My Time in the Universe

I didn’t know how sick I was until my mother told me. Even with all the doctors visits and the constant probing, she never said the words out loud until she had to. It was the day after my ninth birthday when I started to get headaches. My parents figured I was just going through something. Maybe I was stressed–I mean, stress headaches were a thing. I just didn’t know many middle-class fourth graders with stress-inducing responsibility. I knew something was wrong. I could feel it in my gut. I especially felt it in my gut when the nausea started up. I vomited about five times a day for three days until my parents decided to take me to the hospital.

“She’s been having trouble with her eyesight, too,” my mother spoke to the doctor outside the MRI room. The scan was horrible. Anxiety took root inside me and wrapped its suffocating, spindly arms around my lungs. I screamed at them to get me out of the claustrophobic tube, but they wouldn’t. The nurse told me to try and stay still. I did what she said because I didn’t have a choice. I was just a kid, after all, what could I do? When they were finished, I remember my parents crying, but it was muffled. Like my head was under water. I was alone with the MRI technician who was looking at the scan of my brain. He didn’t explain anything to me, either. Traitor.

“Sweetie.” Broken sobs escaped my mother’s mouth as she tried to mask her sadness with a smile. It looked more like a grimace to me. My father stroked my head with his hands, sniffling quietly from behind me. The nurse looked sympathetic, but I was still angry. Why was no one telling me anything? I knew something was very, very wrong. I just knew it.

As time went on, my condition got worse. I couldn’t walk without almost toppling over, so I got a wheelchair. I couldn’t chew well, so I had to drink protein smoothies. My hearing was also beginning to deteriorate. By the second month, I was in the hospital. I knew I had a brain tumor because I had overheard my mother speaking on the phone with grandma before they put me on bed rest.

My energy levels tanked into the negatives, making yelling and screaming for someone to tell me what was happening out of the question. So, I kept up a constant internal monologue of tantrums. Why was my body failing me? Why did every cell inside my brain feel like it was on fire? Why could I barely lift my arms over my head? Why was this happening to me? What had I done to deserve this? I knew these were questions that didn’t have answers. At least, not the philosophical kind, anyway. No one knew why this was happening to me, but they knew I didn’t do anything to deserve it. They thought I was strong enough to fight brain cancer, but not strong enough to hear the words out loud. Because I guess if you say them, they’re real. And that reality was just too painful–too scary.

I wanted to tell my parents that it was okay. That no matter what happened, I loved them with every fiber of my tiny, nine-year-old being. Not even death could remove my love from them. Even if I was gone, even if I never saw them again, my soul would remain theirs. They were my lifeline as I rounded upon the last months of my life. My parents never really came to terms with me leaving Earth, but I had made my peace with it. I knew that as I floated away and my body remained, I would always be my parents’ child. No amount of sickness or disease could change that. Though my existence in the universe was short, it was sweet. Even as my own body betrayed me, and even as I breathed my last breath, I realized that dying is easy–peaceful. Life is harder.

By Sydney Forte

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