Thursday, December 20, 2007

His Brother

Since August -- when we first heard the news -- I've tried very hard to put it out of my mind-- determined to follow Joseph's lead.

"Mom," he'd say, "I'm just not gonna think about it until I have to."

This week, he had to.

"It's not fair! It's just not fair!" Joseph cries, tears streaming down his cheeks. "This is worse than getting diabetes!

"I know, Bud... I know... "

That's all I can say, over and over.

Because I'm crying too.

"Why does he have to leave? WHY?! I wish it were anybody else but him. ANYBODY!"

"Me too, Honey... me, too."

I hold him tight -- standing in the middle of the kitchen, his head buried in my shoulder -- overwhelmed by the magnitude of the loss my son is about to experience.

That little boy with the brilliant red hair and freckles who means so very much to all of us-- who, for seven years, has lived across the street, two doors down.

The boy we met on the very day we moved in.

Zachary was only 2 1/2 back then-- and for a whole year I couldn't understand a word he said.

But it was obvious from the beginning that he worshiped Joseph-- and that that feeling was mutual.

In fact, within months of our arrival, when I made the mistake of referring to Zachary as Joseph's "friend," my son was quick to correct me.

"No, Mom-- he's my brother."

I'll never forget how Zachary beamed at these words.

And how from then on, they were inseparable.

Zack has slept at our house countless times over the years-- and has come over to play almost daily.

And whenever it was time for him to go home, he'd always leave things behind.

A special new hat, a sweatshirt, action figures, his Nintendo DS...

As if this were his second home.

And really, it was.

When Joseph was diagnosed with diabetes, Zachary was devastated.

At only six-years-old, he learned about it all right along with Joseph.

I never saw him drink regular soda again.

And just last week...

.... when the boys came in from building their snow fort because Joseph felt low, Zack (as usual) loaded the test strip while Joseph washed his hands.

Then, as Joseph was about to prick his finger, Zack put a hand on his and said:

"Dude, your hands are all wet-- go dry them off first."

Damn it! Why does he have to go?

Last night, Zachary came by with his mom and two sisters. We'd planned one last sleepover for the boys before he and his family leave Friday morning for their new home.

Over 400 miles away.

"Oh, Sandra-- I'm so sorry, but it's just too much," his mom tells me the moment they walk in. "We've got other people to see before we leave. I just can't let him do a sleepover tonight."

I look over at Joseph and Zachary-- neither makes a sound in protest, but their red-rimmed eyes say it all.

"Are you sure we can't do this?" I ask, not wanting to put more pressure on this woman-- but suddenly realizing that she might not fully understand what this means to these boys.

"I'm sorry."

So we exchange Christmas gifts while the boys quietly make their way upstairs-- to Joseph's room.

Ten minutes later, I head up to tell them it's time.

Standing in the doorway, I look at the two boys sitting on the edge of Joseph's bed.

My son is crying-- while Zack just sits there open-mouthed, looking miserable.

I settle down between them, putting my arms around their shoulders.

"It's gonna be all right. You guys are gonna talk on the phone all the time. And we'll come visit, and you'll come back to visit, too."

Looking up, face drenched with tears, Joseph says quietly:

"It's not the same."

I rub his back, and then pull both boys in close-- no longer able to hold back my own tears.

"Zachary," I say, my voice catching, "you are like my other son... I love you... and I'm gonna miss you very much."

Then we all just hold onto each other.

A few minutes later, he's gone.

"What am I gonna do?" Joseph asks me.

"Honey, I know that no one will ever replace Zachary, but you've got a lot of other friends and- "

"I know, Mom. But they're not like him. We... we can just be together. We can be bored-- and it's okay. Because then we always find something, anything to do."

"I don't know what I'm gonna do without him."

"Mom, he's my little brother."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Today She Is Five

And I simply cannot believe it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Locked In

"Hi-- is this Joseph's mom?" asks an unfamiliar voice.

"Yes," I say into the phone.

"Ms. Miller, this is Ms. G___ , Joseph's gym teacher."

His gym teacher?

Wait, Joseph called an hour ago -- right before gym.
His blood sugar was only 140, and he had a ton of insulin on board, so I had him cancel the rest of his lunch bolus, and eat a bag of cheese crackers...

Suddenly I'm feeling very afraid.

"Is something wrong?"

"No, no- he's fine now.


"What do you mean? What happened?"

"Well, you see he came to class a little late-- because he had to check in at the nurse's office -- and then he went to the boys' locker room to change, and then came back out because he couldn't remember the combination to his lock. I gave it to him, and then he went back in."

A pause.

"And then?"

"Well, the boys' locker room is on the other side of the gym, and we've had some problems with theft recently-- so we've been locking the door after classes start... "

Another pause.

And now I want to reach across the phone and pull the words right out of her throat.

"Well, I'm afraid that Joseph got locked in...

Still another pause.

For... uh... 20 minutes."

"20 minutes?"

"You see," she continues, awkwardly, "the teacher from the other side of the gym must not have called in before locking the door-- but, it's all my fault. Joseph let me know he was here when he got to the gym, and then I forgot about him."

For about a second, I don't know what to say.

I just feel sick.

"His blood sugar was falling right before your class," I tell her. "This could have been really, really bad."

"Yes, I know," she says. "I'm so sorry."

"Yesterday, his blood sugar fell nearly a hundred points in less than 15 minutes... " I say, half to myself. "Wait- are you sure he's all right?"

"Oh yes-- he was laughing when we found him in there. I asked him why he didn't call out-- he said he did, and that he banged on the door, but no one heard. That locker room is on the other side of the gym. And well, shortly after he went in, I started videotaping my student teacher... and I just forgot about him."

For a few minutes, we talk about why this could have been very serious.

And about how the school will make sure it doesn't happen again.

Then I hang up the phone, turn and lean over the kitchen counter.

And very quietly, begin to cry.