An Essay By Danielle Wells - October 2013
The Stranger in the Photo is Me
Someone once told me, “A picture can tell a thousand words.” I guess they just forgot to mention that those words can change. Not even a few words changed for me; my whole life was rewritten.
The three girls in this photograph look so happy and peaceful, one just reading her book, one smiling for the camera, and one who is too in love with apple juice to pull it from her mouth for two seconds. If I did not know these people and saw this picture of these three girls, I would never once even doubt that they did not have a great life. Unfortunately, however, I do know those girls. I am one of those girls. And who I see today is not the young, innocent girl I once was in this photo.
It is hard for me to remember exactly what happened that day in that room. One of the only things I remember was when I stepped through those big swinging doors, I was almost excited to be in a hospital, for the only other time I was in one was when I was born, but I obviously do not remember that (thank God). I was not sure why I was brought there but hey, they had free apple juice! The room walls were such a clean white, the smell of medicine was actually a sweet aroma, and I have to admit I played on the mechanical hospital bed that went up and down by a push of a button for quite some time. The hospital bed had the number three on it, and I thought it was so ironic, because it was us three sisters squeezed onto its warm covers. Everything was going fine. If only it stayed that way.
Right after this picture was taken, we were told the news. The word “news” makes it sound too casual. This was everything but casual; it was more like being told the catastrophe. At the age of eleven, my only problems were if I lost the game of handball or dropped my bag of goldfish on the floor. So hearing the words from your dad, “Mommy has breast cancer” was so painful, it struck me like a car crash. The words were the car; I was the helpless victim; all in four words, I have never been so hurt. I turned paler than the walls. I could feel my heart crumple like paper. It was difficult to breath. I was distraught by a loud ringing in my ears. I wish I could take those words out of his mouth and simply throw them away like a piece of trash. That is what it was: trash. My mom is the sweetest, most caring person in the world and she has to die? I was sad. I was hurt. I was angry.
The worst part is that the pain did not even stop there. This nightmare was not over. I was told three years later, “The cancer spread to her lungs. She only has 10 more years to live.” I have never felt something that is so unexplainable; I cannot even put it into words. It was more than just pain and anger now. It was fear. It was torture. I repeated the words in my head: mommy, cancer, death. The three words played over and over in my mind like a torturous, screeching tune. The devastating news broke me down like a collapsing building in a construction site. However, I was not built into a larger, newly renovated mansion, but was left there alone with scattered pebbles and the smell of dirt and old wood.
I will never hate a place as much as I hate the hospital. The bright white walls I thought looked clean became overbearing and only reminded me of a psych ward. I felt trapped and suffocated. The smell of medicine I once enjoyed turned sour and gave me a headache. The motion of the mechanical bed made me feel sick and only reminded me that if you bring something up, there is a possibility it will fall back down. The number three above the bed no longer represented three happy sisters, but soon represented the number of daughters who will not have their mom with them on their wedding day, the three sisters who will not have a grandmother to offer to their children, the three sisters who will have to stay together as they watch their mom move on to Heaven too soon.
People always said being in hospitals give a feeling of death, but I got to take that feeling home with me. The heart break and fear did not stop when we walked out those ugly doors, but became my shadow and followed me everywhere. I have cried in front of my friends and my peers. One time I even cried as I was held by one of my teachers (thank you). I cannot escape this. It is not something I can outrun or hide from. This nightmare was not just a bad dream. It was my reality.
This little girl in the picture, sipping on her apple juice probably thinking about cute boys that she will see in her class tomorrow, is no longer the same girl today (except for the cute boys part). I cannot relate to that little redhead I see. She never had to live a single day wondering if her mom’s surgery was going to help or do the exact opposite. The only times she ever felt sad was because she did not want to be “it” in a game of tag.
Not only can I not relate to this girl, but I am envious of her. I never once knew I could be so jealous of my past self. I bet she never had to fake a smile and a “I’m fine” when someone asked why she looked down. But why would she? She did not know such a criminal like death was going to steal her mom from her. My mom was slipping through my hands like sand. Every second that passes, a grain falls and soon I am left with nothing.
My sisters and I lie so close to each other in the hospital bed. Our arms are tightly pressed together almost like we are blocking something. We are trying to stop my mom’s fate from touching her. We must protect her and help her in this last decade of her life. What once was my comfort and safety is now what I must defend.
This situation has definitely brought my family closer though. We used to be like five loose knots on a rope, we were all from the same foundation but were not bound together well, but this has stretched ourselves and our love and pulled our knots back to a secure, firm base. And we will still remain tight, close, and strong, even when one of our five knots will fall.