Hope Without a Sugar Coating
by David Hulet
When it happened, I was heavily engrossed in my painting, excited for Christmas which was just around the corner. I was working on wooden ornaments I’d had to trace, and cut out myself with the wood saw. I had sanded them until they were smooth, and was now painting. These were my ornaments. All mine. I planned to hang them in my bedroom when I was finished. And yet, I still didn’t know how I wanted them to look when I was done. I needed that elusive final touch.
The heavy, dull gray door of the scene shop swung open and then banged loudly shut as usual whenever someone entered. With refined practice, the other students and I all turned to look at the new arrival. I tensed suddenly. Was that my dad? I knew immediately that something was wrong; my parents never came to my high school, let alone the theater.
My dad moved closer as my paintbrush hovered, paint dripping tediously. “Dad?” I managed. “Everything okay?”
He shook his head and opened his mouth to respond, but the words would not form. He was too emotionally distraught for words.
I balked and felt my heart shudder. The inclination came to grab him by the shoulders and shake the words out of him. I’d never seen my dad like this before, ever. God, please let my mom be okay. I didn’t say it out loud, fearing it would only compound his distress. Ryan’s tiny six-year old face locked in my mind and a wave of nausea crashed over me. What the hell happened? Who? How?
I steadied myself on the table with one hand. A drop of paint plummeted to the tile floor and splattered. I willed time to move normally again, yet knew I had no control. Everyone was focused on us and my dad wouldn’t say a word. I glanced down at the wooden ornaments I was making. This would be the worst time of year for a tragedy.
My eyes flew back to my father as he found his voice. “Jared. He…” Dad looked away. I felt the air fly from my lungs; my stomach tightening. Jared. He was barely eleven-years old and had been sick with stomach flu for a couple of days, but that was nothing serious.
I tried to hide the alarm enveloping me. “Dad! What is it? Tell me!” My hand moved to clutch his wrist.
“They took him to the hospital. I… I’m not sure yet why.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Dad! I don’t understand.” I was reeling. The kid was sick, just going to see the doctor. It was a routine check-up. Now he was in the hospital? I started wishing my dad would just hurry and spit the words I was waiting for.
He made another attempt. “Mom.” He paused, then plunged onward. “She called and said she was in an ambulance with Jared headed to Children’s Hospital. I’m going there now, but I came here first because I need you to pick up your sister from Jenny’s. Ryan will be home on the bus at 3:30 p.m. I want you there so he doesn’t come home to an empty house.”
I nodded, still trying to pull apart the whys on how this had happened.
“You’ll be okay?” he asked.
“I…yeah, Dad.” What the hell was I supposed to say? I still had a thousand questions. I wanted to go with him to see Jared, to make sure that my brother was okay. But school wasn’t over and I had a responsibility to my younger siblings. Dad had always been the pillar of strength for our family, cool and collected. Now he wanted me to be that for my little brother and sister. In my mind played the irony of my mother telling me to grow up and be responsible, never thinking I would. Dad turned to leave, still distraught. His pain and unsurety deeply unsettled me; I grappled with what he was asking now. I turned back to my ornaments as he left.
I knew now how to finish them. But the solid, bright green paint was almost dry and the bristles on my brush clumped together. I dipped it quickly in water to loosen them and finished with the green. Then I switched to shimmering silver. On top of the red, green, blue, orange, and yellow I painted—very carefully—one letter for each color: J A R E D. They would be his ornaments, not mine.
The rest of the school day blurred and didn’t really register in my mind as I continued to wrestle with what had just happened. At Jenny’s, Anastasia came running out with a smile, her Disney Princess backpack bouncing in her hand. She opened the door and greeted me, not understanding the reason for my muted reply. We drove home in near silence. How could I explain to her that our brother might die? Why was I thinking in such extremes, for that matter? I pushed the thoughts from my mind. Jared will be fine, I assured myself. When we got home, I gave her a granola bar and put on a movie to keep her occupied. Then I found some string and glued it to the back of the ornaments. I strung them across the entryway as an awkward, beautiful Christmas “welcome home” sign. Somewhere in the mass of confusion, pain, and dubiousness, hope resonated; I was holding onto it for all I was worth.
I would be lying if I said I knew where my belief in hope came from. I didn’t. But it was there, and I clung to it more desperately than I would my baby blanket when feeling scared. It seemed to me later that in the face of doubt and tension a safer abode is sought; that seeking could even be a universal experience. My dad’s breaking of his emotional barriers—revealing a side I’d never witnessed—bothered me greatly, but also strengthened my own resolve to be what he needed me to be. Even if it was hard. Years later, my mom would still poke at my immaturity and unwillingness to grow up; but during that crisis I stood resolute and strong for my younger siblings as my dad asked.
Jared and I were never particularly close; he was eleven and I was a senior busy with school, work, and an acting career. Yet this uncertainty proved to me how deep my ties to my family ran. The thought of losing Jared was unbearable; the thought of losing my youngest brother or my mom, even more. Something innate clawed at me that I still failed to comprehend.
Two days later, I finally had enough information to put all the pieces of the event puzzle together. The previous Saturday, my mom walked in on Jared when he was changing shirts, and she noticed all his ribs showing through his pale skin. She thought his sickness had dehydrated him so she started pumping him full of liquids. At the doctor’s office the tests revealed the shocking truth: my brother had diabetes. The liquids, especially those with sugar, had nearly sent him into a diabetic coma. My mom had almost killed him. That’s why he was whisked away in an ambulance. At the hospital they managed to stabilize him. Two days later he was home, but our lives would now be harder facing a future we never asked for.
I found that my relationship with God suffered at the hands of the new “life-long” condition that came home with Jared. I didn’t blame my mom—she was only trying to help— and I didn’t blame God directly, or feel anger toward him. But I still struggled to latch onto a why. A reason, a purpose, a justification. My thousand questions refused to grant me the peace I ached for. Why him? There wasn’t a history of anyone in our family ever having diabetes. What made him different? Why did this happen now? He was a kid! Barely eleven. I didn’t want to accept this change and I wasn’t even the one suffering. Jared was the one forced to monitor everything he ate, the one repeatedly pricked and stabbed with needles at least three times a day.
All to keep him stable. To make sure that his body worked the way it was supposed to anyway. My respect for Jared increased as he endured and adjusted; I still don’t understand how he did it. I’m deathly afraid of needles; just thinking about them hurts my wrists and makes me queasy. Somehow it didn’t seem fair that he had to go through this. Sure, we came here to suffer and learn, but in my mind this was too much to ask. He still had his whole life ahead of him and now it was tainted; Jared would never be the same. Even as my faith wavered, my hope remained. I doubted God, and I didn’t know where to go or what to hold on to anymore. It was the constant outside of me, granting stability. In that moment of crisis and in the days after, trying to accept a change that wasn’t even mine, hope persisted and I continued clinging to it.
Read David's story from last year HERE.