Joshua Myers, 29, has Down syndrome. These days, he considers it a gift — but he didn't always.
"At first," he says, "I thought it was a curse."
In fact, the condition proved so overwhelming for Myers that, once, he even walked out into the middle of a busy intersection, hoping that a car would hit him and end his life. But a stranger stopped for him. She brought him into her car to talk things through.
Myers hasn't seen her since.
"First of all, I'm just so grateful to that person I don't know who took that time with you," his mother, Susan Kaphammer, tells him during a recent visit with StoryCorps. "When you're a parent, the most important thing is that you be happy and, when you're not happy, it's just so frightening that I can't make that OK for you."
These days, though, Myers says his life is "awesome" — "I love my life," he says. And while there were a number of things he once dreamed of doing, today there are just two.
"One of them is to be a minister," Myers tells his mother. "The other is wrestling and WWE, to make my family proud from that."
"Do you think your family is proud of you?" she asks him.
"I know they are," he says. "I love my mom so much. I would even die for her."
But that's not quite right. Kaphammer doesn't want her son to die for her; rather, she says, "I want you to live for me."
That's partly because, whatever their roles as mother and son, Kaphammer considers Myers her teacher, at least in this crucial respect: "how to love," she says, "and everyone is who they are and who they're meant to be."
And who are Myers and Kaphammer, exactly? Well, they have a little ritual for that, as well.
"You're my Josh," she likes to tell him.
"You're my mom," he answers.
"You're my Josh."
Produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. Today, we hear from a mother and her adult son who has Down Syndrome.
JOSHUA MYERS: My name is Joshua Myers, the lovely son to my lovely mom. Mom, how do I look?
MONTAGNE: Joshua came to a StoryCorps booth in Yakima, Wash., to speak with his mom, Susan Kaphammer.
SUSAN KAPHAMMER: What is your disability?
MYERS: I have Down syndrome, and I consider it a gift, but at first I thought it was a curse.
KAPHAMMER: A curse.
KAPHAMMER: You told me once that it's just too much, but I didn't know how overwhelmed you were until they called and told me that you had gone and stood out in a busy intersection in the road.
MYERS: I just want to kill myself, but a lady stopped in front of me.
KAPHAMMER: So she had you come in the car and talk.
KAPHAMMER: And have we seen her since?
KAPHAMMER: First of all, I'm just so grateful to that person I don't know who took that time with you. When you're a parent, the most important thing is that you be happy. And when you're not happy, it's just so frightening that I can't make that OK for you. How is your life now?
KAPHAMMER: What's good about it?
MYERS: Everything. I love my life.
KAPHAMMER: Did you have dreams for your future when you were young?
MYERS: The dreams that I have were really vivid.
KAPHAMMER: Oh, vivid. What kinds of things did you think of doing?
MYERS: Some sexual things, but I don't really want to get into that.
KAPHAMMER: I'm not thinking just dreams at night, but things that you'd wanted to become.
MYERS: There was a lot of things I wanted to be back then, but there's only two things now.
KAPHAMMER: What's that?
MYERS: One of them is to be a minister; the other is wrestling in the WWE...
MYERS: ...To make my family proud from that.
KAPHAMMER: Do you think your family is proud of you?
MYERS: I know they are. I love my mom so much. I'll even die for her.
KAPHAMMER: But I don't want you to die for me.
MYERS: No, no, no.
KAPHAMMER: I want you to live for me.
MYERS: I mean, my mom has this everlasting love.
KAPHAMMER: And that's what you particularly taught me is how to love, and everyone is who they are and who they're meant to be. Do you remember what we usually say to each other? You're my Josh and then you say...
MYERS: You're my mom.
KAPHAMMER: You're my Josh.
MYERS: You're my mom.
MONTAGNE: That's Joshua Myers - he's 29 now - with his mother, Susan Kaphammer, at StoryCorps in Yakima, Wash. Their conversation is archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, along with all StoryCorps interviews. The podcast is on iTunes and npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.