Jesus Rios came into our lives when we were in the 7th grade. At the time, my friends and I were eating lunch on our usual table and spot in the lunch area. Jesus came down to eat lunch with us with a huge smile on his face saying, “I’m Jesus, Jesus Rios.”
We welcomed him with open arms into our lunch area, but we were a little surprised. We had never had anyone named Jesus, or anyone with Down Syndrome, come to eat lunch with us. I’m not sure if we had ever even talked to anyone with special needs before.
Jesus soon became just like any other person in our group. He loved to smile, make jokes, and tease just like anyone else would. Jesus loved to show off for all of us girls. He loved to have us all sit around while he put on a show doing cartwheels and dancing.
Jesus gave each of us a name of our own because he could never remember our names. My friend Jazmon became “Crazy Hair.” Our whole group was nicknamed “Pretty Girls” or “His Girlfriends.” The only person Jesus could ever remember by name was Gracie. She was always the heart and soul of the group and it wasn’t surprising that he only remembered her.
Jesus used to blame anything that went wrong on her. Gracie was always the patient one and didn’t mind to help him figure out a problem that was never her fault. I recall one time when he lost his pictures. He marched right up to Gracie and started yelling and pointing his finger at her and saying that she stole his pictures. Gracie very calmly took Jesus to find his pictures that mysteriously showed up at the bottom of his backpack.
My friend Malia and I invited Jesus to our double birthday party. Jesus was so excited, he could hardly contain himself. Everyday up to the party, he would tell everyone that Rebecca invited him to a party and that they weren’t invited. (Yes, he finally learned my name).
When his dad dropped him off for the party he stayed for awhile to give us instructions on what Jesus could and couldn’t eat. We would find Jesus sneaking all the candy he wasn’t supposed to eat anyways. Malia brought him outside and taught him how to hula dance. He probably had it down better than the rest of us. A few girls at the party put on a play with Jesus. Jesus really didn’t get what they were doing so he just ran around the yard doing cartwheels and dancing to his own beat. Jesus was the life of the party.
Jesus joined our group to the 8th grade dance. He looked very handsome with his bow tie and suspenders. He danced each of the slow songs with a different girl from our group. Jesus made each dance, party, and lunchtime more memorable than any I have ever had. Our times together were not always fun and dandy. We constantly had to defend Jesus and get him out of fights.
A certain group of boys never seemed to get off his back. None of us noticed that they constantly picked on him until they did right in front of us. (Not a smart move on their part) We defended poor Jesus until each of us had lost our voice and gotten into trouble for yelling. We were all angry until we looked at Jesus’ smiling face showing us that he appreciated everything we had just done.
From that day forward, no one dared to mess with Jesus. Jesus taught our whole group how to love and respect others even if they are a bit different. We would have never guessed that Jesus could be so much fun and just as crazy as the rest of us. He was a great person to talk to, and some of most meaningful conversations at that age were with Jesus.
We all reached high school together seeing each other briefly in the halls. But just like many wonderful friendships, our group fell apart. When I see Jesus in one of his classrooms, he always comes right out and says proudly, “This is my girlfriend.” And I proudly say back, “Yes I am!”
Thank you Jesus, you changed all of us for the better.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.