“Think before you do” -Dad
“Bella, don’t even try this time.” My dad says. With his freshly shaved head, shiny as could be, gives me the metal scraper. I sigh. Knowing what is to come I am afraid to look at him, but I do it anyways. His deep blue eyes feel as if they are freezing my inner soul although it is another bright, green grass, blue sky, mid 80’s summer day in Wisconsin. At the age of 9 years old, my pale, light blue, round eyes can not win this war. But with stubbornness and a bucket of sass, I take the attempt anyways. He defeats me the second I meet his eyes. He is already giving me the “look what you did you terrible child” look. Once again I say, “Dad why do you always assume it was me who spit out the gum on the drive way?”
He cut me off. “Don’t argue and start scraping.” Rolling my eyes back into my head I began to smack my blueberry Hubba Bubba gum obnoxiously. My mouth filled up with spit. Once again I sat there in one of my many dresses that my mother would hand make for me. That day the dress was pale pink, with little patches of white plaid and yellow sunflowers oversized for the skinny green stems holding them up. Sitting there in the warm sun, I bent down and stared at the green, also Hubba Bubba brand gum that I’m 99.9 percent responsible for. It’s flattened down on the driveway and looks as if one of the neighborhood kids rode over it with their bikes once or twice. The metal scraper created a buzz through my hand and a scratchy tone in my ears as I pushed the it against the sidewalk
at a slant. The sun poured down on me and forced the stubbornness out of my head. I came to the conclusion that karma is real. Maybe I should've spit it in the grass. Could I of blamed it on my brother? Maybe I shouldn’t of done it all. Maybe I should've just listen to my dad when he warned me to think before I act. This would be the first of many cliche lessons that actually worked.
“Let your heart race, and your tears flow”- Mom
Most mothers want to keep their sweet, young teenager daughters from being hurt. They want to protect them from heartbreak, cyber bullies, anorexia and becoming pregnant. Moms want to baby their daughters and hold them back from life to keep them happy and safe because they love them. Not mine. She still showed me she loved me but in a different way. She let me learn from experience.
I was 12. Nervous, anxious, heartbroken. Nervous because the boy I had a crush on since the first day of middle school was coming over. Are we just friends? Will we kiss? Hug? Anxious because I had zero idea how to control body sweat and acne all at the same time. I start sweating just thinking about sweating. Lastly, heartbroken before anything heartbreaking even happened.
Seventh grade is rough for everyone. Acne takes over, hormones decide to bloom, and everyone starts to realize every horrific detail on their body. Actions simple as checking my reflection in the mirror became a daily overly obsessed ritual just to make sure my lip gloss was still waxy and shiny. Aside from all the body shaming, glittery eyeshadow and Silly Bandz, a great outcome would soon happen. The summer between seventh and eighth grade would be the beginning of a relationship that changed my life.
It was a late summer afternoon, when the sun was still peeking through the trees and whispering goodnight to the city. I decided to have another little bonfire with a few of my friends, but this one would be different. After months of talking and a couple years of having a crush I finally worked up a decent amount of confidence to ask the one person I liked to come over to “hangout” with my friends and I. He made me crazy. Not the common type where someone’s heart just speeds up. Crazy as in I felt myself getting a heart attack, seizure, stroke, and aneurysm all in the few seconds I would see him. After texting him, he said he would come:
Me: Hey. Do u want 2 come over 2night 4 a bon fire?
Him: Sure! Wut time? I’ll b there.
Me: I’ll let u know l8r after I ask my mom.
Soon after, I informed my mother he was coming over. Her long, wavy brown hair was tied back into a tight pony tail. Our kitchen sink had a white light just above it, making her face visible as she did the dishes. She raised her eyebrows and asked, “Are you nervous?”
“No. Well, I don’t know. Mom, we’re just friends” I replied.
“Why is your face getting so rosy?” She smiled, still looking down at the dishes.
“It’s not. Just stop mom.” letting out a big sigh to add sass I headed towards my room to get ready. My room looked like a tornado, hurricane, and earthquake went through and tossed every possible clothing item, makeup tool and accessory around my room. No matter what I applied to my appearance I didn't feel confident enough for him to see me. Eventually I threw on white shorts and a thin sweater.
“He is on his way!” Ahava, my friend said after she read the text off my phone. I felt like jumping in my pool and drowning myself. I was terrified. We had the stupid middle school love crush going on that would convince us that we would have the connection forever.
He walked through my garage and onto the back patio, and the body freak out began. Looking like magic with his wide, green eyes, tan skin that was scarred up from too much matrix tag playing, he made his way over to me.
“Hey, I brought the marshmallows”, he said while holding the white, puff squares up. He smiled with his teeth making most of his braces visible.
“Sweet, let’s get the fire started.” I replied.
After roasting marshmallows we finally got away from my friends and laid on the trampoline. As I climbed up, the metal bars were cold and calming making me want to keep my hands on them to avoid sweaty palms. It was dark but the moon to the right side of the sky was bright enough to light up the rim of his face. We awkwardly laid next each other with a range of close, but not too close. Struggling to control my body on the loose springy trampoline, I continuously awkwardly adjusted. Eventually, I zoned out. My childish friends were still sitting in the green lawn chairs back by the fire. Looking up, because I was too afraid to look him in the eyes, I noticed the stars were spread out perfectly. They looked as if they were trying to tell me a story.
He was a lot more relaxed than I was. At least it seemed that way. In contrast, my body was panicking. Sweat leaked out of hundreds of pores on my hands alone. I’m sure my skin cells were either drowning or making a nice beach day out of the over flowing palm sweat. As my face got closer to his, my world went in slow motion. Most likely, a whole new Earth could've developed in the time that it took for us to finally meet lips. The fire across the yard started to burn my insides. Would our braces interlock? Would we be shocked? What if I sneezed on him? Being simply inexperienced, I was already embarrassed. At this point, he knew I was nervous. It was so simple, but I was too afraid to do it. Searching for advice in every file of my mind, I remembered something that has helped me and will continue to help me for the rest of my days. In my mother's calm, delicate voice I heard her ultimate saying in my head, “let your heart race and tears flow.” The words kept replaying in my head. I felt powerful, relaxed and safe. I turned my shoulders towards him and a second later he turned his body also onto his side. After a couple seconds of jumping over the bridge of his nose, looking into each eye back and forth he pulled me in and kissed me. Spit formed in the corner of his mouth from laying on his side, but his lips were still smooth and felt like cushions to my lips. The moth eating creatures in my stomach were demolished with the poison of happiness. All the fear transported to my outer walls of protection that were instantly built. The trampoline began to melt my body as I sunk into it. Under my breath, I thanked my mom.
“Treat it like it’s a dream” - Jess
My sister always had issues. Headaches, dizziness, and occasional stomach sickness. After about a year, her becoming a freshman in college, the headaches turned into migraines, dizzy spells transferred to blacking out and stomach sickness became constipation, and throwing up everything she ate. Entering sixth grade I was a child with endless questions. “When will Jessie feel better?” or “Why is Jessie always sick?” I would ask. My mother would always change the subject or tell me it would just take time. Time. Did that mean weeks? No. Months? I wish. Years? More like her entire life.
After a couple of years, the doctors came to the conclusion that my sister had Dysautonomia Disorder. A rare disorder that causes all of the body's autonomic functions to fail. All the messages sent from the brain to the body do not work properly. The systems crash causing her blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, and every other thing a body does on it’s own to stay alive shut down. After a year my mother and father would have a full head of grey hair.
My mom and Jessie came home after a long day of test and my brother and I greeted them in the kitchen right when they walked through the door. The white kitchen light made my mother’s face look even paler than it already was. Her facial expression looked like she was holding herself up just fine but the sharp crack in her voice said it all. “So, what’s the news? Did they figure it out?” I asked. I’m not sure why, but I almost felt excited. Excited to finally know what was wrong with my sister.
“We need to all sit down and have a talk,” My mom said. Jessie came in only a few minutes after she did. Her face looked flushed and slightly blotchy from crying. She didn’t make eye contact with my brother or me but instead kept her eyes looking forward and walked to her room. My mom sat us down and explained that Jessie was diagnosed with the Dysautonomia disorder. Her situation was much more special than other people with the rare disorder. While twiddling her index fingers she explained how most people have one system that doesn’t work either that be just their heart rate or only their blood pressure, but all of Jessie’s do not work. I thought for a second maybe I had a lack of messages being sent too because my brain couldn’t formulate words to come out. Collin asked, “Is it solvable?”
With moments in between, my mom finally answered, “Maybe.”
Over the next couple of years my sister would go in for what everyone referred to as “treatments”. Since her case was more rare than any other cases my sister became a human guinea pig. The doctors tried different medicines and tests only to no avail. I always refused to go see her because I never knew how to feel. Eventually I went.
My dad and brother were getting ready to leave when I blurted out, “I’m coming this time.”
“Are you sure?” my dad asked.
“Yeah.” I definitely wasn’t. After the hour and a half drive to Milwaukee we finally made it to Children’s Hospital. Immediately my insides twisted in my stomach. It was my body’s way of reminding me how much I hated hospitals. The lobby was calm and friendly. The security man was bald and had big eyes that shot at me when he asked who we were there for. My dad talked for me, “Jessica Roberts.” After waiting to get our passes, we made our way up the elevator. Although my dad and Collin were both in the elevator with me, I felt completely alone. A low pitch beep went off as the door opened. Room 402. Deep breath I think to myself. My dad knocked on the awkwardly wide door. We made our way through the small crowded room. A wave of frozen air drifted over me. She looked like she had just rose from her grave. White as a vampire, with red, foggy eyes from crying. Do I fake a smile? No. My sister knows when I’m hiding anything. She watched me like a robot, scanning me. It lasted for a couple of seconds before my threw fruit snacks at me and smiled. I came out of the frozen zone. My mom then came up and hugged me. She stays with my sister during her one week to two week treatments.
Later on, we walked down to a hangout area where patients and families can get drinks and play board games. While making our way down the hall my family was a little ahead when Jess stopped me. “Ya know, even though it hurts like hell, I will be fine.” All I could think about is the pick line treatment where the doctor sticks a wire through her arm all the way through her body to her heart to send direct medicine and how she stays awake for every second of it. She was lying.
“All the pain could be for nothing and it’s not fair.” I say. I started to feel heat coming to my cheeks.
“Hey, even if this doesn’t work something will. You aren’t allowed to give up Bell.” She said grabbing my arm. Bowing my head I ask out of frustration, “Aren’t you afraid of losing your life?”
She smiled, “I’m treating it like a dream.”
“A dream?” I ask.
“Yeah, I treat life like a dream. Anything can happen in dreams. I do whatever I want with a smile on my face. This sickness, this mess won’t stop me from living my life.” She said. Tears dropped from my eyes. She laughed and told me to stop being a baby.
On the way home, I look at my brother while he reads a book for school and then back out the window at the overcast sky. I get a bunch of inspirational thoughts maybe because of what Jessie said or maybe because I was playing my workout playlist combined with what Jessie said. When I went into the hospital, I was petrified and anxious. Leaving the hospital, I felt comfort. Comfort in knowing that she is brave, strong and a stubborn fighter. Instead of treating her like she has limited time, I decided I had to treat it like a dream. A dream that will live on forever.
Although it was mid-March, there was no snow falling. A few weeks ago, global warming gave me a sneak peak of Spring. Without any fluffy powdered snow, dead grass was revealed. The sun convinced everyone to come outside and celebrate as if we haven’t seen the yellow glob in a decade. After being locked away in school all day I decided to take a break from the afternoon Netflix streak and go swing on my abandoned swingset in my backyard.
As I sat down on the yellow rubber swing, a quick thought zipped through my mind. Am I too heavy for this now? Most likely. I sat on the rusty chained swing anyways. As I pushed off the black mat I began to fall back into my ten year old body. When ever I would get upset, the swing would help me forget. Leaning forward and then way back my body felt free. The wind rushed to the sides of my body like it was supporting me. As I swung I started to realize how old I was getting. My last year of being a kid. I kept my grip tight but let my mind let loose. What if I can’t do the adult thing? I will be on my own. The swing turned into a black hole of fear. Will the sun still shine bright when the day comes? I thought back to scraping the gum off my driveway and my dad telling me to think before I do. I felt a little bit of fear fade. I couldn’t just avoid turning 18. Letting my legs relax, the swing started to slow down. My life would be flipped upside down. Actually flipped upside down. As much as I have always loved the swing it let me down as I lost my balance and fell backwards on the mat. I laid there and stared at the bare March tree branches. Surprisingly the fall wasn’t too painful. Not that it was pleasant either. Pain. Jessie felt pain and she dealt with it. Thinking back to what Jessie told me, I felt safe. If I were to treat it like a dream I would be alright. Still laying there, I closed my eyes. The breeze caused my arm hair to tickle my skin leaving me with the chills. I imagined how college, marriage and my future would be like. How many “first times” will I have? I looked back at my first kiss, and how even though I thought I was dying at the time it still worked out and all because of my mother teaching me to let my heart race and my tears flow. I decided that as long as I held onto my life advice eventually things would work out. I got up, struggled a little bit and brushed the left over dirt off my backside. I looked back at the swing and wondered if I should fall off the swing the next time I had a life crisis to put me back on track. After leaving the swingset behind me, I felt ready to take on whatever was in front of me from that point on.