We waited in that cold, hard, room for hours. We sat, shifting from side to side, chair to couch, too anxious to eat, yet too hungry to keep our stomaches from rumbling. He was a brother, a son, a boyfriend, someone who we all cared for. We looked hopefully at all the other faces coming in and out of the room, trying to instill some sort of feeling through a half-smile and kind eyes. We weren't fooling anyone, though, we were just as nervous as they looked.
"Just a routine procedure," they told us. "This guy is the best," was how they consoled us.
We tried to keep the air light by chatting about everyday nonsense, watching some rerun of an ancient soap opera on the telveision in the corner that was more bothersome than coaxing. We tried to seem tired, closing our eyes because we had to be here so early, but secretly we were imaginging the worst possible outcomes, praying we were wrong.
Jiggling nervously then responding, "No I'm just restless," when someone asked if I was on edge. Watching the door everytime it swung open hoping that he got done earlier than expected because, "Wait, we were incorrect... there's nothing wrong, he'll be fine!" was what we truly wanted to hear.
Oh, we're supposed to go into the consult room now? Sitting, waiting, hoping, was what took place in that small, windowless room. Then, having to watch as tears streamed down my mother's face. It took every ounce of my own willpower to keep from bursting out into tears, and we were getting good news. I don't even want to imagine if something bad had actually occurred. Tears of relief mixed with fear for what was to come escaped from her green eyes, while my brown one's welled up, me pleading to those drops of saline to stay put.
The doctor was kind to us, kept his patience as we asked questions that had already been answered or simply didn't really need to be asked in the first place. I wanted to reach out and grab her hand, hold her, tell her that everything was going to be okay. But I just sat there, unable to be the strong daughter she raised and needed. It was times like this when I felt like I wasn't as good to her as she deserved.
More sitting, waiting, stressing. "I want to see my son," were the repeated words she uttered, writhing her hands in frustration and anticipation. "It's just a few more minutes, Mom," I said, trying to convey to her how much I wasn't saying, through just a few words. When we finally got to go back we were told only one of us could stay. No questions, Mom would be with him.
Seeing his breathing chest, that familiar face, those manly hands, that used to be so small, grasping for me to play or help. I looked at his closed eyes and wished he comprehended how much he meant to me. Everytime I looked at him, this overwhelming nostalgia crept up into my soul, filling me with sadness that someday one of us would actually be gone from the other. In the wake of success it was difficult to not focus on what could've gone wrong, but so utterly thankful that he came out okay.
I kissed his lips and wished I could squeeze him, eager for when he'd be lucid enough to make me laugh like he always could. When it was time to go, I felt a longing to stay, to shield him from what was to come, begging God to give his pain to me. "Let me take some of his burden, he's so young, and it's unfair that he should suffer through this," were my silent cries, the doctor's earlier words of "These next few days will be the worst pain he's ever experienced," echoing through my mind.
What a great way for him to spend his 18th birthday, that rite of passage everyone talks about. How must he feel? Is he screaming inside, trying to put up this front, this tough exterior? He must be petrified and infuriated at the same time, getting this last chance to be a kid wrenched out from under him. Having the one thing he loved to do ripped away from him, is he really holding it together?
"I worry about him," I utter to my husband, "I'm scared for him. I want to cry and fight and scream for him. What can I do?" "Just be there, like you always are," he responds, hugging me and wiping away my small trickle of tears.
"Thank you Sissy," he repeats over and over, and it breaks me open, exposes my unconditional and absolute affection for him, though he can't see it. Though it's almost unimaginable how far it extends, he knows, and I never stop showing it. I want to entrap him and put him a plastic bubble so nothing can get to him, so nothing can harm him. "How could we have prevented this? What did we do wrong?" were the thoughts that all of us thought, though they went unvoiced. They quickly turned into "What can we do to help? What can we do to keep his mind off the pain?" Nothing. It's a constant ache, a constant reminder of what's lost. Only he can do now, only he can overcome.
I want to erase it, make him happy, make him okay, make him have acceptance. Maybe he does and he's just being stronger than I, as his older sister, can give him credit for. I've seen him hurt, cry, be frightened, run away, need me. I've seen him endure, toughen up, keep a stiff upper lip, stand his ground, help me. I just want to make it all better for him and I know that only he can do that for himself. He's so grown-up now that I'm lost without the little him. The boy who used to say "Will you sleep in my bed, Sissy cause I'm scared." The boy who used to sneak into my room when my friends were over just so he could be a part of my life. The boy who I shielded from our fighting parents and told him everything would be okay. The boy who used to hold my hand when he was walking into the unknown. My little brother isn't little anymore and I'm thankful for the man he's become. I'm grateful for him because now I say, "Buddy, will you help me?"
Soon, we'll be far away from each other and all we'll have are texts or phone calls, empty emails to keep in touch over many miles. Will I be able to survive this? Can I go this world without him there, just across the hall... or just a few minutes away? I'm the one that's scared now... scared of the unknown, anxious about what's to come, afraid he'll grow up and not need his big sister anymore. Time is constant, things change, people grow up. They fall in love, they build their own lives, and I know that I'll miss him so much I'll ache inside, but that's just life. We'll start our own families soon and then we can pass this bond down to our kids and watch as they form relationships with one another that will remind us of what we had, have, and will keep until we die.
Joey this is for you, buddy. I love you more than life itself little brother.