No one really remembers preschool. Sure, nap time was pretty great, but prodding the corners of your memory for that killer sleep you took at age four might prove fruitless. And any macaroni art you created during that time was likely long forgotten and will stay that way until someone digs your masterpiece out of a box in the attic.
But these two preschoolers formed a friendship so strong that, years later, after they’d been moved far away from each other, one couldn’t help but remember the other. So, curiosity finally winning out, she looked up her old friend, hoping their happy memories had stood the test of time.
When Natalie Crowe and Austin Tatman were only 4 years old, they had a special friendship. They clicked from the moment they met in pre-school and knew they had found their B.F.F. — at least for the time being.
As kids, they were inseparable, and it didn’t hurt that their families got along really well. Neither parents minded taking their kids all over Florida for camping, fishing, and even Disney trips.
But even if they weren’t doing anything special, these kids always had the best of times whenever they were together. “It was a very, very special bond that we shared,” Natalie said.
Not only did their parents realize their children had something unique, but their teachers and even the other kids noticed it, too. At times, they would get teased about being boyfriend and girlfriend, but they were far too young for feelings like that.
Still the two didn’t behave like the rest of the kids their age. “On Halloween in 1999,” Natalie said, “Austin held my hand in the car on the way to trick-or-treating.” Even their parents knew the interactions weren’t normal.
To Natalie and Austin, it seemed as if the fun would never end. They felt safe in the idea that they’d always have a friend in each other. Sadly, that image was shattered when Natalie received some shocking news at 5 years old.
Natalie’s parents were getting divorced, and her mom was moving her to Connecticut, which was more than 1,200 miles away from Austin. Just like that, the fairytale friendship was over.
“I remember the very last day that I saw him,” Natalie recalled. “My last memory of him is when we made Rice Krispy treats in his parents’ kitchen… and then we were separated.”
Throughout the following decade, Natalie would sporadically think of Austin. Her memories were a bit fuzzy, but she remembered always being with him and always being happy. She wondered if he would remember her too, but she had no way of reaching out.
In her new hometown in Connecticut, Natalie made plenty of friendships, but none of them were quite like the one she used to have in Florida. When she was 17 years old, however, she went through her mom’s old address book and found something curious.
It was Austin’s last name. After a quick Facebook search, she couldn’t believe her luck — she had found the Austin Tatman, she’d been missing all this time! After she sent a friendship request, it didn’t take long for him to accept, and the two started chatting.
Since Natalie’s dad still lived close to Austin’s house, the old friends made plans to reunite as soon as Natalie was back in town. That meeting went well, so soon they planned another.
Eventually, after several hangouts and long phone calls, they realized that connection between them, despite the distance, never faded. They started dating and even attended Austin’ prom together.
“Both sets of our parents were so supportive when we first reconnected,” Austin said. “They were just as excited, if not more excited than we were.” Natalie added, “They were both over the moon about us getting together.” But not as over the moon as they were…
“We both knew we were in love with each other after being on our second date,” Natalie said. “We rekindled the friendship on the first day of reuniting and then being alone, it was like, ‘Okay, whatever time that may be, I’m gonna marry you.’”
While they weren’t exactly at that stage yet, they did manage to keep their love alive while living far away. Luckily, technology allowed them to video chat whenever they wanted, and the hope that they would truly be together someday kept them hopeful.
Then came the time for Natalie to graduate high school and decide on a university. Would she stay in Connecticut with her family and her friends? Or would she choose to attend college back in Florida, so she could finally be close to Austin? It wasn’t an easy choice.
But Natalie knew in her heart what she had always wanted: to be back in Florida, exchanging smiles with Austin every single day. So, she applied to the University of Central Florida, unsure if she’d even get in.
After weeks of anticipation, she received the letter she’d been waiting for. Hastily, she tore it open and read that she’d been accepted to UCF! Now the old friends’ life together could finally begin, although the biggest surprise had yet to come…
In 2017, when they were both 22 years old, Austin proposed to Natalie on the beach where they used to play in the sand. Surrounded by their families, she said yes, and began planning a wedding for April 13, 2019. “Who else gets to say they married their preschool sweetheart?”
To honor their 20-year bond, they recreated pictures of their childhood. which they hung up all over their wedding. Who knew that these two kids would become husband and wife someday? When the couple exchanged their “I dos,” there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.
“There’s a reason I went through my mom’s archives and found an address book. And there’s a reason that we went to separate colleges,” Natalie said. “It was kinda crazy how everything came together so perfectly, and it still doesn’t make sense to me to this day.”
But not all kids get to bond over camping trips and Rice Krispies. Some children find solace in each other because happy memories are few and far between. Kids like Joel Alsup.
Joel Alsup was a happy young boy from Tennessee that loved playing outside. So when he started foregoing a jump in the autumn leaves to sit inside, his parents began to worry. Was there something wrong with their son?
“He was 7-years-old, and he couldn’t buckle his seat belt, and I thought he was just messing around,” his father recalled. “When we played catch, I saw him reaching for the ball with his left hand. I knew something wasn’t right.”
After what felt like endless doctor appointments, it became clear why Joel’s arm was hurting so badly: he had a tumor near his right shoulder. Without hesitation, the family headed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
There, the Alsup family learned that Joel’s tumor, called osteosarcoma, was not treatable by medication. There was only one option for Joel to live: his arm would have to be amputated. It was a nightmare, but the Alsups had no choice.
Meanwhile, all the way in Missouri, a young girl named Lindsey Wilkerson faced a similar fate. She had just learned that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but the disease wasn’t what worried her family the most – it was the costs of her future treatments.
“My parents were checking their bank account,” Lindsey said. “They were going to put our house on the market to sell everything, to hopefully be able to provide me with the care that could save my life.”
Luckily, St. Jude stepped in and assured the Wilkersons that they wouldn’t be billed for anything because the hospital has a “no child will be denied” policy. It saved the family some stress, but Lindsey still needed intense, painful treatments.
Luckily, she wasn’t going to face them alone. She met Joel at a St. Jude fundraiser in 1993, where both families were invited to share their stories. “I remember thinking Joel was really cute and had a great sense of humor,” Lindsey said.
Joel, too, remembered meeting Lindsey for the first time and feeling fond of her right away. While he went through amputation, check-ups, and rehabilitation, Lindsey underwent three years of chemotherapy: a treatment that knocks the life out of anyone.
Thankfully, the two found solace in each other’s company. For the next three years, the two would bump into each other at appointments or functions, and even stayed in touch long after they grew up.
Eventually, the two friends parted ways as they went off to college: Lindsey to the University of Central Arkansas to study communications, and Joel to Middle Tennessee State University to major in TV production. But this wasn’t the last time they’d see each other.
After graduation, Lindsey married a man, had two kids, and — to fulfill a dream — volunteered for fundraisers at St. Jude until she landed a job in the Event and Patient Liaison Department. Things were looking up.
Sadly, after 12 years, Lindsey divorced her husband in 2015, but she did gain custody of her two children, Jacob and Audrey. They meant the world to her, and that’s why she treated patients as if they were her kids.
“I used to think, ‘I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there,’ but having children of my own shook me like an earthquake; it really changed my perspective,” she said. So, she moved to Memphis to work in the fundraising department.
What Lindsey didn’t know was that Joel had also taken a position at the hospital; he was the supervisor of the creative media division, making commercials and promotional films for the hospital so it could continue to get funding.
As soon as the old friends realized they were sharing a workplace, their friendship reignited as if they had never been apart. “For the better part of 12 years, we became the best of friends,” Joel said. And they rapidly grew closer and closer.
“We connected on the complexities of our situations, and how it changed the way we see the world,” Lindsey said. “We have this almost sense of urgency about living life, this gratitude, this desire to give back.” In fact, they had even more in common than that…
They were both head over heels in love with each other. Joel told Lindsey so in 2016 when she was watching a movie with Audrey. She told him she loved him back, and everything finally fell into place. It seemed to be fate.
On September 1 of that year, the lovers were wed by Brent Powell, the head chaplain of St. Jude, at the Danny Thomas/Alsac Pavilion, named for the comedian who founded the hospital. The couple had truly come full circle.
“During your youth, a cancer diagnosis invaded your life, but you endured and defeated it,” said Powell. “Now you are giving back, paying it forward. You are two of the most loving people I know. It only took you 20 years to confess your love.”
Both Joel and Lindsey, in their late 30s as of 2019, were cancer-free, but they still needed check-ups to make sure they’d stayed healthy. Still, they had come a long way from the patients they once were, and together, they have fostered a strength without bounds.
“Coming back to a place that’s so dear to our hearts has been one of the greatest honors of my life,” Joel said. Lindsey echoed his sentiment: “Thanks to St. Jude,” she said, “I was lucky enough to marry the love of my life, my best friend.”