Wichita Falls for about two and a half years, and I was in the eighth grade, when we found out something terrible about Garrett. It was the beginning of his fight for life.

Garrett had chosen to attend a small Catholic high school instead of the larger public school, and he went out for football. During one of the first games, Garrett was tackled and had a hard time getting back up again. One of the dads attending the game was a doctor, and he went over to take a look at Garrett to see if he could help. He noticed that my brother had several large bruises on his back. He knew these bruises were not normal, and the doctor told my parents that Garrett shouldn’t play again until he was checked out.

When my parents took Garrett to the doctors they did several tests on him to find out what the problem was. He was eventually diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a disease that happens when a person’s bone marrow is either destroyed or not able to function correctly. People with aplastic anemia can bleed to death from internal hemorrhaging. The doctors told my mom and dad that all they could do for Garrett was to put him on steroids, and that might help. Then, they told Garrett that he couldn’t play contact sports anymore at all.

I was shocked. My brother, Garrett, not play sports? That was impossible. But it was true. For months, all he could do was watch. I felt horrible for him and couldn’t even imagine how I would feel if the doctors had told me the same thing. I think I even felt a little guilty that I could still do everything that we had once done together, and he couldn’t.

Then, to the amazement of us all, Garrett went into remission. He was back to his old self, and the doctors gave him the go-ahead to play ball again. Garrett went out for baseball and I was so glad to see him on the field again. We all were. Life became normal again.

Garrett was fine for several years until he had a relapse when I was eighteen. During the next six years he moved to California to live with our grandmother and to go to college. While on a trip home to Texas to visit our mom, he met the woman who was to become his wife. They had a son, Dillon. Garrett also spent those years fighting for his life. He had to have several series of very painful treatments, but he never gave up. During that time, whenever I would think that I had it rough during training, I would remember what Garrett was going through. I thought if Garrett could go through what he was experiencing, I could tough it out, too. His determination gave me the strength to excel during my games. Garrett was able to come to Atlanta in 1996 and see me play in the Olympics where we won the Gold Medal.

In February 1997, the doctors attempted a bone marrow transplant on Garrett. The transplant itself was successful, but Garrett had many complications. In April 1997, my brother Garrett died at the age of twenty-eight.

In honor of my brother, Garrett, I started a foundation. Once a year, the foundation stages the Garrett Game, an all-star soccer game that raises money for bone marrow research. In 1999, during the half-time celebration, we brought together bone marrow recipients with their donors. It was the first time any of them had met each other and everyone was crying and laughing. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my whole life and one of my best memories.

Although Garrett didn’t live to see us play the World Cup in 1999, I felt his spirit with me every step of the way. I know that he is with me during all of my games, encouraging me to do my best. In my heart, my brother will always live on. In my mind, I can still see him playing— running hard, with that look of determination on his face. With him as my example, I have been inspired to never give up, to always play to win, to work hard with my teammates and to have my heart in the game. Garrett was one of the best athletes that I have ever known, but he was much more. He was my hero, my friend, my inspiration and my brother . . . forever.

Mia Hamm

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