Let me introduce you.
Zach is athletic, handsome, and quick to smile, and comes from a wonderful and loving family. He devours all things sports, especially basketball, and someday dreams to play in the NBA. He is caring, quick-witted, and loves to laugh…and prank (he loves to hide around any corner in hopes of startling you, and then saying I got you!). He also loves cheeseburgers and a Coke for nearly every meal, though will venture occasionally outside the lines to a double cheeseburger and a Sprite. But, most of all, Zach is kind, considerate, and respectful, and overlooks all disability, including the constant challenges of Alex’s Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Zach’s future is bright, and this week I had the privilege of watching him walk alongside Alex as only good friends do.
These boys known each other for nearly ten years, and their relationship continues to inspire. Like any friendship, they experience their ups and downs, but when their friendship hits its stride…well, it is something special to see. This is one of those weeks!
We call it Dudes Trip 2k15. Just Alex, Zach, and I for a week in Orlando, Florida, doing what dudes do. Nothing planned until we wake up, which for the boys is often late in the morning. No bedtimes or curfews. No worries of smells (no need to say more), belches, or unsightly messes. We take each day as it comes and stretch it as far as we can. But, it is Zach’s ability to stick by Alex’s side, despite the countless surrounding distractions, that make this Dad smile.
Instead of eagerly pointing to the next roller coaster or water slide, Zach graciously tells Alex “No way, dude! I don’t want to go on that ride!” Sure, there may be some truth to the statement as Zach is not fond of heights, but you know deep down that Zach wants to ride, or at least give it a try. All kids do. You know he must feel some loss for not experiencing the thrill. But, he walks alongside, showing no regret, resentment, or longing. His only visible emotion is his want to laugh with Alex. If Zach does secretly yearn for the attractions, you wouldn’t know it from looking at him. Instead, he rests his hand ever so gently on Alex’s wheelchair and walks alongside. He disregards intrusive stares from the endless supply of kids who seemingly have never seen a kid in a power wheelchair. He ignores stares from equally ignorant adults. He is perfectly content walking with his friend, asking Alex if he needs anything, or scouting for shows or accessible rides (very few) that Alex can enjoy. Can you ask for anything more in a friend? Especially one who is only sixteen?
Zach helps to make the trip fun, too. He entertained us one night with his bottomless stomach at Perkins, where his many plates covered half of the table. While Alex (always the more social of the two) chatted up the overworked waiter who had to serve and bus our late night hunger, Zach continued to shovel. By meal’s end, the waiter was laughing with us and we were in awe of Zach’s talent.
Zach encourages fun as well. Late one night he displayed his ability to dodge the many 2AM sprinklers along International Drive, and then persuaded Alex to try the obstacle course as well, knowing the improbability. The resulting head and shoulder water blasts that Alex endured were a sight to see. But, the smiles on their faces and shared hysterics were priceless.
The boys also behaved as typical teenagers do with sideways glances towards passing girls, followed by silent expressions of awe. When they were a safe distance away, the boys would then hoot and howl about their lost chances with such beauties. Throw in a few teasing comments from Dad, and those moments were quite the male bonding experiences.
But, more importantly, when it comes to the needs of boy with Duchenne, Zach gets it. He never complains of inconvenience or unpleasantness when Alex “needs privacy.” He helps where he can and retrieves anything beyond Alex’s reach (i.e., everything). He speaks of unfairness anytime he sees something inaccessible to Alex, but accessible to others. He questions why sidewalks are uneven for Alex’s chair, why cars park in van accessible parking spaces. He understands Alex’s need for loading/unloading on parking stripes and the hardship of having to park remotely. He questions the unfairness of inaccessible rides at Disney and Universal Studios. He carries food trays whenever asked.
He gets it.
Now, after a long day at Disney, Alex and Zach are lying in adjacent beds, wide awake, and watching comedy videos late into the night. Their laughter fills the hotel room, if not the entire hotel. Although a call from the hotel management may come at any moment to quiet the boys, nothing but a smile is on my face as I write. THAT is what life is about. Bonding moments with a buddy. No worries. No judgment. No concern for the future. Just laughter and an eagerness to share and stretch the day as long as possible.
We should all be so lucky to find a friend like Zach, someone who stands by your side even if you are sitting, walks by your side even if you cannot, and laughs with you simply because he enjoys your company.
Truly a special kid.
His name is Zach.