Everybody dreams of finding their dream job, but no one expects to find that their job will lead to a friendship that will last a lifetime.
My name is Erin Pasley, and I am from an Illinois family of six; including my late father, mother (who is my role model), and my three younger sisters. I enjoy music, swimming, and most especially being surrounded by friends. I am 21, and when I was moving from Illinois to attend the University of Mary in Bismarck at the ae of 18, I quickly found that friends were few and far between. I found myself making friends who didn’t have the same morals as I do, and I lost/gained friends consistently. I was working for a bridal shop through my freshman year of college and realized how unhappy I was in the workforce.
While I was job searching, a college professor told me about a family looking for someone to care for their teenage daughter with Down Syndrome. I had no experience caring for someone with special needs; I really didn’t even know much about Down Syndrome at all, but I sent my resume and set up an interview.
I met the family at their house over the dinner hour and was extremely nervous. They introduced me to their daughter Carly, and their two other children, one older and one younger then Carly, in the household. She looked at me; I looked at her. I saw this small girl listening to music that I listen to daily, and there was just something in her eyes telling me I was in the right place. I greeted her in a long phrase, and I simply got a “hi” from her. I am pretty sure, looking back now, that I talked down to her like she was a child. She was 1 at the time, but her small stature made her look so young.
Many people interviewed for the job, but Carly’s parents hired me; to this day I don’t know why, but their decision has been one of the greatest blessings of m life.
The first few weeks were…awkward. Carly utilizes very little verbal communication. She has an Alternative Augmentative Communication (ACC) device, which she usually uses very little. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. She was unable to tell me if what I was doing was right or wrong. I felt like I was working in the dark. One day, though, as I became frustrated because I didn’t know what she wanted, I broke down. In that moment, she made eye contact with me and embraced me for a short second. In that moment I realized how genuine, kind, and spectacular Carly is.
Carly’s family made me feel like family – especially her mother Brenda, who was grown to be a second mom to me. Together, we eat meals, watch TV, dance, tell cringe-worthy knock-knock jokes, go out on the town, swim, and so much more. Carly and I quickly became close friends – friends who would talk about boys, having hard days, the good things in life, and sharing moments of achievement.
Our friendship is one of the defining moments that changed my life. I learned that Down Syndrome is beautiful, and there is no much more to life than what I imagined. Before Carly, my life felt superficial. Today, I lead Youth Empowering Social Status (YESS), a group of people with and without disabilities working to bring inclusion to the youth in our community. I’m involved in more things that I can count, and I have begun the journey to received my master’s degree in speech language pathology; I have never been happier.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, brought on by a traumatic event I experienced in 2014. I was devastated – the health problems I was working to overcome after that trauma were no longer curable. It made working and school so difficult. My symptoms include severe nerve pain, brain fog, insomnia, and fatigue. This especially made maintaining friendships difficult. I didn’t want to go out and party, go out to eat, or go running simply because I couldn’t do it anymore, but that didn’t affect Carly’s friendship with me.
Carly and I have a friendship that is almost impossible to describe in works. In the two-and-a -half years we have been together, we have overcome challenges every day, both mentally and physically. I tell her that we have survived 100 percent of our struggles, and we will continue to survive. She has inspired me to be the best version of myself, and I feel honored that I can now go out and inspire others to the best version of themselves, too.
When I reflect on my friendship with Carly and her family, I see a friendship that isn’t defined by disability. I purely see a best friend–a second family–that I will have for the rest of my life. This has become more than a job, it has become my life. Even though I am done working as a respite for Carly in September to focus on the demanding hours of graduate school, I have assured them that they aren’t getting rid of me. I will be back to take her out all of the time, as I need my partner in crime. I am really proud to be a part of the lucky few.