In the meantime, Kayl seemed chirpier. He showed up at my house smiling, laughed off most of my unwarranted snark, and, at one point, brought sugar free Oreos so we could attempt to beat our previous record. He even persisted in building it after I’d lectured him on how most sugar free products aren’t really sugar free. I thought maybe he was getting used to his dad being gone, and wondered how he’d managed to be ok with that.
Then, after we’d finished our Oreo ship (the experience was kind of disappointing – apparently Oreos aren’t really versatile building tools, who knew), Jake came to pick him up. Kayl used to just walk home, but it was Friday, which meant he was going downtown to stay with his dad for the weekend. Usually, when Jake showed up, Kayl would stall packing up his backpack, ask for another glass of water, need to use the bathroom, and generally cause shenanigans for as long as possible, until Jake lost his temper and demanded that Kayl knock it off and get in the car.
This time, however, Kayl’s face lit up. He raced to his backpack and began shoveling things in there as fast as he could. I stared at him for a second, then asked, “So…is something big happening today?”
Kayl’s face erupted in grins as he said,
“Yeah! Jake’s going to take me and Dahlia to his Tae Kwon Do class. He just got his second dan black belt, so he wants to show us what he has to do for his next competition!”
I nodded and said, “Oh! Ok, well, have fun!” Kayl waved goodbye and raced out the door.
In the days that followed, I noticed all sorts of differences between Kayl and Jake. Jake, despite being in college and having (from all accounts via his mom) a ridiculously crazy schedule, would show up early to Kayl’s science presentations and competitions, and sit with him while he waited to be evaluated. He managed to appear when Astor approached Kayl after school one day (Astor was, and quite possibly still is, the meanest girl I had ever met – No One bothered Astor, unless you craved pain and possibly dying from said pain). Astor took one look at Jake and slunk off without a word or backward glance.
Kayl was, suddenly, the best possible Kayl when Jake was around. When Jake teased him, he didn’t respond with a sentiment regarding what happened to Jake’s last girlfriend or how it wasn’t actually a rule to smell so bad; he laughed and rolled his eyes. Jake taught him some of his Tae Kwon Do moves and I spotted Kayl teaching them to Dahlia a few days later. Kayl let Jake help him with homework, and looked forward to seeing him after school. Somewhere in his parents’ split, he had learned to do more than love his older brother because he had to: he had learned to trust him, to like him.
I saw Kayl’s happiness return with a sense of disconnected awe. I realized that Jake had taken away Kayl’s pain by letting Kayl be his worst self until there wasn’t anymore bad left. I knew Kayl still missed his dad, and that it hurt him to not have his family all in one place. But somehow, Jake had found a way to clean away the ugliness that came from Kayl’s hurt. Trusting Jake had allowed Kayl to accept his hurt without becoming only his injuries and nothing more.
That spring, Kayl went with his siblings and his mom to a family camping experience in Utah. My family wasn’t much for camping, and Dad had a big project at work that needed to be finished, so we stayed put. I spent most of it practicing my violin for a competition, but the closer the competition date got, the tougher practices became.
Two days before the competition, I checked my sugar early in the afternoon, expecting to be on the low side, since usually I ran low in the afternoons. 281! Not. Low. Bolus, drink water, go practice. Two hours later, I check again: 386. Mistake! Right? Totally. Check again, different finger, different hand: 394. Rage. I over bolused by about 80%, drank water, and tried to practice more. But I couldn’t focus, I felt nauseous, and my eyes kept blurring. All I could think about was the piece I hadn’t even started practicing yet that day, and how I was sure to mess it up in the competition. It was a full hour and a half later, but I knew I was still high. I checked anyway, hoping desperately that maybe my eyes were blurry because I was finally coming down: 417.
Tears soaked my face, my nose stuffed up, and I made weird sounds trying to breathe in between the sobs. I saw the judges laughing at me in the competition while I struggled to find the A string on my violin. I felt like all my hard work didn’t matter if a day of bad sugars could take away my ability to make the music I could hear so clearly in my head. I flung my glucometer at the wall (where, to my minor satisfaction, it shattered into a zillion pieces) and raced to my room, hurling myself on my bed. I let my wails shake my entire body, rending my pillow so harshly with my hands that the fabric tore.
When Papageno jumped on me, my first murky, wimper-riddled, thought was that he was finally going to chew my ear off because I had ignored him for so long. I rolled on my back and, weeping still, braced myself for a well-deserved mauling. He didn’t. He sat himself squarely on my chest and licked away my tears. Then he lay down between my side and my arm, with his head on my shoulder, and placed his paw very gently on my cheek. And he waited. He waited till my tears stopped, and my breathing had slowed. He waited till my hands unclenched and I was able to empty my head. I lay there with him for a long time, my hands resting on his furry back. It was amazing how clean my head felt after I’d wailed till there just wasn’t any more left.
When I finally got up to check my sugar again (about two hours later, and with the meter I kept in my bedroom), I was a pristine 102. My parents came home and found me curled up with Papageno on the bed. They didn’t say anything about the shattered glucometer or the torn pillow. I went to sleep that night without being angry or annoyed or frustrated. I just slept.