They tasted like my life.
Instead of violins and the somber music that played on movies in moments like this, I was dying to the soundtrack of beeping monitors and the soft shuffling of my parents’ feet. They moved around our suite quietly, like ghosts, as they waited for me to become one and finally lose to leukemia.
I’d spent the last three weeks at an upscale ski resort in Lake Placid, just watching my health fade and my time on Earth dwindle to nothing. The view of the constant snow and the towering mountains in the distance usually distracted me from the pain. I needed that view more than ever tonight. Everything hurt, but in my mind, if I didn’t mention it, if I didn’t break, I would beat cancer in my own way.
We couldn’t afford to stay in this snowy paradise, but my parents didn’t want me to die in a sterile hospital. We’d moved to Lake Placid five months ago to chase another faint glimmer of hope, but the clinical trial had ended like all of the others—with me getting sicker. This time, we weren’t doing anything about it. After five years of giving cancer all we had, my parents had decided that we’d fought too much, cried too much, and hoped too much to do it again.
And that was okay. It had to be.
My final days were passing in a blur of tearful calls from my grandparents, long stares from my mom and dad, and smiles from my strangely exuberant hospice nurse. Sarah, with her endless energy and joy, was easily my favorite person on the planet. She supplied medicine that stopped me from feeling and long stories that kept me thinking, which made me feel alive.
Tonight, she was so busy gabbing about her ballerina days that she’d forgotten a dose of painkillers. I didn’t mention it. As she adjusted my oxygen tube, I stared at her beautiful, pixie-like face and the bright red hair framing it. Her tiny features and permanent smile made her a living fairy to me. My personal Tinkerbelle.
“It’s going to happen tonight, isn’t it?” She didn’t answer me. She draped another blanket over my legs without making eye contact. “They gave me a week to live … a week ago.”
“Sydney, I don’t want you to be concerned about death. Ever. Only focus on life and the living. Remember that, sweet girl.”
What a weird thing to say to an almost-corpse. I didn’t need to remember anything anymore. I laughed at her, and that disturbed my failing lungs. One cough turned into two, and soon Sarah had to hold me as my chest heaved relentlessly. The awful sound summoned my parents to my room.
They crept in with red eyes and rivers flowing down their cheeks, wearing yesterday’s clothes.
Nothing said that I was dying more than my dad being home. No matter where we moved, he worked, thanks to his special talent of finding a job within a day. He’d emigrated from China with his parents as a kid, and his entire family worked like one day off would mean certain death. So that was what he did—he spent his days toiling at dead-end jobs to barely keep us afloat. Except for today.
He squeezed my mom’s hand as they approached my bed. Her long dreads were down and wild tonight, and she looked beautiful despite her swollen face and runny nose. My mom had four piercings in each ear, an effortlessly cool hippy style, and a thick Trinidadian accent. Once, I’d wanted to be just like her, but now, I didn’t know what being like her meant other than crying a lot and receiving bad news.
“Mr. and Mrs. Long,” Sarah said, “I was just about to give Sydney her medicine. She’ll be asleep soon, and you don’t look like you’ve gotten much rest. I can watch her tonight.”
“Sarah,” I whispered, as my chest finally calmed. “Go home. Your shift is over.”
She pressed her warm hand to my cheek. I could’ve sworn, for a moment, I felt completely okay.
M. Lathan lives in San Antonio with her husband and mini-schnauzer. She enjoys writing and has a B.S. in Psych and a Masters in Counseling. Her passion is a blend of her two interests - creating new worlds and stocking them with crazy people. She enjoys reading anything with interesting characters and writing in front of a window while asking rhetorical questions ... like her idol Carrie Bradshaw.