Waiting for the Cart of God

7 Feb

It’s Wednesday morning, perhaps one of Ashley’s last in this world. She wakes up at home, as she prefers, under her pink covers. She wasn’t the girly type until her hair had fallen out, leaving her with a bald head like a middle aged man. She felt old too. And in a sense, she was, despite her being only eleven years old. She knew she didn’t have much time left long before the doctors told her and her parents. She felt it. Call it intuition. Little girls with cancer bloom like orchids that haven’t been watered properly.

There was something wrong from the moment she was born. Her white blood cell count was far too low. She wasn’t developing properly. Her body was aging rapidly, but her mind was too. She discovered things about life in such a short amount of time that most people miss in a lifetime. She had learned it was a gift, but one that could be taken back at any moment. She learned her life wasn’t hers to live. It was only temporary, a sweet hint of what life would taste like if she wasn’t facing death every day.

She wished to come home, to stay home for however long she was given. She wanted to wake up in her bed, and perhaps die in her bed. She wanted to have a choice in something. She was graceful in her attempts to keep breathing, to keep her heart beating. But her body was becoming weaker and frailer every day.

She spends a lot of time vomiting and coughing recently, fighting to stay awake as long as her heavy eyes would allow her. It was only a matter of time. But still, she tried to be strong for her parents. She had to be. In her heart, she knew this was killing them more than it was killing her. And once she died- it’d destroy them. She saw it every night when her mother kissed her forehead, gently rubbing her cold, bald head, swallowing back the tears. She felt it in her father’s hugs, once strong and overbearing, now soft as a predator afraid to hurt the lamb. They reminded each other ‘I love you’ as often as possible, but somehow, it would never be enough.

She was swallowing back vomit as her mother came into her room with water and pills.

“Good morning honey. Are you ready?” her mom asked.

The little girl nodded. Her mother helped her up and got her dressed, letting her pick out her own clothes for the day. She knew Ashley liked to be as independent as possible. Any choices she could make on her own, her mother allowed it. How could she not? It was hard enough to see her only daughter dying, let alone become so helpless in her last days. It was her job as a mother to give her as much happiness as she could, though she knew there wasn’t much to give. They had to go to the cancer treatment facility today, again, like so many other days.

They bundled up in jackets, hats and gloves. Once properly dressed, her mother helped walk her to the car. She had gotten most of the frost off the car from the ventilating heat warming it up. Still, it was a cold morning. The air had a bitter chill to it lately, freezing them to the bone and making them wish for better days. Ashley’s mother reminded her to buckle up before she pulled out of the driveway and headed to the cancer treatment center.

As they pulled in, Ashley’s mother walked her to the door where they had a nurse with a wheelchair waiting for them. Ashley smiled at her and sat in it, embarrassed, wishing she had the strength to walk around this building attached to the hospital. Why would they make it so large knowing so many sick, sick people would come here so often?

As her mother wheeled her into the treatment room, her nurse came to hook her up to the IV’s so she could receive her chemotherapy for the day. When the drip started, her mother sat down in her chair and leaned back, looking at her baby with heartache that most mothers didn’t have to feel. Despite the bitter pain, she had felt lucky all along to have a child with such a huge heart and love for life. She had compassion and joy that most healthy people didn’t seem to have. It was something she’d never fully understand. She often blamed herself, wondering if she did something wrong during her pregnancy, wondering if she had failed as a mother and a wife.

The room had a few other patients, some as weak as Ashley, but much older in age. Others were only beginning their treatments, and looked at Ashley with fear and trepidation, hoping one day they wouldn’t look as ill as her. They regretted the thought almost as instantly as it entered their minds.

Two nurses came in, wheeling the green floral cart they brought in every day, bearing cancer gifts for the patients. On it were two bald mannequin heads, with a colorful scarf on one and a ridiculous hat on the other. There were shoes and jewelry. Anything to make girls with cancer feel pretty again.

“Do you have a miracle on there today?” Ashley asked them.

The one nurse smiled apologetically. “Not today, honey. But maybe God has one in store for you.”

Ashley laughed a little, flashing them a broad contagious smile. Her mother laughed too as she shook her head. She’d miss her sense of humor, the effortless way she had about her to make people smile.

Ashley closed her eyes and tilted her head back in her uncomfortable chair. She thought of that cart, of God pushing it Himself. He came in, bearing gifts of age and normalcy. He had health on that cart. He had best friends for her to play with. There was a dog, the family pet she always wanted, and her parents wouldn’t have to worry about him biting or hurting her because she’d be strong now. There was hair, long brown and curly. Not a wig, but her own, all for her. There were future Christmas’s and birthdays on that cart. She smiled as she took a deep breath and coughed.

Did she believe in God? Sure she did. She felt she had to. Because there was no other reason she could think of why she was born this way. She didn’t feel it was a punishment, so it must have been for some greater purpose, a divine path that she was meant to take. The pain, the sorrow, the fear, it was given to her by someone. And it could be taken just as fast. Maybe she was given this fate so someone else could avoid it. If there wasn’t a God, that’d mean this was all for nothing.

After her treatment, her mother wheeled her outside. The long wall outside was full of victims and survivor’s writings in different colored markers. She took a hot pink marker and wrote:

I am so grateful to God…I’m still alive!

 

 

*Sorry if this is a little depressing. I wrote this short story after taking my mother to an oncology center. It was such an overwhelming experience, I cried. There was a wall in the hallway where patients could write things. And I saw this line “I am so grateful to God…I’m still alive!” and it moved me to tears. I imagined who wrote it. The way they must live every day, wondering if it’s their last day here. While it’s depressing, it was a wake up call. I’m lucky to be healthy. I’m grateful for that. To see people who are so sick, and still smiling, really touched me. So please, don’t take life for granted. Not today. Not ever. I know it’s hard because life gets in the way and reminds us we have things to be ungrateful for, but they’re usually insignificant. Take advantage of the fact that you’re healthy and able to do what you love. And go out and do it. For me, it’s writing. What is it for you?

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