Alexis and I began our journey together in a northwest Oklahoma town. At her insistence, at six weeks I picked her up, held her on my shoulder and walked her around and around the house. She repeatedly raised her tiny head off on my shoulder. Eager and impatient to practice holding her head up!
Next, we met and conquered crawling, pulling up and walking. Whatever was the next physical challenge, Alexis insisted on repeatedly practicing until mastered. With Alexis’s intensity and determination, we conquered physical independence way ahead of developmental charts.
Verbal skills development was the same. We “read” picture books to learn the sounds of letters, to identity colors and find farm animals. We quickly graduated to memorizing nursery rhymes and speaking simple sentences; never baby talk.
We tackled more adventures like riding a bike and horseback riding. We practiced simple piano skills. In sixth grade the band teacher handed her an oboe, a difficult double reed woodwind instrument and I watched and listened as Alexis diligently practiced. She went from making horrible screeching noises to producing clear rapid notes.
The only time I saw fear and hesitancy in Alexis’s endeavors was with motorized vehicles, especially in driving a car. The only test I remember her failing was her drivers’ test at age sixteen. I now believe that was an intuitive fear.
In high school, I watched Alexis propel herself with the same determination she exhibited as a child. Her method — hard work and practice. Aside from automobiles, she had an eager, adventurous spirit. l hugged her goodbye as she left for Belgium in her junior year in high school to be the first to travel abroad to be an exchange student.
I was not surprised when her application for early acceptance into her chosen liberal arts women’s college in New York City was accepted prior to high school graduation. Nor was I surprised when she was selected as an honors student among the highly competitive student body. But I was surprised when she shared how little sleep she was getting.
Her schedule overflowing: academic challenges, campus leadership roles and many volunteer activities. Shortly before college graduation, it came. A crash as big as all of her accomplishments. I learned of her diagnosis: Bipolar I with rapid cycling.
It was time for medical leave. Alexis died shortly thereafter. She was driving a car. She never made it home.
By Susan Kopta