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Protecting Her

Silent tears, black with mascara, rolled down her face the day Leila told me. Now two and a half years later, we still haven’t accepted it. My baby sister has kidney failure. Without a donor, she will die. She is sixteen years old. 

“Be strong. Be strong,” I chant silently to myself as I twist the handle and slowly pull open the door. Her skin is pale, almost translucent.  There are dark bags hanging 
below her exhausted eyes. I can barely remember the happy face I once took for granted. She is lying with her head propped up on a few flat pillows. A thin sheet is draped over her frail legs. Folded neatly on the foot of her bed is her favorite blanket from home. Our parents are sitting in the corner, the expressions on their faces as positive as they can muster, but their eyes are almost as exhausted as hers. She grins limply at me. I bite my lip and force myself to smile back at her. 

The gray walls of her tiny one-person room are bare. I know she doesn’t want to 
put anything up in hopes she will be leaving soon. Only one thing hangs on the wall. An 
over-packed calendar, marked with her never-ending tests and treatments. She has 
been in the hospital for weeks straight and her condition is only getting worse. The only sound in the room is her strained breathing. Carefully, she pulls her knees to her chest, making room for me to sit on the end of her bed.  Wearily, she takes my hand and looks me straight in the eyes.  I know she leans on me and expects me to brave and strong. I want to be there to protect her always. That’s what a big brother does; he protects his little sister. I can chase away the boy that breaks her heart. When she gets a bad test score, I can cheer her up. But, I can’t chase away the problems that are breaking her. 

“Jonathon,” my father says quietly, his eyes pointed at the floor, without enough 
strength left to look at me or her. “Can I talk to you for a second?” He slips out the door and I hesitantly walk into the hallway. I follow him down the hall and into the lobby. In the corner, a mother cries and a father tries, in vain, to soothe her, while suppressing a sob of his own. By the desk, a young woman paces nervously, only stopping to say something to the receptionist. The room is plastered with get-well cards and balloons. 

“Have a seat, son,” my father says, still not able to meet my eyes. He swallows hard and takes a slow, deep breath, almost as if trying to hold back tears. His lower lip quivers, but he bites down hard and forces himself to regain his composure. “Your test results came back negative and she’s too low on the waiting list.” I nod somberly and close my eyes. My kidneys won’t work and she won’t be able to get one from a donor in time. She will die. I open my eyes and see my father looking at me empathetically.  We walk back to the room silently. Our mother is packing her things so we can take her home. There is nothing else that can be done.  A nurse comes into the room pushing a wheel chair. My father lifts Leila, still groggy from sleep, into the wheelchair, and takes her out to the parking lot. We put her into the car and my father starts the car.

“Johnny, come with us,” Leila begs. I never really appreciated the beautiful sound of her high pitched sing-song voice. “I’ll meet you there, have to take my car,” I answer. As hard as it is to refuse her, I don’t want to have to spend more time away from her to go retrieve it later.  I shut her car door and watch my parents drive away. Suddenly, I realize that I may never see her again. We don’t know how long it will be until her system fails. My head falls into my lap. I am the opposite of what I am supposed to be. A 19 year old freshman should be tough, strong, and carefree. I am none of these things. I am weak, sensitive, and constantly worrying. It’s a gloomy day, drizzling and cold. I turn on the ignition and lurch the car forward.

My mind wanders to when I was eight and she lost my favorite soccer ball, so I pulled her ponytail. When she was ten, she broke my iPod; I told her I hated her. When I was 13, I called her a baby in front of her friends.  She is so much more important to me than an iPod or a soccer ball. My brain flips to the time we went to Florida. I was ten and she was seven. I was trying to be a show-off, so I jumped off the dock into the ocean. The waves were crashing over my head. I couldn’t pull myself out of the water. Leila saw me and started to shout, “Johnny’s drowning, Johnny’s drowning!” She saved my life that day. But now, when it matters most, I can’t save her.  
A quick stab of pain in my chest brings me back to reality. The airbags push into me, but it’s too late. I close my eyes, knowing Leila will be with me soon. 



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