(an entry written nearly a month ago)
I’m laying here in bed, a pouty victim of bronchitis, on a weekend when I should be catching up on missed reading assignments and end-of-chapter practice tests for the three summer courses I’ve sadly commited myself to. In my current, compromised condition, however, I don’t have the mind for such things; instead, I’m enjoying the wonderful codeine cruising through my bloodstream. I was laying here, and now I’m sitting here, drowsy and alone.
All morning, I’ve been sleeping, waking up full of dread that when Monday hits it will be all “oh shiiih I totally didnt finish ANYTHING for class..” it’s back to work, back to reality, and I’m unprepared. I fall back asleep. I wake up again, twenty minutes later, to Bruster crying by the door, which can mean one (or multiple) of several things: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I need to go potty (I need to go outside), I want to play (I want to go outside), I want your company, I’m hot (turn on the fan), I’m feeling fiesty, you fed me lunch but I’m STILL hungry, where’s dad..
Go back to sleep, wake up feeling dehydrated and delirious, go back to sleep. The last time that I woke up my mind reverted to Bobby, a forbidden name, a black hole of painful thoughts, all sensitive and visceral to the eye and to the touch.
Then I couldn’t go back to sleep.
I tried to imagine how Bobby would have laughed at me if he had come to the doctor with me today.
“We’re going to have to take some blood,” the doctor had smiled. He left the room a couple of seconds later, glasses resting on the bridge of his nose, holding a clipboard in his hand. The door closed behind him and I looked over at Chris, horrified.
The only other time that I had blood taken (in my entire life; conscious, living, memorable years) was at the creepy, early-teen age of 14. My mom was convinced (due to my constant moanings of joint discomfort) that I had athritis or some other kind of bone disease/ impairment/ disorder. She wanted her suspicion confirmed and treatment applied, and I wanted nothing to do with doctors, so she and I struck a deal (she bribed me).
Around that time, bribing was on a whole different level. When I was younger, in our super-conservative Christian home, an amazing bribe was I get my hair cut the way mom wants it (awful “bowlcuts” were often the outcome), and I get to watch Max Keebler’s Big Move (a hot and sizzling Disney movie). Or, I get my hair cut, and mom will buy me a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream (because our diet was 99% dairy-free, this was always fantastic). And often, our bribes went like this: I don’t tell dad about the pretty vase and three new wall pictures mom bought at Ross, and she’ll buy me a new school outfit (I was released from the drudgery that is homeschool and readmitted to public school in the 7th grade, hallelujah, PTL).
But now, I was 14. And this was the doctor. I didn’t do doctors. Movies and ice cream weren’t going to cut it (literally).
Yes, you can buy me a brownie earthquake from Dairy Queen, but you’re also going to let me wear pants — for a week (at the time, long skirts were the only fashion I was allowed to “work.” Wearing pants was a forbidden pleasure.. sinful.. entirely inappropriate for a young lady.. and however anticonformity and unique I was or claimed to be, I just wanted to feel normal – just for a w eek).
My mom had stopped to look at me, hands on her hips, mouth pursed. “I’ll think about it,” she relented, raising her eyebrows.
She did agree to let me wear pants for a week in return for me submitting to the doctor and his testing needle. The test, by the way, came out negative: I was athritis free! This was good news. We found out years later, however, that I did have a condition: Osgood-Shlatter’s disease. Regardless, that was the only time that I had ever had blood taken.
Anyways, at the doctor’s office a few weeks ago, once the physician had announced his intention of stabbing me with a needle and left the room, I started crying.
“Rose,” Chris begged, looking first at the door and then towards me, “please baby, calm down, it’s going to be fine!” I sat hunched over on the patient table and continued to wipe tears from my eyes. I fidgeted fiercely with my feet, legs and fingers. I stared mutely at the floor.
“Baby,” Chris pleaded, “it will only hurt for a second – a short prick -” he made a gesture, “and it will be over.” I looked over at him, red-faced.
“Will you tell me a story?” I asked.
He stared at me for a minute. “What do you mean, Rose?”
I cried a little as I explained that, when my mom had taken me to have my blood drawn years before, she told me a story. “Like,” I explained, “right as they were getting the needle ready and sticking me with it, mom stayed in the room with me and held my eyes while she told me about a cop coming and knocking on our door earlier that week. It was interesting and kept me distracted.” I searched his face for comprehension. He looked at me unbelievingly. “Sure!” He threw his hands up. “Whatever.. I’ll find one. A story.” He shook his head, pulled out his phone and started searching the internet.
While he was still looking for a story on his phone the nurse came in with the needle and other supplies. I cursed myself for seeing the instrument of torture; my theory had always been DON’T LOOK! If you don’t know how big the needle is, it won’t hurt as bad. The nurse seemed nice and quietly began prepping my skin. Chris started talking loudly about a spaceshuttle that had just started transporting people in New York and the nurse was looking at him kind of funny. “He’s trying to keep me distracted while you take my blood,” I explained. “I asked him to tell me a story.”
“Ohh!” the male nurse nodded and laughed. “Are you from the Ham?” he asked.
“You mean New York?” I asked.
“No – -Birmingham,” he smiled.
“Oh, I’m sorry! No,” I answered, “I’m from Florida actually.”
“Port Richey area.. about an hour outside of Tampa.”
He told us that he had lived in Orlando many years ago and said that he had worked as a character staging agent for Disney World.
“That’s really neat!” I exclaimed, keenly aware of the needle stuck in me but not entirely overwhelmed by the pain. “Did you enjoy it?”
“It was alright,” he said slowly, “but it was always kinda weird when some 200 pound chick came in to audition for the part of Cinderella. Nowadays that might fly, but this was back in 1971.”
I looked up and he was finished. “That was fast, wasn’t it?” With a smile, he hobbled out of the room, and when the door had closed, I looked over at Chris and made a face. “That hurt!”
I felt relieved, though, that the pain was over with. Behind me. I sort of smiled as I looked forward to the physician coming in to discharge us and hand over the prescription that would make me normal again. I was about to a normal heartrate again when I suddenly bolted up. “WAIT A MINUTE!” I whisphered. “I’m not getting a shot, am I?” Chris looked at me and started to say something when the door re-opened. “Well,” the physician commanded our attention as he lowered himself onto a stool, “it looks like you’re good to go in terms of pneumonia, but you do have a touch of bronchitis.” He turned his gaze to the clipboard in his lap. “I’m prescribing a generic brand of Azithromycin and a bottle of codeine cough syrup. Don’t take it more than four times a day.” He smiled.
“So I won’t be getting any shots then, will I?” I nodded confidently.
“Well,” he began, “I’m not going to say that you have to get a shot, but it would certainly help you recover faster. Steroid shots always expedite the process.” I began to answer when Chris spoke up. “I think — a shot would be a good idea, Rosie.” I shot him a look and didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to get a cold shoulder from him after we left because I hadn’t been a “big girl” and had “made things worse for myself,” but the idea of voluntarily subjecting myself to a shot seemed like a mild form of suicide or, atleast, self-mutilation.
After the doctor rose like he was going to call it a day, I heard myself speaking. “Sure,” I nodded slowly. “I’ll take the shot.”
He smiled at me sympathetically. I felt like I was about six years old.
He left the room and I started to nervously roll up the sleeve of my shirt. I caught Chris looking at me funny. “You know.. they’re probably going to give it to you in the butt.”
“WHAT?!!” I screamed. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I DID NOT AGREE TO THIS!” I jumped off of the table and stood awkwardly in the middle of the small room. “Hurry, Chris!” I pointed at the door. “Go get him. Tell him I changed my mind. Go.”
“Rose,” he snapped, “sit DOWN! It’s too late, you need the shot, anyways. Just sit down.”
I sat down and my eyes started to well up again (oh, first world problems — having awful shots and icky medicine available to cure infections and subdue pain!)
“You know,” Chris shook his head. “I feel like Bobby would be laughing at you right now if he saw you crying over a shot.”
I stopped crying. I nodded. Then I started crying again. Harder.
Worse than the healing pain of the shot was the awful thought of my brave brother, gone from the world, reduced to ashes. I took the shot without crying.. Chris was sweet enough to held my hand.
And this early morning event reminded me of something I’ve thought of before.
I always wondered why Bobby seemed to have all of the hardships and experience all of the heartache in life. Why hadn’t I been “chosen” or “destined” to carry the burden or atleast a part of it? And a few months ago, it hit me – solid, heavy, and painfully true: he was strong enough to handle it. I couldn’t do it.
It’s almost like my brother – born before me, there to protect me, always willing to be my friend, meant to teach me things – made the ultimate sacrifice.. in being the epileptic, the cancer patient, the brave boy who left the world too soon and broke his sister’s heart.