Every day, when I clamber off the school bus and walk the five minutes to my newly painted yellow house, I have approximately one hour of quiet to begin my homework. An hour later, while I am wrestling with a math equation, I hear the familiar sound of voices and country music rising from downstairs. Each song plays for just a few seconds before it is skipped. As I enter our kitchen I hear Ben attempting to open the front door, pushing extra hard due to a stray shoe wedged in the gap between door and floor.
“Ezra, come put your shoe away,” I call in the direction of the room where fiddle music is blaring unashamedly. Once the shoe has been taken care of, Ben proudly tells me how much milk each cow produced today: “Stella 15 pounds, Talia 10, and Artemis just five.” He milks them himself by hand on our small farm.
He runs off, remembering something. I start setting the table when, in a flash, Ben returns, clutching a letter addressed to me. “Alya, you have mail. Who’s it from? Do you think they will send me a postcard too?”
My four siblings, my parents, and I share our home with seven others. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between them and my family.
I was born in Germany. When I was two my parents moved to England to join a community of people who live and work with young adults with disabilities. Three years ago we moved to a similar place called Triform Camphill Community near Hudson, New York.
Ben and Ezra are in their early twenties and have learning disabilities. Slowly, the house begins to fill. Alex, Peter, and Laurie join us, and when our two volunteers from Chile and Germany come, it gets quite rowdy.
I grew up alongside people perceived as different, but to me they are totally normal. No one can make me laugh as hard as Ezra, no one can describe as eloquently and precisely what is bothering him as Alex, no one gives me comforting advice like Laurie, and no one can rock a costume at Halloween like Peter. On average I am asked more than a hundred questions every day by my extended family, many of which I do not know the answers to. I am peppered from morning to night, but mostly I enjoy the time with my extended siblings.
Before every college visit Ezra asks me, “Alya, do you think I should come along college visiting with you? I know the dean, and I swear he’ll accept you!” The questions can get repetitive, the constant noise and activity exhausting, but there is no place I’d rather be.
Every year Triform’s bell choir drives down to New York City to perform at a fundraising event. This past year I went to help. The ride was just like driving in my school bus, with the same arguments and occasional yelps. We arrived and set up, nervous but patiently waiting in concert dress, the bell ringers wearing white gloves. Soon it was our turn and all became quiet in the hall. The curtain rose. Bells ringing and singing voices filled the room. I looked at the faces in the audience and almost everyone was dabbing at their eyes or smiling from ear to ear.
We were all overcoming our limitations, creating something beautiful together in that moment. I felt so lucky. The feeling that I saw on the audience’s faces – I get to experience that feeling in our house every day.