Some of the very best people I've known have special needs, and some of the greatest blessings in my life have come about through my associations with special needs people.
Back when our daughter was in high school, she became acquainted with many of the special ed students through her activity in a service club. One young man became especially fond of Carolyn, managed to get our home phone number, and started calling our house on a regular basis. She was pretty good about talking to him, however she was a busy teenage girl with a heavy load of homework, activities, and outings with friends. She wasn't always home when Brian called, and honestly, sometimes wasn't inclined to come to the phone when she was. If I answered the phone, Brian was happy to talk to me instead.
After a few months of calling our home and only seldomly reaching Carolyn, Brian started asking for me.
"Is Carolyn's mom there?" he'd ask, and whoever answered the phone would put me on.
”Guess who this is?" he'd ask.
(Pretty sure there was only one person who'd call and ask for Carolyn's mom...)
"Um mm... Is it George Bush?" I'd ask.
(laughter and then...) " Nope."
"Is it Spiderman?"
"Is it Santa Claus??"
(the kind of laughter that says "I'm really tricking this lady!")
After exhausting my list of potential suspects, I'd finally say, "Well then, it must be Brian!" and we'd begin our conversation. This became our ritual.
He'd ask about our family, what the kids were up to, what kinds of things I'd been doing. He'd tell me about his family and what kinds of things he'd been doing. And he was usually multi-tasking.
"I'm riding my bike to the mall," he'd say. (Hopefully he had some kind of hands-free system with his cell phone.)
He'd tell me about his cat.
He'd tell me about his grandma who is a well-known scholar and author who teaches at B.Y.U.
When Carolyn started her senior year and it was time to apply to B.Y.U., Brian assured her that he'd put in a good word for her with his grandma and she would pull some strings on Carolyn's behalf. Well, Carolyn did get accepted and Brian claimed full credit. This rather infuriated Carolyn but I thought it was hilarious!
His phone calls continued regularly (every few days) for several years. Carolyn graduated and moved on to college. Brian finished at the high school and started traveling with his dad. Brian's dad was a cross-country truck driver and Brian would go with him. He'd call me from all over the U.S. He'd fill me in on where they'd been and where they were headed.
Several years went by.
"Is it Peter Pan?"
"Is it President Hinckley?"
It never crossed Brian's mind to ask me if I had a name. I was still Carolyn's Mom.
At one point, I realized that the phone calls were less frequent and a little farther between. Then one day Brian called and told me his dad would like to talk to me. His dad got on the phone and informed me that Brian had recently been treated for cancer. Thought I might like to know.
That explained why the phone hadn't been ringing as regularly.
His dad told me that Brian was going to continue to go on the road with him as much as he could.
The calls picked up again and we got back to normal, but eventually, over the next couple of years, they lessened again, and finally stopped all together. I wondered about Brian. I hoped he'd just "outgrown" me. Maybe moved on to new phone friends.
But in the back of my mind I worried.
Recently, as I was talking with a friend of mine, a woman approached us. My friend introduced us. It was Brian's grandmother, the well-known author and scholar. I think I showed surprise upon hearing who she was, which she probably gets a lot. But I didn't even think to say "Oh, I've read your books" or "I love your work."
"You have a grandson named Brian who went to Timpanogos High years ago," I said.
"Yes," she responded. "We really miss him."
My heart gave a little jump inside my chest.
"That was my next question," I said. I gave her a quick rundown of our unique friendship.
"I knew he had had cancer," I said. "I've wondered about him."
"He passed away four years ago," she told me.
Has it been that long? I thought .
Brian and I never met in person. Carolyn showed me a yearbook picture of him at one point, but he is totally clueless about me. Someday, when I get to heaven (and I know Brian is already there), I will approach him.
"Guess who this is?" I'll ask him.
"Is it Wonder Woman?" he'll ask.
I will laugh.
"Nope," I'll say.
"Is it the Tooth Fairy?"
'Well then," he'll say, "it must be Carolyn's Mom!"