Most people probably notice the quirky reference at the end of each e-mail/letter/phone call, and shrug it off as a bizarre personality quirk. Occasionally one or two ask, “What’s with the cheese?” I give one of three responses: Cheese is the best food on the planet, cheese makes you happy, or cheese makes the world go round. Very few dig further. Those who do discover Randy.
Randy was born with epilepsy. How bad? We don’t know, but by the time he was diagnosed at two years old, enough brain damage had occurred that he would never function higher than a 6 to 8 year old. He was my older brother.
Everybody was Randy’s friend—especially those who looked at him funny, or he’d just met. “This is Lisa, my friend,” he’d introduce, or, “This is Eric, my friend.” He didn’t know the meaning of a social bubble, and he didn’t care. You could never be lonely or an outcast with Randy on the scene.
He rocked out to Michael Jackson, and he’d beat you up on Thursday (alwaysnextThursday), and he had to be wearing red. Later in life he decided he wanted to be a Ninja Truck Driver. He planned to cruise the country in his awesome red semi, and marry Shania Twain.
And he loved cheese. His favorite meal consisted of a jiggling bowl of mayonnaise, topped with ½ lb of cheddar, microwaved to perfection. It was not uncommon to walk into the bathroom and find a 5 lb block of cheddar stowed behind the toilet for “later”.
He slept in the room next to me. Even with a handful of medicine at each meal, seizures happened one to three times a day. He had to be locked in at bedtime, in case he decided to raid the cheese and had an attack while on the stairs. I listened as he rocked, fetal position on his creaky mattress, and hummed himself to sleep.
In Special Olympics, he competed as a runner. His first race, he told Mom about his sore foot. “Why is your foot sore?” she asked. He put his locker key in his shoe—because he didn’t know where else to put it. He'd been running on his key the whole time!
He matured, and my parents decided on a group home—a great place he could socialize with others in Special Olympics, and where he’d be able to live, to a degree, an independent life. He had twenty-four hour medical assistance and supervision; a dream come true! Because of this, the school district tore Randy out of his current school (for his senior year)—away from all the kids he’d grown up with, the ones who loved and understood him. We could tell he was sad, but that smile, ever giant, ever cheesy fooled the rest of the world.
My brother was never an embarrassment. Even though he drooled and you couldn’t possibly eat a birthday cake he’d blown out (See the open mouth?), you couldn’t feel bad about claiming him, and he always got down to the heart of the matter.
While my husband, (then boyfriend), was away for two years, I dated a few guys. I even brought one home from college with a group of friends. Randy didn’t hesitate. “Hey Crystal, remember when I told Matt he could marry you?” Yeah, thanks Randy.
Later in life he started calling me his big sister. He’d introduce me that way. Although the 6 year age difference couldn’t be mistaken, he did it to show his love and respect.
After one Special Olympics competition, he wore his silver medal everywhere. “Look Matt, I got second place.” My husband had the audacity to ask how many people had been in the race. “Two,” Randy replied. We chuckled. Then we learned the other runner had a physical handicap. Randy was proud of his metal because he let his “friend” win.
At twenty-six, while experiencing a seizure, the back of his neck hit a kitchen counter.
Paralyzed. He couldn’t walk anymore. We’d come to visit and he’d pull himself up on the table and make his way across the dining room. “I’m going to be running,” he’d promise, and we didn’t doubt it.
His insurance got slashed. Therapy dropped to twice a week. Randy stopped making progress. Eventually he had to move to an assisted living facility, a place where he lay in a bed, day in and day out, waiting for people to visit.
Every stop was a joy. It got harder after he couldn’t talk any more, or when we could tell his bedsores were causing him immense pain, but he always greeted us with a smile.
He never complained. Of all the rotten things he’d been through, he never complained. He was always happy, and always eating cheese, or cheesing it.
He never did get to fulfill his promise to run. On Christmas day, 2005—well after the festivities of the day, (because Randy would never interrupt us celebrating the Savior’s birth,) he finally let go. Gathered as a family, we rejoiced that he was free, that he could finally leave the suffering and jam out to Michael Jackson. Still, his death is one of the hardest things I ever experienced. We realized only after his passing, it was not us serving Randy all our lives. He was serving us.
So you ask, why the cheese? Cheese is the best food on the planet. Cheese makes people happy. Cheese makes the world go round.