I write a lot. Every day I immerse myself into fictional worlds where young girls desperately search for the answers to life and love. Most of the time, the answers come in the form of a hero, a man who swoops in and sweeps her off her feet.
For Steph, it was Alexander Rivera.
For Julie, it was always Luke.
For Mandy, Gabe.
Ask Google and they’ll tell you that a hero is a ‘person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.’ Ask me, and I’d say that definition barely begins to scrape the surface. A hero isn’t always the person you fall in love with, or the person you’re destined to find. There’s more to it than that. I like to believe that we all have a hero, someone we love unconditionally and look up to, someone who’s impacted our lives in such a way that we are completely unfulfilled without them. To me, that person is undoubtedly my big brother.
The moment I came home from the hospital in March 1989, Andy became my best friend. He held my hand when I cried. He celebrated my successes. He taught me how to play the drums and guitar (neither of which he actually knew how to play for himself). From him I learned about the power of overcoming fear, and without him I would’ve never known the true magnitude of love and laughter. In the years growing up together, I learned more from my big brother than I ever learned from any other person.
Rewind to 1984, five years before I ever came onto the scene. Andrew Ross Puckett was born on March 19th at 7 lbs. 2 oz and 19″ long. The most remarkable thing my parents learned that day, however, was not they’d just welcomed any baby boy into the world, but that their little, pink bundle of joy had one remarkable quality—he had an extra copy of chromosome 21, better known as Down syndrome.
With a genetic birth defect and multiple holes lining his heart, life was a struggle for Andy from the get-go. The doctors immediately swept him from the room, telling my parents that they were better off not to create a bond with a child so unlikely to develop. Andy, the doctors advised, should never go home.
My parents, the super heroes they were, couldn’t be swayed. He was their miracle baby, and he’d have no other home but the one they’d made for him out on Gath Road.
So along with the medical complications he was fated for a lifetime, he was also destined to face many academic, emotional, and social obstacles. The odds were against him to ever reach even the basic milestones. Walking and talking? Probably not. Reading and writing? Never.
But like my parents, Andy had something to prove. He set out to defy the odds… and he did just that. Not only did he eventually learn to walk and talk like all of the other kids his age, but he went on to excel in our local MRDD school system.
Andy’s high school career was one to brag about (and believe me, he bragged every day). As the star of the basketball team, his room was littered with trophies. As a 60-time Special Olympic medal winner, his name was in the local paper week after week. To this day, I’ve never met a more decorated athlete.
Andy graduated high school in 2006 at a fourth grade reading and writing level, and his math skills were up to par with that of a second grade student. Give him a calculator and he’s better at math than any of his sisters.
Those things, though, are not the things that make Andy so special to me.
The reason I can call this man my hero has nothing to do with an extra chromosome, a few (too many) trophies, and dozens of gold medals. It’s not even because he saved my life after I nearly drown at Long’s Retreat one summer. I call this man my hero because he doesn’t believe in limitations. In Andy’s eyes, there’s no such thing as ‘impossible.’
My brother is an amazing man who, when he loves, loves unconditionally. I am fortunate enough to have that gift of love. My 25 years have not been lived perfectly. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes along the way. But in spite of all of those mistakes and missteps, Andy has never given up on me, and he has never allowed me to give up on myself. He is my biggest fan and my most loyal supporter. I love him with every beat of my heart.
So today, on March, 19, 2014, I’d like to send one very clear message to my brother, my hero, and my best friend:
Thank you for the younger years…
…for all the fun….
… all the dates…
…and for all the smiles.
And even though we don’t always root for the same team (go Brewers!)…
I hope you know that I’ll always love you anyway :)