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Memories of a Sunset
The golden sunset fills my vision. When I think of the sunset, I think of my sister. There are no pictures of my sister in our house. Not anymore.
Until I was ten, I followed Shay everywhere. She was my older sister; she was my world. Everyone loved Shay. Even my mom, who was supposed to fight with her teenage daughter, loved her. Shay just had this magnetic quality that drew people to her. Although most sixteen year-olds would probably hate having a younger sister tail them, Shay was never annoyed with me.
Every Saturday, Shay took me to the beach, which was twenty minutes away from our house. We sat together, digging our toes into the cool, damp sand, waiting to watch the sunset. Shay made me feel special because she would confide in me her dreams for the future – to buy a house for our mom, to own a house of her own on the beach, and to be an astronaut and travel among the stars. Shay told me that when I was old enough, we would travel up to space together. But until then, she promised to bring me rocks from the moon. In return, I gave her my complete adoration.
One Friday, I arrived home from school to find Shay lying on her bed in the small room we shared. Shay always came home later than me because she had soccer and choir practice. I ran to her to see if she was all right.
"Don't worry Alana, I'm fine. I had a cough and was a little tired, so I skipped choir practice and went home early."
I curled up besides her on the soft bed and studied her pale face. Against her dark curly hair, her skin looked almost translucent. The splash of freckles on her face seemed more
pronounced. The last thing I remember of that day was the irregular sound of her breathing.
I thought Shay would be better after she slept, but she wasn't. She missed the next two days of school and spent most of her time sleeping in bed.
"Alana, let your sister rest. Go do your homework and stop bothering Shay." I wanted to stay next to Shay and make her feel better as she always did for me, but Shay said: "You're not bothering me Alana, but Mom is right. You have to study your chronology on Rome. She coughed again. I left her side reluctantly. Mom’s brow was lined with worry. I heard my mother say to Shay quietly, "If you're still tired tomorrow, I'll take you to the doctor.”
“Mom, it’s probably just overwork. They pile on the homework and tests in junior year. Honestly, I don’t need to see Dr. Stevens.” Shay’s voice was barely audible, though the room was quiet.
“Relax Shay. Don’t worry about the money.”
I saw Shay lose her anxious expression as she fell back asleep. I needed to escape this rented house with frayed, stained curtains and mismatched furniture. I flung open the windows allowing the sweet fragrance of the herbaceous plants that Shay had planted last year to waft in with the breeze. ¬¬¬¬¬¬¬
Shay wasn't better the next day. I wanted to go with Shay to the doctor, but Mom forced me to go to school. When school was over, I found Mom waiting outside of the building.
“You picked me up! I don’t have to take the awful school bus!” I said excitedly. I looked at Mom’s face and saw her sad expression. “What’s wrong? Where’s Shay?”
“She’s at the hospital. You can use my cell phone to call her in the car. Her number is in my bag. But we need to go now.” She said wearily.
I hurriedly called Shay who answered after the fifth ring.
"How was the doctor? What did he say? " The questions poured out of me.
There was a long pause.
"Alana...I have pneumonia."
Shay coughed again. “The doctors gave me some medicine for that."
"Well, you'll be okay then right?"
There was another long pause. "I also have sickle cell anemia. My body is making hemoglobin F instead of hemoglobin A. You know that hemoglobin carries oxygen. But hemoglobin F is useless." She began crying. Then she said softly, "My red blood cells are dying…I am too."
Shay wasn't being lucid, and I couldn't figure out why. Why was Shay saying that she was dying? I wanted to yell into the phone: Make your body make hemoglobin A. Tell the doctors to fix you. But I couldn't. I was paralyzed with horror.
I heard the soft click as Shay hung up. I turned away from the phone and looked at Mom as she gripped the steering wheel tightly. The half hour drive to Long Beach Medical Center seemed interminable. We were silent and lost in our own thoughts.
When we arrived at the hospital, the nurses gave us directions to Shay's room. The quiet, sterile halls made me shiver. It was too quiet, like people were just waiting to die.
When I saw Shay, my heart sank. She looked tired and wan, not the usual bubbly, beautiful Shay who always came home with a smile on her face. I sank down onto the chair next to her bed and clutched her hand.
I’ll let you girls talk. I need to talk to the doctor,” said Mom softly as she stepped out of
the room. The next thing I knew, it was Saturday morning. Mom took me to the cafeteria for
brunch. We ate dry sandwiches and drank sickly-sweet lemonade in silence.
I sat by Shay for the entire day. She mainly slept, but she smiled at me when she woke up. "I love you Alana, " she whispered.
"I love you too," I choked. “I promise to do well in school.” She looked at me sadly, as we lay next to each other, watching the sunset from her small hospital window. I’ll never forget her last words, “I promised you a sunset.”