No Curtain Call

July 13, 2009
By Megan Zhang BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
Megan Zhang BRONZE, Palo Alto, California
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Ah, the cherry on top of one’s high school career. It is the one night when everything is flawless – the perfect limo, the even more perfect dress, and the charming, handsome high school sweetheart that will whisk a girl away to a night of excitement and thrills. It is that night when every girl does her hair for far too long and puts on more makeup than her face can possibly hold. Yes, the wonderful bliss of prom night.

I was no different from the millions of other girls out there. Though I was just another mere freshman at the bottom of the high school totem pole, I often mused about my own prom night. I saw what all the other girls saw – one night of utter perfection. But I also saw something else – something no one should ever have to see – a big sister slowly dying of cancer.

I was eleven, and Laurie was fifteen, when doctors found cancer cells in my sister’s bloodstream and immediately diagnosed her with cancer. She was given chemotherapy, and I spent hours at a time sitting by her bed, squeezing her hand and crying with her when her beautiful, dark hair fell out. When she spent all day vomiting, I was there, perched at her bedside, fighting back tears while placing damp cloths on her forehead to soothe the nausea.

“It’ll get better, Megan,” she always said, smiling. She was truly a fighter, always maintaining the most positive attitude in the direst circumstances. She was amazing, and I admired her for that more than anything. Nodding, I placed another bouquet or get-well card from her friends on her bedside table.

The strange thing is that I could never tell whether that smile of hers was genuine or only plastered on her face to comfort me. Whatever it was, I really believed that a miracle would occur and chase away the ruthless, macabre leukemia inside her.

It did not. By the time I was fourteen, Laurie’s cancer was still undefeated and worse than ever. She was eighteen and nearing adulthood. She had missed out on so much – the sensation of making the team or the thrill of getting straight A’s. It was abominable to me that Laurie had to live with the daily fear that she may not live to see the rays of tomorrow. Her youth had been mangled and foully thrown into the wind. She never had her curtain call. This suffering was not justified at all. I always tried to surprise her with presents, but surprises just don’t really surprise eighteen-year-olds. Regardless, she always pretended to be surprised just for my sake, and I loved her for that.

As spring approached, I lamented one inevitable truth. It killed me that Laurie would not be able to experience her prom. I watched in agony as student volunteers put up decorations, as girls received flowers from boys, as my sister rested at the hospital, too weak to stand up for very long.

On the night of the prom, I stayed beside her. Uncontrollable beads of remorse welled up in my eyes, and all the pain that I had tried to disguise in front of her streamed down my cheeks. Laurie was supposed to be at the Marriott right now, surrounded by all her friends, experiencing the greatest night of her life. She was supposed to be wearing a beautiful gown and displaying a delicate corsage. She was supposed to be living this one night that she had long anticipated with anxiety and fervor since the early years of her childhood. But instead, she was lying here on death’s threshold, struggling to grasp on to just one more week, one more month of life.

“Don’t cry, Megan,” she whispered, her eyes evident with misery, her face ashen. Right then, I wished more than anything to be able to give my sister her old life back, to see the rosy pink energy re-emerge in her now callow cheeks.

Standing up to the window of the room, I stared absentmindedly at the cars rolling by on the highway below. One car was moving slowly, delaying the cars trailing it and receiving some smart honks in return. As I watched these cars trying to pass one another, the realization that life is truly one long highway hit me hard. Everyone attempts to plod onwards with the greatest speed possible, and everyone fights to get ahead. It depressed me so much that Laurie was a slow vehicle nearing its final destination. She lagged behind while her peers raced ahead. Reaching up, I closed the window, shutting out the summer heat.




After a few more long and hard months, Laurie quietly died. She was released from the years of misery that she never deserved. They say that one’s life flashes before one’s eyes during the last few moments of life. I hope with all my heart that Laurie saw how much her family loved her, how much her friends cared about her. I hope she saw true happiness, despite the leukemia, at times when we bonded, exchanging stories and laughs, or when she received surprise visits from her colony of friends who never failed to bring broad grins to her face. Every day, I miss my sister tremendously, but it comforts me to know that she is in Heaven right now, being the angel she always was.

The author's comments:
This is a true story, but though I wrote it from the first person, this did not happen to me. However, I did use my own name for private purposes.

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