Diagnosis is a multi-layered word. The time you have in the hospital is a slap in the face, but it’s nothing compared to going home and having to carry around that diagnosis without a team of nurses and doctors to hold your hand at every moment, all the while living the rest of your life like nothing has changed. I was (and still am) a stubborn kid with a primarily black and white understanding of the world. I took to my diagnosis like a cat on a leash: anger with a side of thick, stone, wall that prevented anything from getting past the anger.
Watching my parents and Sam get through my diagnosis did nothing to alleviate my anger. I would walk in on Sam eating his afternoon snack (goldfish crackers, juicebox, and cookie of choice) with Dad and they’d both just stop eating and stare at the table. I’d stomp out. I once caught my mom sobbing on the back porch while my dad held her, promptly assumed they were upset because I was a lost cause, decided there wasn’t any point in being healthy anymore…and stomped away. I got mad at all the sugar free options Mom bought for me (Jello, pudding, gum, Canfields Chocolate Fudge Soda…), got mad at Mom for controlling me, and then…stomped off. I didn’t know that I was angry because I felt helpless, so my anger always switched targets. I knew being mad about having diabetes was silly because it wasn’t going to go away, but for some reason, all that logic didn’t make me less hurt or less furious.
For many months after my diagnosis, Kayl and I didn’t hang out as regularly. I thought, for a long time, that my mom had told his mom that I wasn’t ready for social events – which, of course, just made me angrier. But now I think his mom might have wanted me to have some time to adjust, and maybe she wanted Kayl to understand what was going on, too. Either way, the few times a month that we did see each other were stilted and uncomfortable at best. I was too angry to see our time together as anything other than another vehicle for my rage, and too overwhelmed with impotence to articulate myself in ways that weren’t destructive.
When Jake started picking Kayl and Dahlia up from school and taking them home, I assumed it was because we were no longer best friends. Kayl’s occasional homework time with me had long since become a silent, irksome, affair: he would make a comment about the silliness of one of the questions, I would ignore him because I thought his ploy to not address the obvious (diabetes, how it ruins everything, hello) was mean and selfish. I would later make a comment about how math was only good for carb counting, and he would ignore me to even the score. Which I would then take personally. So on and so forth.
A few weeks after Jake started picking Kayl and his sister up from school, Kayl came over to work on a group research project with me (we were inevitably the two kids in any group project who could be counted on to do all the work). We began our routine with our typical stodgy silence, but when Kayl broke it, he said,
“Dad moved out.”
“He…why? Why did he do that?” My parents fought all the time: they yelled, they stomped around, they threw things, they made up and that was that. To me, fighting was not a reason to leave, and I couldn’t picture anything more serious happening, shy of one of them passing away or maybe being abducted by aliens.
“He says it’s better this way. But Mom says it didn’t have to be that way, that everyone makes choices that have repercussions. I don’t know.” Kayl looked so sad that I forgot about my own sad life for two seconds and really saw my friend. He was pale, his eyes had sunk deep into his cheeks, his lips were quivering (Kayl??), and he wasn’t doing anything with his hands. They just sat there on his lap like dead fish. Kayl was always moving his hands – building things or writing things or fixing things or tapping things.
“Well, when will he come back? Is…” I hesitated, looking at Kayl’s face of woe, and finished softly, “…he going to come back?”
“I think it’s divorce. My parents are getting a divorce.” His lips formed the words like he’d practiced them in his head a hundred times, but still didn’t really know how they were supposed to sound. “We spend every weekend in the city with Dad, and the week days with Mom, here. But, that’s not family. I don’t know where my family is.” Kayl looked, at that moment, the way I’d felt for the last several months, and I knew he’d never come back: some stains are permanent and their pain just becomes part of who you are.
Our homework time was easier after that; I knew why he was sad, and he was too sad to be fazed by my trigger-happy irritability. We were able to find a melancholy rhythm that enabled us to feel comforted in our loneliness, one that never actually addressed our miseries. Life moved around us, and we acquiesced. I went from being rageful to sullen and indifferent. Kayl turned into something akin to one of his creations; a stiff automaton of a boy, programmed only to respond to direct input.