It’s all just the same.
A new shape.
A new function.
A new muted design.
It’s all the same.
Walls, sheets, fluorescent lights.
Curtains, pillows, meds.
It’s all the same until the night.
“Night, night,” my mom will whisper as she gives me a kiss on the head.
“Fight, fight,” my dad says from where he sits on my bed.
And I’ll fight I say, I’ll fight. But I know I’ll only fight until the night.
I’ll close my eyes and see black. I’ll be glad to see black. The blurred innocence of a room I never wanted will disappear.
I won’t have to fight again until I see the light again.
I had a choice. Not about getting cancer, but about where I would stay, that is. I was young, barely even had a driver’s license. I could’ve gone to the brightly colored children’s hospital just down the street.
“She’ll be an adult by the time this is finished,” my doctor said. “So it’s up to you,” he said looking at my parents, “And also her.” But it was never up to me. None of this was ever up to me.
We went to the children’s hospital. I still had hair then and immediately I felt guilty about it. The hallways were scattered with young children—all young children. But they were playing with toys and each other and looking at me like I was celebrity.
And then all the children went crushingly silent as a scream hit the hall. A hauntingly pained scream.
My mother wrapped her arms around me. Hoping to protect me from the cause of the noise but I only resented her for not being able to protect me from what was actually attacking me. Abnormal white blood cells.
We were quickly ushered out of the hallway and informed that the squealing voice had been that of a woman whose eight-year-old son had just died.
Eight years old.
It’s always cancer.
My mom, the horoscope believing junkie that she is, declared this is a sign. We were not meant to be at a children’s hospital. A hospital with brightly colored beds and happy paintings on the wall—because all that happiness must be overcompensating for all the hidden sadness, right? The doctor said I’d be an adult when this finished, so why not go to the adult hospital? We were meant to be in a white room, she decided.
White. The color of angels. Of innocence. Of the fluffy white clouds I’d see while on the plane to my Disney Wish trip. White. The color of the blood cells killing me.
I trusted her, too afraid to ask what the doctor meant when he said, “When this is finished.” Would I be healthy again? Or dead?
I was also too afraid to ask what he meant by an “adult.” Eighteen? I didn’t think I’d be an adult by eighteen. Would I just vote in my first election and then crumple into a pile of dust?
That hardly seemed fair.
So for a while I committed to being the anti-adult, hoping, in vain, that if I could prevent growing up, I could stop this “finish” from coming. I got sucked into the drama at school. I stayed out past my newly enlisted cancer curfew. I went to parties. Drank too much at parties. And when the chemo started to make me throw up, I just pretended I was suffering from a really bad hangover.
The day I passed out in math class was the day my anti-adult life ended. An ambulance brought me here. Or maybe my math teacher did. Or maybe I teleported. I had no idea. I didn’t remember anything about that day or the three days following. But when I woke up there were tubes connecting me to the wall. To the bed. To this room. The white room of innocence that was stealing my life.
My friends used to come visit. They didn’t know what to say, so they’d talk about their day. And they’d tell me all about Kyra Morre’s awful eyebrow wax and Jessie McCaullay who cheated on his girlfriend. They’d finish their stories with a laugh before they suddenly zeroed in on my face. My face so pale it belonged to a vampire. My face so white I’m sure they thought I had become a part of this bed.
“Sorry!” they’d all say at once. “We know you probably don’t want to hear about this. I guess that’s the one bright side of getting cancer—you’ve gained a lot of perspective.”
“Yeah,” I’d say sarcastically. “It’s been really great. You guys should try it!”
Slowly, they’d retreat, like they thought I was preparing for an attack, but I wasn’t really mad, just sad. Because I didn’t so much as care about Kyra Moore or Jessie McCaullay as much as I wanted to be them.
And then their mothers would call my mother and describe my behavior as “hostile” and they’d tell her they think it’s best if their daughters take a break from visiting, since, after all, they are just children.
And my mom would start to beg, because these visits were so good for me and wasn’t I just a child, too?
I’d shake my head no in the background. And she’d look at me with confused eyes. “I don’t want the life I’m missing out on rubbed in my face,” I’d whisper.
My mother’s face would fall as she delivered the news to the parents. A break would be good, she’d say expertly and easily, probably because she had said these same words to my own father. “I’ll call you when things are looking better here.” Then she’d hang up, tears in her eyes, because she thought I was making a mistake and my life was too short for mistakes. But she wouldn’t fight me. She never fights me. She only fights for me. Afraid, I think, that I might just combust in front of her eyes if I get worked up about anything more than The Bachelor. So she lets the fighting go and saves it for my dad, as they pretend that the way they alternate sleeping nights at the hospital is just a coincidence. Cancer is convenient, I suppose, because it prevents my little sister from announcing to her class that my dad has moved into a hotel, because a hospital bed isn’t comfy enough to be considered a hotel.
Maybe cancer is just the cause though.
Of a broken family.
Of my broken heart.
Of my disbelief that life can get better.
Because what if it—or I, rather—don’t get better? What if it just ends?
What if I want it to end? Do I then get moved from the cancer wing to the psych ward? Am I supposed to want to survive this?
They say white blood cells are killing me. I say white walls are killing me.
They tell me to fight, but for what? Another day of white?
I’ve forgotten what I’m fighting for.
And it’s another night now and I’ve lost another fight now.
And the drugs are a little more right now. A little more strong now. But it doesn’t feel wrong now.
How much more long now?
I’m an adult, I want to plead but no sound is coming from my throat. I’m an adult now. It should be finished now.
My mom whispers, “Good night.”
My dad says, “Don’t stop the fight.”
But there’s just too much white.
It’ll be white until I give up the fight.