Whoa-oa-oa! I Feel Good!
He purses his lips together when he tries desperately not to giggle, when all the while the laughter in his eyes have already given it away. I love that mischievous smile! But then again what else would I expect? That is Ismael. Ismael is pure love. He is also a young man with Down Syndrome, but don't think that stops him from doing what he wants or saying what he wants. With the love, support, and watchful eye of not only his family, but an entire community, Ismael is living his life on his own terms.
I have known Ismael his entire life, which might as well be my whole life since I was only three years old when he was born. I would see him at his house all the time. Not only were our parents friends, but his older brother and I were also good friends as well as classmates. Playdates at his house with his two older brothers were never boring, but it was never because of our crazy antics. Nope, if there was any escapade happening, Ismael was in the middle of it. If he wasn't outside trying to find a rattlesnake for a pet he was in the house playing hide and go seek alone locking himself in rooms. One time, in fact, he locked himself in the laundry room and then in the dryer. At a very young age, his brother, myself, and our close group of friends already knew what we were in for.
His brothers and their friends were always very athletic. Growing up in a small town, Little League and Pop Warner football were a big part of their lives, but Ismael's ultimate sport of choice and the one they spent the most time on with him was basketball. To this day, Ismael lives for basketball. From elementary through high school, Ismael always had an aide with him and I always remember those times when he used to sneak off and run away from them. It was a lot more frequent during the years between fifth and eighth grade for us. Sometimes when they needed help finding him, they would call out his brother and the rest of our group of friends from class to help find him thinking that since he knows us best, he would come with us. It never failed, we always found him in the gym shooting hoops. We never used to grab him right away. We all could see that there was just so much joy he got out of it and there was just something about a basketball court that we couldn't tear him away from. It's a good thing we never did, all that practice paid off. My senior year of high school Ismael was a freshman and on the junior varsity basketball team. Of course he didn't play often, but one game with just a few seconds left before halftime, the coach put him in and Ismael put up that buzzer-beating, half court shot that every player dreams of making. The crowd exploded and chanted his name while his teammates carried him on their shoulders into the locker room. He was king of the world and took it all in. Four years later, and he is still the only one to have made a half court shot.
I don't think Ismael has ever seen himself as different, nor did we ever really treat him like he was. He is that "cool kid" that is friends with everyone. He is a hard little worker, an athlete, a ladies man, Prom king, and, yes, a high school graduate. You will get a kick out of the conversations you find yourself having with him. A friendship with Ismael is definitely something you don't want to take for granted. If there's one thing I have learned about people with down syndrome after knowing him, it's that they will teach you things about the world and about yourself that you never knew you didn't know.
For his graduation, I went to pick up a card for him and a few other friends who were graduating with him. There was five in total. The first four took me all but five minutes to pick out, but for Ismael I stood there looking and looking for almost fifteen minutes. It's not that I didn't care about those other friends just as much, but for Ismael I needed something special. I finally found the perfect card-one of the musical ones that plays a song and this one was by James Brown. The night of his graduation party I gave it to him and when he opened it the first thing he heard was, "Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good!". The song didn't even make it half way before he closed it and opened it again and then closed it and opened it again all while he laughed and tried to sing along. I didn't find out until a few days later that it was actually his favorite song and now everytime I think about it I laugh and say to myself, "It would be. That's Ismael".