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Happy Birthday

The smell. That is the first thing I will think of if I ever dare to think of him. The smell of heavy sanitation and crisp clean sheets. Then the sounds. The sounds of squeaking canvas shoes and the wheels of a bed being rolled down the hallway to a new room, from or to the ICU. Then I can see everything. The white walls that go straight up and down and have almost no decoration. I see the white uniforms on the nurses who go into one room after another, looking in on patients who we all know they are dying. We all know they are dying because they are here, in the ICU. ICU. Intensive Care Unit. I walk slowly and quietly down the hall to room 326. That is where he is. My cousin. My twin. My best friend when we were llittlekids. DJ, Donald Jackson. My mom’s, cousin’s son. DJ was the most beautiful soul I had ever met, and though he wasn’t to pretty right now, going through what he was going through. And in my pocket is that llittlepicture of me and RJ in my wallet. Llittleblonde us. Llittlehappy us with hair and smiles and no bruises. And then the picture of us now. Bald us. Bruised us. Empty smiles us.

“Hey, DJ, how you feeling?” I walked into the room. My usual greeting was a redundant question. Whenever I came, he was in Chemo treatment.
“Hey Erica, how goes it?” His question was redundant too. He knew that inside me, inside my head, I was a chaotic mess. I had ADD and OCD and Bipolarism. I also had major emotional imbalances in my brain, you know, chemicals reacted the wrong way to everything and I never had the right emotion. The only time I show the right emotion was around DJ. He was my balance.
“No better then you, my dear,” I chuckle. I sit down and take DJ’s hand in mine. I pat it gently and look out the window. RJ was diagnosed with Leukemia when we were 8. We were 14 now and neither of us had gotten anywhere. I was still chaotic, he was still in Chemo. No changes in 6 years.
“Liar,” he joked, “You know you’re better off than I am. I’m the one stuck here in this god damn ICU, this stupid thing stuck in my chest, and hoping the radiation kills cancer before it kills me.”
“You know your mom hates when you talk like that,” I warn him, “and you won’t die. I know you DJ. You’re a tough one. You won’t let something stupid like cancer take you down.”
Inside I’m crying my heart out. I know I’m lying to DJ. He could never beat cancer, but right now I couldn’t give up on him.
“Don’t cry Erica,” DJ says, “You know our birthday is today. Everyone will be here to celebrate in a llittlewhile. We have to look strong. Maybe the nurses will let you stay the night? But Erica, be strong, for the both of us, OK?”

A few hours later the party was over. I looked over at DJ, lying in his bed asleep. I slid open the door to his room in the ICU. I walked down the hallway and back to my room in the psychiatric ward. I lay back down in my own bed. Everything faded. First the sight of the white walls and white uniformed nurses. Then the sounds of squeaking shoes and rolling beds. And finally the smells. The smells of heavy sanitation and clean sheets. And then there is the one thing that still lingers, the only thing that stays in my mind at night. That llittlepicture of me and RJ in my wallet. Llittleblonde us. Llittlehappy us with hair and smiles and no bruises. And then the picture of us now. Bald us. Bruised us. Empty smiles us.





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