The C Letter
When I was in elementary school we spent some of my formative years living in the world’s smallest town – not really; it just felt like it. It was a town of less than 2,000 people. In this town, there was a boy in my class named Mark Mattson. Mark Mattson was a really mean kid, and he was particularly mean to me. He was a downright little jerk.
Now, looking at this from the attitude of an adult, I can see that the kid had a lot to be a jerk about. Since we lived in a small town everyone knew everyone else’s business. Mark was the youngest of three brothers born to an alcoholic lawyer father who had since sobered up, and an alcoholic mother who had not. His father left his mother for a younger woman, and Mark was the only kid young enough to still have to live at home with a bitter drunk. This might have been enough to make any otherwise nice kid mean. When you’re a kid, though, you just think that other kid is mean, mostly because the kid was MEAN.
When I was in the third or fourth grade, poor Mark Mattson got cancer. He had lymphoma to be exact, although I don’t remember any details about it beyond that, and I’d be shocked if we knew them. Mark went away for an extended stay at a children’s hospital that specialized in treating pediatric cancers. During this time everyone in our class at school had to write a get well card to Mark Mattson.
Mine read like this:
You know that I don’t like you very much. I cannot tell a lie. You’ve been mean to me.
Even though I don’t like you, I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, and I hope you get well soon and don’t die.
Yep. I was like George Washington with axe, ahem, I mean pen in hand. Mark Mattson recovered from his bout with cancer and returned to Tinytown. In fact, you’ll be happy to hear that I can find him on Facebook, which means that he survived to live to nearly forty years of age so far, a kind of remarkable feat for anyone with childhood cancer.
When Mark came back to school, there was much fanfare and hoopla and cake and a party. Mark got up and spoke to everyone and thanked us for our letters and well wishes. He gave a special shout out to me. He read my letter outloud to the class and teachers and parents who were present and then collapsed in hysterical laughter and thanked me personally.
Who knows? Maybe laughter really can cure cancer.
To my credit, I was at least embarrassed by this scene. And all kidding aside about the healing power of laughter, maybe I learned a lesson that there is such a thing as too much honesty. Maybe some things should just remain forever unsaid.