Dana was sitting on the floor next to Emily’s bed. Her back was leaning up against the wall and her head was resting on the mattress. Her bright red hair was up in a messy bun and her make-up was smeared all around her eyes; it was the middle of the night. The girls’ parents had taken a trip for their anniversary, leaving the girls alone for several days. They had mistakenly stayed up late watching scary movies even though Em knew she was going to have nightmares. Dana promised everything would be fine, but the younger sister was now curled up under her covers with her older sister sitting next to her, ‘protecting her.’
There was a single lamp on in the corner, casting shadows on the light pink walls. Em swore that the shadows got closer every time she closed her eyes; she also swore that there was a monster hiding under her bed. Dana kept telling her that it was just her imagination, and that she was too old for nightmares. Nightmares were for little kids, and Em was not little anymore.
“You’re the one who made us watch scary movies,” Em declared from under the covers.
“You should know by now that they’re not real,” Dana shot back.
“How am I supposed to think that in the dark?”
Dana sighed with frustration and leaned her head back. There were times when she loved her little sister, and there were times when she wanted nothing more than to scream in frustration. It was not her job to sit up with Em in the middle of the night; that was their mom’s job. It was not her job to remind Emily that monsters weren’t real; she should already know that. It was not her job to parent her. But there she was, parenting away.
“Listen,” Dana began, “one of these days you’re going to be on your own with nobody to save you from these ‘monsters.’ So you better figure out that they’re just a part of your imagination and not real.” Dana pushed herself to her feet and then leaned down towards Emily, kissing her on the head.
“Where are you going?” the little sister emerged from under her covers.
“Back to bed.”
“You’ll be fine, Em. Just remember, they’re not real.”
“But they are real,” Emily whispered to the room.
The blue chair she was sitting in was extremely uncomfortable. The cushion was barely a cushion, and it was an awkward height because only her toes touched the ground. The chair was originally placed in the corner of the hospital room, but Emily had dragged it over to the bed. The legs of the chair against the tile floor sounded like nails on a chalkboard. The sound distracted her though. It distracted her from the image right in front of her; Dana, as still as a statue lying on the white hospital bed; her greasy hair sprawled across the pillow; her pale hands folded nicely on her chest. The only movement from Dana was her chest, which was slowly rising and dropping. That movement was only because of the machine next to her; the machine that was keeping her alive.
“Monsters are real,” Em repeated, wiping her nose. “I kept trying to tell you, but you wouldn’t believe me. You always told me that monsters were a figment of my imagination…that it was something in my head.” Emily gazed at Dana’s face, praying that her eyes would fly open. “I remember you sitting next to my bed at night. If mom and dad would leave, it was always your job to keep me safe. And you did…keep me safe. You scared away the monsters under my bed and in my closet. You kept me safe… You made sure nothing would ever happen to me…” Dana’s eyes remained closed, no matter how hard Em prayed for them to open. The girl reached for Dana’s hand and gripped it tight. “But the monsters came back,” she cried. “They came back and took mom…and dad…” The tears fell uncontrollably. “And they took you, too!”
Emily’s entire body shook. She fell against her sister’s hospital bed and let it support her. Sobs escaped her lips and snot dripped from her nose. Her face became contorted as she cried uncontrollably. Her cries echoed throughout the empty hospital room. Emily reached out and held on to Dana’s still body. She pulled herself closer and rested her head on her sister’s chest. There was a faint heartbeat, but it sounded as though it got weaker and weaker. Em laid with her sister and wept violently. There were no words to describe what she as feeling, or what she was thinking. No one could comprehend what Emily was going through, no matter how many times they said ‘I know how you feel.’ Nobody knew how Emily felt. Nobody knew how to comfort her. She was all alone.
Jackson was sitting in the hallway outside Dana’s room. He could hear Emily’s cries and all he wanted to do was to go in and comfort her. He wanted to wrap her in his arms and promise her that she wasn’t alone. He wanted to assure her that she still had people who cared about her. She still had a family. He hated hearing the howling coming from within. And he hated that he couldn’t do anything about it. When he tried to go to Em, Brian stopped him.
“Let her be. She needs time alone,” the man had said.
Emily’s throat was soar by the time the tears stopped. She continued to heave and gasp for breath. She used the bed sheet to wipe away the remaining tears, and to wipe her dripping nose. When she returned the sheet, she noticed it was smudged with black. Her mascara was running down her face, and her what was left of her eyeliner was smudged in various places. But Em simply laid there. The silence was eerie as it wrapped itself around the two girls. The only sound was coming from Dana’s machines and faucet that was dripping in the bathroom. Tears slowly returned to Emily’s eyes, but she just let them slide down her cheeks.
“Do you remember our first big vacation as a family?” Em asked the room. “We went to a fishing resort in Wisconsin. It was literally in the middle of nowhere. Dad promised there would be a beach, but that consisted of a foot of sand. And the water was freezing!” Emily laughed weakly. She waited to hear her sister laugh, but it never came. “There was no Wi-Fi!” Emily continued. “Or cable. And mom made us leave our phones in the car the whole time.”
She smiled to herself and suddenly tasted a tear that had silently slid down her check. She held on to Dana’s hand, staring down at her shoes. Emily was wearing the cowboy boots her grandpa had given her. They had once belonged to dad, and now they belonged her. But Emily shouldn’t have been the one to get them. Dana should’ve been the one. They should have passed on to Dana just like the station wagon. Em stiffly leaned down to her feet and pulled off her boots. She held them in front of her, and then she placed them next to Dana on the hospital bed.
“These should fit you better than your pink ones,” Em promised. “You wore that pair everywhere. They’re probably worn out by now. These ones will look better on you, any ways. They’re more your style… Plain… simple... I’ll… I’ll be fine without shoes… But you’ll need them where ever you’re going…”
Again, Emily reached for her sister’s hand. It was colder than usual, and that made Em grip it tighter. The two sisters sat together in silence. Emily didn’t know what else to say. She wanted to tell Dana about her time on the ranch. She wanted to tell her about how Pa had taken care of her without any questions. She wanted to tell her about Jackson and how he was everything Dana had hoped for. She wanted to make Dana a promise that she would never again ‘go bad.’ Em wanted to look her sister in the eye and swear that she would take care of herself.
A hard knock came from the door and a kind looking doctor stuck his head in the room. “Are you ready?”
“Just –” Em panicked. “Just a few more minutes.” The doctor gave the girl a sad smile and then disappeared. “I want you to know that I’m gonna be okay. Pa’s going to take care of me. And I’ve got Jackson…” Emily rambled and then trailed off. “He’s a good man, Dana. You would’ve liked him…” The tears she had kept at bay started to fall again. “I wish you could’ve seen him. I wish you could see me.” Emily collapsed against the bed again, her body shaking from the sobs that filled the room. “I miss you! I miss you so much!” Em gasped for air. “I love you, Dana!”
The girl pulled herself out of her chair and leaned over her older sister. Tears slid down her cheeks and fell onto Dana’s face. Em gently slid Dana’s red hair away from her forehead and then bent down. She kissed her sister’s forehead and stayed in that position for a long time. She squeezed her eyes shut, and prayed that when she opened them her sister would be smiling up at her. She remembered watching Disney movies, and how a magical kiss or tear could bring someone back to life. Em let her imagination run and hoped that that would be the case here. After a while, Emily felt a hand on her shoulder. It was warm, and kind, and gentle. The girl turned around, expecting to find Jackson standing behind her, but the room was empty. And the weirdest thing was that she suddenly felt calm.
Emily wiped the tears away and smiled to herself as she walked to the door. “I’m ready,” she called out to the doctor.
The kind doctor shuffled past her and into Dana’s room. Brian and Jackson also entered the room. Brian found himself a spot in the corner, away from all the action. Emily remained next to Dana’s bedside. She held on to her sister’s hand as the doctor started his work. Jackson came up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. It was a different feeling than before, but Em welcomed the comforting gesture.
The first thing the doctor did was stop the IV drip bag. He then changed out the bag and restarted the dripping. Em had no idea what was in the bag, or why the doctor thought it was necessary, but she didn’t ask. She could feel more tears coming on, and she knew that if she started talking the flood-gates would open. The next thing the doctor did was remove the breathing tube from Dana’s mouth. There was a sticky sound as the tube separated itself from Dana’s mouth. There was some slight drool around the older sister’s mouth, which the nurse wiped up immediately. Emily watched the machines around the bed as all of Dana’s vital signs started to drop. Her oxygen signs became weaker and weaker, but Em could still hear her sister breathing. She started breathing with her – in and out, in and out – until there was nothing left to follow. Dana’s chest stilled and the hand Emily was holding started to stiffen. The only sound left in the room was the long tone on the heart monitor.
“We’ll give you some time,” the doctor reassured Emily before he and the nurse exited the room.
Brian followed the doctor out of the room, but Jackson stayed with Emily. She bent down and kissed Dana once more on the forehead before rushing out of the room. She knew that if she stayed there any longer, the flood-gates would open and she would lose it. Jackson called after her as she raced down the hallway. She pushed past smiling nurses and grinning doctors. She shoved open doors even though she had no idea where they led. The sound of her sock-feet slapping against the tile floor bounced against the walls. The pounding of her heart echoed throughout her ears; it was deafening and she wanted it to stop. She clasped her hands over her ears and tried to block out the sound, but it only got louder. Emily wanted to scream and cry out for the sound to stop. She just wanted everything to stop. The girl pushed another set of doors open and stepped outside. It was starting to rain, but Em didn’t care. She took a few more steps and then stopped. Everything was still and quiet. There were no people around. There were no birds chirping. There were no annoying noises. Everything was still… The rain started to fall faster and harder, but Em didn’t care. She stood there, letting the rain wash her away. Drops slid down her cheeks, joined with salty tears. Water seeped into her socks and surrounded her cold feet. Her clothes started to stick to her, but Emily didn’t care. She took a couple more steps, and then collapsed onto the hard, muddy ground. She had no energy left. She had lost the will to push herself back up and keep going. She had done it so many times, but this time was the last. Her arms and legs were too weak, and her heart and soul had lost all desire. Em remained on the ground and let the rain water and her tears melt her into nothing.
Again, a gentle hand was placed on Emily’s shoulder. She crumbled even more, not knowing what to do. Whoever was behind her gripped her shoulders and held her. And she let that person hold her. She didn’t know who it was; she didn’t want to look. She was afraid that if she looked, there would be no one there. And then she would believe she was crazy. She let the strong hands hold her up until she calmed down. Her eyes were closed when a coat was wrapped around her body and a man brought her to her feet.
“You’re going to get sick if you stay out here for much longer,” Brain informed. “Especially since you’re all alone.” Emily didn’t say anything. Instead, she just pulled the coat tighter around her and stared down at her muddy socks. “Come on, let’s get you inside.”
Brian wrapped his arm around Em’s shoulders and pulled her close to him. He steered her towards the door while whispering comforting words to her. Jackson was pacing inside the doors when Brian and Em finally entered the building. He wanted to rush over to her and embrace her, but Brian gave him a look before he could move. They made their way to the lobby of the hospital and shuffled into the gift shop. Brian pulled a shirt and a pair of sweats off of the rack, along with a pair of flip-flops, and paid for them. Emily barely noticed the movements, or Brian’s voice as he talked to her. It was all a blur as the man steered her out of the giftshop and down to the bathroom. He gently guided her inside and then closed the door, leaving her alone. Em stood in the empty bathroom, shivering. She looked up at the girl staring back at her in the mirror. Her wavy hair was rain slickened and sticking to her face. The tips dripped down on to the floor, leaving tiny puddles. Her face was striped with eyeliner and mascara. Streams of wet make-up ran down her cheeks and was also smeared around her eyes. The clothes she was wearing felt like paste against her skin. Her socks made squishing noises against the bathroom floor every time she shifted her weight. As Em stared at the reflection, she noticed the girl’s shoulders were slumped and her arms hung lifelessly by her side. She looked and felt as though the world was against her. She felt as though the world was suffocating her – punishing her. There was no escape; no light at the end of the tunnel. There was no hope…
Emily slowly ripped her soaked shirt away from her skin and pulled it over her head. The piece of clothing fell to the floor with a slap. She then bent over and pulled her soggy socks off of her feet. The bathroom floor against her bare feet made her shiver. Em gripped the waistband of her pants and slid them over her butt, past her thighs, and let them drop to the floor. She carefully stepped out of them and stared back at the girl in the mirror. There were red patches on her skin, and streams of water from her wet hair. Her body ached as she reached for the dry clothes that were resting on the counter. She gingerly pulled on the soft pair of sweatpants, and tugged the shirt over her head. Em kept eye contact with her reflection as she pulled her soggy hair into a messy-bun. The paper-towel dispenser groaned as she pulled one out. She wet it down and started wiping away her make-up. The paper towel was rough against her skin, but she continued to wipe. When she was finished, red streaks appeared on her cheeks, but all of her make-up was gone. Emily turned around and gathered up her wet clothes, throwing them in the trash. She slipped on her flip-flops, glanced at the girl in the mirror one last time, and exited the bathroom.
“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
- John 6:22