Words are simultaneously the most powerful yet most overrated tool we use. My sister taught me that.

Time after time I’ve tried to write about my sister and expound upon the endless gifts she’s given me in this go around, and with each attempt I feel less and less able to do it justice.  But I’ll give this one a go. Melissa is “mentally challenged.” That was as far as we ever went with trying to label, or compartmentalize her. It’s a broad term, I know, but I’ve come to realize that most of her challenges in this life are very much in line with those who are “Autistic,” so that’s how I describe it in an effort to give it some specific context for those of us who prefer the neat and tidy.

Melissa spoke gibberish, or her own language (whether it was gibberish or not is questionable) until she was about 5 years old, but once she started to talk the way we talk, she was off to the races. She was constantly in your ear, nattering away about something or other. Not only would she invent her own little hilarious words, i.e. calling my father “David Earl Wiggador” instead of Dad, or even “David Earl Dennis”, but she would get stuck on these words and repeat them over and over and over again. She knew when she was doing it too because she’d be sitting in her room repeating a phrase for her own amusement and would then announce, “I sound like a broken record in here!” My heart melts with the memory. She’s just so damn precious.

Something changed over the years in the way Melissa approached language. My guess is that being in the middle of an excitable, gregarious family, where everyone has a habit of talking too much, and blathering on about everything, somewhere in her development she chose to keep silent. She hardly says, “Boo” anymore to anyone. Slowly, but surely, she just sort of abandoned this method of communicating. Mom told me that she once asked her, “How come you don’t answer people when they ask you a question?” “I don’t want to say the wrong thing,” she surprisingly, and wisely responded. And another time Dad made a similar inquiry about why she wasn’t speaking, “I choose not to,” she said. I don’t think anyone in my family is a dope, we’ve all got some brains behind us, but man, she’s the one with the wisdom, no doubt about that.

Often times we’ll be sitting around the kitchen table, carrying on about nothing, and she accompanies us, calmly observing and obviously surmising. She has this thing she does when one of us gets too excited, and she’ll take her thumb and slowly move it in a circle, like when you take your hand next to your head and do the “cuckoo” motion to poke fun at someone, and we know that’s her subtle way of saying “here we go again with all your silly words…” Every now and then, just when you think she’s checked out of the conversation, she’ll pipe up and shock you by finishing your sentence. Just her way of letting us know that she knows.

Sometimes I think I love Melissa too much. And then I think “Man, if this is what it’s like to have kids, I’m in trouble…” How does your heart not burst? She is this absolutely pure and innocent being, with no agenda, no dramas, no nothing but love to give and lessons to quietly, silently, slowly teach the rest of us chatterboxes. I used to strive to help her communicate the way the rest of us do, spending time with her, trying to “help” her to fit in to our molds, but I’ve quit wasting energy on any of those endeavors. Melissa comes to me in my dreams. In the other dimension, she speaks to me with clarity and ease, often guiding me along by advising me of things that no one else can. She has her way of communicating with the world, and as I grow and figure a few things out, the easier it is for me to stop trying to teach her things from my book, and start taking a few notes from hers.

Words are overrated. It’s so funny to me that all my life I’ve had this love affair with language, it’s something that’s always come soo easily to me, and one of the biggest things this glorious angel, Melissa is here to show me is that words are one of lowest forms of communication that exists. The sooner I get it that I need to shut my mouth and keep listening to my heart, and my instincts, the sooner I will hear the stuff that’s really being exchanged along the airwaves.

Melissa colours instead.