When Life Hands You Lemons


June 21, 2010 by Marj Hatzell

Kevin was one of the hardest working students I have ever tutored.  Scratch that – he was THE hardest working student I ever tutored in fifteen years of tutoring.  He was high-energy, had a smile that could melt a thousand hearts and was a sensitive and caring young man.

Kevin was born very premature. His parents were told he would never make it but he was born with survival on his mind. And survive he did – first after a lengthy stay at a hospital, then through early intervention to deal with all of his developmental delays.  He talked and walked at two but that didn’t deter him.  He went to preschool and worked even harder. By the time he was school age he attended the local parochial school with all of the other kids his age.  Despite his obvious learning disabilities, he worked hard.  Despite the numerous doctor visits, therapies and appointments, he smiled and moved on.

Sensing a theme?  This kid never quit.  He just kept on.

Kevin struggled and his parents didn’t have much money.  His father was a truck driver and his mother a clerk at a grocery store.  Still, they knew their failing school district wasn’t the best place so they scraped together what money they had and got out, moving to a local school district that was quite a bit better.  That was when I met Kevin, in seventh grade, shy and reticent.  He wasn’t happy about having some woman come and tutor him.  His parents really didn’t have the money for it (and I undercharged them by 50% because I wanted to help them) but they paid me to come twice a week that summer anyway.  And for nearly five years I was there once or twice a week.  He eventually warmed up to me, joked, smiled, laughed and tried.  Oh my goodness, how this kid tried. He had the most obstacles and yet he worked harder than any kid I ever knew.  And then he started having seizures.  Seemed so unfair.  But he didn’t let it deter him, he just plugged away, lived through it and smiled.  He still worked hard, even when he was frustrated that he couldn’t remember. He still did his homework nearly every single night no matter how discouraged he was.  In his senior year it was apparent that he would only graduate with the basic skills. Kevin wasn’t college material. Everyone knew it. But he didn’t let it deter him.  He went to vocational school part-time and learned some skills, graduating with his high school class at the age of nineteen. After high school he went to trade school and finished, passing every class.  He worked hard.

I still tutored two kids in his neighborhood last year. I used to see him working on his truck in the driveway or bouncing a basketball in the street.  We’d wave, he’d smile and that was it.  He got taller and thinner.  A year ago I gave up tutoring altogether due to my own struggles with Bugaboo.s .  It was the last time I saw Kevin.  Well, alive.  Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with Leukemia.  It wasn’t until this weekend that I read his obituary.  I was sipping tea, mulling over the paper and there it was, his bright eyes and goofy grin staring back up at me.  He was just twenty-one.  It hardly seems fair.

I instantly broke down in tears.  Here, all this time I thought I was making a difference in THEIR lives.  Those kids that I tutored. Their parents thanked me, invited me to birthday parties, sent me Christmas Cards.  When they graduated the parents would call me and tell me how much they appreciated how much I helped. It made me feel good, helping people (even if everyone thought I was crazy for charging 50% the going rate).  I loved, loved, loved working with procrastinating teenagers. I was good at it – I had a decent rapport.  They thought I was a big dork but they still hugged me or e-mailed me or friended me on facebook.

Staring at those words, “died Tuesday morning.  Contributions to the Leukemia Society.”  That’s when it hit me.  They were helping ME.  They were making a difference in ME.  They were teaching ME lessons.  Kevin taught me one of the best ones – never take anything in life for granted.  When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade.  He had plenty in life to be pissed off about and he never seemed to let it affect him.  He just smiled, joked, was the life of the party. Staring at the posters and pictures in the lobby of the church this morning, even with no hair, even with a central line. Even puffy from steroids.  Even miserable and sick. He still dressed like a goofy ball, smiled and flirted with the nurses, took tons of pictures, talked to his friends on facebook. He was still the life of the party.  Even though I was choking back tears I could see it.  He loved his life.  He made peace with it, even if he was scared.  Life was short for Kevin but he lived it to the full.

Today, while his parents bury their baby boy, his brother buries his best friend, please do me a favor.   Hug your children, tell your husband you love him.  Call those friends and family members you keep putting off.  Do something you’ve been procrastinating about.  Life is too short.

Make lemonade, my friend.

6 thoughts on “When Life Hands You Lemons

  1. GeekChick says:

    Thanks for making me cry at work…..

    Seriously though, I love you sis.

  2. Anjali says:

    That is so devastating. And so unfair. Why does this shit happen?

  3. Leukemia was second to dx HIV/AIDS patients for me. I loathed telling parent that.

    Stay close to Kevin’s family. Your work is not done.

  4. Kelly says:

    So bloody sad when anyone dies, but especially the young.

  5. Green V-Neck says:

    Get a Box of Tissues, indeed. Brilliantly written. I know you must have made a difference to Kevin AND his family.

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