Today’s update pushes me past the 30,000 word mark! The beginning of the end is nearly within sight. It’s very encouraging. This has been a daunting task and most nights, I fall asleep feeling anxious about the next day’s writing, but overall, it has been an extremely positive experience. Thinking about the past and analyzing it, remembering the time that I spent with my brother and the things we went through together, has reinforced the healing process of coping now that he’s gone. I appreciate everyone who has given me support and feedback along the way. You encourage me everyday.
Tonight’s update will wrap up our stay in the garden home.
“Rosie,” my Aunt Debbie cooed, “it’s so good to see you again so soon!”
I hadn’t seen Aunt Debbie since two years before: we had all taken a trip to the beach together in the late spring of 1994. It was now the winter of 1996, and it felt like a whole lifetime of change had intervened between now and then. I peered up into her face with a smile, returning the embrace she welcomed me with.
Mom and dad stood by the car, looking uncomfortable.
It was about a month since mom and dad’s last visit with the doctor, where they had decided that Bobby would begin his chemotherapy right away and move straight into radiation treatments afterwards. She can’t get Bobby sick, they’d whisper to each other late at night, before arriving at a final decision. It is sort of dangerous and risky to keep her around, Grammy had to admit. Everyone was going to be busy with trips back and forth from the hospital and having prescriptions filled and they just couldn’t worry about taking care of Rose on top of everything else that was going on, could they?
Dad had requested to have some time off of work, explaining that it was a family emergency and that he needed to do some traveling and stay at a hospital with his son for a while. Our family piled into the car and drove to Egleston Children’s Hospital in Georgia just a few days after my parent’s consultation with the doctor: before they could start anything, Bobby had to have the bone marrow transplant taken care of. That equaled guaranteed nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and extreme weakness after the procedure. It was guaranteed to take a major toll on his body. Mom brought fresh flowers to Bobby’s room one day during one of her visits with him, and the medical personnel made her wash her hands every time she left and re-entered the room. They even looked at her flowers quizzically. Bobby was to be kept under constant supervision.
The idea of finishing kindergarten out like other normal kids was pretty much over for me at this point. While Bobby was in the hospital, the rest of our family stayed at The Ronald McDonald House down the street: a homey situation for the families of kids with serious illnesses to live in on a temporary basis. I remember sleeping in a large room with Grammy and my parents. There were four beds in our room. There was a big kitchen in the building and restaurants catered food in the evenings while people would walk in all throughout the afternoon to donate food for the residents to have for lunch. Grammy and I played tea party together in the bathtub and there was a wonderful toy chest in the gathering room at the front of the building that I spent countless hours with. The time passed quickly and pleasantly and it was even more interesting and fun than being at home. Soon, Bobby was released from the hospital as being “ready to go.”
Bobby was scheduled to begin treatments just a week later. No one was really ready for it to happen, and I don’t think that anyone fully comprehended at the time what happening and how it would affect nearly every detail of our lives, for the rest of our lives.
So shortly after returning home, I was back on the road again, driving in the car with mom and dad and on my way to Ohio. I was being shipped off to stay with some of dad’s relatives while Bobby was “getting better.”
Aunt Debbie smiled over at my parents and nodded her head, like she was giving permission for their leave. My dad walked forward slowly, taking each step with care, careful not to disturb the sleeping grass, the slumbering dirt. He stopped in front of me and sighed.
“We’re going to miss you, Rosie,” he croaked. He hugged me hard and quickly, and then he let go. The last thing I remember is dad jogging back to the car; I could see my mom sitting inside of it, crying, her head held awkwardly, like she was fighting to keep from looking at me one last time but really wanted to.
My stay in Ohio was pleasant, or at least as far as I can remember it was. Grammy wrote me letters and my parents sent my Aunts, Debbie and Jill, money to spend on me for Christmas. I remember receiving a huge dollhouse that December. It pulled apart into three sections, and you could see everything inside – the kitchen, a bathroom, multiple bedrooms, a patio, a pool – and everything was pink and white. It came with a set of small people who you could make walk or dance or shower, and a small dog you could place wherever you wanted. My Aunts explained to me that while Bobby was recovering from his surgery, I needed to stay with them and have fun. I found out later, as a teenager, that I was a sickly child, and that my common colds and viruses could have killed my immune-deficient brother had he caught them.
So, in essence, I was being quarantined.
My Aunts came into the living room one day while I was watching a 90’s cartoon on television. It might have been The Wild Thornberries. I was a pretty big fan. “Look we what got in the mail today, Rosie! It’s a video from your parents.” Aunt Debbie smiled excitedly. “They have moved into the new townhouse and want to show you what it’s like!” They turned off the cartoon and popped the video into the VHS player. They both slid onto the couch, one on either side of me, and fixed their eyes forward. I followed suit and smiled as familiar faces appeared on the screen, talking excitedly, pointing at pretty new furniture and citrus-orange walls. My mom’s hair was up in a ponytail and she was, like usual, wearing too much mascara. She smiled and blew me a kiss. I heard my dad’s voice narrating as I watched Grammy dance from the living room, where dad’s big screen TV and mom’s brown, sectional-sofa lived, on up the stairs.
Once she had made her way up the stairs I saw a small bathroom on the screen, with a blue shower curtain that had schools of green and orange fish swimming across it, and a toilet sea with a fuzzy, blue cover. She finally led the camera into my bedroom, talking in excited, high-pitched tones and opening the door very slowly to make a show. The room turned out to be a very bright yellow color, with a large window against the wall opposite the door one would enter the room from. My small, twin-sized bed sat in a corner, wearing a bright yellow comforter that had all of the Lion King characters scattered across the front of it.
All of the faces I knew and loved took turns talking into the camera, telling me how much they missed me, how much they loved me, how they couldn’t wait to see me; that I would be coming home soon. The video ended and I looked beside me. Aunt Debbie was dabbing her eyes with a tissue, and Aunt Jill, at the other end of the sofa, was wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands.
“Isn’t that so wonderful, Rosebud?” Aunt Debbie sniffed, stroking my hair absent-mindedly. “Your family loves you very, very much!”
I scooted myself over to the other end of the couch.
“Can I watch cartoons now?”
And from there, the months – nine to be exact — just flew by.
“Welcome home, Rosebud!” My grandma ran from the front door and into the driveway, barefoot as usual, her black and silver streaked hair shaped into a ball and tucked under a black cap. I jumped out from the car just as dad was opening the door for me, and I charged into Grammy’s embrace.
“I missed you, Gram Cracker!” I shriek. She hugs me even tighter, without saying a word, and I know that she’s crying. Grammy finally releases me, with one of her arms still draped around my shoulder, and I turn to look at mom, who is helping dad pull all of my belongings out from the trunk. I originally left home with only a duffle bag, and had returned with the same bag and, in addition to it, many similar and larger bags and boxes, all of them containing my new toys and clothes. “Woohoo!” Grammy sang out as dad struggled to balance my favorite new dollhouse in his arms. “Rosebud’s rich now!” She did a little dance and I heard a small laugh in addition to my own. I looked towards the front door, and Bobby, bald and as thin as a rail, was smiling at me.
He was in a wheelchair, and it caught me off guard.
“What’s wrong with Bob?” I asked bluntly. Everyone grew quiet and looked at each other. Grampy, who was usually a man of few words, bent down to answer me. “Rosie, Bob has had a pretty rough time while you were gone. The chemo and radiation – the treatments that the doctors gave him — really took a toll on his body.” He made a sad face and put his arm around my shoulder, and I think that he was hoping that I understood. “It’s going to take him a while to get back to normal again. It’s still hard for him to walk, and it’s even hard for him to talk. He’s lucky to have a sister like you,” he smiled. “I know you’ll keep him company and be sweet to him. He’ll be better soon.” Grampy had started to tear up a little so he got up and walked into the house. He touched his hand to Bobby’s bald head as he passed by him on the porch, and it made Bobby laugh. I smiled. As weird as everything was, I sure had missed hearing Bobby’s laugh.
We spent a lot of time outside during the earlier part of September, enjoying the last few rays of summer sunshine. Sometimes Grammy would help Bobby walk out into the yard and make him sit on the grass. “The sunshine’s good for you, Bubba!” She’d say. We would bring toys out into the yard and Grammy would encourage me to sit next to Bob and play games with him. One of our favorite games to play was Candyland, because when we decided to play it, Grammy played it, too. On days where Bobby felt strong enough to stand up on his own, we’d take turns squirting each other with the water hose. Bobby and I had this joke where he would intentionally act like he was about to fall over and Grammy, who would be sitting in a lawn chair watching, would come dashing across the yard to stabilize him. I’d shoot her with the water hose and she’d scream and holler at us. It made her so mad! We loved it. Bobby had learned to say a few words, but mostly, we just laughed together and smiled at each other. We had found a way to play again.
There was an older teenaged girl who lived next door to us and she seemed liked she wanted to be our friend. She’d come over to our house sometimes to watch cartoons and eat Popsicles. Grammy appreciated the relief; she considered it to be a free babysitting gig.
Things were happy after all of Bobby’s awful treatments had ended, but there was definitely a downside to things. Bobby’s moods were much more intense: when he was happy, he was really happy, but when he was angry, he was very, very angry. He had his dark spells. I was a vocal child who hummed as I went along my daily business, and something as simple as me humming could set him off for hours. It got to the point where I wasn’t really allowed to talk around Bobby when he was going through one of his darker spells. It made the day run more smoothly for everyone who had to be around him.
I spent a lot of time occupying myself, and my theory is that that is where a lot of my independence and self-sufficiency comes from: I learned it as a child. I was outside by myself one afternoon, climbing the front tree in our yard, wearing a pair of denim shorts and a pink t-shirt with a cactus on the front of it. I had gotten myself up into the tree and was about four feet off of the ground, reaching for the limb above my head, when it happened: a bee stung me in the face! I felt an incredibly penetrating stinging sensation on my cheek and, before I could realize what was happening, I had lost my grip on the branch above me and fallen out of the tree, hitting the ground with a big, humongous thud and bruising my leg on impact.