“My grandmother died of diabetes,” my ‘boyfriend,’ Jake, mentioned offhandedly as we climbed rocks in the woods behind his home.
We were in fifth grade, and the act of dating consisted of parentally-supervised playdates a few times each month and the added privilege of swapping prince and princess Disney-themed Valentine’s Day cards in February.
“No she didn’t,” I retorted.
“Yes she did. She got really sick. I don’t think she had to take shots like you. But the doctors said she died of diabetes.”
“People don’t die from diabetes. It must have been something else,” I replied, shaking my head as if to dispel the prospect.
The thought had never really crossed my mind before. I knew low blood sugar left me pale and shaking on the floor. But did people actually die from this stuff? I pushed the notion to the anxiety cupboard of my mind, a place from which I often plucked a topic to pester my mother about on the car rides home from school.
“Do people die of diabetes, Mom?”
“I don’t think that’s something you have to worry about,” was along the lines of her response- a well-played verse which straddled the line of truth just enough to shield me from the painful reality of the answer.
I packed the concept of death via diabetes back into the anxiety cupboard of my mind and closed the door tightly. Why had he said it if it wasn’t true, though?
Today I realize that Jake simply wanted his grandmother’s story to be heard, especially by someone who understood firsthand the turmoil of the disease that took his grandma away from Christmas mornings with her grandchildren far too soon.
If I ever walked into a bar now and happened to find Jake swigging from a frosty mug, I’d tap him on the shoulder and tell him that his grandma’s diabetes is different from my diabetes, which is different from your diabetes, which is different from Ryan Reed’s diabetes.
Then I would buy him a beer, apologize for his loss, and sit down and listen to his story.