She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars. She’d spent many nights looking at them with her little brother, the budding astronomer. She, however, wanted to be a veterinarian or a mermaid.
She was a child not unlike any other on her block. Pigtails, knee-socks, and squeals of delight reserved for puppies, ice cream, and the sight of daddy coming home. She got good grades to her brother’s displeasure. He struggled but got by thanks to his sister. Each progressed through grades separated by a year with countless nights spent at the dining room table struggling through multiplication tables, state capitals, and presidents. She made flash cards for her brother to quiz him, Mom popped popcorn on the stove for them, and Dad watched Johnny Carson to ease away his day. When they finished, her brother would point-out constellations if the weather cooperated.
* * * * * * *
Middle school separated them that year but they still walked together since it was only out of her way by a few blocks.
“I’m here,” she always said. “You’ll be fine.”
Time passed and thoughts turned to Halloween, haunted houses, and candy! The crunch of stiff grass underfoot signaled fall’s first frost. He coughed in the morning’s darkness.
“Breathe in through your nose, silly,” she’d reminded.
The gurgle of his nose prompted a Kleenex from her pocket.
“Danks,” he offered and she laughed.
The icy street behind them had silenced everything until tires struck the curb. In a flash, he was gone. A shred of Kleenex was the broken bond in her mittened hand and she ran into the Thomas’ yard to his side. Tears slid down her cheeks, and then swirled down his – she fainted away.
* * * * * * *
Days turned to weeks which turned to years and the cards from school stopped long before her last visitor. Many lifetimes ago she had been curious about what happened in the spaces between light where her mind danced. She no longer wondered.
She regretted every time she’d slept-in or played sick to stay home in bed.
“I’m disappearing in plain sight,” she thought.
Her mother exhausted herself through devotion and spoke to her as though she was awake. Oddly, she heard everything. Her mother’s voice floated to her in the darkness. Her father never spoke but did watch Jay Leno at night in her room. She’d have given anything to squeal at his sight again even though she was far too old for that now.
Her brother came but never spoke with their parents and it felt different. He could hear her and, at times, their conversations were all that kept her going. He told her when their mother was sick and he told her when she passed. Their father passed soon after but not before speaking to her through his tears. His heart was unable to withstand the pain of his life and his body soon followed. All was lost from this reality save the memories of laughing and playing.
She clung to simple childhood memories though she couldn’t choose what stayed and what faded away.
* * * * * * *
Their conversations increased in the absence of everyone else. Doctors and nurses spoke to each other but unless it was time to change a bag or bathe her, she never heard anyone.
He’d once told her, “You’re my head, you’re my heart.” He had no plans on leaving her alone and defenseless but he was helpless and it killed him. Orderlies came for the beautiful young woman that was his sister in the middle of the night once. Her crying brought him to her. He screamed in anger but only she heard him so he took her mind somewhere else.
It was his breaking point and he could take no more.
“It’s time for you to wake up,” he told her the next day.
“Trust me, sis. I won’t have much time to look into your bright blue eyes when you wake.”
Her eyes blinked and revealed the blurry ICU room she’d called home for years. ICU had no windows and there was no light.
“I’m here,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”
She looked into the child’s eyes and they locked a moment before he floated away as points of light that glimmered and faded. Tears streamed down the sides of her face and into her ears.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars. She knew she’d never see them the same again.