When my sister was thirteen, I was twelve. When my sister was thirteen we started to not get along so well—becoming teenagers and all that. When my sister was thirteen the white blood cells in her body decided that her pancreas was an intruder and must be destroyed. She was sick for weeks before the doctors figured out she didn’t have mono but juvenile diabetes.
One day she was rushed to the hospital and had to wait for an hour before a room could be made available to her. The nurse said to my frantic father, “The room is ready sir, but she will have to wait for a wheelchair,” to which my father replied,
“Just show us the room—I’ll carry her.” When they tested her blood sugar it came back as nearly 800—which, believe me, means death if you don’t get insulin immediately. She lived and I cried. We bought her Lucky Charms pajamas to wear while she was in the hospital; she loved cereal.
People came by her room with balloons, cards, and little teddy bears that had patches on their knees and elbows. They were to help her learn how to give herself the daily shots she would need for the rest of her life. My sister picked everything up rather quickly (she’s the clever one) but my mother’s hand always shook when she held the needle above her thigh.
“Just do it, Mom, it’s okay,” my sister would say.
At home, things got back to the usual routine with a few small changes. There were little glass bottles of insulin in the fridge, on it’s door a diagram illustrating the symptoms of both high and low blood sugar levels, my sister’s blood-testing kit on the table, and 2-liter soda bottles filled with used syringes under the sink. At the hospital, my parents were given pamphlets on how to make my sister’s new role as a diabetic more friendly. One suggestion was to put all her used syringes in 2-liter soda bottles, and every time she filled one up, to take her out to eat or buy her a present. My sister got used to the shots and enjoyed the rewards system.
But the bottles scared me. I had never been afraid of needles or blood before, (I often watched wide-eyed as my sister pricked her finger or injected insulin) but watching those bottle fill up week after week filled me with hatred. It was the kind of loathing twelve year-old’s aren’t supposed to feel. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair that my sister had to live her life one injection to the next and still take care of my brother, sister, and I while my father was at work and my mother was at class. There was nothing I could do to protect her. I couldn’t make it go away, and I couldn’t do anything to help. I hated that those syringes were the only things that kept me from losing her, and it made me angry that they were so ugly. I was plagued with guilt whenever I got mad at her or thought selfishly and that made me angry too.
Eventually, she got an insulin pump, and the soda bottles disappeared. Seeing her with the little box in her pocket and a little, clear tube peaking out from the hem of her shirt made her seem bionic. We would laugh when the pump would buzz in little bursts, telling her when to check her blood sugar. By that time, we’d all had time to adjust.
I’m not angry anymore; I rarely think about my sister as a diabetic, though I do wish all my soul that there was a cure. I think about those syringes still. When things are dark, they come up out of nowhere like the killer in a cheesy horror movie. I’m not sure why they still haunt me. I am at a point where I can truly appreciate how medical science was advanced enough to give her treatment, but I suppose when you are introduced to the ugliness of the world that darkness, however brief, stays with you.
When I cry I want to be alone.
I don’t want to be pitied,
Keep your “there, there’s”
Keep your gaze away from mine.
I don’t want to feel you standing over me,
Your muscles calm,
While I shake and shutter.
When I cry I want to feel it all over.
I don’t want to “buck up” for your sake,
Keep your flimsy condolences
Keep your words separate from my pain.
I don’t want to miss out on
This edifying grief,
While you pat yourself on the back.
When I cry I don’t want anything but my breath.
I carry my Mayan birth symbol that my father brought back from Belize around my neck, the weight of his expectations. I carry my own physical mass—the flesh, fat, and bone that I have mistreated and tried to run away from for the majority of my life. I carry the secrets of my friends and trust of a good man.
I carry a cluttered key chain with my ID and the smiling face of the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man. I carry at least five pens and pencils and a small notepad at any given time. I carry my own sadness, the dark, ugly places I refuse to let others see. I carry my own words—in my notebook, in my mouth, in my mind.
I carry my older sister’s juvenile diabetes and the emotional scar that was left in my chest when it almost killed her when she was thirteen. I carry my brother’s blue eyes in my back pocket and take them out when I need hope. I carry my younger sister’s attitude in an old Coke bottle; when I need a laugh I shake it up and let it explode all over the room. I carry my mother’s hands, rough from clay and burned by ovens, better than a pillow. I carry the air in my lungs, that precious cargo, and thank god I don’t have asthma attacks anymore. I carry the memory of a loving God, of Sabbath, and the knowledge that I may never have that pure, childlike faith again.