During one of my communication courses at TCU, we were asked to read aloud a piece of literature, either self-composed or already in publication; the singular prompt being it ‘had to have personal meaning’. This is what I wrote.
Background: when I was 16, my older sister lost a very aggressive and sudden battle with AML, a particularly vicious form of leukemia for younger girls. The anniversary of her death is December 1.
The following reading is the stream of consciousness of a boy who just experienced pain that few men ever know, and fewer ever fully understand.
Confusion. Anger. Choking on pain and fear. As I hang up the phone a wave of disbelief and numbness washes over me. “How can this be? She was just fine yesterday. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her.” My mom calls me, says she was on her way to pick me up. I sink to the floor and sit there for what seems like an eternity, though it is only 15 minutes. My mom arrives, and I close the car door with a heavy, sickening thud.
The waiting room. Cold, as all sterile rooms are. Plastic chairs, metal arms, short carpeted floors with strange patterns. For a place that promises life, the rooms you bide your time feel like death. Nurses come to check on me. “Is there anything you need honey? How are you doing?” I lose the fight with the urge to snap back in anger. “I want answers! What’s going on! Where’s my sister! What’s wrong!” Their face doesn’t change. “She’s in a medically induced coma. The doctor acted fast because he didn’t have much time.” Time, fast, these words buzz in my head like an angry hornet. The nurses leave me as friends and family arrive. I’m embraced over and over again, but it doesn’t register. I go through the motions, repeating back the words first uttered by individuals in scrubs. People rub my shoulder as if I was cold and shivering. Embraces and “it’s going to be ok dear” continue throughout the evening.
The next morning my dad and I get breakfast at the nearby golden arches. I’m eating hash browns that are too hot for human consumption as a man in a white jacket walks over. “Your sister is on floor 13, right?” I nod my head in reply, as words fail me. “They have some amazing doctors, she’s in the best care possible” he promises me. They all made promises that week.
No one could keep them.
Thanksgiving. I haven’t eaten anything of substance for nearly 6 days. I’m weak, but the thought of food sickens me. People invite us to their house for company and nourishment. They ask me questions I can’t answer, don’t want to answer, don’t want to discuss. My peers, our friends surround me constantly. I hug back now, because I see tears in their eyes as they stare into mine. “this hurts them too” I think. My mom pulls me aside “you have to be strong for them”. Her words resound deep within my chest. “Be strong for them, be strong for others.” “But who will be strong for me?”
The roller coaster of her condition finally came to an end. She doesn’t wake up. The cancer spread to her spine, doing irreversible damage. She’s kept alive by machines, present in body only. As I walk into her room one final time, her lifeless body radiates with an angelic glow that defies medicine or logic. I place my hand on hers, kiss her forehead, and whisper ‘I love you’ one last time. I want to cry, scream, explode with emotions that I don’t know how to process. But I can’t. “Who’s going to be strong for me?”
The cold rain cuts into my face as I stare at the fresh, damp pile of earth before me. “Blessed are the dead the rain falls on, as heaven weeps for our loss.” I sink to my knees, my heart ripping asunder. I miss you.
I realized that day that life is beautiful and wonderful, but unpredictable and delicate. I made divine accusations and demanded answers I will never comprehend. But I know this: cherish everything, love deeply, and never, ever, take anyone for granted.