When I first met Dom, I didn’t expect him to change my life. I didn’t expect him to become my best friend. I didn’t expect him to help me grow up. When I joined Best Buddies, a student-run organization in which someone without disabilities is paired up with someone with disabilities, I expected to be the one to change Dom’s life. I expected to be the one to become a best friend of sorts to him. I expected to be the one to help him grow up. However, I was naive in my expectations. I was quick to judge, and I was wrong.
Dom has Down syndrome, a genetic disorder in which an extra chromosome causes physical and mental disabilities and delayed development. His favorite shows are Elmo and The Wiggles, and his favorite activity is twirling a rubber band on his toy octopus leg. When asked his age, he likes to blurt out that he’s ten, and with his delayed development, it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that he’s actually 16.
Regardless, Dominic is a life changer. He is the most important person in my life, and I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to have met him. The first time I hung out with Dom, we met at Coffee Haven. Honestly, I didn’t expect much to amount from the visit. I thought that eventually we would become close and we’d be able to hang out, but I didn’t expect to form a genuine friendship. As I approached the coffee shop, he beamed at me through the window and started yelling about his cinnamon raisin bagel. I read a Christmas story with him, and when we left, he hugged me and told me he loved his new best buddy. That was when I realized the impact Dominic would have on my life.
As Dominic and I grew closer, I started sitting with him at lunch, and meeting with him more often at Coffee Haven. I learned all of his little quirks and all of his pet peeves. I learned that his favorite movie is Peter Pan, and he likes to move his chair into the aisle after he eats, so he can play with his toys without being bothered. I learned that he doesn’t exactly like tickling, but he laughs when I do it because he loves me so much.
However, Dominic did not just teach me about himself. He taught me more about happiness and being myself than anyone else I’ve ever met. Dominic taught me that happiness should be simple. Happiness should be pure.
I walked into his room one day after a long, tough week. He ran up to me, wrapped me in a bear hug, and exclaimed that he missed me. He gave me his big, goofy grin and told me, “I love my sister,” before wrapping me in another hug. To him, everything was so simple. He loved me, and I brought him happiness, so I was his sister. In that moment, he looked at me as if I were the most important person in the world, and he couldn’t have been happier to see me. The look in Dom’s eyes when he saw me that day was indescribable. It was just so honest and so innocent, so happy.
The best kind of happiness is the simple kind, the kind that’s so pure that you don’t have to think about anything except how happy you are. That kind of happiness is almost impossible to find, but every time I see him, Dominic manages to bring it out in me. When I’m with Dominic, I can forget about the stress of college applications and the urgency of my homework. I can focus only on Dominic, who has become my best friend. I can focus on the happiness and innocence lost to so many in this world.
Dominic is the strongest person I’ve ever met. Despite his disabilities, despite the struggles he must overcome daily because of something he cannot control, he is one of the only people in the world who consistently displays this truly pure happiness. He is able to overlook the obstacles that prevent him from leading a normal life and focus instead on the goodness others have brought him.
Without Dominic, I never would have realized what real happiness is. I never would have experienced this true, pure joy. Dominic has taught me more than I could ever teach him, and I remind myself everyday of how unbelievably lucky I am to have such a strong person in my life.