Thursday, December 28, 2006

Daytime Drama

Nothing went right today. Not even this post, that I don't feel like finishing, suddenly.

Why do I even try?

Don't worry, I'm not actually as angsty as that sounded. It's just that, after I had already had it up to here with life, the bottom burst out of the trash bag on my way out the door.

I'm sure I don't have to explain the subsequent wave of darkness that came over me.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who is this girl?

Oh yeah, she used to write that one blog. Didn't she die or something?

No, for real, when I tried to get on to post this entry, for about 30 seconds I couldn't even remember the name of my blog. And that's just sad. But, hey, you all know me. Who's surprised?

And let's be honest. We're never going to get through what happened in London, or what happened on summer tour. It's the day after Christmas, for crying out loud. And I refuse to feel guilty. What I do with my life is, let's face it, just not that terribly interesting. I'll write whatever I feel like, and not worry about updating my loyal readerbase (seriously guys, I think you're taking optimism just a little past its reasonable limits) about my goings-on. Not that there are, you know, goings on. It was just an expression.

Wanna read a poem I wrote? I just dug it out of my purse when I was cleaning it out looking for my debit card this afternoon (I found the card, btw). It was inspired by a chance remark made by Andy when we were in Georgia about growing up in the south.

Way back when wafts through me
Like the scent of dogwood trees in blossom
Hanging on the breeze to settle gently
In my nose
It clings to me like the smell of barbecued ribs
Smoky and overpowering
It follows me like my mother's perfume
Lingering in a room long after she's left

Way back when tastes like sweet tea
Slipping down my thoat like children's cough syrup
Thick with sugar and southern hospitality
It sticks in my teeth like the pulp of a peach
And coats my tongue
With the buttery sweetness of a pecan pie

It is moistened in clear streams
(where frogs jump)
Baked in the hot Georgia sun
Set in the cool shade of Magnolia trees
It softens me like a boiled peanut
Left soaking in a pot
Way back when flows over me like sweat on a summer day
(it's not the heat, it's the humidity)

It is the rust red of Georgia red clay
(the color of all my socks)
And shaped like the dusty paths
That drew me into the woods
(beyond myself)
It is green
Creeping over me like long strands of kudzoo
Reshaping me with unrelenting longevity
It is fuschia
Lining my roads with unexpected vividness
Like the flowering trees that border Highway 75

Way back when breaks through the noise of after
With the songs of before
Patsy Cline and Reba McIntyre
And the drone of insects on a still night
The belch a bullfrog
And the bleat of a fawn--discovered
Only if I walk softly
(and alone)

The Smoky Mountains stoop down
And flatten themselves into an
Of cornfields
But I remember how they looked
Through twelve-year-old eyes
And I can still see them
(touch them taste them)
And Georgia is still there
Where I still smell her hear her
(know her)

Yeah, can somebody end this for me? I suck at ending things. My endings are somehow even more sentimental than my beginnings.

That's poetic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

We Are In London!


Today we visited the Worcester Cathedral. I'd never seen one before and it was pretty amazing. I walked in and thought to myself, "Khazad-dûm!" There were stone pillars that looked straight out of Moria. And of course, lots of stained glass--one with a pink giraffe in it. There was also this long hall, with dark wood pews on either side, and it reminded me of the hall in Charn, in The Magician's Nephew, you know--with all the kings and queens? Thre was even a table at the end, where the hammer and bell would have been. And there was a tall cabinet-looking thing, and I asked Sarah Dee "What's in there?" and she said, "Narnia."

Gosh, it's a good thing I'm a complete geek, or I wouldn't be able to describe anything.

Peculiar thing about the weather in England: it only rains for about 10 minutes at a time. Then it's sunny for about 5 minutes, overlapping the rain by about 1 minute. Then it's windy and gray and overcast for 30 minutes, and then the cycle starts all over again.

Weird place.


Nothing can describe what it was like to be in Stratford-upon-Avon and seeing a production of Romeo and Juliet by the Royal Shakespeare Company, so I won't even try. Yesterday was my favorite day of the whole trip (and remains so even now). I wish I lived there.

Today Marion and Denis took Heidi and I to a real, inhabited castle nearby. Pretty much amazing.

A word about British newspapers: Breasts. Almost every page features breasts! IN THE NEWSPAPERS!! Today there was an article about a woman who had some genuine disease called something like "Constant Arousal Syndrome" and she has like 250 orgasms in a day, according to the headline. Mixed in among articles on football and some the newspaper, not tabloids. I can only imagine what their tabloids cover. Actually, I hope I never imagine them.

These are the haikus that Aubrey Weger wrote on this subject:

Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs.
Turn the page tentatively...
Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs.

British newspapers
Are much more interesting
Than American.

Thanks, Aubrey!

Oh yeah, and Denis and Marion's favorite kind of music is country. :)

Worcester, Downtown, The Library
9:45 AM


The sky is dark
Heavy with the prophesied birth
The sounds of her labor familiar
Strange, because I am strange
Unfamiliar with the old red brick
And the bluegreenred doors (but no purple)
That hide people
With strange accents
And lace curtains
The patterns of traffic are strange
Seeming to point everywhere
And Peugeots and Citroëns go in all directions at once
Confusing my muddled notions of Order
And Predictability
But the faces are familiar
Strange, on the wrong side of the car
Because I am strange
Timorously skipping across slippery white lines
Jumping the last few feet, to stand
Grinning, on the oppposite curb
Another game won
The sky heaves her last
Drops of ancient water collect in my eyelashes
Darken my hair
Splash my cheeks
(Carefully painted just two short hours before--
An effort to like myself)
The cold pinprick is shocking
The age old joker
Made from the same water that flows from my garden hose
Drawn from the rivers of my childhood
Siphoned from the ocean I saw from 35,000 feet
It's presence familiar
Strange, because I am strange
Frizzy-haired and resigned to this inevitability
Not bothering with my purple umbrella
Accustomed now to soggy forays
Down unfamiliar gray streets
That feel old
Full of stories
Stories I've never known, because I've never heard
But stories I would recognize in an instant
Because they are their stories
Our stories
My Stories
And I am strange--familiar
Because they are familiar

There and Back Again

Yeah, so I disappeared off the face of the earth for about four months or so. Sorry about that. Anyway, so much has happened since then, and half of it belongs here. So here's what we're going to do: the next few posts will detail my trip to London (mostly taken verbatim from my London journal!), and then I'll talk about summer tour for a while, then maybe RUSH, and then we should be about up to date. So, yeah. London. Here we go.

There And Back Again

a British Tale

by Lindsay Westerkamp


Remember that one time when we went to England?!

8:00ish AM

I didn't journal at all on the plane. I lost my pen in the first 30 minutes. Classic. Sometimes I took my journal out to look at it. I discovered a little pocket in the back, to keep mementos in. Handy. Sometimes plane rides make me feel sick. I watched parts of about six movies, though. Those thoughts were unrelated.

I am writing this from a British tour bus taking us to Worcester. Worcester, which is pronounced "Wooster." The British are weird. I still feel kind of sick. London feels like Omaha, only we're driving on the left side of the road, the cars are British sometimes, and the license plates look funny.

Matthew just slug-bugged me. In London.

Same day
1:00 PM

Heidi and I are staying with an older couple, Marion and Denis, who live in a small village near "Wooster." They've been housing students through this program for 17 years. They showed us an address book and a photo album full of names and faces from all over the world. They seem like delightful people.

We had tea, tomatoes, cucumbers, and ham&butter sandwiches for lunch.

The toilet flushes oddly. Not the civilised flow of water down the sides of the porcelain to refill the bowl, this English toilet gushes, a violent flood of water that quite startled me the first time I used it.

Same day
9:00 PM

We watched the "telly" this afternoon, and "The Price is Right" was on, with a flamboyant British host, and Pound signs instead of Dollar signs (₤ = Pound sign).

We had cottage pie and carrots and new potatoes for supper. Or was it tea? I'm not sure which was which. For dessert there was hot pudding poured over mincemeat pie. Cottage pie is mostly mushed-up meat combined with mushed-up onions, topped with mushed-up potatoes. No, really, it was actually quite good, and very filling.

After dinner we went for a drive around Malvern, a nearby town. It was wonderful. On both sides of the intimidatingly narrow road (made even tighter by a row of parked cars, reducing it to about a lane and a half) were ivy-covered brick houses straight out of the movies, big church-looking houses converted into flats, rhododendron bushes, and green, green trees. Everything is green here. It began to rain again, and a completely visible full arch of a British rainbow appeared. I've never seen one so bright. I've already used up almost an entire roll of film with pictures of the view from the ginormous Malvern hill--green fields, dotted with English sheep, wreathed in English mists, and framed by stone walls and an English rainbow.

I want to live here someday. Not forever, I don't think, but for a while, as a student, or an actor, with my own flat and a little car, far enough into the English countryside to see what I saw today, and close enough to London to work.

My mom would love it here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Warning: Almost as Long as the Last One

(To follow along in order: Preface, Part 1, Part 2. This is another long one, but we're almost at the end of the series! One more piece...)

“Of Course”

I was seven when my mom whispered excitedly to me that she had something to tell me. “I might be pregnant!” she said. Her eyes sparkled. I wasn’t to tell anyone yet, not until the doctor confirmed it. But I could read in her face that she herself was already sure.

With two brothers already, I had been praying for a sister for years. I wasn’t really surprised to hear that a baby was on the way. I had known she was coming. And this was going to be “her.” The one I had been waiting for. This baby was going to grow up into someone I would share clothes with, scream at occasionally, talk about boys with, and look out for at school. We would bond, in that special way that only sisters have. I was certain of it. After all, I had prayed.

I announced excitedly at school that my mom was going to have a baby, but everyone else’s moms had already had babies, and no one was really very impressed. Of course, they couldn’t begin to know how much this baby already meant to me, how momentous this occasion really was, so I didn’t think it was entirely fair to blame them for their lack of enthusiasm. How could they understand?

My brothers and I took “big sibling” classes at St. Luke’s hospital, learning what to expect with a new baby in the house. They gave us a little book, a baby book for siblings. It had pages to draw pictures of ourselves and our family, pages to draw pictures of the new baby when she came, and fill-in-the-blank stories to tell about how much she weighed, what she looked like, and what her birth was like. I couldn’t wait to fill it up. As each month passed, it seemed like the day would never arrive. My mom looked beautiful to me, in her home-made floral-print maternity dresses. I knew that the bigger she grew, the closer the day approached when I would see this little girl face to face.

An elderly woman from church told my parents she had a pretty good feeling about this child. “Lindsay is going to be so disappointed,” she said. “You’re in for another little boy,” she prophesied. My parents decided not to tell me.

My mom packed a suitcase. And we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, the doctors decided to induce labor, so my parents scheduled a birthday for my new baby sister. They had already made arrangements with Pat, a friend of my mom’s, and my brothers and I packed our own overnight bags and headed over to her house to wait for the phone call from the hospital. We watched movies, and Pat let me stay up late, because she understood when I couldn’t sleep. In the morning, we made cookies, and Pat let us nibble on the cookie dough while we waited for them to come out of the oven.

Finally, the phone rang. Pat ran to answer it, and after a minute she handed it to me. My dad sounded tired, but very happy. “It’s a girl!” he announced. I jumped up and down and laughed gleefully. “Of course it is,” I thought. But I didn’t say it. “I’m going to come get you guys and you can come up here and visit your mom and your new baby sister, Rebekah Karen.” I went to wash my hands. I wanted to be ready.

When we got there, we had to wear little blue booties over our shoes, and a blue smock that tied in the back over our clothes. My mom looked more tired than I had ever seen her. They had had to take the baby by cesarean section, in the end. The petossin hadn’t quite cut it. But she was content, because snuggled in her arms was a little girl, with a perfectly beautiful button nose, tiny tiny fingers tucked in infant mittens, itty bitty toes hidden by fuzzy pink hospital booties, and silky wisps of light, coppery-brown hair. She was sleeping then, so I didn’t discover the exquisite beauty of her dark blue eyes until later.

My dad looked so happy. I can’t clearly remember a time before or since that I’ve seen him look like that, a mixture of joy, pride, and exhaustion. My mom let me hold the soft, pink bundle, and it seemed to me that she weighed practically nothing. Actually, I was later to understand that she had been a huge baby, weighing in at nearly ten pounds and measuring twenty-one inches. She looked so small in my eyes, though. I was afraid to hold on too tightly, in case she might break, and afraid to hold on too loosely, in case I might drop her. I handed her back to my dad after only a few minutes.

My brothers, aged two and four at the time, were as fascinated by her as I was. But they weren’t quite sure they understood this undersized person. They crowded in to look at her and touch her, but didn’t want to hold her. They bounced around on the hospital bed until Dad decided we all needed to go home and let Mom and the baby rest.

Rebekah moved into the tiny nursery just off of the master bedroom the next day. I was so happy. Our family seemed complete. But my mom was worried. Beginning in the hospital, Rebekah would have frightening episodes that we eventually called “choking spells” that would periodically cause her to choke and gasp for air for no apparent reason. “Something’s wrong,” my parents told the doctors. But the doctors never saw her do it, so they told my parents not to pay much attention—that she’d grow out of it. We watched as her small body stiffened, her eyes focused on some point far away, and her arms trembled. “That’s looks like a seizure,” my mom said. “Something’s wrong.” No doctor ever saw it, so no doctor would believe it. But worst of all, as the months went by, Rebekah began to look skinny. My mom went anxiously to the doctors again. “She’s not gaining weight like my other children did,” she tried to tell them. They told her all children developed differently. “I’m telling you, she’s thin,” she insisted. “Something’s wrong.” They told her not to worry.

When choking spells began to turn her face blue, my parents gave up on local doctors and took Rebekah to the research hospital at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, an hour and a half away. The boys and I stayed with Robin, another friend from church. We played all day with her children, and hardly noticed how late my parents were. My dad called and Robin said things like, “Don’t worry about it. I’ve got everything under control. Stay as long as you need to. Roger and I will be praying,” and didn’t give me the phone. I helped her make home-made noodles for a spaghetti supper. We made garlic bread and green beans and carrots too, and spent the meal laughing and telling knock-knock jokes to each other.

My dad showed up at the door at about ten-thirty that night. We had expected him around four. He looked worn out and defeated. Mom and Rebekah had had to stay in the hospital overnight. He told me that at first, the doctors didn’t know what to tell us, but as soon as one had left the room, Rebekah had started choking. They called him back in immediately, and when the spell was over, he said, “This child is not leaving the hospital tonight. Something is very, very wrong.” My mom told me what a relief it had been to have someone finally agree with her. But they were scared.

Doctors ran a battery of tests. Dad went back to the hospital, and we stayed overnight at Robin’s house that weekend. Finally, he and my mom brought Rebekah home with a diagnosis: a form of leukodystrophy, a progressive disease that attacks the white matter in the brain. They explained why she wasn’t gaining weight: the part of her brain that controlled swallowing was damaged, so she was barely getting anything down. My mom was devastated by the idea that her baby had been starving to death. They inserted a feeding tube down Rebekah’s nose and into her stomach, and my mom bought a breast pump. But after months of low consumption, she was only producing a half an ounce of milk a day. Our baby had been living on half an ounce of breast milk. Mom was beside herself. We researched the best kinds of replacement formulas.

Leukodystrophy is a terrifying disease. It comes in many varieties, but the type that Rebekah was diagnosed with gradually breaks down the white matter in the brain until the body can no longer support itself. It ends in death. And it worked quickly; doctors told us she would die within the year.

I couldn’t even process this news. It wasn’t possible. I had prayed for this baby. I had waited for her. She had come. She was perfect. She couldn’t possibly be dying. Not my sister. Please, God, not this baby.

Doctors told my parents not to hold her too much, not to get attached. “Prepare yourselves,” they advised. “Distance yourselves from her now, and her death will be less painful.” My mom thought that was stupid. She had the child now, she was not going to pretend she didn’t love her, she couldn’t pretend she was dead already. She told me later that my dad had tried. He tried so hard not to get too involved, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d spend hours holding her. One of my favorite family snapshots shows my dad asleep in a La-Z-Boy recliner with a sleeping Rebekah in his arms.

My four-year-old brother was terrified of killing Rebekah. My mom would watch from the stairway as he’d approach Rebekah’s stroller when he thought no one was looking. He’d creep toward her, put out a hand, and touch her with one finger. Then, like a frightened animal, he’d jump back and run away. The sight broke her heart.

At six months, we had a birthday party for Rebekah, because we weren’t sure she’d reach her first birthday. We had cake and ice cream, wore party hats, sang the happy birthday song; it was a regular party. I don’t know how my parents did it. They looked happy. They looked like they were having a good time. They smiled, they laughed. I had no idea how much they were hurting then, but I can only imagine now how heart-wrenching that celebration must have been, how hard they were working to keep things normal for the boys and me.

Rebekah’s first birthday came and went. Then her second. Then her third. One day my parents came home from Iowa City elated. The doctors had decided she had lived too long—it couldn’t possibly be leukodystrophy; they didn’t know what it was, but it wasn’t leukodystrophy. They were overjoyed, but I remember being fairly indifferent to the news. After all, I had decided long before now that she wasn’t dying. I had prayed. She had come. And she was going to stay, I was already sure of it. Of course she was.

My parents didn’t tell me at the time, but the doctors were actually sure of nothing. Without a diagnosis, they had no idea what her future held. “Be financially prepared for her to live to be eighty, and emotionally prepared for her to die at any time,” they had warned. Impossible of course, but none of us worried about that anymore. The death sentence had been lifted. God had come through for us.

Of course He had.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Continuation on a Theme

(Super long. No really, I mean it. You don't have to read it. It just belongs here with the other pieces. Speaking of "other pieces," if you want to read what I've got so far in order, follow these, you glutton for punishment you: Preface, Part 1)

“Special Needs”

My favorite toys growing up were always stuffed animals of some kind. I had about twenty at one time, and each had its own individual name, personality, and place on the bed. (My favorite was a stuffed dog called Timmy. I actually still have him, and he still shares my pillow.) I used to create elaborate adventures with them, in which I was usually a princess, set upon by an evil step-father who hated animals, forced to dress as a peasant and flee my kingdom. I would dress up in a slip (because I thought my slips looked like princess dresses) and hide from imaginary soldiers behind chairs and bookshelves before leaping across my bedroom to my bed, which I was pretending was actually a boat. I'd make sure I had all my little woodland friends safely on the boat with me, and, lying low to avoid being seen by snipers, we'd float off toward unfamiliar shores. Sometimes we would meet enemy ships passing in the night, and I would have to hide the animals under the covers to keep them safe. Once, I took a bullet for a big brown bear named Thomas.

My brothers were crazy about Lego’s. They'd spend hours either poring over patterns that came with various kits, or building huge towers or pirate ships from scratch. For about four years of our childhood, our basement carpet was a veritable minefield, littered with loose Lego’s that made walking in the dark hazardous. Sometimes the three of us would play together, trying to match pictures we saw in magazines or on the cover of the huge Lego bin. Playing Lego’s was just about the only activity that we did do together, the two boys and I. I mean of course we played tag and hide-and-seek, school, movie theater, and other childhood games, but as far as toys went, Lego’s was the only thing we could all play with together without arguing, creating skyscrapers, castles, steamers, trains--anything we could think of.

I sometimes wonder what Rebekah would have created if she had been able. Would she have joined my imaginary adventures, perhaps helping to form new storylines? Would she have helped us build the biggest, most colorful Lego cruise ship ever? Would she have been a painter? Or a dancer? I think she would have been a musician. She loved music. All of her preferred toys were ones that made noise. Her all-time favorite was one that jingled a little tune when she spun a roller on the top. It was perfect, because it didn’t require the kind of fine-motor skills to make it work that other toys did, so she could handle it with her clumsy but beautiful (my mom always called them graceful-looking), tapered fingers. She played with it constantly, and that same four bar phrase was heard in our house almost non-stop. It would run out of batteries periodically, and as they faded it would begin to sound like the far away strains of a carousel languishing in Hell.

"That's starting to sound sick," we would say. Not that we, as a family of hardcore procrastinators, did anything about the draining batteries—at least not for another week or so. For days, the distorted chords would prompt another "That's really starting to sound sick" every few minutes, until someone (usually my dad, since the battery cover required a philips-head screwdriver to remove) finally got around to putting in fresh double A's.

After a while, the toy would simply wear out altogether, prompting a trip to Toys R Us to purchase a replacement. I don't know how many we went through. At least for or five, I imagine.

And so for years, that same four bar phrase echoed in all of our brains. I can still hear it now, as clearly as if it was still playing down the hall from my bedroom. I suppose any normal family, with any other child, would shortly have become annoyed by the same tune repeated ad nauseum, and would relish the toy's demise. But we weren't normal, and Rebekah wasn't like other children. Nothing was too much for us, if it meant that she was happy.

I think that's why I was kind of a hypochondriac growing up. I never really begrudged Rebekah the favor she got, but I think subconsciously I desperately wanted to be made a fuss over too. So at least once a week I'd complain to my teacher, "I don't feel good." A stomachache, sore throat, headache, nausea…Sometimes I even convinced myself that I really had it. The teacher would send me down to the air-conditioned nurse's office, where a nice lady with cool, soft hands would look at me sympathetically, take my temperature, and kindly say I didn't have a fever, but I could lay down for a few minutes if I wanted.

And then I would have a few minutes of being singled out, apart from my classmates who were stuck in their desks, forced to be content with box fans and Palmer penmanship exercises. I could read posters about the importance of washing your hands after coughing or sneezing, how milk would do my body good, and how to properly dispose of hazardous biological waste, while eavesdropping on the school secretary's phone conversations. Soon the nurse would write me a hall pass and send me back to the fat cat that sat on the mat, but for now, I was afforded a moment of quiet, of coddling, of undivided attention.

Unfortunately, my teacher, Ms. Rossow, was much more perceptive than my first-grade mind gave her credit for. One day not far into the first semester, as we lined up to return from gym class (or P.E. as she called it), I raised my hand and murmured those faithful four words: "I don't feel good." With a small sigh and a subtle rolling of her eyes, she said, "You always don't feel good."


I didn't say anything, and she shrugged, shook her head, and reluctantly said, "All right, go on down to the office," but I knew I had been found out. I knew that she and maybe even everyone else had caught on to my schemes. I was aware of the reputation that a liar got, because my best friend Jessica had once told me that you couldn’t believe anything Amanda S. said, and that’s why she wouldn’t play with her. I could tell I was in a pretty sticky situation. I realized that I might not even be able to get Ms. Rossow to agree to send me down to the nurse next time. I could never complain of bad health again.

Or at least not for a long while. I bided my time, waiting patiently for enough time to pass to allow Ms. Rossow to forget about all the times I had been faking, so she would be ready to take me seriously again. For months I kept my mouth shut, sitting in the uncomfortable wooden desk (the fourth graders got to use the new, cool looking desks, but we first graders were stuck with the old ones), repeating the vowels, coloring maps of the United States, learning addition, struggling with subtraction, and watching the calendar pages turn.

Finally, I decided it was time. “Ms. Rossow?” I said. “My throat hurts.” “Uh-oh,” she said, coming down the aisle toward me to feel my glands. “Let’s take you to the nurse’s office.”


I tried to look pitiful as we made our way down the hall, tried to hide the triumph I felt as we neared my old haunt. I silently greeted the faux leather vinyl cot, the hum of the air-conditioner, the ring of the secretary’s phone, the sympathetic face of the nurse and her cool hands as if we were old friends, reunited after a long separation. Ms. Rossow’s renewed faith in me inspired me to strive even for the ultimate goal of any grade-schooler: calling my mom to pick me up early. So when the nurse said I didn’t have a fever, I looked pathetically at Ms. Rossow, who succumbed to the appeal in my eyes and said, “Well, honey, let’s call your mom and see if she’ll come get you. It’s miserable to sit in class when you feel bad.”

Victory was mine! After a minor setback, I had overcome the enemy’s defenses and had, through patience and perseverance, emerged triumphant. I barely managed to keep the exultation from manifesting itself across my face, as I inwardly rejoiced in my own talents of persuasion and manipulation. My success was perfected in Ms. Rossow’s words to my mom when she arrived: “There’s something going around…” and I knew I had won her over completely.

The expression on my mom’s face told me she saw what I was doing, but also that she wasn’t going to say anything about it, either. That is, she didn’t really believe I had a sore throat. I felt fine and she knew it, but she understood that sometimes I needed to be fussed over, just a little. We never really talked about it, and she wouldn’t let me get away with it at home, but sometimes she would come get me at school, even if she was sure I wasn’t really sick. She’d make me some tea, let me read a little in my bed, and then she’d make me get up and do my homework. Sometimes she’d even take me back to school after an hour or so, which was a little humiliating.

Somehow, my mom seemed to instinctively get the fact that no matter how hard she and Dad tried to keep things equal between the four of us, there was just no way the boys and I could compete with the kind of care that Rebekah required, and that we couldn’t help but sense that. Maybe she and Dad were afraid that we would start to actively dislike Rebekah for it, if they didn’t fudge the rules a little bit for us here and there. Maybe we would have. I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem possible, somehow. I can’t imagine not getting home from school to cuddle with her on the floor and make her laugh; I can’t see a day where I would lose interest in that perfect button nose; I can’t picture a time when her happiness could ever lose its place my top priority. If you had met her, you would understand.

There was just something about her. Something divine. Her home-care nurses would comment on it all the time, how they couldn’t help getting attached to her, and how much of a blessing she was to them. They, too, would catch the fever, after working with her for a while. Rebekah’s happiness was paramount to everyone who knew her, and her tragedies were everyone’s tragedies. Once, an exercise in physical therapy proved too much for her brittle bones, causing a greenstick fracture in her femur, unbeknownst to anyone at the time. As the nurse drove her home in our van, Rebekah began crying, and by the time my mom came out of the house to help unload the wheelchair, tears were rolling down the cheeks of both nurse and client.

It was Rebekah, and not my parents, who finally cured me of my hypochondria, even as she was also the cause of it. As I grew older, I took my role as her big sister seriously, taking responsibility for keeping her safe and content. I prided myself on being able to make her laugh more quickly than anyone else, and I delighted in finding new ways to do it. My mom always said that Rebekah’s sun rose and set on me, and I was completely taken with her. We developed a connection I can’t explain, a connection based on love in the purest sense, untainted by petty disagreements, uncluttered by expectations of reciprocity, and uncontaminated by competition. We were closer than any other sisters I had ever seen. She always smiled biggest and laughed loudest when I was around. Never one content to sit still for long, she once fell asleep in my arms. I can still feel the touch of her face on mine, the way her slender fingers felt clasped in my hand, her silky brown curls tickling my ear. She was everything to me, and her love for me came to mean more than anything else.

I stopped pretending to be sick.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Tuesdays Are Hungry

Going through my notes, studying for my math final next week, I came across yet another example of abused creativity. Yep, more haikus. Math class haikus, actually. To get the full flavor of the following selection, you must understand that Tracey's and my Tuesday schedule does not include a lunch break, and we have math from 1:45 to 3:00. So sometimes these things happen...

Tuesdays Are Hungry

Tuesdays are hungry
Classes eat up all my lunch
And digest my soul.

My soul is swimming
In the belly of math class
And it's gross in there.

My soul now smells like
Half-digested interest rates
Compounded monthly.

Sometimes my haikus
Don't make sense when I don't eat
Or sleep very much.

How about that, eh? The next one's a quickie, inspired by my lunch plans that would commence at exactly...


Subway will feel good
Good on my empty stomach
But better in it.

Gosh, if I take many more classes, I could publish a book!

Yeah, for people who don't speak English, maybe.

Friday, May 05, 2006


(part of a longer piece that I might finish someday)

“Your sister’s retarded?!” He hadn’t been listening, but that phrase had caught his attention. My first day at a new school, I had wanted to think of something about myself that was interesting, that people would remember, something that would make them want to ask me questions—want to be my friend. So I had told a few girls that my sister was retarded.

I had even used that word: Retarded. A word that is offensive to many, and serves as the punch line of everyone else’s jokes. That’s what she was, though, wasn’t it? Handicapped. Developmentally disabled. Special needs. Doesn’t really matter which label you put on it, they all mean the exact same thing. Her brain didn’t work right. At four, it functioned about as much as a six-month-old baby, and it didn’t ever really improve. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t stand or sit up by herself. The part of her brain that controlled the muscles in her throat was damaged, so she wasn’t even able to swallow without choking; she was fed through a tube that led directly to her stomach. She was completely helpless.

But she was interesting. In fact, she was downright spellbinding, if you go by the stares of other customers in the grocery store. And after years of my family patterning our lives around her and her needs I had learned that Rebekah was the only interesting thing about me. At least that’s what I came to believe, subconsciously. I never questioned my parents’ love for me, but I began to assume that, deep down, I wasn’t really very special after all. I mean, I was always very smart. I got good grades, scored highly on standardized tests, and everyone wanted to be my partner in math class. People were constantly telling me how smart I was. My parents were great encouragers, always supporting me, telling me when I was good at something. And I was good at a lot of things, without being conceited or smug. I knew I was special.

But somehow, it wasn’t as special as Rebekah’s kind of special. That’s even the word people would use when they didn’t want to use that “r word” which described what she really was; they’d simply call her “special.” She even looked special. You could tell right away, even if you didn’t know anything about her, that she was different. I didn’t have that. I was ordinary, and while I was never passed over, I knew that to get the kind of attention Rebekah got, you had to be some special kind of special. I suppose I must have thought that the next best thing to being that kind of special was being related to someone who was. I don’t know what else would have prompted me to share such sensitive information with these strangers whom I desperately wanted to know.

And so, “You’re sister’s retarded?!” he spat out with a delighted sneer. The shark smelled blood.

“Yeah, so? She’s still a person,” I shot back, dignified and superior, waiting for him to be taken aback by my tone, waiting for him to buckle under my righteous indignation, concede the point, apologize, and beg my forgiveness.

“Nyanyanya, rererrer!” he replied, his pretty face made grotesque with mockery of my ferocity.

Dignity has no effect on sharks. Especially not in the fourth grade, and especially not on Brandon B., who was completely aware of his status as the best looking boy in our class. He followed playground protocol to the letter, preying on lesser fish to maintain his place at the top of the food chain. A new girl was definitely a lesser fish, and a new girl with a retarded sister was like the crippled fish trailing half a league behind the rest of the school: easy quarry.

At the time I didn’t understand it quite so clearly; I only burned in the flush of humiliation as everyone else at the lunch table laughed at his cleverness. I’ve never been good at snappy comebacks. If I had been, I could have redeemed myself in an instant, earning the respect of the shiver*, and protecting myself from further attack besides. Witty and blistering retorts can save your life in grade school, but I could never seem to think of them on the spot. If he had waited a few days, I could have devastated him with a biting rejoinder that would have made him wish he had never opened his mouth. But sharks don’t wait for anything, and I was left spluttering, red-faced and ashamed, frustrated that I had made myself a target.

I was soon abandoned for more entertaining fare and quickly forgotten. But I didn’t forget. And having lived most of my life through books and movies instead of actual real-life experiences, I believed that he would eventually be touched by my fury, be overcome with remorse, and repent. When lunch was over and we returned to our desks in the classroom, I glared at him from across the room for a full five minutes, with the romantic idea that he would sense my wrath and start squirming under the heavy hand of conviction. He never looked up, and I soon gave in to defeat.

The desire to be special is soon replaced by the desire to blend in. It didn’t take long for me to try to hide Rebekah’s existence instead of displaying it. It didn’t take long for me to wish my parents wouldn’t bring her to school functions. It wasn’t long before I wished she wasn’t my sister. I hated the way people stared. I hated the way I had to pretend I didn’t notice if she made loud noises in the middle of a choir concert. I hated trying to be nonchalant while walking down the mall corridors alongside a bright turquoise wheelchair with a constantly humming little girl in it. Even when she was quiet, the wheelchair itself, along with the jerky, uncontrolled movements of her head and neck called attention to us, when all I wanted was to be invisible.

Rebekah became an embarrassment. And that made me feel like an awful person. I hated myself for it. So I never said a word about it, to anybody. I didn’t want anyone to know how selfish I was, how petty and mean, to not want to be seen with her in public. In retrospect, I know my parents would have understood, but at the time, I was sure they’d think I was a horrible older sister, and I didn’t want them to be disappointed in me.

Funny how we do that to ourselves. We long for nothing more than to be known and understood, but we are afraid of honesty. We hate ourselves for what we do and who we are, and we’re terrified that everyone else will too, when they find out the truth. So we pretend to be something else, and then scream in fits of pre-pubescent hormonal rage, “Nobody understands me!”

I wanted so badly to connect with people, and Rebekah was either a tool or an obstacle in this endeavor. It wasn’t until several years later that she became simply what she was: my sister.

*a shiver is a group of sharks, and the fact that i know that should tell you something about how popular i was--or wasn't--in fourth grade.