I never had a little sister growing up. It wasn’t until my mid-teens until I inherited two older brothers, Matt and Matt. Growing up as an only child certainly had its challenges, and I didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to care for someone else, in a big brother type role. Perhaps I wanted that dynamic in a family setting? In no way do I blame my parents for this, in fact, being an only child, as an adult, has helped me to further understand my challenges with anxiety, alcoholism, and addiction, most notably the craving and need for reassurance and attention.
In 2010 I began volunteering at the Cascade Youth and Family Center in Bend, Oregon. I wanted to do something to give back to the community in some way. I knew that the LOFT (Living Options for Teens) was a place where homeless and troubled youth went to try their hand at rehabilitation, in a community environment, and I wanted to help, to get out of my head, and to do something meaningful in the hearts of others. One fall afternoon as I was hanging out in the common area at the LOFT with some of the kids, playing guitar, waiting for dinner to be cooked, a shy girl walked in, looking timid and frightened, and sat on one of the corner benches in the room. It was obvious that she did not know any of the kids, or staff, as she didn’t say a word to anyone in the room. After a few minutes I went up to her and introduced myself, and she hesitantly replied, “hi, my name is Jade.” For some reason, at that moment the inner big brother in me, that had never really been exercised before, came out, and I took her under my wing. That day Jade became my little sister.
As a volunteer at the LOFT it was expected that we treat every kid the same, without favoring one or the other. And I did this, creating bonds and friendships with many of them that still last to this day. In fact, one of those kids just emailed my a week ago saying that he had finally gotten his first job out of college. But with Jade it was different for some reason. I wanted to teach her about life, responsibility, and hopefully bring out the courage in her to understand that, despite her troubled past, she had a bright future ahead of her.
A few of my favorite memories of my time spent with Jade when she was at the LOFT impacted me then as I was undertaking my own rough patch in life, struggling with self-identity and self-worth. I so wanted to be able to relate to her, as a teenager. For now as I look back at my mental and emotional capacity at that time was probably along the same lines as Jade, being 16. Most notably she taught me about what kids listen to for music. She and I would spend hours downloading and listening to music, with the likes of Wiz Khalifa, Lost Boyz, and Lil Wayne. To this day I can recite “Black and Yellow” word for word, much to the amazement of my friends and work colleagues. Basically anything by Wiz Khalifa reminds me of Jade, and the minute I hear any of his songs a smile comes across my face, taking me back to the days when Jade and I would pass the time being teenagers together…I loved it.
One other moment with Jade sticks out in particular. One evening when I brought the kids to workout at Juniper Swim and Fitness Center she came with me to the yoga room where I liked to stretch. For that hour Jade opened up to me about what it was like growing up with her own personal demons and challenges. Today as I think back she and I actually had similar experiences to some degree. She spoke so candidly, especially for a teenager, about what she had gone through to get to the point where the LOFT was her best option at restarting her life. She spoke and I listened. That conversation still has a profound impact on my life. It serves as a reminder that we all go through challenges at varying degrees, regardless of our socio-economic backgrounds and financial, mental, and physical status.
When Jade left the LOFT early the next year I was crushed. I sat in the LOFT that day for about an hour with tears in my eyes, hoping that I would get the chance to see her again and that we would stay in touch. She moved away from Oregon for a few years, and during that time we did manage to stay in touch by Facebook. When I got her message that she was coming back to Oregon to live I literally jumped out of my chair and screamed for joy. My little sis was coming home, and I’d have the chance to see her again. I was beyond excited.
Today, 3 years later, I am able to catch up with Jade once every couple of months when I am in Bend. In fact, when I plan a trip back over to Central Oregon she is the first person I call to see if I can steal her away for a little while to catch up. I am happy to say now that Jade is making a life for herself on her own, as a new mom. She recently had a baby girl, Teagan, who is absolutely adorable. The weekly pics I get of Teagan and her mom make my day. I am just hopeful that she let’s me be there for her, as an adopted uncle , as she continues to forge her life as an adult. I miss ya Jade, and you know that if you ever need anything I am there for you, period.