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"Sometimes the slightest shift in the way you look at things, a seemingly insignificant change in perspective can alter your life forever." -Anonymous
This story, in our week about the Power of Change, is for everyone, but especially our teen readers. Ashley learned from her true love, how to overcome her own pain and truly love life. Sometimes the biggest and best change we can make is to simply live.
"My True Love" by Ashley Jean Smith
The summer before I turned 16, I totally fell in love with Michael Punch. Maybe it was the combo of his red hair, adorable freckles, and gorgeous blue eyes. Maybe it was the awesome way he treated me. Whatever it was, we sure were the kind of couple people noticed: I'm only five feet tall, and he was 6'2". I wear a size five shoe. He wore a size 13! I was on the school dance team and into cheering. He belonged to a band, played a red Fender guitar, and wrote the coolest (and most romantic!) songs. He told me that I was the only girl for him ? always and forever. I knew he was the only one for me. Michael had everything I could ever want in a boyfriend.
And, he had leukemia.
On our first date, we headed to Lake Lanier, a large lake near our houses. Going to that lake became our special summer thing. We made a pact to jump off every dock in every cove - a real adventure because the lake has tons of coves, with tons of private little docks jutting into the cool green water. We'd hike to a new dock, start running, and jump off holding hands, making a huge splash. He'd come up shaking that red hair of his, and I'd laugh like crazy. I teased him, "Hey, how 'bout this. . . . Every summer from now on, we'll come back to these docks and start all over again."
"Why stop here?" Michael asked. "Let's find every single dock there is in the world."
That summer was magic. Michael respected me in every way. And I mean every single way. He became my best friend, and I could tell him anything. We started sharing our dreams. One time I said, "Mikey, I'm thinking about competing in a Miss Georgia pageant for teens."
His face lit up. "Sweet! You go, girl. Knock 'em out."
Another time he took my hand and said, "Maybe one day we could get married."
My heart melted. That night, we drew our future house on notebook paper - a house with a wraparound porch and a U-shaped driveway. It was perfect for hopscotch, the little-kid game we often played together.
I never thought much about Michael's cancer. He was in remission, after all, and I just figured he'd stay that way. But on one of our dates to the lake, Michael cut his foot on a rock. It bled and bled. "No big deal," he said, limping back to the car. He tried to stop the bleeding, but he couldn't. I knew something was way wrong, but I guess I was in denial that his cancer was back.
By September, Michael needed a bone marrow transplant. His big sister volunteered to be his donor. The procedure was risky, but Michael wanted to live, and according to his doctors, it was his best chance at beating his leukemia. I was scared for him, but I kept telling myself, He's going to be fine. This will fix him.
When he was able to have visitors, I hurried to the hospital. I pushed through double doors and went through the sterile room, where I washed up to protect him from germs. My heart pumped double-time while I waited outside his room for the nurses to clear out. Please, God, let him be okay.
When I walked in, there he sat, looking fine, even with an IV and wearing a hospital gown. He made a dorky face at me. "Yo, Ash! 'Sup?"
I laughed, then reached out and touched him. "You okay, Mikey Man?"
"I'm loving it. What 'cha know?"
I peeked up at the IV bag. Written on red stickers were two dates. Michael's real birthday, and his second birthday - the date of the bone marrow transplant.
Throughout his time in the hospital he never, and I mean never, complained. He didn't want me to feel sorry for him. So we kidded and joked with each other. Besides laughing together, we started doing something else amazing. We prayed together. Out loud, talking to God as though we were all best friends.
Michael stayed in the hospital two long months, but he didn't get better. Through Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, it was a blur of doctor and hospital visits. In January, his eyesight began to fail. Then he lost feeling in his feet. Next, his calves went numb. Then his hips.
One day I tried tickling his toes, but he felt nothing. Still, I tried to stay upbeat. "Remember that pageant I told you about out at the lake?" I said as I tied a red balloon on his bed.
"Well, it's coming up. I probably won't enter, though."
Michael looked shocked. "Ashley Jean! Do you really want to make me smile?"
"Sure, I do."
"Well, you give it all you got. Knock 'em out."
Then, March 21, 2004, my wonderful, 18-year-old redheaded boyfriend died.
I wigged out. It felt like my life, my world, had changed to gray - nothing was colorful anymore. I didn't want to hang out with my friends or answer my cell phone. I didn't want to get up for school. I cried constantly. Michael was gone. What did I have to care about?
My friends tried to be there for me, but I came up with excuses not to hang out. I forgot how to smile. The face in the mirror didn't even look like me anymore. It seemed like some strange new girl had snatched up my life and that I had died along with Michael.
One day in June, I went to Lake Lanier by myself - just to get away from everyone. The day was hot, the air still and humid. I found one of our docks and sat down on the old weathered planks. My pageant was coming up in a couple of weeks, but who gives a rip, I thought, staring into the water. I missed Michael so much it hurt.
Sitting there in the sun in my shorts and flip-flops, I recalled everything about Michael. I heard his laugh, saw my favorite freckle below his right eye, saw his hands on the guitar, and even his huge feet. I felt Michael's smile rising up in me like the heat of the sun. I pictured his ocean-blue eyes and remembered how good he made me feel. I remembered his struggle to live, how hard he'd fought. Without a second thought, I stood up and walked five giant steps backward, turned, raced to the end of the dock, and leaped. I held my hands in the air and yelled, "Yo, Mikey Man, this one's for you!"
As soon as I splashed into the cool green water, I started to feel Ashley Jean Smith coming back to life. Michael would have wanted it that way, for sure.
I competed in the Miss Georgia American Junior Teen pageant - and I won. It was the most amazing thing, to wear that crown. But you know what? It's even more amazing how much I learned from my first true love, Michael Punch.
He's the one who taught me to make every day count. To go for your dreams ? and to always jump off those docks.
Ashley Jean Smith copyright 2005
See Ashley and Michael's photo on our web site by clicking on the "Stories 2005" and then on today's date. Ashley shared this story with the Guidepost magazine for teens "Sweet 16".
CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE GRANDMA'S SOUL! I am excited to share my latest book project: "Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul", in which my story, "Nana", which first appeared on 2TheHeart is published! Several other 2TheHeart authors are also featured in this book, including Melodie Tilander, Ellie Braun-Haley, Betty King, Maria Harden, & Roger Kiser! Below is the link to preorder this terrific book or you can email me to order a signed copy! firstname.lastname@example.org
Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul: Stories to Honor and Celebrate the Ageless Love of Grandmothers
The Letter Box:
Your article about Angel is one of the best I have ever read. It is terribly hard to watch someone we love go through the agony of dying of cancer. She taught you well and you are using her illness to teach others. You really are making lemonade out of lemons, and doing it with great grace. GrannyJo
What a glorious tribute to angel~ some people once they find out they have cancer curl up and wait to die (that would be me!). Others...well, others feel blessed to see another dawn they live out their remaining days with love and compassion for others, they become closer to God and more Christ-like. I don't think I would ever have the courage angel had. I know she was/is a major inspiration to you. Bless her angel heart. Love, Susan T.
Dearest Sooz, Going through that last year of Angel's life had to be gut-wrenchingly, emotionally difficult for all of your family members, but I recall many of the things you shared with me, and online in 2TheHeart during that time, and do you realize that God was also changing YOU while He was changing your little sister? This was evident even from a vast geographical distance. He was bringing you to the point of being able to shower others going through similar hardships and heartaches, with an extra measure of compassion and understanding that defies human comprehension. I KNOW you have it, and you use it well. You touch countless lives in a positive, uplifting way. I thank God that I'm privy to be a part of it, and am so grateful and blessed to be among your many friends. "Getting the Point" is bittersweet, but there's a lesson in it for all of us. I am typing this through tears, but also with a thankful heart. Love you and relish everything you write, Sandi
Hello Susan-- your piece about your sister "Getting the Point" was very poignant. Thanks for sharing the impact she made on your life and continues to make for others as well. I can imagine just how hard not having your younger sister must be. Many Blessings --Kay Seefeldt Susan, As always, your story evoked tears and many emotions. Angel was and still is an inspiration. Thank you for this week of stories about the courage to change (something I happen to need right now) and for this particular story. Michael T.
Making a difference!