Monday, May 8, 2017

Finally Writing About It Right, 11 Years Later


By Grace 

60 Degrees

Not like the sort of mild spring day when

my light blue jacket will do.

But like my rogue vertebrae that twist

and crush bronchial tubes and normalcy.

Not like the sort of weather I can expect on

my upcoming twelfth birthday.

But like the reason my torso abruptly

shifts to the left without warning.

Not like days spent jumping off the swing set

or flipping around on the front lawn.

But like a curve too severe to brace

or watch, or simply let be.

They will not let me be.


I walk out of doctor’s offices

silently, without permission. I plod across short gray carpeting

and squeaky linoleum.

Past reception, to waiting rooms where my sisters look at me

questionably. Then Mom appears, stern and put-out,

grabs the hood of the sweatshirt I’ve been wearing for days

and pulls me back to where I am supposed to be.

And it is easy to ignore questions

and look in the other direction.

To be rude.

To not be me.


He is next to me

           a pale infant

           beneath a cloud patterned blanket.

And Nemo swims into the open sea

          on the television against the wall

          in pre-op.

His family just dropped him off

         the nurses talk

         not quietly enough.

And I listen to them instead

         of the rated PG movie

         I’ve seen too many times.

And I listen to them instead

         of thinking about the needle in my arm

         or my immediate future.

And the machines are beeping

          and Dory gets stung by jellyfish

          as the overused DVD spins on.

Mom and Dad’s voices are seeping

          into my thoughts on how

          I did not pity the baby.

Snuggled beneath his blanket

          with no one to worry about him

          with no one to witness vulnerability


The plunger pushes into the syringe

clear liquid, magic water

zips through the tubing


Gravity pulls it in

my veins. Where O positive blood

and anesthesia mingle

like old friends.

No count down

no goodbye

and then


What do I think when I’m not thinking?

About x-rays

and silence in examining rooms

about things that happened.

Or apathy

and sedentary weeks

with hours of morning talk shows

and high caloric milkshakes

that will come.

My only dreamless sleep,

drug induced


a quick movement

through time.

I am myself when eyes close.

Eyes open and

my bracelet is painfully tight and

my lungs are filled and spongey and

there are tubes everywhere and

I am different in ways I cannot see.

In ways I do not yet understand.


There is a TV in the right hand corner

glowing blue and hazy

in my half-awake state.

There are tubes that twist

and intertwine with artistic


There is Dad

and Mom

and words that are just


When I move rooms,

I call behind the caravan

of poles and people

to make sure Mom is coming too.

The Phlebotomist

Every day appearing

bright and cheery.

Taker, spiller of blood

onto my new purple blanket

that Mom bought me

for my twelfth birthday

that seemed like years ago.

The phlebotomist apologizes

In her strong accent that I cannot place.


she tells me,

will take that right out.

I tell her not to worry

even though

my stained blanket

bugs me more than

the needle sticks.

Even though red

does not show up on purple.

Stephanie, the Nurse

Everyone is nice to me

but she, especially so.

She is clad in brightly patterned scrubs,

a neat French braid

and a smile that reaches her eyes.

“She’s pretty.”

I tell mom after

Stephanie has left.

Next time she pops in

Mom tells her what I said.

Stephanie the nurse smiles, laughs

thanks me.

But I am mortified,

angry at Mom for exposing

another thing I intended

to keep private.

Angrier still at myself

for not just keeping my thoughts

tucked safely in my head.

A skill I will soon perfect.


I will fall.

I will fall apart.

I’m sure.

Spine and

screws and

cadaver bone and


not yet settled.

And pain of any sort may be welcome

compared to this feeling of

being the puppeteer of my own

confused body.

The mix of ingredients sway

inside me and I’m so

certain with each footfall

I will fold.

I will fold in half.

Gift Shop

I note

The number of Amish people

The glass wind chimes that

ding softly

when brushed up


I watch

the space ebb and flow with

nurses getting off shift.

With cheerful visitors.

With a few in wheelchairs like me

Mom buys two glass rings.

And I get,

a scar that I can’t even see,

a month off of school

and candy

that I don’t feel like



The canula in my nose

blows tiny


of oxygen.

Though my passages,

to my hazy lungs.

It scares my sister, who is older

than me.

But I saw a character on a soap opera

wearing one once, while watching

TV with my grandma.

I am not afraid.

Because the little gifts

of air fill and soothe

my poor lungs

that are another casualty

of the bigger war.

I don’t realize how much

I need it until it comes

askew. And the air feels

warm and stagnant.

The respiratory therapists visit

six times a day.

I sit for half an hour with

the nebulizer that pumps air

that tastes like cake frosting

Mom talks to them,

Willy the night guy,

Bethany the one with freckles

and others I don’t bother

to know.

When I speak

I am told to keep my lips

firmly around the mouthpiece.

So I smile a lot

and try so hard

to show everyone that I am

a nice, good girl.

Dr. Armstrong

He lives up to his name

tall as I am tiny.

Calm and gentle,

making it hard for me to hate

him as I had so many others.

And I am lying

in the same spot as yesterday.

In my flannel pajamas

with the cartoon frogs skiing.

Even though it is May.

And he comes in,

talks to Mom. Then

puts his gigantic hand

on my forehead and I realize,

I am an origami.

Weak as paper

strong as the surgeons hands.

Going Home

On a Sunday Dad pulls our new van around to the hospital exit.

I like how the door opens on its own

I like that my sisters have allowed me a coveted seat by the window.

Home means,

my own bed

and regular food

and normal life.

But I am not sure I’m ready to live it again.

But I learn about blood oranges from Martha Stewart

and the war on terror from Good Morning America.

I watch people win dream vacations on Regis and Kelly

and roll my eyes at all of the petty arguments on The View.

And while my spine does the work of fusing and hardening

I reorient myself to the larger world first.


What I Had to Say Again and Again


Please don’t

tell them.

About hours, my hours

on the operating table.

Please don’t,

show them.

The scar, my scar

and how well it is healing.

Please don’t talk about it

like it was some sort of

great bonding experience.

Like we spent a week at

a fun sleep away camp.

Like Rainbow Babies and Children

Is akin to Camp Walden

from Parent Trap

my favorite movie

that I’ve watched over


over since being home.

Yes we bonded

over things I want to keep

in my own mind.

Yes we bonded

in a way I never wanted.

So please,

just keep it to yourself

and I will do the same.


One day in June I am laying on my bed with my older sister.

On top of the purple and blue and green striped blanket

with similarly colored curtains hanging around us.

I do something funny, something “So Grace

as my sister puts it.

And I laugh and

we laugh and

Mom, who is also in the room, cleaning up after the resident 7 year old,

laughs too.

And in days that follow I take walks and

sit on the back deck in the sunshine.

Drink banana milkshakes my grandma makes for me.

Write the kid’s book I’ve been working on for years.

Accompany my sister to the mall.

And like a switch that flipped, things are good again.

The smell of chlorine makes

a home in my hair.

I don’t cringe at every bump

during bike rides.

I swap my sweatshirt for a new beaded tank top,

and high sandals.

Summer is here.

Life goes on.


White etching


my spine.

Numb as if it

does not belong to me.

And the feeling comes back

at the top

and the bottom

but not the middle.

Because some time before

I was not numb

and some time after

I was not numb again.

But in the middle I was


and some nerves

are cut too deep

to ever fully


No comments:

Post a Comment