To be or not to be,’ my teacher said.
Once a week, my mum Maria would drop me off at my drama class for intellectually disabled people.
I was born with Down syndrome and I have always loved the theatre so I’d jumped at the chance to sign up.
Drama lessons quickly became my favourite part of the week. I especially loved meeting new people who enjoyed acting as much as I did – like Ryan.
‘Alex!’ he yelled. Running towards me, he wrapped his arms around me, giving me a big squeeze. ‘I missed you!’ I smiled, hugging him back. So kind and gentle, Ryan had fast become my best friend.
It was great partnering with him during class, but what I loved most about Ryan was how he was just like me. He had Down syndrome, too, and loved dancing.
‘Come on!’ he’d say, pulling me up in the middle of a class. Boogying together, our friends cheered us on.
While we had a lot in common, we had very different personalities. I liked to quietly learn and make new friends whereas Ryan loved to be the class clown!
He pushed me out of my comfort zone and every moment I was with him I had flutters of excitement.
‘Will you be my girlfriend?’ he asked one day. ‘You’re my best friend,’ I said letting him down gently. ‘Okay,’ Ryan said, spinning me around the dancefloor.
I loved spending time with him, but I only saw him as a friend and nothing more. Every class, for almost a year, Ryan asked me out and each time I told him I wanted to just be friends.
One night, at our friend’s birthday party, he came up to me again. ‘I really think we should be boyfriend and girlfriend,’ he said flashing his famous grin.
Staring into his eyes, I found comfort. He is actually really cute, I thought. ‘I think you’re right,’ I agreed. When he planted a kiss on my lips, my heart jumped!
‘That’s wonderful,’ Mum said after I told her my news. ‘He is a lovely guy!’
Taking me out on date nights every week, Ryan would pick something new for us to do. With a love for musicals, our first date was to Wicked and soon we were ticking off every show available!
‘How about The Lion King musical?’ he suggested one week. Pulling on my favourite dress, we headed to the theatre. ‘He’s my boyfriend,’ I beamed proudly, telling everyone.
Bouncing in our seats to the songs, Ryan grabbed my hand. ‘Hakuna Matata,’ he started singing. Smiling, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have him in my life. ‘What a wonderful phrase,’ I joined in.
After the show, the words just blurted out of me. ‘I love you so much,’ I blushed. ‘I love you so much more,’ he smiled, embracing me.
From then on, we were inseparable, going to our favourite Thai restaurant, ballroom dancing lessons, and even the special Olympics.
‘We’re going on a cruise with Ryan and his mum Linda,’ Mum told me one day. ‘Yay!’ I squealed running around the house.
As we sailed away from Sydney, Mum snapped photos of Ryan and me under the Harbour Bridge. And when our family headed to their cabins, Ryan and I stayed on the deck soaking up the sun.
‘Should we get engaged?’ Ryan said turning to me. ‘Yes!’ I beamed.
Placing his arm around me, we skipped to the gift shop on the boat. ‘That one please,’ Ryan said, pointing at the purple stone ring. ‘That’s my favourite colour,’ I smiled. ‘I know,’ he winked.
Then, bending down on one knee he held out the ring. ‘Will you marry me?’ he asked. Squealing, I screamed yes as he placed the sparkling ring on my finger.
Running to our mums’ rooms, we knocked on their doors. ‘We’re engaged!’ we said, sharing our good news. ‘We’re so happy for you,’ Linda said.
I am very happy to have found my other half and we’ve had so much support from both of our families. Together for four years, I can’t believe my best friend is now my fiancé!
Now back at home, Ryan and I are just trying to agree where to say ‘I do.’ ‘I think Hawaii,’ Ryan says, dreaming of an overseas ceremony. I’m not sure and am thinking of having something at home surrounded by friends and family. One thing we have agreed on is Elvis Presley will be playing for our first dance. My big sister Gemma can’t wait to take me wedding dress shopping.
For now, Ryan and I spend nearly every weekend together having sleepovers at each other’s homes. ‘I love you so much,’ I tell him every single day. If I don’t see him, I text it, or call to tell him!
Recently, we took part in a TV series to show that people with disabilities still have the ability to love. Ryan complements me in every way. Disability or not, everyone deserves the same kind of love I feel when I am with him.
Watch more of Alex’s story on SBS’s new documentary, ‘Love Me As I Am’ on August 7.