My stomach hurt.
My body ached. I felt like throwing up.
I slowly opened my eyes. A flash of white struck between them, blinding me. “Ah…” I muttered in annoyance. What was this bright light? It hurt. It stung my eyes.
“Taylor?” I heard a familiar voice say.
I blinked a few more times. My vision was a little blurry, and my whole body felt like I was lying on a thousand needles. I managed to turn my head to the right. I saw my brother, Henry, looking down at me with wide eyes, shaking.
“Oh my god,” he said. He pressed a button, probably to notify a nurse. He grasped onto my hand tightly and rested his forehead on my knuckle. “Thank god. Thank god. Thank god,” he kept saying over and over again.
“Where?” I asked. I meant to ask the full question, where am I, but my tongue felt too dry to speak.
“The hospital,” he replied. He brought a chair over and sat by my hospital bed. “Tell me… Taylor, why did you do that?”
Do what? I couldn’t remember anything. Why was I at the hospital? I didn’t remember having any attacks or extreme health problems. Ah. That was right. I moved my hand over the self-inflicted wound on my stomach. There was a bandage tightly wrapped around it.
“How am I here?” I said, confused.
“I saw you,” Henry replied. “I thought you were acting strange that night. Taylor. Tell me why you would do such a thing.”
Ah… So when I heard Henry’s voice screaming my name, I wasn’t hallucinating. He saved me.
Should I feel happy?
I wasn’t sure whether to feel thankful or not.
I tried to sit up, but it was much too painful.
Taylor, why would you do that?
How could I answer such a question? Why couldn’t I open my mouth to answer?
“Why did you do it?” my brother shouts. He grabbed my shoulders and gripped them tightly, so tight that I felt a stinging sensation across my back. “Taylor, why aren’t you saying anything?”
“I-I don’t know,” I mutter, clutching onto the bedsheets. “I just feel like a burden on everyone.” Mom and Dad worked all day. Henry had to deal with my daily health issues. My body was so weak. I couldn’t stand the burden that I was placing on my family.
“Do you want to die that much?” Henry yelled angrily. “Aren’t you afraid?”
“Why would I be afraid?” I replied, looking at him puzzledly. “Dying isn’t scary, Henry. It’s just like sleeping, just forever.”
Henry slowly let go of my shoulders. He seemed to have stopped breathing, as he was too shocked by my words. “H-How?” he said. “How could you say that?”
“Say something so scary so easily,” he says. “Talking about dying like it’s nothing.” Then he began to do something that I had never seen him do before: cry. Tears flooded his eyes as they dripped down his cheeks, dripping down the edge of his chin. I felt something in my throat. What was wrong with what I said? I only said the truth. Why was he crying? Henry never cried. Why now?
“Your so-called eternal sleep will be the end of me, Taylor,” Henry cried. “Don’t you understand? I care for you as much as you care for me. Why are you giving up on life now? What the hell are you thinking, you idiot! You’re being selfish, leaving me alone. You’re being a coward, running away by yourself. Burden? Mom, Dad, and I never once thought of you as a burden. Mom and Dad work that hard because they love you. They want you to live happily. They want to do whatever they can to extend your life as much as possible. So don’t try that ever again. Don’t do it. Don’t give up. At least live… for me. Because I can’t imagine how I’ll live without you.”
I couldn’t say anything. A heavy feeling filled my chest as I tried to breathe. How could I allow him to cry like this? How could I forget about everyone who cared for me? Mom. Dad. Henry. I lost my mind. I was stupid. How could I be so selfish, running away and not even thinking of Henry’s feelings? If it were the other way around, I wouldn’t even be able to imagine what I’d do.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I kept repeating in my head as I began to cry. I won’t do it again. I promise. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry to everyone who cares for me. And I’m especially sorry to you, Henry.
I stayed at the hospital for a while until my wound was not so serious. I was lucky actually, because I had just missed my aorta, the main artery of my body, which would’ve resulted in an almost instant death.
Henry stayed with me every day, missing school just to make sure that I was safe. My parents, like usual, didn’t have time, as I created more debt with the wounds that I had inflicted on myself. I felt even more like a pest with all this. But then I remembered Henry’s tears from the other day. Mom and Dad were working because they wanted to me live, even though my life was guaranteed to be short. But they still wanted the best for me. Just as ordinary parents did.
How could I simply forget those feelings that my parents had for me?
I was such a horrible child and sister.
Jumping to conclusions by myself.
Two years passed. I was thirteen-years-old. Henry was seventeen. It was the time of year when he expected to hear back from the colleges that he had applied to. I remember in those days, Henry would come home as soon as possible, excited to see his results.
“Did you get in?” I asked daily.
“No,” he would reply with a forced smile.
I found it odd. He worked so hard on his applications. He had such good grades and high SAT and ACT scores. He had so many internships in the past four years. He was on so many sport teams. So how was it possible? Why did he get rejected by them all? He was so bright and brilliant, with plenty of extra-curriculars. He was the model child.
How could I cheer him up?
The following day, I decided to walk home instead of taking the bus, something my doctor told me not to do, as any form of exercise wasn’t ideal for my condition, which my parents had finally been honest with me about. But I needed some fresh air. It made me forget that I was different. Forget that I was sick.
I walked past a park and spotted my brother Henry, swinging on the swings with a friend by his side. I had seen his friend before several times. He would come over to our house often, doing homework with Henry. What was his name again? Ah, that was right. His name was Jeremy.
I was about to walk over to say hi, excited to see his friend whom I hadn’t seen for a while until I suddenly stopped, hearing the most shocking, yet not surprising, words.
“I was accepted to all my top-choice schools,” Henry said.
What? Clearly that was not what he had told me. Was he lying to me or was he lying to Jeremy? I was confused. And why would he lie in the first place? He told me that he was rejected. I took a step back, moving behind a wooden fence.
Why did I hide?
Something just told me to.
“Then why is there a problem?” Jeremy asked. “You can take your pick! And didn’t you say you wanted to go to MIT? You were accepted, right?”
“It’s not that…” Henry replied. He crouched down, putting his fist on his forehead. “I don’t know,” he said. He sighed, messing up his hair.
I was confused. Jeremy was right. Getting accepted to every top school was most seniors’ dream. Why would Henry stress over such a thing? I would be celebrating if I was in his position. And Jeremy was right. Henry had a first choice: MIT, to study chemical engineering. It was his dream. So why was he even hesitating if he was accepted?
“What’s wrong?” Jeremy asked, as if he read my mind. “Is there something holding you back?”
“She’s holding me back,” Henry cried. “I just don’t know.” His hands began to form two fists as tears began to gather in his eyes.
“Why?” Jeremy asked. “Did she do something?”
“I just don’t know what to do,” Henry whimpered. He took a fist of his hair, and tangled the strands. “I was so sure. I was so sure that I could leave the house. B-But the thought of leaving Taylor alone in that house, to die alone in that house, to live her last moments without someone with her. I can’t do that. I just can’t bring myself to do that.”
“What are you talking about?” Jeremy replied, laughing, assuming that Henry was just childishly going to miss me as family, as if he had a complex about leaving his little sister alone. “You’re acting like she’s about to die or something.”
Henry stood abruptly. His eyes widened as his brows creased to the center of his forehead. “Don’t say something like that when you have no idea what is even going on!” he shouts. “Dying… Dying! Don’t laugh! It’s not a joke!”
“Woah, Henry,” Jeremy said, standing to hold onto Henry’s shoulders. “Calm down, man.” He looked at Henry straight in the eye and suddenly took a step back, noticing his tears. “Hold on,” he said. “You… You aren’t serious, are you?”
“Please don’t tell anyone I told you this, especially Taylor,” Henry said, sitting back onto the swing. He bit his lip, trying to stop his tears from flooding out of his eyes. “Promise me.”
No. He wasn’t. He wasn’t about to tell Jeremy the secret that I had been keeping from all my classmates and friends for my whole life. The secret that would change others perception of me. The secret that would bring me away from normal.
“Taylor,” he said. “She has muscle dystrophy. She doesn’t… have long.”
Ah, he said it.
“Ah…” Jeremy put his arm over Henry. “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry. I have heard those words numerous times at the hospital. Pity. That was why I had always kept my condition a secret, not wanting others to know that I was suffering. All I wanted was to be normal. A life of no judgement. A life where this disease didn’t bring me down. A life where this disease didn’t bring others down.
“I think I will go to city college,” Henry said.
“Is that what you really want to do?” Jeremy asked.
“I want to take care of my sister and see her off,” Henry replied confidently, as he wiped his tears with his sleeve. “So yes, that is what I really want to do.”
I could have gone out there, ran and shouted at him. Told him that I would be okay alone. Told him to just go and pursue his dreams and not worry about me. But part of me knew. Part of me knew that he was right. I didn’t want to be alone. I would not be okay. I would not be able to stand the thought of a daily life without him.
I should’ve ran up to him and told him just to go.
I should’ve been strong, pushing him to leave.
But I didn’t.
I was selfish.
I was too scared to be alone.
I wanted him to stay with me.