My heart is beatless.
I vomit all the nothing in my stomach. Bile burns the back of my throat.
I’m crying and the cool morning air chills the tears on my face.
I’m laughing and the cold invades my lungs.
I’m not sick. I’ve never been sick.
All the emotions I’ve held in check over the past twenty-four hours crash over me. Hope and despair, anticipation and regret, joy and anger. How is it possible to have an emotion and its opposite at the same time? I’m struggling in a black ocean, a life jacket across my chest, an anchor on my leg.
My mom catches up to me. Her face is a ruin of fear. “What are you doing? What are you doing? You have to get inside.”
My vision tunnels and I hold her in my sights. “Why, Mom? Why do I have to go inside?”
“Because you’re sick. Bad things could happen to you out here.”
She reaches out to me to pull me toward her, but I jerk away from her.
“No. I’m not going back in.”
“Please,” she begs. “I can’t lose you, too. Not after everything.”
Her eyes are on me, but I know without a doubt that she’s not seeing me at all.
“I lost them. I lost your dad and I lost your brother. I couldn’t lose you, too. I just couldn’t.”
Her face crumbles, falls completely apart. Whatever structures were holding it up give way in a sudden and catastrophic failure.
She’s broken. She’s been broken for a long time. Carla was right. She never recovered from their deaths.
I say something. I don’t know what, but she keeps talking.
“Right after they died you got so, so sick. You wouldn’t breathe right and I drove you to the emergency room and we had to stay there for three days. And they didn’t know what was wrong. They said it was probably an allergy. They gave me a list of things to stay away from, but I knew it was more than that.”
She nods her head. “I knew it was more than that. I had to protect you. Anything can happen to you out here.”
She looks around. “Anything can happen to you out here. In the world.”
I should feel compassion. But that’s not what I feel. Anger rises in me and crowds everything else out.
“I’m not sick,” I scream. “I’ve never been sick. You’re the one.” I stab the air in front of her face. I watch as she shrinks into herself and disappears.
“Come inside,” she whispers. “I’ll protect you. Stay with me. You’re all I have.”
Her pain is endless. It falls off the ends of the world.
Her pain is a dead sea.
Her pain is for me, but I cannot bear it anymore.
Once upon a time there was a girl whose entire life was a lie.
A universe that can wink into existence can wink out again.
Beginnings and Ends
Four days pass. I eat. I do homework. I don’t read. My mom walks around in a fugue state. I don’t think she understands what’s happened. She seems to realize that she has something to atone for, but she’s not sure exactly what it is. Sometimes she tries to talk to me, but I ignore her. I barely even look at her.
The morning after I realized the truth, Carla took samples of my blood to the SCID specialist, Dr. Chase. We’re in his office now, waiting to be called. And even though I know what he’ll say, I’m dreading the actual medical confirmation.
Who will I be if I’m not sick?
A nurse calls my name and I ask Carla to stay in the waiting room. For whatever reason, I want to hear this news alone.
Dr. Chase stands when I walk in. He looks just like the photos of him on the web—older white man with graying hair and bright black eyes.
He looks at me with a mixture of sympathy and curiosity.
He gestures for me to sit, and waits until I do to sit himself.
“Your case,” he begins, and then stops.
“It’s OK,” I say. “I already know.”
He opens a file on his desk, shakes his head like he’s still puzzled at the results. “I’ve gone over these results time and again. I had my colleagues check to be absolutely certain. You’re not sick, Ms. Whittier.”
He stops and waits for me to react.
I shake my head at him. “I already know,” I say again.
“Carla—Nurse Flores—filled me in on your background.” He studiously flips through a few more pages, trying to avoid saying what he says next. “As a doctor, your mother would’ve known that. Granted, SCID is a very rare disease and it comes in many forms, but you have none, absolutely none, of the telltale signs of the disease. If she did any research, any tests at all, she would’ve known that.”