A Wad of Tissues

I sat alone, toward the back, one pocket stuffed with jelly beans, the other with a wad of tissues I pulled from my console at the last minute before entering the auditorium. I had a pretty good cold going and didn’t want my sniffing and sneezing to irritate others. The jellyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA beans? Well, I had no appetite, really, but was craving sugar. Some weird symptom of the cold.

I had come out on this chilly, rainy night to hear Ruth Ozeki, the author of A Tale for the Time Being, this year’s book for the One Book, One Mesa County series. It was the tenth anniversary of One Book, which encourages the community to get involved in the one chosen title and the various educational and social activities that are planned around it, the culminating event always being the author coming to town.

I felt like I knew the author, somewhat, because she had written herself into the novel as one of the main characters. As she said, “A failed memoir can always be turned into a great work of fiction.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just before she started speaking, I glanced at the inside of the program and saw that all ten One Book, One Mesa County titles were listed there. There were a couple that I hadn’t read–too busy that year or they just hadn’t captured my attention–and only one that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed. One title, however, really caught my eye and brought back a flood of memories. Memories so strong that, together with my stuffed up head, I had trouble focusing on the presentation. Instead, I was reliving the reading of Kira, Kira (by Cynthia Kadohata) and what was going on in my life at that time.

It was late spring. Spring 2006. The girls–8 and 9 then–and I were reading the book together. Looking back now, I realize it was the last of several novels that we read together over the years. The years when they were tickled to crawl into bed with mom, thrilled to stay up past their bedtime to read a few more pages. I miss those days. In fact, reading to and with my children is one of the things I’ll always treasure the most as a parent.

Kira, Kira is the tale of two Japanese sisters who move from Iowa to the deep south in the 1950s, where their parents work in a non-unionized poultry plant. The sisters dream of growing up and making a better life for themselves and their family. Then the older sister becomes desperately ill and eventually dies.

We read the majority of the book but then things got crazy in May–finishing out the school year at the girls’ school, finishing the school year at my school, violin recitals, dance recitals, plays, all that closure kind of stuff that tends to happen all at once. Anyway, the book got put aside for a few weeks. During that time, Amy, who was a voracious reader, took the book into her room and finished reading it on her own. She couldn’t wait; she was too involved in the story.

In June, when school was out, I took the girls and several of their friends on a full moon hike up Serpent’s Trail. We began around 10:00 p.m. when the moon was full in the sky. Addy was a good hiker, but Amy was a bit of a bellyacher. Exertion was not her forte. Serpent’s Trail, as the name implies, is a series of switchbacks up the side of the Colorado National Monument, just out of town. At the top, you can see clear across the valley, which is, of course, all lit up at night.

“Come on, Amy, ” I recall saying several times on the way up. “Catch up. Mountain lions are always on the lookout for small children who are lagging behind.”

But Amy did her usual bellyaching. “I’m tired.” “Can we stop and rest?” “My stomach hurts.” “Can’t we stop and have a snack?” “Do we have to go all the way to the top?” “Mom, you’re not listening; I said my stomach hurts.”

After the hike, I took all the kids to Dairy Queen. Amy didn’t have anything, which was surprising. Instead, she hugged her body, still complaining of not feeling right.

The next morning, she was clearly in distress. Her dad–a doctor–and I powwowed and figured she was probably constipated. He went to work and I stayed home to comfort and care for her. By mid-afternoon she had a raging fever. Constipation does not cause fever, so in no time we had her in to Docs on Call and in no time they had her over to the emergency room for an ultrasound.

As it was, all that bellyaching on Serpent’s Trail was warranted. Her appendix had burst.

She was in and out of surgery by midnight and after that, for six days, she lay, deflated, in a hospital bed, recovering not only fromIMG_3334 the surgery but from the toll the leaking toxins had taken on her small body. On day two she took a few steps, and each day after that, a few steps more. Friends stopped by with games and crafts and books and treats, but she hardly had the energy to do anything with them.

The rest of us stayed in the hospital for six days, too. Mom, dad, and sister. An appendectomy is pretty routine and the doctors were quite sure Amy would make it, but we didn’t take any chances. We didn’t want to leave our child’s side. Not when she was in a gown. Not when she was strapped to an IV that was feeding her major antibiotics. Not when all she could do was lie there. Not when it took all of her energy to muster a small smile.

But six days is a long time for a sibling to stand by and watch her sister get so much attention. Some friends came and IMG_3326took Addy away from the hospital for a while, a couple of hours here, an afternoon there. On the fifth night, when Amy was feeling better and was visibly stronger, I took Addy for some special one-on-one time. We bought crafts to do and went out to dinner. That night, we slept at home, together, in my bed. We actually went to bed early, looking forward to the opportunity to finish Kira, Kira.

We were toward the end of the book and all that was left was the part where the older sister dies. As I read aloud, tears streamed down my face, down my neck, soaking my pajama top. Addy listened, watched, then finally said, “Geez, mom, get a grip! Are you okay?” I laughed at the get-a-grip part, spraying tears and snot and saliva all over the book. Of course Addy couldn’t see the severity of the situation. IMG_3333I had hardly understood it myself. Not until I was home. Home with just one daughter, not two. Finishing the book with just Addy curled up next to me, instead of the both of them, the way we had read most of it. Not until I got to the end of the book where one sister dies and the other one is left. Left to wonder how she’s supposed to carry on. What she’s supposed to do next.

“No, Ads, I guess I’m not okay.” I hadn’t realized it until my daughter had flat-out asked me. “I guess I’ve been really scared about Amy. Scared about what it would be like if she wasn’t in our family. What it would be like if you didn’t have her for a sister.”

“Geez, mom, it’s okay. The doctor said she’s going to be okay. She’s coming home soon, isn’t she?”

“Yes, yes she is,” I answered, wiping my messy face with the back of my hand. I looked toward the doorway, half expecting Amy to come bounding in just then, to hop into bed with us, to say something like, “So what part are you guys at?”

Soon. She would be home soon.

I turned my attention back to her sister. “Hey, Ads, will you please run and get me a wad of tissues? I need to wipe all this up so we can finish the book.”

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 20:02:52

    Amen. Won’t it be fun to share this with the girls when they have children?


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