Winter: My Favorite Season

October 20, 2015

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was a nerd in grade school, but let’s face it, the stereotypes matched up rather perfectly. I wore thick glasses, possessed a slightly quirky sense of fashion, and hadn’t really discovered the concept that is plucking one’s eyebrows. So rather than engaging in a rousing game of tetherball like the rest of my young peers, I much preferred crouching against the brick wall of our small town elementary school during recess to lose myself in the Harry Potter series. And when one segregates herself from the recess-life of the fourth grade, it could be presumed that she might be lacking in the group of life skills labeled Social. In other words, I didn’t have many friends. Not because I didn’t want any, believe you me, I wanted friends. It just seemed as though there was no way of going about making friends when you were a tall, gangly girl wearing a hand-me-down Garfield graphic tee.
Finally, long after I had accepted that having buddies just wasn’t in my life plans, one of my classmates decided to join me on the wall at recess one particularly overcast November day. For probably five minutes, he sat at an appropriate distance from me, just staring straight ahead as I pretended to read about the Sorcerer’s Stone and wondered what the heck this cooty-covered, towhead boy was trying to pull and even more so, what the heck he was holding. Suddenly, using his hands to push himself, he ungracefully scooted closer to me until there was only about 2.5 inches between his shoulder and mine. He then blurted, “Wanna see pictures that I been makin’?”
I looked down to what he had been holding and realized that it was indeed a very neat stack of papers with drawings and chicken-scratch writing, or like he had said, pictures. Before I could answer he forced his pages on top of my already occupied lap and spoke again:
“You’ll fer sure like my pictures ‘cause it’s really cool stuff.”
I glanced at the first paper, which had a very funny looking green cartoon woman on it. It was labeled, “My Girlfriend”
Austin Winters, I decided, would be a perfect best friend for me and boy, was I right. Every day from then on, we sat at the desks next to each other and played games we had created ourselves at recess. Austin was hilarious and he didn’t mind that I was awkward and didn’t really understand how to communicate in normalcy yet. He started to be what I looked forward to every morning when my mom woke me up for school. I never missed school and neither did he, so it was convenient. That is, until he started showing up less and less. And when he did show up, he came in dragging and he looked tired. His hyper attitude and hilarious remarks never changed, but I could tell something was up.
One day, another one when Austin was not there and I sat alone, our teacher Mrs. Corey announced the reason for his recent absenteeism. She explained to us that Austin Winters had leukemia. She described what it was to us and knowing that we most likely didn’t completely comprehend the extent of it, summed it up to Austin was very sick and needed all the support from his classmates that he could. I was honestly hurt that he hadn’t told me that he was sick. I wanted to make him feel better, but I remember that Mrs. Corey told us not to bug him much about it and just be really nice to him. So that’s just what I was going to do.
After Mrs. Corey had given us the news, Austin didn’t come to school for about 2 months straight. The day that he was to come back was something I had been looking forward to since the week prior when Mrs. Corey told us that he was coming. Austin winters walked into the classroom that Monday approximately 20 pounds lighter and missing, well, all of his hair. A majority of my classmates just stared, unsure what to say to him. That day was all about Austin. He stood in front of the class and displayed to us an enlarged photo of the super hero he had created while he was at the hospital “getting better”. The super hero’s name was Bacon Boy and he fought crime with his ability to shoot grease out of one hand and bacon bits out the other. Alongside Bacon Boy was his sidekick Sargent Sausage. Everyone absolutely adored him! We had no work that day, all we were to do was cherish our time with Austin, and that’s what I did. Austin and I talked and he told me that he didn’t tell me he was sick because he didn’t want me to worry or tell other kids. I understood and forgave him, of course. This was the last day I shared with my best friend.
Our class and eventually, the whole elementary school began making flyers and buttons that had Bacon Boy on them and said things like “Pray for Austin” and “We believe in Bacon Boy”. We fundraised for Austin and his family by selling Bacon Boy t-shirts through that school year and that whole summer into the 5th grade. His parents came to visit me once or twice and tell me how he was doing, but I wasn’t able to visit him because he was so tired, they had said. Despite our efforts to hope and pray for him, Austin Winters finally lost his fight with leukemia on September 18th.
I remember coming to school after being gone on a long weekend and having a couple kids crowd me to tell me that Austin had died. I was sure they were playing a sick, sick joke; how could they be serious? Austin wasn’t supposed to die, he was still alive. He had to be. I didn’t believe them on bit. But when I sat down, my teacher walked over to me, her eyes rimmed with tears, to assure me that they weren’t kidding. My 11 year old brain could not and did not process this information until I arrived at home that afternoon and it finally hit me. My best friend was dead; he was gone forever. I cried, oh man I cried. It wasn’t just tears, mind you. It was body rattling, voice cracking, choking on my own voice, genuine sobbing.
It seemed so unfair to me that I had finally made a friend and he had been stolen from me less than a year after he entered my life. It was so insanely hard for me to stop being sad about what had happened. The ache I felt in my chest when it hit me never left, it simply subsided. In fact, writing about him right now has summoned it back and let me tell you, the pain is excruciating. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that Austin Winters would be terribly mad at me for crying and being sad about his absence. Because even at age 9, Austin was wise. He was kind and his main goal was to make the people around him laugh, even when he was so broken down from chemotherapy and constant bad news. So I made the decision to be happy for the times that Austin made me giggle uncontrollably, rather than sad because he couldn’t do it anymore. Austin Winters and his whole family was the epitome of being positive in negative situations and that boy, at barely a decade old, changed not only my attitude and perspective, but also my entire life. Now, the absolute only thing that makes me sad about Austin’s hasty departure from this earth is that I will never be able to thank him enough for taking notice of me sitting on that brick wall in the fourth grade.
Makaila Gangler