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Author's note: uhm, well, i used this for my portfolio for high school. (i go to a performing arts school and you need to re-audition from middle school to high shcool) this was my fiction piece. i got in.
I walk in and she is sleeping. I watch her breathe for a few minutes until she wakes up. She tells me, Charles, I sensed you. I smile and she smiles back. I say to her, I needed to see you. I miss you tons. She says, I’ve missed you too. She asks, how has school been? And as always I tell her it’s different without her. I say, we all miss you, Odelia. I ask her, what do they know? How do you feel? How about your head?
She says she can’t remember. She says it doesn’t matter much anyway. I tell her, but it does, don’t you understand? Odelia laughs and tells me, of course I understand but I don’t think it matters an incredible lot. I want to be mad at her and tell her to not be selfish. I want to scream at her, tell her, you’re not the only one being affected by this. But how can I? She says, you need to lighten up, Charles. She laughs at me, she laughs and she smiles. I tell her, it’s not a joke; don’t you want to know what’s going on with your life?
She stops laughing. She says I’m the one who doesn’t understand, I can’t possibly feel her pain. I tell her, I know, help me understand. She says no. I prod, at least tell me the side? She says she doesn’t know. She knows we both know she’s lying but she also knows she can get away with it.
It’s none of your business, she tells me.
But it is, Odelia.
How has school been?
Inside my head I’m sighing, but I know I can’t let her frustrate me because I don’t want to be remembered like that. I don’t want to think of her as a burden. I tell her, it’s okay. She asks, how is Lauren? How is Ben? I ask, who are they? And she tells me, they’re my friends, don’t you remember them, Charles?
I don’t, I tell her. I ask, do you mean Clarissa? Eric? She says yes, of course. I tell her they are fine. They miss you, I whisper. With closed eyes she says, I miss you too, I’ve missed you terribly.
My eyes start to sting and well up. She really doesn’t understand what she does. She can’t comprehend what she says. I pinch the bridge of my nose with shut eyes and I scream.
I open my eyes and she lays, looking shocked. I say, allergies. We both know it’s not true. She stares at me for what feels like an eternity before she asks, Charles, are you okay?
I say to myself, you’re going to die. My best friend is going to die and there’s nothing I can do. Cliché. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
I finally say, I’m fine. But she’s already asleep.
I call her mother and ask, can I take her to the movies? Yes, of course, she smiles into the other end. Odelia and her mother—always smiling. You know even when you don’t.
I will be over in minutes.
Okay, see you in a few.
Thank you, Charles, she says. It’s nothing, I tell her. When I get there Odelia is sitting in the kitchen instead of lying in bed. Ready? I ask.
Let me get my shoes.
Walking to the shoes drains her. She can’t even get them on without moaning. Do you want help?
No, Charles, I can do it myself, she tells me. I say, let me help you. No, I don’t need help, she says.
She gets tired too quickly. We stay at her house and play a game.
Odelia is already awake as I enter. She begins, how has school been?
It’s okay, I tell her. I ask, how have you been? I’ve been fine, she smiles, better than ever. I almost say, don’t lie. But she may not be lying. I ask, what have you been doing? She tells me, nothing, I sleep all day. You’d think they’d keep me awake when I only have a month left. She giggles.
No. No no no no no.
Odelia, I say, you have a month? Roughly, she tells me. I ask her, are you sure? She says no, maybe I’ll live forever, you never know.
You know, I tell her, they found a girl with genes that would allow her to live….forever. She asks, really? I say, well, not forever, but twice as long, maybe even four times. She’s been alive for sixteen years but she has the body of a 3 or 4 year old. She tells me, that’s horrible.
Because, she starts, her body will live while her mind deteriorates. A feeling I’m familiar with, she smiles. I tell her, that’s true, but wouldn’t you like to live forever?
No. I’d have to watch everybody die. I’d have to watch you die. I tell her, Odelia, I’m watching you die. She retorts, I’m watching you die, too, Charles. I say, ?
She says, in a month’s time, you’ll be a month less alive. I’m going to have to watch you lose a month of your life.
Charles, will you come to my funeral?—Of course.—Will you speak?—Of course.
Thank you, Charles.
She smiles. I smile, too, but not really. I don’t want her to have a funeral.
We play Go Fish until she brings up her funeral, again. She asks, what songs do you plan on playing? I ask, what songs would you want me to play?
I ask her, yellow? She says, yes. By Coldplay. I question, do you even like Coldplay? She tells me she doesn’t listen much but she likes the song. She says, Charles, it’s about an organ donor. You’re donating your organs? I ask. She says yes. I tell her that’s a good thing to do. She asks, can you also play Eric’s song? I ask, Eric’s song?
Tears In Heaven.
Odelia keeps her right hand curled up on her stomach as she sleeps. Her mother tells me it’s expected. I nod. She lets a tear slip as she says, we’ve tried everything: chemo, radiation. I say to her, I know, I know. Her mother says, oh, if only operating on the brain stem wasn’t too difficult—I just wish they would do it. She wipes her running mascara with a cloth pulled from her pocket. I tell her, I do too.
Odelia, sit up to drink some juice.
Sit up and drink your juice.
Noooo, she drags her voice out, I don’t want my juice.
You have to drink something, I tell her.
She says, you know what?
Jesus stopped by yesterday.
I stop. I stop blinking, I stop breathing, I stop holding in my tears. With water droplets quietly falling down my face, I ask, what did he say?
He said you should calm down. He said you should just leave me alone, okay?
With that, I storm out of her house and run all the way home.
Odelia’s mother rang to say sorry. I didn’t want to hear it but I said it was okay.
I told her I’ve been busy—that was why I hadn’t come.
It was a lie.
She squeezes her fists as I walk in. I say, hello?
What do you want?
I ask, what do I want? But I don’t ask her. I ask myself. I want you to get better—of course—I want everything to be normal. I want you back at school. I want everything to freeze. Yes! Yes! I want time to stop.
But instead I say, I don’t know.
She turns away. She gets out of bed. But this isn’t that she gets out of bed, it’s that SHE GETS OUT OF BED!
Where are you going?
I don’t know. She walks towards her door.
Until she collapses. Her knees are weak, buckled.
Do you want help?
Slowly she says, no, no…no. She grips her shaggy, short dark hair that’s finally growing back after the chemotherapy. Odelia holds herself in a ball on the ground, getting louder and louder, screaming NO, NO, NO, NO.
Odelia, how are you feeling?
NO. NO. NO.
Please, Odelia? Let me help you.
I’m dying, Charles. I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying.
Come towards me, I tell her as I lean down. Come here.
No, no, no, her scratchy, dry voice trails off. No.
Carry me to the bed, Charles, please, please. Please.
Without any hesitation I pick her up. She cries into my arms until I place her down. She falls asleep soon after, her face red.
Charles, can you read to me? My eyes don’t want to focus. I can’t see. I can’t see. I want to read. What book are you reading in class? I want to be caught up for when I come back.
Read to me.
She tells me, I know I’m not coming back. I’ve only got so long. But please, please, read to me.
Her mother calls me to say she needs Odelia to eat, but Odelia doesn’t want to eat. She tells me, she’s been sleeping for what seems like days. She needs to eat. She asks, what do you think she’ll eat? I tell her to try oatmeal. I say, just give it to her.
She rings hours later. She tells me Odelia fell asleep. With a smile forming on her face she says, after she ate her oatmeal. She says thank you before she hangs up.
She sleeps with her eyes open, if she’s even sleeping. I shake her lightly, and she opens her eyes wider, her beautiful, blue eyes.
Except now they’re grey and glazed over. Glassy. At nineteen, she has the eyes of someone four times her age.
She doesn’t wake; in fact, her eyes go back to slits. I say it louder. Then even louder. I go louder.
She flips. CHARLES, CHARLES, CHARLES, GET OUT!
I need to get ready. I have to go.
I ask her, for what? She says, I need to get my clothes. I need to get them so I can go! Charles, can I have your hand? I give my hand to her and she pulls on it. She grips it until I think she’s going to take it. I ease her off and she grabs my shirt.
It catches me off guard, and suddenly my face is in her bed. I just stay like that for minutes until her grasp loosens. I look up and she’s sleeping.
It seems like it’s been a while since I’ve walked in to see Odelia awake. Her covers are off and her legs look weak. A pencil rests limply in her hand. A piece of paper is on her. It’s practically blank.
What is that?
She looks at me as though that answer made sense.
To be correct, she looks through me. She asks me, can you get me a piece of paper?
You have one on your lap. Odelia says, oh, I didn’t see it.
Odelia, what do you need it for? She says, I need to write. I ask, write what?
You know what.
She clarifies, I just need to write for people. Pause. Do you mind writing stuff for me? I tell her, not at all. Inside though, I do mind.
You know, I’m tired. My head hurts. We should do this later.
With that, she falls into her constant sleeping sleep pattern.
Eric and Clarissa came to Odelia’s house for the first time during her cancerous ordeal. She slept the whole time. They talked loudly to wake her up. Her mother said sorry, and that she had taken pain killers right before they came. She said, swallowing the pills drained all of her energy.
Maybe she forgot her own birthday. She probably didn’t think it mattered.
I pick Odelia out of bed for her mother so she can change the sheets. She’s falling asleep and she shifts around in my arms uncomfortably. Her legs are so thin from not being used. I ask her, how are you doing? She says, Charles, I….
Are you hungry?
The horses, she says. The horses. It’s feeding time. It’s feeding time for the horses. She says it slowly in a voice that is not her own.
I take it that she’s hungry. I put her on the chair in her living room and get apple sauce. It’s been so long since she’s left her bed. I try to feed her but she only takes a spoonful. I feel like I’m feeding a baby, but I’m feeding someone who’s slowly dying.
I talk to her mother and ask about medications. She says Odelia’s hardly drinking or eating so it’s hard to give it to her. She says, in fact, it’s almost impossible because she’s almost never awake. She asks me about school, and right as I begin to answer we hear Odelia screaming. Odelia is scratching at her bed linens, screaming, NO, NO, NO, GET OFF. Her mother and I both look at each other. We don’t know what to do. Her mother hugs her, says, sh, baby, sh. It’s okay. Charles and I are here. Eventually she whines down, falling back into her usual deep sleep as she repeats in a slurred voice, ohmyohmyohmyohmyohmy.
She doesn’t even say hello when I come in. No waving. No acknowledgement. Her mother says it’s normal and to not be offended. She says, she just lays there when I try to change her clothes or sheets. It’s like she’s already gone. But I guess I just won’t let that be. I sit with her for hours and watch her flickering eyelids, because I know she’s in there somewhere.
Her eyes are closed as she mumbles, Chrrrl.
That’s my name, I guess.
Will you eat?
She clenches her lips.
Will you drink? I place a cup of water with a straw into her mouth. I see confusion behind her eyelids. Somehow.
Her mother walks by and says, Charles, it’s no use.
Odelia, are you awake?
Her eyelids are drooped open. Her mother says doctors told her that she can no longer control her muscles during sleep. Her calm, sweet face relaxes as though she’s been dead for days. The only reassurance I have that she’s still with us is her heart beat. With my finger placed on her frail neck, I feel her heart racing.
I was called to Odelia’s house at 11.32 pm. Her mother says she thinks it will be tonight. We sit by the edge of Odelia’s bed looking through scrap books.
We occasionally say her name, but in vain. She’s not moving and she is not talking. Her breathing pattern changes every few minutes. Sometimes it’s so quiet and slow we think she’s already passed.
Odelia’s face is very childlike and pale, no makeup. She looks relaxed but I can’t imagine that being the case. I imagine her screaming. She has been so still that I can almost hear her eyes open. It’s like she looks right at me, not at Charles, but the core of what makes me alive as she sighs lightly.
She draws her last breath at 1.07 am.
I sit with my mother, father, and sister as the funeral begins. It’s a bigger turnout than Odelia’s mother could’ve ever expected. The whole cancer community from towns over seem to have dropped everything to attend her funeral.
The music I picked out, the music Odelia told me to pick out is playing. Eric and Clarissa and other friends sit together closer to the back.
The slideshow her mother made plays in the background. We all watch Odelia’s smiling face, we see her riding a Segway, we see her with me, we see photos from dances, we see a headstone with her name and 10.25.1993-11.03.2012 carved into it, we see a grey brain cancer awareness ribbon next to it, we see the words, here lies a beautiful girl who died a fighter, we witness a dead girl grow up all over again. People walk up to the microphone occasionally to say something sweet about her, or something about cancer, or that their prayers will always be with Bethany, Odelia’s mother.
But the room’s attitude changes with her mother walks up and takes the stage. She says:
First of all, I would like to thank all of you for being able to come today. I would like to say that my daughter is very appreciative and is watching us all right now, up in heaven. For those of you that do not know Odelia, she was a kind hearted girl who was bullied by cancer for years. She loved sports and school, she loved talking to people and she always wanted to put others before herself.
And for those of you that do not know about her experience with cancer, it was not in any way easy. It wasn’t easy for any of us. I hope you never have to hear the words, your child has cancer, come from a doctor who looks sad. I really hope you never hear, the prognosis is not good.
I hope you never watch your child prepare for chemotherapy or see them connected to an IV pole. I hope you never have to look into the fearful eyes of a child as they say, don’t worry, I’m going to be okay. I hope you never have to hold your child while they vomit their bile day after day and I wish that you never find yourself preparing ice chips for lunch, because that’s all your child can handle. And they can barely handle it.
I hope you’re never deceived by the cure doctors give you. I pray for you that you never watch your child have their identity stolen as they lose their hair and become skeletal. I hope you never watch them develop severe acne from the chemo, or lose their ability to walk as they look at you with hope written in their eyes and say, it’s going to be okay.
I hope you never witness a mother alone and crying in a hospital corridor after being told, there’s nothing more we can do. Because I have. And I hope you never have to see a family wandering around the hospital aimlessly after their child’s body has been removed from the vicinity. I have, and it’s not an easy thing to watch.
I plead that you never watch your child have their head bolted to a table for radiation. I sincerely hope you never know what it’s like to take your child home in a wheelchair because the chemo has so severely damaged their muscles, because they’re 40 pounds lighter, because they’re pale as a sheet, because they’re bald and scarred, and because they faithfully tell you, it’s going to be okay.
I hope you never have to hear the few friends you have left say, thank God it’s all over, because, my God, it will never be over. Let me tell you, your life becomes doctor after doctor, constant blood tests, MRI’s, and fear. Fear that any one of these tests could tell you, the cancer has returned.
And then you watch your friends disappear. I hope you never feel any of these pains, because only then will you understand what cancer has done to me and my precious Odelia. Only then will you understand.
She’s in tears by the end of this, but rightfully so. She says, thank you Charles, as she hands the mic to me. I tell everyone Odelia’s story, not the story of cancer.