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Thank You Brother
It was just another day at work, or what I call work at least. Working in the adaptive ski program I seemed to see a new face every day I went, even though I’d been there for 4 seasons. I had been lucky enough to have met some of the nicest, and most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met in those 4 years; it was something that changed my life in ways that I can never explain, but I didn’t know until just recently how lucky I truly am.
On that extra cold day in December, nothing was out of the ordinary. I had been on a lesson with one of my friends, Emily, that entire day. We were both on our winter holiday break, and decided to go catch up with some of her friends for a few late afternoon runs before the mountain closed. I’ve always been known for my outgoing personality, so meeting new people was like nothing to me. Emily had told me we were meeting her brother and friends that basically lived at their house. As we approached the summit, we were greeted by 5 smiling faces that could light up any room. I Figured they were just your average set of 5 guys that were looking at this new chick coming to ski with them. But I saw they all had the same adaptive jackets I had that were given to all of the volunteers here at the mountain; so how bad could they be? I sure as hell wasn’t about to judge them. I can get along with just about anyone, so even if they were just the jock, self-centered jerks I was used to at my school, it’d be no problem to adjust. But they weren’t. You could say they had me at hello, or in this case, “what’s good?” For the rest of that afternoon we just skied, or for the boys rode, not caring where we ended up. And when we would call it quits, for the first time in a long time, I was finally able to simply be a kid again. For the 6 months before I met them, I had been trying to do everything I could to maintain my childhood years. 6 months almost to the day of meeting them, I was celebrating my birthday in a Rhode Island hospital, with the lovely birthday present of finding out my mother had cancer. From that moment on I was no longer just a kid, but now I was the big sister who took on more responsibilities than I could have ever imagined. But on that day I met these people, at the place we had all called home, I was finally that 15 year old, care free, free-spirited girl who was ready to take on the world again.
Meeting Henry wasn’t any different than meeting anyone else at Waterville. He was one of the kids that were at Emily’s “cool-aide” house more days than even she herself. He was a bit of the softer spoken of the group, but then again he was competing with us giggling girls who were having the time of our lives simply being together. At first most of our discussions were simply about skiing/snowboarding and the adaptive program. Occasionally we would talk about our lives, but most of the time it was him asking me questions about work, considering I had been working in the program since I was 12; it was understandable. But about a month later, we all had our first official” hang out” even though it was a fundraiser for work. But we didn’t care, just as long as we had a good time, we were all in. Of course because we are the youngest in the program, our boss put us in charge of selling balloons and beads to raffle off random and outrageous prizes, I guess it was the “cute factor.” And with any social event there were the little girl dramas with some of the guests of the fundraiser, but with all that sh*t I hear at home, I was sure to stay as far away from it as possible. Earlier on that day, we had all participated in a fun race for the foundation our program runs off of, and all dressed up in ridiculous outfits. Even though I loved the fact I was able to go back to my race roots for at least a couple of hours, the GS race suits my friend Kaleigh and I wore seemed to get a lot of comments that night. After the awards for our race took place that night, all of our friends left, giving Kaleigh and me the chance to talk about the strange sense of home we felt that entire day. It was something I had never felt before, but something I began to fall in love with.
Time went on, and I began to dread week days, only looking forward to the weekends when I could see my friends up north. The closer Henry and I became the more and more I saw in him. We found more things we had in common than we could ever have imagined. We have grown up on the water, are in love with the beach, and love the job we have in changing the lives of others. But the thing I can never thank him enough for is the thing we have always done for the students we work with; and that is his ability to always put a smile on my face. We both had our baggage; I was the girl whose mom has cancer, and he was the kid that was adopted, but that never seemed to come in the way of us. If anything it made us grow closer to one another. But Henry and I have a relationship that I have never had with anyone else. Henry stepped into my life, when I needed someone to be there for me no matter what time it was to just simply hug me and tell me everything would be okay. Being the oldest in my family, I had always wondered what it would have been like to have an older sibling. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but one night Henry and I got talking about how we each have been brought up to know that we will always have to respect our blood, but can choose the people we call family. I swear that we were separated at birth, because before I could say anything, Henry was referring to me as his little sister. I finally realized how lost I had been without this guardian looking out for me in the times I thought I was losing everything. Maybe it’s the fact that Henry just has this protective instinct, but anytime I was with him, I felt a sense of being safe, where nothing and no one can ever hurt me.
Some people may say that what we have is strange or only the beginning to something more. But we have promised each other to always live in the moment, and go with the punches life throws at us, and never mind what others tell us. No matter what I told Henry about my Mom, and the every last feeling I had about cancer or life in general, he always managed to have something to say or do, to put a smile on my face; the smile that seemed to be lost behind the strong front I was forced to put on. When I first found out about my mom’s cancer, I looked to my close girl friends for guidance, but even with their love, and encouraging words, I never felt the feeling of everything being okay, like I do when I talk to my big brother. There were nights I would sit wanting everything to be over, and want to get my life back, and thought I had no one left to really understand what I was going through. Even though Henry hasn’t had a parent go through cancer, he knew how to let me know that everything will be okay.
But with finding this new brother, always brings my worries about his life. When he told me of his dreams to join the army, I was more or less scared shitless. I mean come on; it’s the army, and Henry. No one ever wants to see someone they care about go to a place where there is nothing but turmoil and war, willing to take the life of anyone who steps foot on the enemy lines. But I got to thinking about this dream of his, and realized the soldier qualities he has already shown. He is someone that is there to protect anyone no matter what, and is always making sure everyone is okay. He is one of the only people I know that gives me and I’m sure a lot more people a sense of being totally safe around. This is a kid who wears his grandfather’s dog tag every day of his life, how could I not see him as being a good soldier? Telling Henry that he shouldn’t join the army would be like telling myself I can never set foot on a sports field ever again; not an option. It would be not only killing every dream he has ever had, but telling him to go against the person he truly is. Not even a month earlier than him telling me of this dream, we had all had a Chinese lantern lighting ceremony for one of the 19-year old locals in Waterville; the place we all called home. He had been killed on his first day of patrol across the seas, where Henry is soon to be sent. But I can’t fear what will happen to him, I can only tell him to follow every one of his dreams, just like he has told me to never give up my hope.
One night, Henry asked me if there was anything in the world I could have, what would it be. I replied that I would have my mom watch me graduate high school. Immediately my guardian like big brother told me to basically shut the hell up, before telling me that no matter what the head doctors told me, my mom would watch me graduate in some way shape or form. I knew he was truly my long lost twin when he said this, because on that night I finally closed the open door of the unknown in my mind and finally lived to up my words, “Everything will be okay, no matter if we win or lose in this fight against cancer.” That day I knew I truly loved Henry, not for being a “dream guy” like some sappy drama queen girls would say, but for being one of the only people in this entire world, right beside me on this journey through hell that is able to put a smile on my face no matter how hard things get. To this day Henry offers to come abduct me from the world, and take me the water, where I grew up, where I was a care-free kid that was living every moment for nothing more than itself. He is the one person who even though I’ve known for a short 5 months, has helped me get through nights where I simply wanted to curl up and escape the world. He is the person that is there to say “forget everyone else deal with you, and only you.”
But focusing on just me is easier said than done. I can sit in my room much like I did my 15th birthday, when I was told my mom had an incurable disease, but whenever I look at my stick thin mother sitting on our family room couch that was once the place my younger brother and I curled up leg to leg on either side of our superwoman mother to watch a movie, I can’t help but want to be next to her every moment of every day. Cancer is a tricky thing that seems to work in its own way. I mean it is incurable, but cancer has also helped me in ways many wouldn’t think. Cancer has helped me realize who are the people I truly can count on in my life, and who I can call family. Sure there are people along my journey of the shit show of dealing with the fact my mom’s days may be numbered, but they’re the people that only want to hear the good news and say “I’m so sorry,” whenever they hear the true reality of our situation. I can only say, “Stop being sorry you didn’t give her cancer.” This is usually followed by a very puzzled look of “what the hell did she just say.” I know people get nervous and don’t know what else to say, and I truly do appreciate the words of encouragement that I get, but these words only make me more want this show to be over. These people are the ones I call “the sorriers” for that’s basically all they’re good for, something that I thought I would always want if anything like this ever happened to me. But that’s the thing, never in a million years did I expect to be a high school sophomore saying “my mom has cancer,” but its reality, and Henry and those who I do call my true family are the ones that are willing to sit, and face reality with me hand in hand. I’ll never give up hope for what the future may bring, but it’s a very safe feeling knowing that even if we don’t win in this battle against cancer I’m loved in this world, and know the people I love that will never let me fall farther than I can climb.
I can’t help but tell Henry thank you for everything he does for me. Maybe he’ll never understand it, and maybe none of my friends I see as my family will, but the smiles that are brought to my tear-stained face, and the giggles we share over the silliest things are what are truly keeping me on this bumpy road. The late night talks, movie nights and adventure walks, may seem like these small gestures any person would give for anyone, but to me, they mean so much more. For almost a year now I have been forced to live in the life of a daughter whose mother is possibly dying of cancer, but with these people, I am a kid again, back to the days of nothing but laughter and fun, the days I had almost forgotten existed. I have always promised myself to never throw around the word love. But love that is what I feel for Henry, my new family and those I have always seen as my true family. Love is the thing that is keeping me going, allowing me to stay by my mom when she is fighting for her life; and still allowing me to be a kid that I haven’t been for so long now. Love is not what makes our world spin. Love is the act of feeling totally free wherever our journey may take us. But it’s the people we love on this adventure that make our ride worth it.
I can’t say cancer hasn’t broken a part of me, because it sure as hell has. But I’ve promised too many people including my big brother to never stray far from the giggly, care-free girl that I’ve always been. No matter how hard life gets, and where we are on this bumpy road, I can say I have found out what love truly means, and can I say I love my family, not the ones I am simply related to by blood, but those who stand by me through thick and thin, the ones I call mia familia.
So thank you, for making this year from hell a little more tolerable than I thought it would be. For making the nights when I only want to cry, end with a smile. Thank you for bringing me back to a year ago, when everything was alright, for letting me be the giggly, energetic 15-year old girl I’ve been missing to be. Thank you for the memories I will hold forever, and thank you for the love you have given, that I promise to always return. Sure time has been short for us, but our lives start now, and life’s short, so let’s make every second worth it.