Are people aware of the very moment they change your mindset forever? The moment that they confirm you aren’t alone with diabetes?
Dressing up for Halloween was not an issue. I wore my silly costumes proudly and they were always homemade. I was a fairy godmother one year. I was a gypsy for a solid five years in a row. Another year I was Bo Peep, complete with sheep.
Then, suddenly, there was diabetes.
When the central focus of the holiday is eating candy, what’s a kid with diabetes to do?
In the first few years after my diagnosis, the candy was monitored and handled by my mother. I had a few pieces after we went trick-or-treating, a small stash was squirreled away for future low blood sugar treatments, and my brother and sister bartered with me for the rest. My older brother, little sister, and I would sit on the floor after trick-or-treating and pour our pillowcase collections of candy out onto the floor, separating the candy into genre piles – one for chocolate, one for hard candies and gum, and a potluck of the non-candy items like pencils and stickers. Somehow, I usually ended up with all the pencils and stickers as my brother and sister grinned at me with chocolate-rimmed mouths.
I used to sneak pieces of candy, though. I remember finding the “just in case of lows” stash and cramming five or six mini-Snickers bars into my mouth. The chocolate taste was sickeningly sweet and a delicious deception. I didn’t get caught in the moment, but it was one of my first moments of food-related guilt.
My mother will recount that first Halloween, when she leaned in to give me a kiss and she smelled chocolate on my breath. “I thought it would kill you,” she admitted. That panic, that first taste of diabetes-related fear was something my parents shouldered so I wouldn’t have to. I was just a seven-year-old kid. I was more concerned about whether or not my gypsy skirts were getting tattered on the edges from running through the streets on Halloween night than the specifics of my pancreas function.
I was the trick-or-treater who dragged diabetes around, too. Couldn’t tell by looking at me, though. In my group of friends, you couldn’t pick my diabetes out of that crowd.
Which is probably why the police officer used his police cruiser intercom to harness my attention.
I was about nine years old, trick-or-treating with my friends in one of their neighborhoods. There were seven or eight of us and we were all sporting costumes and dragging pillowcases around to carry our bounty.
The headlights came up behind us first, then the swirling red and blue police lights. The intercom squealed on.
We stopped dead in our tracks. No one turned around. My friend Christie whispered loudly to me, “Did he just say your name?”
“Kerri? We’re looking for Kerri. Is she with you guys?”
My blood ran cold. What could I have possibly done? Oh my God, did they know I sneaked candy every Halloween?
Like a convict on the run giving up chase, I turned around slowly and raised my hands over my head.
The intercom squealed to life again. “Please come over to the car.”
I shuffled my shoes, now filled with lead, toward the police cruiser. My friends stood back, clutching their pillowcases and staring.
The window of the police car lowered and revealed the smiling face of Officer Mark, the young D.A.R.E. officer who visited my middle school every fall.
“Hi, Kerri. Sorry to scare you.” The grin on his face was warm and friendly. “You know, my wife is diabetic. She likes this special sugar-free candy. I thought, since you were diabetic too, that you might like some.” He reached to the seat beside him and handed me a white box with a black and orange ribbon tied around it.
“Thanks, Officer Mark. Really, thank you. This is awesome. I thought I was in trouble, though!”
His grin became even wider. “Yeah, well you’re not. But make sure you and your friends stay out of it!” He leaned out the window and gestured toward my friends. “Be careful, girls! Have a good night!”
“Bye, Officer Mark!!” they all called in unison.
The next year, I dressed up as a gypsy … again. I was also still living with diabetes.
I felt okay with both.