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Authors: Stacey Donovan

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Dive (10 page)

BOOK: Dive
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At Least I Can Hold On

 

It feels like somebody else’s life has inhabited my body. How is that possible? It’s not. I said
it feels
that way. My mind is spinning. Why don’t I go crash my head into a wall so everything will stop, so I can catch my breath. What breath?

 

At my worst, I am shaped like a piece of wood, and as if hurled into a thrashing brown river, I am waterlogged. Each step I take seems to be submerged. No. Knock knock. Who’s there? Any sanity home? Stop. At best, there’s a lock on the bathroom door. I can rest my aching head on the lumpy blue carpet—everything in this house is blue—and spin around in peace. I can slip my hand between my legs, slide to the dark, hidden place, where it’s warm. I’m safe there; I’m not afraid. At least I can hold on.

 

But it’s like somebody else’s life. Having a sick father is like having a secret, only in reverse. Even if somebody, namely me, wanted to talk about it, nobody, namely Eileen, would understand. Why does my waterlogged self without sanity say this? I called Eileen after we all stumbled out of the kitchen the other night. I said, “My dad is really sick. He’s not going to get better.” And she said, “Oh.” She didn’t even attempt to say, “Oh, what a terrible thing!” No, nothing like that. A simple “Oh” was enough. Did she say “Oh” when she meant
“Oh!”?
I said, “Sorry about Sagamore. You know I was only kidding.” But she didn’t say anything. Maybe it’s that ridiculous hat of hers, blocking her ear passages. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Ever since I heard “Oh,” like “Oh, it’s raining,” I don’t feel like talking to anybody anyway.

 

But that “oh” didn’t stop Eileen from telling everybody else. By the time I got to school the next day, I swear I was famous. The way people looked at me, eyes all snapped open like jack-in-the-boxes, maybe I had grown another head. Maybe my skull was expanding at an enormous rate so it became twice its normal size and was about to burst. God help all the bursting heads of the world. God who?

 

It’s a certain kind of fame, though, to suddenly be so different from everybody else that they can’t tear their toy-box eyes away.

 

So why doesn’t some clown hand me a microphone and call a school assembly so I can stand onstage to make an announcement.
Yes,
my dad is dying. He has contracted a rare blood disease called acute milofibrosis, which destroys his red and white blood cells. Since the cells are—toss in a little oxygen, please—what the blood actually consists of, without those cells,
Ta da!
That’s it, folks. Curtains.

 

With all those eyes veering sideways, as if they’re not really looking at me, I feel like I’m being followed. I’m being spied on. But it’s somebody else’s life.

 

I find myself in my stupid red gym uniform with some rubber ball between my hands and wonder how I got there, or I’m up in room 524 North at the hospital and suddenly all I see are my father’s blue feet as they slip from the covers because they always do these days. They were never blue before, or maybe they were. But at home he always wore the tan suede slippers I gave him for his birthday a couple of years ago.

 

Maybe I’m in the backyard, moving in slow motion with my dog. And the same old questions begin to spin through my head, erasing time, erasing me. Who hit my dog? And then I want to ask, what’s wrong with my dad? But that one’s been answered, even though I guess I don’t really believe the answer is true. It’s so unreal, it’s surreal. Even if he is turning blue. Where am I? I can’t even answer that. I don’t know where I am. Time is spinning. I am spinning. Yesterday was hell. Is today any better?

Can’t Stop Looking

 

Yesterday was hell. Or was it the day before? We piled into my dad’s hospital room like potatoes stuffed into a sack. The air was so stifling, I thought my eyelids might dissolve, which would be tragic. Because then I would have to see
everything.
It was bad enough that we discovered the windows in the hospital room were built so that they will not open. Ever. Germs, I suppose.

 

| | |

 

My mother had gone to the cafeteria. Edward’s ponytail swayed as he strained at the stubborn metal window frame before we realized we were doomed to the same suffocating air forever. When I leaned over to get a better look, I noticed his hair was tied back with more hair. So he had snipped off a clump of his own and twisted it up around like rope. Oh, that brother of mine, what a character. But as I watched him from the edge of my awful vinyl seat, something kicked behind my eyes.

 

My hand pulsed with a desire to reach up and touch that well-conditioned ponytail. What was happening to me? I actually gasped and looked at my hand—who did it belong to? Like I said, somebody else’s life in my body. The sound I made filled the room, it was so quiet in there.

 

Heavy sleep breathing had been the loudest sound in that room for days, except for the moments my dad would murmur stuff we couldn’t understand. But it was a relief to hear him mumbling, even if it was incomprehensible. The sounds convinced everyone, especially my mother, that he wasn’t in a coma. We whispered when we were in the room. Our whispers became normal, which, when the thought crossed my mind, was not at all normal. There was Dr. Sweeney, and then came a urologist, a neurologist, and packs of medical students, at different times of day. My mother would tell them all to keep their voices down.

 

| | |

 

“It won’t budge,” Edward said, hushed and low.

“Oh, well,” I answered, in the good-news tone of the true imbecile, as if what was in front of me wasn’t bad news. I could even feel an imbecilic grin on my face, the kind that spreads like a stain and has to be wiped away with a hand to get the face back to normal. A grin that landed tears in my eyes for no reason.

“You said it.” When I looked at him, he was grinning too.

 

It felt like we were kids again, but not in that way we used to have of wanting to kill each other, way back before Baby Teeth was born. Not in that way of convincing the other to play hide-and-seek in the basement and promising not to leave as we turned the lights off to play, and then one would very intentionally walk out of the house. That was so long ago. We had actually liked each other then, and making each other cry just seemed to be a way of expressing it.

 

As I grinned at my brother standing by the window, I wondered whether childhood had hurt us, or did life just start to turn people into strangers? I guess I stopped smiling because my brother’s face turned brooding and serious. He came over to my chair, laid his hand on my shoulder. I might have broken into tears. Was he bigger and stronger than me? I wished he was. As I looked up, I saw there was something different about him. His eyes were not bloodshot. They were unbelievably clear.

 

Then somebody laughed, and I turned around. Baby Teeth. She was seated on another vinyl monster behind me, her fingers sprawled in her mouth, searching out any wobbling incisors. She looked as if she were eating her hand, and Edward laughed. Baby Teeth removed her hand, wiped it ceremoniously across her sleeve, and said, “Like rocks.”

 

My mother returned with a steaming cup of coffee and sat on the room’s only upholstered chair, which Edward had dragged in from the lounge one day. It was flecked with brown and gray dots and had plastic arms and legs, but at least she could sink into it. “Did you see the doctor?” my brother asked.

She nodded. “The head of hematology is interested in your father’s case, of course. He wants to try some experimental drugs. Keep your voice down.”

“What did you say?”

“That we can discuss it after we know what the side effects might be. Shhhh.” She blew on the steaming coffee, which created a small tide in the cup. We all looked back at my sleeping dad, the way people look at Christmas trees, I bet. Can’t
stop
looking.

 

While he slept, Baby Teeth dozed in my mother’s lap. I swear that sweltering room would put anybody to sleep. My mother opened a magazine, though I didn’t notice her turning any pages. My brother just stared out the window a lot. He took his pocket watch apart and put it back together several times. That watch had belonged to Pop, my mother’s dad, before he died. It was silver and opened and shut with the most satisfying
click.
There was a flying eagle etched on its cover.

 

I sat back in my chair by the end of the bed, watching my dad’s feet move while he dreamed. Eventually they would slip from beneath the yellow blanket and I would drape a piece of the white sheet over them, so when he woke up, at least his feet wouldn’t be cold. Would he like his slippers? They were still at home.

 

I began to wonder what it would be like if he never woke up, and my hand froze with that thought. I was numb and I was sweating. I wanted him to wake up immediately. Then I wanted him to wake up when I wasn’t around so he wouldn’t have the chance to ask me questions, something he always did.

 

“What are you reading?” he’d say. He’d be looking through me with those eyes of his and I’d mumble something dumb, sounding like an idiot, probably, because at this point it felt berserk to imagine having a regular conversation with somebody who’d been twisting all over the bed and turning green. Somebody who couldn’t keep any food down. Somebody who looked like a shrunken version of my father and whose hands were suddenly the biggest, strongest part of him. So what was I going to do?

 

I’d manage to say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling so bad,” or something like that, because then an inch of a smile would widen his mouth, which had begun to look unnaturally pasty, as if it could not smile if it wanted to, and some life would spring into his eyes.

 

What was I going to do? I found myself staring at his hands, and I guess I began to feel guilty because I didn’t want him to wake up and start asking me questions, because I suddenly felt weightless, like I was made of air and might float away. I decided I’d better get out of the room for a while. My mind said flee. My heart said stay. When the conflicting voices became a rubber band ready to snap behind my eyes, I sprang out of my chair.

And Think It Were Not Night

 

Maybe I could fly. There were five flights to the hospital cafeteria. It didn’t occur to me to wonder how many steps in a flight, because as I left my dad’s room and stormed down the hall, I kept my eyes on the black-and-white spotted floor. I ignored the open doors to other rooms, where other swollen, moaning patients lay. I ignored the elevator, where there might be a freshly croaked body on a rolling table.

 

| | |

 

I had never known glee until I saw the red
EXIT
sign and swung open the thick fire door beneath it. A cool gust of air hit me in the face, and that’s what I wanted, to take my mind off those awful voices inside of me. They were so loud, I heard nothing else as I hurried down the steps. Not even my own footfalls. I saw my boots beneath me, stepping without a sound. And then the picture in my mind changed, from my black boots to the ones of the silent-footed girl. Her name is Jane.

 

I stepped into homeroom the other day—when, last week?—and there she was, standing in the back of the room, the tattered maps of the world on the wall behind her. Her smile bloomed before that tired scene.

 

After Ms. Labianca, the homeroom teacher, called the roll, she asked Jane to introduce herself. And this Jane, like some Mediterranean model with a deep olive complexion that glowed, sauntered up the aisle, sauntered in her silent black boots and skintight faded jeans with her motorcycle jacket draped off one shoulder. Nobody moved as she walked, but she didn’t seem to notice. At least, not in a way that made her uncomfortable. That smile just bloomed.

 

I thought of a scene I’d just read in
Romeo and Juliet.

 

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.

 

Then the stream-so-bright Jane just turned on her heels and said, “Hi, guys, I’m Jane. Nice to meet you,” and smiled that smile.

 

There’s usually a period of time, anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks to forever, that nobody talks to the new kid, depending on what kind of case someone is. But not with Jane. Everyone started talking to her. Somebody was always swooping around her. Crowds, in fact. The boys were in love with her, their eyes lit up like Shakespeare’s lamps. Except for Sullivan, of course. Too busy with Loretta Getz.

 

Sullivan, in my opinion, is with Loretta for two possible reasons: Her brain is still so saturated with oil, she cannot respond normally and flee from him. Or she is as mentally unformed as he is, and they belong together happily ever after.

 

Even the Romantics talked to Jane. It was easy to see jealousy there. All someone had to notice was the way they kept jerking their heads around, flapping at themselves like chickens when they talked to her. Jane made them extremely uncomfortable. Maybe it was the jacket. Or her incredible green eyes.

 

So everyone but me was already talking to her. I wasn’t talking to anybody. But it was particularly awkward changing into my ugly gym suit next to her. It’s not an easy task to be half naked next to someone who is not only a total stranger, but who happens to be gorgeous as well. When I dared look at her, and I tried not to, she seemed to already be looking at me, smiling in that blooming way that started a fire on my face, I was so embarrassed.

 

What was she smiling at? What did she think? Were my tits too big or too small? I had a pretty good body, but not like hers. Hers was perfect. My shoulders were too big, my hips narrow. I was shaped like a telephone pole. When our eyes caught, it was as if magnets pushed against each other—that strange field in which one veers away from the other. I’d end up staring off into the distance, suddenly looking through mindless space.

BOOK: Dive
2.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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