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The Last Days of My Life
I was dying. December 31, 2003, 11:38am, 12 years old. So many questions ran through my head. How did this happen? Is there any possible way that I could live through this? Why me? I lay in the uncomfortable, scratchy, sheets of the bed in the Oakville Hospital. I had been here for two days, and won’t be here for many more. As I lie there, I think back on the last days I spent before coming here. The last days of my life.
I open the rickety front door and hear the hinges squeak as I do. I walk out onto the porch and droplets of sweat immediately start to form on my forehead. The temperature was normal for this time of year in Albany, New York though. I take my wrinkled old copy of “Wicked Lovely” and my big black sunglasses and tumble over to the huge maple tree across the lawn. I was glad for the cooled shelter of its branches because on this particular morning, the heat was almost tangible.
I slipped my book under my sweaty arm and rested my sunglasses over my sticky face before I started to ascend the big maple. I smelt the salty sweet aroma of the maple leaves and my sweat as I climbed to my special spot in the tree. During the winter last year, I had found a spot where I could easily stretch out as I read my book. Just a few more steps and I’d be there.
The next thing I felt was the whooshing of air as my hair surrounded my face and my hands searched for something to hold onto. At first they found nothing. Then, my left hand felt a leafy branch that it probably didn’t even know was there and my fingers curled around it. I was out of breath and not quite sure I had stopped falling. My right hand swung over my body and helped my left hand with holding me up.
I pulled myself up onto the branch –which was surprisingly strong for its size- and caught my breath. I realized that I had fallen about 10 feet from my place towards the top of the tree as I glanced around for my book. “Where did it go?” I thought aloud. I wondered if it had fallen all the way to the ground or gotten caught in the web of branches and leaves woven by the tree. Then I saw it- an outburst of bright, frosty, blue in the silence of the jade. It was just a couple of feet below where I was sitting. I found a nook in the trunk of the tree where my foot fit nicely and carefully lowered myself to where my book was encased in leaves.
I was eye-level with my book and I leaned over to reach it. “Almost there,” I thought aloud again. Then I leaned back. The book was just out of my grasp. I looked around me. Agi-tated and out of breath, I found what I was looking for. Just above my head there was a dead branch from my fall. I climbed back up the tree to break it off completely and try to use it to let the bug loose of the spider’s web.
“Jerri May!” Grams called from the dining room window. “Jerri May, you better get your hide in here before I come looking for you!” Oh great, Grams has breakfast prepared all ready?
“Don’t you worry Grams, I’ll go look for Jerri. She can’t escape my eagle eye. Be back in a jif-fy.” I heard my older brother Mark confirm.
“You had better, or I’m gonna whip both y’alls hides.” I heard Mark sprint over to where I was. He was probably the only one who knew where I was; aside from being my big brother he was also my best friend. Mark had just gotten under the tree as I freed my book from its clutches.
“Look out below!” I yelled. He looked up and the book fell right in his face. I started to laugh so hard that I fell from the tree for the second time that morning. This time there was someone there to catch me as I fell.
Mark set me down and handed me my sunglasses and book as he said, “What in the world were you doing up there anyway? Grams has been looking for you all morning. You are lucky I woke up early or you’d have the tannest hide ever!”
“Oh calm down Mark. Would you quit with the overreacting.” I sighed. “If you must know why I was up there, I was going to read my book. Then I fell. I caught a branch but my book got caught in the clutches of the evil maple and I had to rescue it. I did just as you came up.”
He sighed as we started to walk back to the house. “You and your wild imagination,” he chuckled.
I walked up to the front door and noticed that Grams had pulled back the blue wooden door and left the screen open. Pancakes, bacon, and eggs wafted up to my nostrils. I inhaled deeply and let out a big sigh. “Why don’t you kids come inside before your food gets cold.” She winked at us with a sly smile on her face. We sat down in the neatly crafted wooden chairs around the small breakfast table in the kitchen. Mark piled pancake upon pancake on his plate accompanied by four slices of bacon and three whopping scoops of scrambled eggs.
“Hey Mark,” I said taking two pancakes, one scoop of eggs, and two slices of bacon.
“What?” he mumbled with a fork in his mouth not looking up from his plate.
“Don’t choke,” I laughed as he started coughing and ran to the fridge to get a glass of orange juice.
“Haha very funny, I’m gonna get you for that. You just wait and see,” he smiled mysteriously.
“Oooo, I’m so scared. Pop protect me!” I half screamed half laughed as I hid behind my pop’s chair.
My thoughts were interrupted when a nurse came into the room to ask if I was hungry. “Do you really think I need food?” I questioned incredulously. “In case you don’t know, I’m dying. No type of food is going to change that.”
She gave me an unconvincing smile and replied, “I just thought that if you were hungry you might want something to eat. It might make you more comfortable,”
“What would make me more comfortable was if I was at home in my own bed with my Grams taking care of me. She is a nurse just in case you nitwits have forgotten that small detail.”
I hear Grams scoff from the corner as she silently scolded me for being rude to the nurse. “Now you know that I can’t do that pumpkin. As much as I would like to, I just don’t have the right instruments to help you at home.”
“Grams, nothing is going to help me now! Don’t you understand that?” I yelled. I immediately felt guilty for yelling at Grams like that. “Sorry,” I mumbled, “That was out of line. May I please have a chocolate milk?” I asked the nurse who was standing there witnessing my rage.
“Of course darling, I’ll be right back with that.” I sighed and slouched further into the prickly sheets.
After about five minutes the nurse returned with my milk and a warm chocolate chip cookie. “I thought you might want something to eat with your milk.” She explained shyly. I mut-tered thanks in her direction and she was out the door. I settled into my bed and thought more about my summer.
The wind on my face stung a little. I was soaked and running from another attack. I crept silently around the ghostly presence of the silo to the barn in the back. “I don’t think Mark will come back here.” I thought. Then I heard someone whisper, “Tag you’re it,” in my ear. Then I got drenched. I was even more wet then I ever thought possible. I turned to see Mark running away saying, “I told you I was gonna get you for breakfast!” I giggled and sprinted after him. He was fast-an arrow from a bow- but I was faster- a bullet from a rifle. I picked up a water balloon as I passed the bucket on the porch and sprinted even faster. “You’re done for!” I yelled in his direction.
I kept pace with him once I caught up; staying a safe distance behind him, making him think that I couldn’t catch him. What he didn’t know is that I was simply waiting for the perfect shot. Once I found it I aimed and fired, hitting him right in the middle of his back.
“Gottcha!” I yelled as I ran in the other direction.
“I surrender! You win!” he yelled clearly out of breath.
I jogged over to the apple tree that was close to the beginning of the grove and grabbed our towels. “Here you go.” Mark was doubled over and clutching his sides when I got to him. “Are you okay?” I asked a hint of worry in my tone.
“Are you positive? Do you want me to go get your inhaler?”
He nodded slightly as he started to speak, but I was already gone; racing against to wind to go get Grams and my brother’s inhaler.
“Grams! Grams where is Mark’s inhaler? Grams!” I yelped frantically when I got into the house. Grams came running to the front door with Mark’s inhaler asking what was wrong. “Fol-low!” I yelled after her as I leaped from the porch and raced back to Mark once his inhaler was in my possession. “Here, here, here,” I said, pulling off the cap. “Deep breaths, in-out,” I was saying as Grams rounded the corner.
“What in Sam heck- Mark, are you okay?”
Mark took a couple more deep breaths before answering. “Just ran a little too fast, that’s all. I’m perfectly fine.”
I could see in her eyes that Grams wasn’t convinced. “Well, why don’t you sit down for a while just to be sure? Come on inside and we’ll get you a hot bath before dinner and then bed.”
“Awe Grams, come on, I’m fine,” Mark complained as we walked back to the house.
“Don’t you ‘Awe Grams!’ me young man. You will do as I say,”
“Yes ma’am.” Mark said as he went to take a shower.
“May, May, wake up honey.” I heard the rough bittersweet voice of my Grams. I bolted upright once I realized that I had fallen asleep dreaming. “What time is it? What day is it? Did I live? What happened? How long have I been asleep?” I flooded my Grams with questions until she gave me the look. The look was when she furrowed her brows, squinted her eyes, and made her lips into a thin line. It was something between a scowl and a grimace, never nice, always ter-rifying.
“Let’s take this one question at a time shall we young lady?”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied dropping my eyes to study the tiles of the floor.
“You are not dead, and you were only asleep for a couple of hours.” I looked up at my Grams and saw worry deep-set in her face.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Whatever for honey?” Grams questioned looking genuinely confused.
“For getting pancreatic cancer,” I said almost inaudibly.
“Shut your mouth child!” she exclaimed as she sat on my bedside and wrapped me in her warmth.
“But it’s all my fault! I don’t know how but it is!” I cried.
“This is in no way your fault,” she cried with me. “We had no idea that all those times you said that your stomach hurt that it was something as devastating as this. This is in no way whatsoever your fault and I don’t ever want to hear you say that it is. If anything this is my fault. I should have had you come to the doctor and had them take care of you. I should have never tried to do it myself. You are not sorry I’m the one who should be sorry.”
I looked at Grams’ loving face. At the worry lines that looked like they were carved into her skin, and I looked at the gleam of hope in her eyes, that maybe I could live though this.
“We caught one! We caught one!” I yelled excitedly from the barn. “Mark! Dylan! We caught one! Get over here! We caught a mouse!”
Dylan and Mark came rushing around the corner to look at our prize.
“I can’t believe it! Would you look at that?” Dylan said amazement in his voice.
Dylan, Mark, and I were bored so we decided to see if we could build a trap and catch a mouse. We asked Grams for some cheese but she was out, so we used sardines. When we found the hole that the mouse went into, we grabbed a bucket, a yo-yo, and a medium sized rock. We tied the handle of the bucket up on a ledge that was about waist high from the ground with the yo-yo. The bottom of the bucket was hanging off the ground a little but it was perfect because it fit just right under the lip to the mouse hole. We spread some sardines in the hole a little, on the concrete, and left the rest of the sardines in the bucket.
About an hour later, we had caught ourselves a mouse. “I’m going to go get the cage that Pop keeps the animals he catches in. I’ll be right back.” Dylan said. I rushed after him. He didn’t know that Pop had moved the cages into the empty chicken coop and not in the garage. Right before I caught up to Dylan, my Aunt Kelly stopped us.
“Just what are you two up to? And where’s Mark?”
“Hi mom, we’re not doing anything, just hide-and-go-seek tag. Jerri May was it and she was chasing me.”
I chimed in with, “Ya, I just haven’t found Mark yet. It took me forever to find Dylan.”
Aunt Kelly laughed and said, “Okay, you two have fun now.”
We started debating weather I should give him a five second head start or not until my Aunt Kelly was inside the house.
“That was close,” Dylan sighed.“I don’t think she would have like the fact that we were purpose-ly trying to catch a mouse. What did you come chasing after me for anyway?”
“Pop moved the cages they’re in the Chicken coop not in the garage.” I said
“Well then let’s go!” Dylan replied.
When we got back to Mark, we put the mouse in the cage, and then we went to hide our prize. We had decided that we were going to try and take care of it. We put some grass and shrubs into the cage, as well as a little bowl full of water.
That was the last thing that happened before I came to the hospital.
Grams eventually realized Mark, Dylan, and I trying to take care of our little mouse whom we had named Duchess. She told us to return Duchess back to her hole immediately. Mark and I walked to where we had hidden Duchess. We were walking her back to her hole when I felt a sharp pain in the upper part of my stomach. A blood-curdling scream of agony escaped from my lips and the pain took me to the ground. I didn’t know what was going on. Then I started vomiting. I couldn’t control myself. All I could hear was my name being called over and over again. Jerri May! Jerri May! Jerri May! The next thing I knew, I was in the hospital.
They asked my Grams a few questions, did a couple of biopsies and figured out that I had pancreatic cancer. Grams started to weep when she heard this. She had buried her head in Pop’s chest. Mark just stormed out of the room. That’s what he did when he didn’t want to believe something. He just left. That was his way of dealing with pain. The way he dealt with our parents death at first.
“What time is it?” I asked Doctor Carver when he walked into the room.
“It’s 11:50pm.” He replied solemnly.“I’m so sorry that we didn’t get to you sooner.” He said as he left he room.
Ten minutes to live. I had ten minutes to live. I looked over at my Grams, asleep in a chair in the corner of the room. She looked so peaceful. Then again, I think it’s impossible to not look peace-ful while you sleep. I heard whispers outside my door. I peered under it from where I sat and saw feet. Then I heard a knock on the door and a familiar voice.
“Mark!” I screamed as I reached for him.
“Hey May-Bear,” he sounded on the edge of tears.
“Mark I didn’t think I was going to see you before I-“ I stopped short.
“I know, and I’m sorry I stormed out like that. That was wrong and stupid. It also meant that I couldn’t spend the last hours-” he was trying so hard not to cry that it hurt to look at his face.
I had started to cry myself. He hugged me and we sat there, our sobs hidden by the darkness.
Then I felt a sharp pain in my back. I jolted upright and screamed. “Jerri May!”
I heard Mark’s strangled voice saying, “Someone help me! My sister! Someone please help!”
Several nurses hastily came to my side. “Where does it hurt?” they tried to ask over my screams.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Grams sitting in the corner staring wide-eyed and horror-stricken. Violent tears fell down her face as she watched me go out of control.
Then everything stopped. I fell limp in the bed. I was in my brother’s arms. The fire-crackers lit up the night sky announcing the beginning of the New Year, and the clock struck 12:00 midnight.
“Love you,” was what I used my last breath to say.