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Yesterday I made the hour plus drive up to Honeyville, Utah to get to Crystal Hot Springs, “home of the highest mineral content hot springs in the United States.” The water’s just teeming with minerals. And Europeans. And local high-schoolers. And that sub-culture of RV transients that are like a moving hive that look for the warm and the beautiful together. Theres’s a cold spring there too, but I don’t go for the cold. I go for the heat.

My friend and I regularly make the jaunt to Honeyville, which is a nothing of a town, really; a street, some homes, lots of rusted agricultural relics. But the Hot Springs, just north of the Bear River Refuge, is about the most perfect Hot Spring I’ve found. Three pools of ‘nice hot’, ‘hot hot’, and ‘boiling meat hot’. There’s one cold spring big as a swimming pool. And, if you’re feeling wild, you can go down the rickety, aincent-looking green waterslide that rises above the west side of the pools like some Fairpark relic. All this with steam filling the air and everyone happy-giddy from the lithium. Dreamy.

We brought my son, Cassius, a Hot Springs veteran. Cassius can’t swim, but that doesn’t keep him from toddling toward any of the pools (‘boiling meat hot’ included) and launching himself into the water. He also likes to try on all the shoes that are lying about and when I try to explain that they’re not his shoes he shuffles off to take swigs of anyone’s open can of anything. Starbucks double lattes have been a problem. Hard Cider. Gross, backwashed plastic bottles of Gatorade.

Cassius has Down Syndrome. I had a dreamy, perfect pregnancy and we didn’t know. I never imagined that my child would be anything less than healthy and normal ( a word which seems painfully ignorant now. Even tyrannical.). Five days after my emergency c-section, the doctors told us that he was positive for Trisomy-21. It’s a random genetic mutation. Lightning strike. Russian roulette, and we’d won. I have a lot to say about Trisomy-21, but for now I’ll simply say that we lucked out. We had no idea. We were terrified, but beauty arrives in all kinds of packages and ours arrived in a retarded son. He doesn’t play by the rules, he doesn’t love by the rules and he keeps us from falling into the stupor that can happen as life drives by. He keeps us awake. And the kid is just hilarious.

To begin, Cassius is loud. With Down Syndrome, language develops slowly. His neural cells are on the slow train, but he still likes to talk, so he’s a loud bird of squawks and exclamatory babbles and Yippees! And he’s definitely saying something. Lots of somethings. With enthusiasm. He’s the happy kid at the party and everyone hears and looks over and wants to know what all the excitement is about.

And here’s the thing I want to tell you about what happened there, what always happens there. I hold Cassius in my arms and walk him around the big pool. He yells and whoops. People look. And inevitably, someone sidles over and their face is soft and tender.

“He’s beautiful,” they say.
Always.
Just like that.
“He’s beautiful.”

And again, someone will float by, “My wife and I have a 32 year-old with Down Syndrome.” And they’ll smile. “Best thing that ever happened to us.”

This happens every time. The tenderness just emanates. It floats up like the steam coming out of the water. It wraps us up.

Before having Cassius, I was scared of anything or anyone that had “special needs.” It’s ridiculous now. Stunning to see my own ignorance, but there it was. Cassius is my looking glass boy. He helps me see through to other places, other ways of being in the world. And, the more people that I meet that have siblings, children, relatives with Down Syndrome, the more common I find the experience is.

It’s like a secret. A beautiful secret. Your heart gets tenderized, soft, giddy. I’m lucky. Down Syndrome isn’t just beautiful, it’s just right.