Not everything that happened to Nicole and me was bad. I have a number of fond memories of my sister, who has Rett Syndrome.
As I said in my previous post, when we were kids, no one knew Nicole had Rett. What we did know was that she repeatedly clasped and unclasped her hands, a motion I called “flicking.” I later learned the hand motion is a classic characteristic of Rett Syndrome.
One day when I was about 9 or 10, my parents had a picnic and invited the whole neighborhood. I remember people everywhere outside in our yard, and a watermelon sitting on ice in a big silver tub. This watermelon tub was sitting on the ground against the side of the house near the carport. I don’t know why my parents put it there but Nicole found it.
She was sitting with her knees in front of her, her butt on her feet — we kids were so flexible back then! — and she had her right hand on the watermelon. Flick, flick, flick. I’m not quite sure how she did it but her flicking motion wore a hole in the rind of the watermelon. As a result, she had herself quite a feast.
I saw her not long after she found the watermelon but I said nothing to my parents. Later on, after she managed to dig her way into the fruit, I passed by and her eyes met mine. For a moment she looked shocked, like, “You’re not going to tell, are you?” I gave her a smile and then one burst from her face in return. Without saying a word, we had agreed to keep her mission a secret.
Later, my mother discovered Nicole’s accomplishment. Despite the fact that she had to wipe the sticky watermelon juice from my sister’s face and hands and change her clothes, she wasn’t angry. I could hear pride in her voice as she showed the neighbors what Nicole had done. If you think about it, most people couldn’t dig through a watermelon rind with one hand, so what Nicole did was pretty remarkable.
I lost my sister when my parents placed her in a nursing home for handicapped children in 1976. I saw her a few times after that, but eventually those visits stopped. I was not allowed to mention my sister’s name in my mother’s house.
When I reconnected with Nicole years later, I found someone very different from the little girl I left behind. She had grown into an adult and, in the process, the flicking stopped. She still holds her hands together but there’s no more clasping and unclasping. It may sound odd, but that is what I miss the most about the girl I knew as a child — her flicking. I guess it makes sense that I would. Flicking was a motion powerful enough to penetrate a watermelon rind!