Watching the Snow Fall | Teen Ink

Watching the Snow Fall MAG

By Leila E., Cinnominson, NJ

     I was born exactly 12 minutes and 26 seconds before my sister, the first of us to open my mouth and cough in the oxygen of Pennsylvania Hospital, but it was she who, 13 years later, would wake up and run down the stairs to my mother screaming that she was hemorrhaging to death. My mother would embrace her with wide arms and teary eyes as she pronounced her a woman. My mother would bake a cake, the traditional Jewish apple, and excitedly telephone my grandmother to tell her the good news. My first period would come 14 months later. There would also be a cake, but this one would be bought from the local ShopRite, and my grandmother’s Long Island drawl expressing her pride would not sound as enthusiastic as it had for Emily.

Growing up, it did not take me long to realize that Emily was destined to reach all facets of womanhood before me. When we hit sixth grade, her seemingly perfect breasts began to appear; mine did not become pronounced until high school, and even then they were lopsided and disproportionate to my frame. Emily, having been blessed with our mother’s peachy complexion, had nearly flawless skin that required no make-up and tanned to the hue of light toast. My own skin blossomed with pink-spitting blemishes throughout adolescence and into my early 20s, and the only thing my skin did in the summer was burn. Four years after Emily had awakened to discover her first menstrual cycle, I would forget to knock on the door of the bedroom that we shared and find her with her boyfriend. I would immediately shut the door and begin to cry. Half of me would want to feel disgusted (“In my room!”), but the other half would be overcome by fervent jealousy.

That boy, like the others who came before him and those who came after, would not be there when Emily fell ill. It happened the year we turned 20; Emily was studying journalism at Barnard College, spending her weekends wearing swanky black dresses that slipped from her shoulder blades as she shimmied from one acquaintance to the next, making hand gestures that enhanced her conversation and smiling behind a veil of MAC lipstick in Rouge Noir. Meanwhile, my major remained undecided at the University of Delaware. I spent my weekends in the stifling hot dorm rooms of people I’d never met before wearing oversized sweatshirts that would remain static on my collarbone, a testament to my own self-consciousness.

I would be at such a party when the news arrived, via cell phone from my mother. I could tell from the “Hello?” that the conversation would be about Emily; her voice had already taken on that peculiar enthusiasm it did whenever she talked about my sister, only this time the enthusiasm was muffled beneath a coagulation of sobs that she would cough out between her words:

“Emily is sick.”

My mother would go on to explain how everything had begun with a fever and then a stay at the Columbia University Medical Center, but the precise details of our conversation would blur with the bass pulsating from the cushion up to my temples, the hush of laughter from a nearby room. They would blur with the months that succeeded that party, with the visits from distant relatives and the awkward encouragements from overpriced doctors who sang of unparalleled treatments. They would blur with the train rides into Manhattan spent cupping my mother’s hair behind her ear and whispering that everything would be all right, all right, all right.

Finally the time would come when the doctors would stop sounding so enthused, when great-uncles and second cousins would stop sending cards, and when my father would stop promising a vacation to California once the medical bills decreased. Finally, my mother would stop pretending that this was akin to the afternoon when we were seven and Emily had decided to become a supermodel by smearing her cheeks with lipstick and painting her eyelids with mascara. Finally, this was no longer just another phase, just another display of Emily’s eccentricity that could likewise be fixed with industrial-strength cosmetic remover and no dessert for a week. Finally the details would make themselves clear: The cancer had spread mercilessly, had attacked the white blood cells first and then choked the rest of her, leaving her to die beneath the ivory sheets of a bed at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

When I saw her there, the first thing I noticed was that her normal luminescence had been muted by the hospital’s harsh fluorescent lights, her peachy complexion now a sickly gray from too much medication and not enough food. Her hair, her honey-brown hair, no longer fell in a river of loose waves that would always make me conscious of my own stringy mane; it had all fallen out with the chemotherapy, fallen out with the rest of our hope.

I read her The Giving Tree, our favorite book growing up, and shared gossip about cousins, aunts, and uncles; who was divorcing whom, who was engaged, pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, but we both knew that the conversation was no more than a distraction from what seemed to scream out of every crevice in the hospital room - I would be the one to win. After all the high school dances where Emily arrived with her arm wrapped around the bicep of some varsity football player or National Merit Scholar while I would go dateless and miserable, after all the academic awards that Emily had accepted with a toothy grin while I sat half-heartedly applauding in the audience, I would be the one to come out on top.

Sitting beside her on the hospital bed, grazing fingers and wiping wet eyelashes, it was then that I realized that perhaps my sister’s catapult into womanhood was not intended to spite me or to appease my mother or simply because she had the capability to do so. Perhaps Emily’s rush to maturity was out of necessity, because somewhere inside she knew, in the same quiet way that you know on certain winter mornings that the sky is bloated with snowfall, that she would have to act fast before her opportunities were gone.

And on that day when Emily’s blood cells would finally stop fighting and the nurse would tell me that Emily was one of the most beautiful individuals he had ever met, and on that day when my mother would call my grandmother, now on a deathbed of her own, before collapsing onto the cold, cold floor of Mt. Sinai Hospital, and on that day when the sky should have halted, instead it would be snowing. And on that day I would shut my eyes and reflect on how those 12 minutes and 26 seconds were the ones she had needed the most.

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This article has 12 comments.

i love this !

on Apr. 7 2015 at 9:42 pm
OurVoices PLATINUM, Merrimac, Massachusetts
31 articles 0 photos 34 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are" - e.e. cummings

this is the best piece of literature i have ever read on this website, or by another teenager, period. When i finished it i looked up, took a deep breath and realized that i had lost consciousness of everything else in the world while reading your story, You have an amazing talent and you deserve the award and the publication in the magazine and that's the biggest understatement of the year.

on Feb. 22 2015 at 2:14 pm
MysticMusic ELITE, Waterloo, Other
116 articles 0 photos 120 comments

Favorite Quote:
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” -Mae West
"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things." - Leonardo Da Vinci

This is absolutely beautiful, with a perfectly flawed protagonist and years passing by in a few paragraphs, but the most important moments standing out more than anything else. This is absolutely stunning, and even that's an understatement.

on Aug. 11 2014 at 7:03 pm
JazmyneB SILVER, Gananoque, Other
8 articles 0 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
*Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you'll land among the stars*

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Brisa PLATINUM said...
on Jun. 23 2014 at 4:54 am
Brisa PLATINUM, Wasilla, Alaska
20 articles 7 photos 38 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Si dan a tú papel alineado, escribas el otro camino."
"If they give you lined paper, write the other way"
-Juan Ramon Jiminez

You caught the emotions and tone surrounding cancer perfectly. I love this. It is deep, and touched me on a personal level, as I'm sure it has for many others. Well done.

on Apr. 18 2014 at 1:12 am
TaylorWintry DIAMOND, Carrollton, Texas
72 articles 0 photos 860 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Never fear shadows. They simply mean there's a light shining somewhere nearby." - Unknown

Incredibly beautiful and heartfelt, the way your words connected and flowed was impeccable. I'm really impressed by this, and glad that you won that award. Congratulations on writing such an inspirational piece! Cancer is a strong subject to deal with, but you handled it almost effortlessly, nice job.

ladonna said...
on Apr. 28 2013 at 1:22 pm
ladonna, Grandville, Michigan
0 articles 0 photos 3 comments
This so good! its so sad, the way you connected those 12 minutes and 26 seconds at the beginning and end. I als love how the tone changes from jealousy to sympathy. So well written!

on Jan. 6 2013 at 3:47 pm
In_Love_with_Writing GOLD, Easton, Pennsylvania
12 articles 0 photos 389 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phillipians 4:13

Wow. This is really good. You captured me from the beginning :) Maybe you can rate and comment on some of my stories? It means a lot to me!

on Jan. 6 2013 at 10:21 am
londongirl90 SILVER, Hanworth, Other
9 articles 0 photos 15 comments

Favorite Quote:
"There is no excuse. If you want to write, write. This is your life, you are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don't wait. Make the time now."- Natalie Goldberg

Very touching. I've got goose pimples now! Goob job

Cookie3 said...
on Mar. 22 2011 at 6:54 pm
Cookie3, Federal Way, Washington
0 articles 0 photos 2 comments
Wow, this was so well written that I'm jealous :) It's so touching with perfect voice and imagery. Well done

on Nov. 16 2010 at 6:35 pm
RedheadAtHeart ELITE, Mountain Home, Idaho
109 articles 0 photos 165 comments

Favorite Quote:
Love with open hands. - Madeleine L'Engle

beautiful. absolutely beautiful. vivid details (especially 12 minutes and 26 seconds). so beautiful.

bfitts14 said...
on Oct. 18 2008 at 1:16 am
wow, very very touching. superb job.

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