Most stories about Christmas have a happy ending. Everyone is supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy inside and realize the beauty of the season and the things Christmas stands for: Family, Love, and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Most stories about about Christmas have a happy ending.
Tim Schultz didn't have a bright future from Day 1. Tim was born with sickle cell anemia, a trait he inherited from his father's side of the family. He was never able to play with us kids in the neighborhood, because he always too weak and fatigued to even step outside. He was basically a prisoner inside his own home. Sitting around, never knowing if he could die from something that he never even asked for. I remember when his family first moved into our neighborhood that summer and my mom insisted on us welcoming in our new neighbors. I was 12 when I met Tiny Tim, as he came to be known.
His family was your stereotypical country bumpkins. They came from a small town in eastern Oregon and had to drive 30 miles out of their way just to get groceries. So it was a bit of a shock to them when they moved out to suburban San Jose. You could walk two miles down the street and see an Albertsons, a Vons and about five 7-Eleven's. The convenience must have scared the hillbilly out of them. They all had these weird accents. It was like moonspeak to me. "You all" was "Y'all". "Did you?" was "Didja?". But I'm sure we were just as alien to them as they were to us.
"So, what brings you folks out here?" my dad asked.
"Well the doctors said that the bay climate would be good for our son and one of my old colleagues set up a clinic here that had an opening."
"What do you do?" my mom quipped. They were both so eager to know every little detail about the aliens from Oregon.
"I'm a pediatric physician. I just begun my practice in Oregon not too long after Tim was born. I guess you could say I'm trying to help as many kids as I can," Mr. Schultz said, laughing.
"Timmy is in his room, if you want to go play with him," Mrs. Schultz said with a grin on her face.
I looked at my parents, who both met my gaze with a friendly stare. I could tell what they were thinking. 'You'd better do it, or you'll ruin my reputation.'
"Go on, Mason."
"Tim's room is the first door on the right."
I reluctantly trudged out of the living room and walked into Tim's room. As I walked in, it didn't seem any different from my room. The walls were a royal blue and the roof had stars and a decently drawn picture of the planet Saturn painted on. The Space-tine chapel.
I turned my gaze and my eyes rested upon the strangest looking creature I'd ever seen. He had two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth; just like I did. Brown hair, blue eyes. But his skin was about as pale as the full moon. I mean, he couldn't have had more than two hours sun exposure. Lifetime. I stared at him for a second before realizing I had been taught manners.
"Hi, I'm Mason. I live next door."
"I'm Timmy. Nice to meet you."
"You're really short."
Tim laughed and began to cough, then wiped his mouth off with a tissue. Obviously, he had heard this before.
"Yeah, I am. People call me Tiny Tim."
"Oh, like from A Christmas Carol."
"Yeah. Me and him share a lot in common."
"What? You're both sick?"
Tim looked at me for a second. I could tell that hit a soft spot.
"No, we both really love Christmas."
"Yeah, it's pretty cool, I guess."
"It IS cool. I love it when mom and I make cookies and leave them out for Santa."
I wanted to tell him that Santa Claus didn't exist. I found that out when I was 10 by accidentally stumbling across my parents putting out the gifts when I made a late-night visit to the toilet. But I figured that two strikes was too many.
"So what do you like to do, Tim? Do you play sports?"
He kinda stared at me like I was speaking a foreign language.
"SPORTS? Y'know, Basketball, football, baseball?"
"Yes. I know what they are."
He kinda looked away and muttered "I can't play them. I'm too sick."
Strike three for me. I was now the biggest jackass on the planet. Y'know, like in the cartoons where Daffy Duck turns into the donkey. I quickly changed the subject.
"So I see you like space."
Tim's melancholy immediately turned to glee. His eyes lit up as he proceeded to talk about all the different things he loved about space. Nebulas, supernovas and something about some dude named Buzz. I didn't really care, but I'd already messed up so much with Tim, it was the nice thing to do. I was finally relieved by the sound of my mom's voice calling my name, meaning it was time for me to go home. Thank you, Mom. Save me from the alien boy who has a space fetish.
"So, did you two hit it off?" she asked me later on at dinner.
"He's kinda weird, Mom."
"Mason Scott!" my mom hastily responded. You know you're in trouble when the middle name comes out.
"What? He is!" I responded. Back then, everything was in black and white to me. There was no gray area.
"Son, he is sick," my dad calmly replied. He was the calm one of our family. Good ol' Dad was like a sage. He always knew what to say. "He has Sickle Cell."
"Basically, it means that he doesn't have the same blood cells as you. His can get stuck in his body and he could die from it."
Remember Donkey Daffy? Yeah, that was me. Again.
"Why don't you go back tomorrow and hang out with Tim? Who knows? You might become friends," my mom said. What she really meant was 'You'd better be nice to this poor boy, you inconsiderate jerk.'
The next day, I brought over some video games and went over to Tim's house. I knocked on the door and my heart immediately sank. Please don't let the alien kid answer the door. Fortunately for me, it was his mother.
"Hi. Is Tim home? I was wondering if we could hang out."
"Sure. Come on in."
I knocked on Tim's door and my heart jumped back up into my throat. Hopefully I can manage not to make a complete ass of myself on my second try.
I walked in the door and Tim greeted me with the same enthusiastic smile he did the previous day. Still looked like an alien to me.
"I brought over some video games. You know what those are, don't you?"
Strike one already? Sheesh, it was gonna be a long day.
"HAHAHAHA. Yes, of course! I love video games."
We must have spent a long time in Tim's room, because his mom had to come tell me it was time to go home.
"So how was hanging out with Tim today, Mason? Is he still 'weird'?" My mom said, making the air quotes with her fingers.
"It was alright. We just hung out and played video games."
"See? You too might have more in common than you think."
I sat down in my room and reflected on the day. It wasn't that bad hanging out with the Alien Boy today. We laughed and talked smack to each other. He was pretty cool, not that I'd ever let my mom know that. She'd pick at me forever.
She'd find out eventually when I tried to walk out the door without telling her.
"Where are you going, Mason?"
"To Tim's house."
"Oh. To play with the weirdo?"
"He's not that weird, mom."
We hung out every day for the rest of summer, playing video games mostly. When Autumn hit and it was time to go to school, I wondered if Tim would even be able to GO to school. If he can't even play sports, how can he do things that other junior high kids did? What do aliens with Popsicle-cell do when us humans go to PE?
It was an even bigger shock when Tim showed up in my homeroom that first day.
"HI, MASON!" he exclaimed, greeting me with that same extra-terrestrial grin. I slouched in my chair, lest my 'coolness' be tarnished by being associated with Tim.
"Isn't it cool we have the same class?"
"I guess so."
Tim also had to sit right next to me. I was the guy who was friends with Tiny Tim, the Alien from Oregon. Everyone pestered me so much for it. 'Who IS that kid? 'He's so weird looking.' 'Why do you sit next to him Mason?'
"Guys, he's my next door neighbor and he's got Shuckle-Shell or something like that. I don't even like the guy, he's such a nuisance."
I turned around and saw Tim standing right behind me, his blue eyes filled with tears. He ran away, crying. I wasn't Donkey Daffy anymore. I was now the King of Jackasses. The Once and Future King of Jerks. I didn't even bother to chase after him. I couldn't say what I just did and then go running after the kid who I just hurt. That would be even more uncool.
I couldn't even face my mom when I got home from school. I snuck to my bedroom and locked myself in.
'Great job, jackass. He thought you were his friend. Probably hasn't had one all his life. Way to go, Mason.'
The next day, Tim didn't show up at school. I figured he wouldn't, lest he had to face the kid who just told him that he was annoying. I had a crummy day to say the least. If he would have shown up, I could have at least apologized. I felt so low. Things didn't get better when I got home.
"Mason! Did you hear? Tim's in the hospital, he had a heart attack."
My heart skipped a few beats itself. "WHAT?!" I exclaimed.
My family immediately went to the hospital. We rushed into the emergency room and saw Mr. and Mrs. Schultz in the waiting room. Mr. Schultz was trying to console Mrs. Schultz, who looked like she had been crying for quite some time.
"What did the doctors say?"
"He has a clot near his heart. He's stabilized now, but it's up to him whether he lives or dies. It's only a matter of time before his body produces more cells and it clots up. He was lucky this time."
Hours later, we were finally allowed into Tim's room, where he had been admitted into long-term care. He looked even more pale than when I first met him. He opened his eyes when we walked in and saw that I was amongst the crowd of concerned people. He immediately dodged my gaze and turned to his parents.
"Muh....Mom" he said, holding out his hand.
"I'm here Timmy." She said, clutching her son's hand for dear life.
"I know what I want for Christmas."
"What baby? Anything you want."
"I want to go into space, mom. Just like Buzz and Neil."
"You got it baby, you just focus on getting better."
Tim died from a blood clot three days later, on Christmas Eve when a blood clot formed in his aorta. He was 13 years old. I never got to see the Alien after I left the hospital that day. When I heard that Tim died, something inside me snapped. I couldn't face that because of me, Tim never got to go into space. But when Tim died, something else was born.
Tim's family moved back to Oregon to bury their son. My family and I attended his funeral. When he was laid in the ground, I placed a space shuttle by his grave stone.
This story doesn't have a happy ending. Tim never got to experience marriage, children or paying a mortgage. He never got to spend another Christmas with his mom and leaving cookies out for Santa. He didn't get to join Buzz and Neil in space.
It's because of Tim Schultz that I always tell my kids that no matter what, be nice to the people that you meet. You never know when they will be gone.
--Commander Mason Scott Orwell, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)