Christine is a twenty three year old English major. She is currently waiting for a spot on the heart transplant registry after experiencing heart failure over 50 times. She was born in Orlando and has since moved to New York and finally was adopted in Michigan. She considers herself both a dog and 90's music enthusiast. Her interests include writing, pulling pranks on her family, watching horror movies, and bleaching her hair white despite her mother's dismay and objections. She loves to listen to 'back in my day' stories.
How I Felt After
She lay dead. Finally. Inexplicably, after years of fighting, we had always assumed she was going to make it, somehow and in some way. But there she lay, her skin appeared to be made from pale marble, although in life it had remained soft with no effort needed from her. Perfect and healthy skin, God’s way of apologizing for destroying her internally. Or his idea of a joke. Even bald from chemotherapy, she had been gorgeous. The scarves she wrapped around her head were dark and had intricate patterns or no patterns at all. Blacks and grays, but somehow instead of bleak she had managed to make them look stylish and fashion forward, making me almost wish despite myself that I, too, could be bald and wear those scarves. But of course I wasn’t, and I never did wear them, the tradeoff being that I live a long and healthy life, barring being hit by an oncoming train or a stampede of wild wildebeests like Mufasa.
She didn’t, I thought to myself, look calm. Whenever you hear about somebody struggling and fighting against an illness for a long time and then dying, they always end with ‘they looked so calm in death.’ The cliché and much used last line in a book before you close the back cover and stow the memory of them and the time you spent reading their story behind some dusty bookshelf for many years. I didn’t know where I would keep her memory, tucked away somewhere surrounded in velvet cloth until the day came I would unwrap it to examine once more the ins and outs of her life and the fight, and decide, if only to myself, whether it was worth it. Maybe the velvet will be wrapped back around the thought process and tucked lovingly, gently back into its nook for several more years. Maybe it will be thrown against the wall to shatter into a million jagged and harsh pieces of truth. I think about the truth now as I stare down at her in the hospital bed, the last home she would ever know if you don’t count the dirt and the ornate coffin. And for some reason, no one ever does.
The hard truth is that she didn’t have her scarf on. Her head was bare, as shiny as glass in sunlight. Her eyes were not closed as if sleeping but partially open, just a crack, as if she hadn’t managed to complete the task of death all the way. The lids were heavily purple and bruised looking, the areas under her eyes a menacing black color. She had not, I reflected to myself, died gracefully. She had cried in pain until the doctors put her into a deep coma from which they assured us she would never awaken, and they were correct. Her gnarled teeth, decayed and destroyed by the treatments, with her puffy and off colored gums would never again flash a smile at her visitors. Her cracked lips that bled so easily would never form another whispered word or some truth that, I suppose, she thought to be profound and which she saw as a blessing unto us. She thought, like everyone, that dying brings wisdom. It does not. The port in her chest still stuck out as it always had. The rest of her body had gone slack, but her port stood defiantly at attention, the perfect soldier. The last one standing against her emaciated body, with arms so skinny the veins stuck out and hands like claws that gave the unshakeable feeling that one was looking at a Holocaust survivor. The hospital gown came down to her knees and seemed to hold in the strange smell that comes with being bathed, but not being bathed well enough. The smell of many sponge baths given hastily by nurses too busy to thoroughly clean and too scared to touch the dread cancer that they scramble through cleaning the patient, lest they hover too long and the cancer jump into their bodies, as well.
It's a hard thing to face, the truth. I still haven’t done it. I’ve mentioned that the hard truth is this or that, but really all I’ve done is describe a setting. The real truth is that we are all a little bit relieved. Never to her face would we admit this, and in her infinite ‘wisdom’ she never knew. But I and the others who took care of her both at home and in the hospital detested it. I loathed waking up in the morning to make sure the meds had been taken and that she had eaten and, on occasion to force either or both of those events to take place. I loathed that my life was no longer my own and I was bound to this woman through blood and this unforgiveable act of being related has chained me to her, to care for her unto death. The price of sharing a womb is that you also share death, and walk through it with your sister every step of the way, through the favoritism of your parents and the academic overachievements that aren’t yours. Living life a half step behind someone that takes the spotlight from everything, even your birth. But at the end of the day, she didn’t come out on top. In fact, I will come out about six feet above her if you want to get technical and dark. But we aren’t talking about me. We are talking about her. She’s dead, and we are still talking about her. Now that she’s gone, I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I’ll be able to sleep soundly, not halfway, listening for sounds of distress or the gentle whisper of a soul leaving the body.
The sounds of distress did come eventually, weeks before the whisper that I wasn’t there for. I never heard it, I never felt the soul depart the earth. I woke up to a voicemail one day, a voicemail that unlocked my shackles and set me free. Eventually, the indents in her room where the machines beeped steadily will disappear with repeated vacuuming. The bed will be removed and replaced with an entirely new one and it will no longer be her room, but once again my spare room. Eventually, the signs of her on this earth will fade. No children to carry on her memory or to develop a predisposition for a long and arduous death. She never had a house of her own, always having an apartment and then my spare room. She had long since stopped working due to her illness. She had never made great strides in life, doing amazing things for charity or saving someone’s life. She was a brief spark and then she burnt out.
I turned away from her limp body, and walked to the window. I wondered briefly if she was watching somewhere, if she knew my thoughts and if she had any feeling of relief herself. If she had grown weary of the battle, if the small moments of joy in the long dark night had made it worth trudging onwards. Although I had arrived at about noon after the three hour drive to Seattle where my sister was hospitalized, the sun was sinking. The snow fell softly and slowly when I first arrived, but was starting now descending with fury. My breath fogged up the window in front of me, screening me from the outside world and locking me in with my sister. I turn away from the window back towards the bed, and feel the first racking sob tear through my chest.