Categories
Death and Dying

Are We There Yet? A Story of Sisterhood and Mercy

I place the towel over her silk scarf and tap the iron to make sure it isn’t too hot. I do not want to burn through the thin material. This is part of my morning routine. Today the scarf is blue; yesterday it was yellow. I will prepare her morning bath with a drop of lavender oil and a few lemon peels. I have already placed two pots of water on the stove: one for oatmeal, the other for tea. The windows are raised just enough to allow the cool summer air to sweep through the tiny sun-room. While watching the sunrise, I allow myself a total of four minutes and thirty seconds to cry. I muffle my sobs on one of the flowered throw pillows.

Afterward, I water the thirsty jade plant that stands alone in the living room. When I hear the plastic sheets rustling beneath her and a small moan escape her lips, I know the day has officially begun. I stand in the doorway and watch her. Her hair, which was once butter soft and wavy, is now a knoll of wispy, coarse twines that holds no life. Red ringlets cuddle her eyes and tell the story of many sleepless nights. She is frail and fragile. With every move she makes comes the pain she wants to escape.

I walk near the bed to give her medicine that offers little relief. When I look into her face I still see my big sister, the one that walked me to school in the mornings and taught me to braid my hair. I have now assumed the position of caretaker. I have watched her for two years fight this battle with much pain, admiration, and love. The days are numbered now, and I am preparing her and myself for the end.

The window near her bed is raised high. The breeze thrusts the curtain away from the window and releases it simultaneously. My sister insists that I leave the window open, “So I can hear what the world is doing,” she groans. Today the sound of sirens is present, as usual, and also the sound of little girls at play.

Down, down baby,
Down, down the roller-coaster,
Sweet, sweet baby
I’ll never let you go.

I hold back my tears and watch as my sister allows hers to roll down her thinning cheeks. That was one of our songs. We were seven and ten playing out in our grandmother’s rose garden. Those days we ran wild and free. My sister was the animated one, always twisting her hips and rolling her neck. Mama would tell her, “slow down, you getting ahead of your young self,” but Pasquale never listened because it was her world, and she was in charge.

Down, down baby,
Down, down the roller-coaster,
Sweet, sweet baby
I’ll never let you go.

Pasquale would slap down on my hands and roll her hips as if she were on camera. There was so much joy in watching her because she was always on. I faded into the background around her, but I liked it like that. Watching her made me happy, and I never glowered in her presence. Now her eyes beg for the end. I want to bridge that small gap that exists between life and death for her, but I am afraid. I watch as a sunbeam lands on her face. She raises her head just enough to allow it to kiss her softly and I place my hand on her cheek.

These foreign objects that have taken over her body and caused this resistance to life are not only hers but mine as well. I have suppressed many emotions that allow me to feel alive while watching her die. I am a hypocrite to life while she dies a slow death. She will never be a mother, a wife, a lifelong friend, or a shoulder to cry on again.
I carry her the few feet it takes to get to the bathtub. When she settles into the warm water she closes her eyes, and I know it won’t be long before that moment of repose passes. “I love you,” she manages to say. Her words are soft and ethereal and they hang in the space between us.

She looks at me now with her sublime way of calling for my attention, the way she did as an authoritative big sister. I am a kid again not knowing what to do, but needing to make a decision. I want to cry. I often wish to take her disease and make it my own. These nearly eight hundred days of suffering have aged us both. It is not death I want for her, but completion. I want a life for her, a whole, rounded life that I could look upon with envy.

I head back to the kitchen and remove the boiling pots. I decide against the oatmeal. I am no longer hungry for food. I place a tea bag into a pink teacup that reads: Are We There Yet? Then I grab the mini latte bowl from the corner of the counter that contains a handful of marcona almonds that have been saturated with lemon and honey. In the bathroom, Pasquale has slid deeper into the water. She looks at me then at the contents of my hands then back to me. I do not smile. She does.

She slowly rises back into a sitting position, wincing with each movement. I give her the tea first, and she sips liberally. She reaches for the bowl. We lock eyes. She inhales the strong aroma of lemon and the welcoming whiff of honey. Then she reaches for a tincture jar that is sitting on the rim of the bathtub. She opens the tiny jar, pulls out the dropper and showers the almonds with the light brown potion. I watch with a mixture of disdain and understanding. A combination that rumbles in my heart.

When she begins eating the almonds she starts with one at a time, then two, then she tilts the bowl to her mouth and lets them tumble in slowly. With each bite, she closes her eyes and relishes the flavor. A last meal. She reaches for my hand once she consumes the last almond. I lift her hand to my lips and feel the warmth and moisture of her skin.

“Do not cry,” she says before she closes her eyes and relaxes back into the bath. I, again, fight back my tears and hold her hand as tight as I can while peace falls over her.

By Zainab Karima

I am a Chicagoan who likes to read, write and dance. You can catch my writing on my personal blog, Beale Street Speaks.