Tuesday, July 19, 2016

That One Summer

We would lie on the dock, beach towels protecting our backs from the cracking, peeling paint and splintered wood. She would bring out her tape player so we could sing along to our "jams". We would talk and talk, about our family, our hopes, and our secrets, or sometimes about nothing and nonsense. 

We spoke our own inner language, which consisted of so many inside jokes that at times an eavesdropper would be left wondering how any of our words fit together to make sense. 

We were always laughing. It was always just so FUNNY, those shared memories that could be brought forth with a single word, or sometimes even just a gesture.

We would have cold Diet Pepsi, one for her and one for me, sitting between us. An opened bag of Cheetos would lie there, too, haphazardly spilling a Cheeto or two onto the dock. 

We would watch the boys on jet skis or boats and wonder out loud if there might be a cute older brother/younger brother set among them. They were too far away to judge their cuteness, though.

The sun would bleach our hair and tan our skin. When it got too hot, we would hop off the end of the dock, landing in the cool water, our feet touching sand with little patches of tickling seaweed. We would dunk under, wet our hair, flip or twist it just so, and stand back up to reveal fancy supermodel hair, or The George Washington, or a giant handheld Mohawk. 

As the sun would dip just slightly below the trees, we would know that Dad would be back at the house, making us some dinner. We would jump in and back out one last time, gather our empty bottles, Cheetos, and radio, damp towels wound around our bodies, and walk home.

Monday, July 18, 2016


It was a rough drive to the hospital. Every bump in the road caused her to cringe or yell out. She told me to take my foot off both the gas pedal AND the brake to make the jostling just a little easier on her.

"I don't know why it helps," she told me, "It just does."

It was terrifying, knowing that how I navigated each dip or rough spot on the road directly affected her pain level. My arms ached from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.

I sat in the waiting room with a book. We were there to see if they could get her some relief by draining some of the fluid from her abdomen. There was a lot of it, it caused her immense pain, and it was one of many parts of her body that was slowly, horrifyingly, getting worse.

The lady at the desk called me over. 

"They are ready for you to go see her. Room 6-B."

She was joking with a nurse when I walked in. When she told me that they didn't do the procedure, they couldn't do the procedure, because what everyone thought was fluid was actually her own organs, painfully enlarged, I needed to remind myself to breathe. 

We had reached a point where the doctors and nurses at the hospital couldn't help her. She was too sick.

I was shaking. I asked her, in as calm and normal of a voice as I could produce, "What do you want to do now?"

She took a deep breath, smiled, and said, "Let's grab some lunch!" 

I navigated her and her wheelchair through a sea of hospital workers. We needed to see all possible lunch options at the hospital cafeteria before we could make our selections. I rolled her past Saran wrapped sandwiches on paper plates, "No," she said.

I pointed out the pizza station, where the sad, droopy slivers sat waiting under heat lamps to be chosen. "No way, not pizza." She replied.

I steered her around the soup and salad bar, naming off the items that she couldn't see from her chair. 

"Let's see, there are black olives, chickpeas, some kind of cheese, maybe cheddar?" I reported.

"Chickpeas? Cheddar? Olives? Let's DO THIS!" She smiled.

We spent a considerable amount of time building her the perfect salad, with the perfect soup to go with it. We were a clumsy pair, her with trying to reach and assemble her salad from the chair, me with trying not to run over hospital workers with my less-than-stellar wheelchair steering skills. We bumped (and apologized), we dropped toppings, we laughed too loudly, we took too long making our choices. But when we were done, we had made it just how she wanted.

We got settled into a table and took a breath. 

"You have no idea how good it feels to have all of these choices," she said, taking a fork-full of salad. 

"I honestly can't remember the last time I got a chance to choose every part of what I ate and get it set up just how I want it. Thanks for doing that for me. I know it wasn't easy, but I'm so happy with this lunch! Perfection!"

I sat and stared at her for a moment, struck by how, over the past few years every single choice had been taken from her by her illness. She couldn't choose to be the wife and mom she wanted to be. She couldn't choose to make dinner for her family. She couldn't even choose to stand up and walk to the bathroom when she wanted. There was only one thing I could think of that she could still choose and she had chosen it that day. 

She had chosen to smile and be thankful.

I'm smiling today, remembering this particular day, and feeling thankful that she was mine. She was my friend, my sister, my role model. And I am who I am because of what she taught me.