It was the Christmas season of 1998. My father was underway and would not be joining us for Christmas that year, so my mother decided that we would go stay with my Grandparents. To this day, having Christmas in Wisconsin feels special. There’s something about the snow that seems magical. The way it transforms the land into another world. That fantasy built up by storybooks somehow seems complete when waking up to a snow-covered wonderland.
Plus, I got to see my grandparents.
My grandmother had already told me about the gingerbread houses she was planning on having my brother and I build. I was pretty stoked. I loved any activity that allowed me to express my creativity through frosting. I was looking forward to this trip. I hadn’t been feeling myself lately and could use a little light-hearted holiday festivities in my life.
I was unaware that this trip would change my life forever.
I don’t know why I was so excited about the gingerbread house, but I couldn’t wait to get started. My grandmother said we had to wait til a specific day (I can’t remember why.) In the meantime my mother’s intuition that something was wrong with her daughter kept growing. So they made me pee on a stick.
The result was black and I had no idea what that meant. No one really bothered to explain but we were in the car and on our way to the ER.
I remember needles, screaming, and images of Snow White. The clearest picture is my mother’s face filled with tears. None of this makes sense. My Aunt Katie is reading Repunzel to me. My father is leaving his ship and flying to Wisconsin. Eventually someone tells me that I have diabetes, whatever that means.
All of a sudden my life changes.
Someone starts explaining that my body doesn’t work right anymore and my parents will have to give me shots. I tell the nurses that I will do them myself. I still believe that once I leave the hospital I will be okay and this nightmare of shots (self-administered or not) will be over. I know Christmas is coming up and I need to get to Grandma’s and make gingerbread houses.
Diets. Carbohydrates, proteins, and starches. All words a child should not know, and yet I am now expected to swear by. I miss our family Christmas party. Christmas is coming. I have to make those gingerbread houses.
I leave the hospital. Words like “no-cure” and “rest of your life” have no meaning yet. One day they will and they will hurt. Right now, I don’t care. I just want to make gingerbread houses.
My parents and grandparents were scared. Now that I’m a parent, I can understand how frightening the experience must have been for them. Their brave face fooled me at the time. I’m sure it felt like a drop of unaccounted for sugar would kill me. Sweets were not on the diet. Gingerbread houses were not okay anymore.
It’s strange how writing this 13 years later still brings about the feeling of devastation I felt when I was told, “No gingerbread houses.” That meant something to me. That was when I knew something had changed. In that moment if felt like Christmas had somehow been taken from me.
I’ve often asked myself why gingerbread is the most significant thing to stand out when I think of my diagnosis. All the other images are just secondary. Despite everything that was introduced into my life, it’s the gingerbread that remains a constant reminder of the day I was forced to grow up a little faster than I should have.
Happy Diaversery to me.
December 20, 1998.