Briel -- The Repercussion
White flakes silently floated wistfully down from the bright night sky until it was melted into oblivion by a heated red light. Warning red circled with piercing white flashing the surrounding houses. The quiet neighborhood was happy and cheerful as Santas perched on snowcapped roofs, evergreen garlands draped over houses topped with bright red bows. Trees dressed in colorful rainbows of lights didn't shirk their happy greeting when the siren faded.
My eyes were closed peacefully, but a painful grimace was permanently etched onto my face. The gurney bumped and squeaked as I was wheeled out of the ambulance into the small neighborhood hospital. My forehead creased as the team of medics moved around me, all wearing expressions ranging from concern to indifference. Guilt set in; it was so close to Christmas and the memory of my family who looked like mannequins that afternoon still burned in my mind.
They had been sitting around me—mother, father, brother—all trying to seem cheerful for the holidays, all keeping a watchful eye on me. My grandmother's afghan kept me warm, a beautiful scarf my mother had purchased was wrapped around my head, hiding what remained of once beautiful brown hair that had cascaded in curls down my back.
First, I remember the pain shooting through my body, contorting my face and putting expressions of alarm on the mannequins. They had tried so hard to make the holidays seem as though nothing had changed for the last year, as I'd requested. They tried so very hard to be happy despite the corpse-like body that sat in the living room now trembling through gritted teeth.
"Briel!" a chorus cried, but I was gone already. My mind had protected me from the pain that raked through my body, the pain of seeing my family standing over me like a macabre tableaux of desperation and love. Desperation to save me.
I was wheeled through the hospital corridors, bright and quiet other than the anxious people that cared for me so. Lazily, I opened my eyes and saw them standing around me, following the gurney down the hall.
It was like the first time, months ago, their anxious nervous faces looking down on me as I was wheeled through a hospital. They had thought I was asleep, but I lay in the dark room of the hospital hearing words thrown around like blood disorder, bone marrow, degeneration. I turned over in the bed, careful to not disturb the clear tubes that pulled at my skin under the thin hospital gown, already acknowledging the inevitable.
I knew the real cause of my illness, though no one would believe it. It was a broken heart. I even remembered looking it up once on the internet and my pathetic feelings were validated. It wasn't as uncommon as I had thought, as I discovered many people had died of a broken heart. It was as if the body could no longer fight against the soul's mystical way of running the body. It was shortly after he had left me that I fell ill. I dare not tell him, I did not want to feel that he would come back only because I was sick.
I had buried my face in the pillow, feeling responsible for my family's sadness. My eyes clenched upon hearing my mother cry in the hallway as the doctor gave her the grave prognosis. My brother, Ehan, had not looked me in the eye since that day. It was as if he knew the real reason and it made him all the more furious.
Slightly, I tilted me head to the side and saw Ehan racing with the bed down the corridor. He was looking at me now and through hazy eyes I saw the love that we had always shared together. I missed those eyes and hated being so detached from my twin, but loved seeing his eyes look upon me for that second until he realized that I had noticed him. The scowl that had creased his face since that first day returned, a mask hiding his true feelings. I tried to reach my hand up to touch his that held the metal bed rail to apologize in a simple touch, but just lifting fingers was too much exertion.
A wet, hot tear burned, fighting to escape my closed eyes; I had never wanted my pain to infect my family, especially during the holidays.
Ehan had always been very protective of me, his little sister—little as of one hour. I had came into the world with a struggle and he thought I had decided to leave it without a fight. Ehan felt that his sister that he had shared so much with had betrayed him. Betrayed him for Caden.
He tried to reason with me; he would say, "Briel, do you really think Caden would want you to give up so easily?" I only turned away from him; I knew he was trying to help me. He later gave in to his frustration and anger. "Briel, he doesn't care for you. He left you. Please, just let him go. Let him go, so you can fight."
I wince at his words. It was true, Caden had left and wouldn't care if I were dead or if I'd found someone else. I hadn't spoken to him since the day he had told me that he wanted to end it. He called it being pragmatic. I have despised that word ever since. Since when do feeling and love have anything to do with pragmatism.. I couldn't blame my brother for his anger. I loved him and I was causing him so much pain.
All my life I had hated the feel of doctor offices and needles, but now I felt nothing. I'd had enough things stuck in me that I felt like a pin cushion. All I wanted were my memories. That was like cupping water to a thirsty mouth, as if my memories of being happy with Caden were enough to heal me.
He had been my morning star and I had been the east waiting for him to rise with his brilliance, bring me joy and happiness, the peace of a new day. Caden had been my personification of love. He had danced through my gardens and plucked my petals. I gave him everything and believed in no obstacles. Nothing could destroy our love, no trouble; no storm cloud would trespass on our blue sky.
Storms had indeed brewed and he had been trapped in a whirlwind of a black cloud. Indecision and suffering were his tumult. I held his hand, always available and open to him, but he closed himself off as he went to the funeral by himself.
He had tried hard to be happy for my sake, to put on a mask of what was, what we had hoped to be, but his indecision and our small hurdles had grown, until there were mountains between us.
Caden decided that being the only member of his family left in our small town was not what he needed. He needed to be near those who loved him unconditionally. My love was not enough for him to fight for.
As I drove him to the airport that spring day, the tree blossoms had colored the sky, raining pink and peach flower petals onto my windshield. He had told me then, dashing my hopes, killing my dreams of future for the two of us. I had thought it was to only be a short break while he took some time to get himself together. I had thought it was indeed a sacrifice to let him go, but what wouldn't I sacrifice for Caden, my Caden? He needed to be near those who could help him.
He said that it was not pragmatic to put off what wouldn't work- he believed we would never work in the end because of the problems that challenged us. Again that word. I hiccupped tears, buried my face into his shoulder. I had tried so hard to keep it light, to help him feel that I would manage while he was gone. Now it was more than a short goodbye; he meant it to be final. I couldn't breathe, my entire system had fought against me, as if the tears swelling inside me prevented air from entering my nose and my eyes burned red.
"I love you, Caden. I am not afraid to say it. I will always be here for you, if you need me, If you want to talk," I had told him as he took his luggage from the trunk of my car. I did not walk beyond the curb. I couldn't.
"I am sorry, Briel," he said. Tears were in his eyes and he had forced them back. "Take care." He had taken his luggage and never turned back.
The nurse took my pulse and then patted my head; she felt sorry for me. Many of them did, seeing a young woman with so much promise have to go through so much suffering as the disease ransacked my body. The physical pain was nothing to me in comparison to the hurt in my soul that battered me everyday.
I reflected n my last words to him. "I will always be here for you." How much time did I have left to keep that promise?
I had a direct pass these days, like the A-listers at night clubs who were ushered ahead of the people waiting behind velvet ropes. I no longer had to wait in emergency rooms, instead I was directed right into the club immediately, but instead of artificial fog and swirling disco lights I was greeted with large machines with tiny blinking lights.
I heard the doctor reassure my mother as she held my father so tightly outside my hospital bedroom, that I would make it through the night. I was stabilized. She whimpered, I could see her without looking, her face buried in his shoulder as he smoothed her hair back and pecked the top of her head with a kiss. My brother stood on the other side of the doctor, still scowling. I allowed myself to drift to sleep, no longer wishing to eavesdrop. , I knew my promise was nearly broken. I felt them smooth my hair back and kiss me goodbye. I wished I had the energy to say I was sorry. Christmas was days away and I had inadvertently ruined the holiday.
A heavy slam hit my lungs in the middle of a blank dream and I woke up coughing, feeling like I had been smite with smoke inside my lungs. Ehan brought a cup of water to my chapped lips and I sipped through the straw. I saw Ehan's eyes downcast, avoiding looking me in the eye while still caring for me. Ehan was hurting the most and it made me both angry and guilty.
"You're a hypocrite, you know," I said to him as he plopped into the seat under the window. I never would have believed he would elect to keep vigil on me when the end approached.
"What do you mean?" His cold voice sliced into me with his distaste for me.
"You broke up with your girlfriend, too. Don't you realize that she could be me?"
His eyes darted quickly to mine and then away as he contemplated that. He stood up and walked back to my bed to help me sit up. He managed that without engaging in eye contact. "She broke up with me."
It was true, I shrugged. She was upset with him for his preoccupation with my illness and she felt left out. She gave him an ultimatum he would never been able to honor thus she left him. I felt bad for trying to pick a fight. Trying to pick a fight with my brother was futile, as he had mastered the art of hardly speaking to me. A fight would have been major progress since our last conversation before that spring day at the airport.
"Thank you," I said, still feeling guilty that I had brought up his girlfriend. Even though I miss my brother's company, I knew he would do anything. He suffered to give me a bone marrow transplant though it didn't work. Marrow wouldn't heal the broken flesh of the heart.
"Please go back to her," I said. I never liked his girlfriend, she seemed beneath my brother, but I could understand her pain. I was in her shoes not to long ago and I couldn't fault her for trying to help him to move on.
"Briel, go to sleep."
"Ehan, she is hurting. Don't hold this against her. I under-"
"Briel," his eyes flashed angrily at me. "Enough! Do not compare her to this mess with Caden." Upon saying Caden's name his voice was dripping with absolute contempt.
My eyes drifted to the thin white hospital blanket that barely warmed me. "I am sorry," I whispered. He didn't respond, only swung his leg over the arm rest to find a comfortable position in his makeshift bed.
I slept through most of the next day unable to keep track with who came and left from the post under the window. I remembered sleepy conversations of how life was when I was a child. Happy stories my designated sitter would reflect on, more for their benefit than my. They tried to keep the atmosphere light but the burdening guilt weighed everything down.
Ehan had said that I should have moved on. Years ago he used to tease me as a late bloomer to finding love. I had never had a boyfriend or anyone who displayed any interest in me other than the chance to be my first. I took a long labored breath; no, he wouldn't dare tease me about anything let alone being a late bloomer. I even missed his teasing.
My mom burst into the room, and her face wore the mask. A hideous mask of happiness but the hollow eyes could not hide the heartrending sadness underneath. She carried a small artificial Christmas tree that had LED lights for twigs. She plugged it into the wall, placing it on the window sill behind the chair. The branches looked like melting light that grew brighter in intensity in green and then meted into pink, blue, red and white.
"It's not much, but I thought I could bring some Christmas cheer to this room," she said cheerfully, but her body couldn't hide its apprehension. Her hands were stuffed into her coat pockets, her foot tapping nervously on the tile. She exhaled finally, releasing whatever grave ideas she was thinking and sat on the bed. Her motherly hands putting my imaginary hair behind my ear. "We just have to get through Christmas, hey?" Her smile was more a grimace. "And then spring." She arched a hopeful eyebrow.
I took her hand into my own. "Yes, Mom. I am sorry I ruined the holiday."
"Nonsense. The holiday is about family. Friends. L-" she stopped herself. My entire family knew my heartache and I felt bad when she looked back at me with apologetic eyes.
"No, your right," I encouraged her. "That is exactly what the Christmas is. It is the expression of love."
My mom smiled, her eyes hopeful again.
I spent Christmas Eve moving from nurse to doctor to specialist. I was passed around like a hot potato. Each moved about my body which was less and less my own and then tossing me to the next, not willing to let my death happen on their watch.
Death. I rarely let the word come into my mind. I had adopted other phrases such as passing on, sleeping. My brother would let one phrase pass his lips angrily as he dreamed: "giving up". I didn't see it as giving up. I wanted to wait, to be available for him, to live. But everything had a road of its own, a path I had never thought to take. I paid no mind to the timeline the doctors had given my parents, every hour was like a day, every minute like an hour.
"A week," I heard him say and my mother gasp, crying into my father's shoulder. Even though I did not see them. I knew that my twin stalked away.
"Ehan, remember when we made gingerbread cookies for Santa? And when we snuck out of bed in the middle of the night, we found mom and dad sitting on the couch. Mom's legs were over dad's lap while he fed her our cookies for Santa," I said to Ehan, the current occupant of the death watch post. He was the only one who did not engage in reminiscing.
"You charged at mom and dad, saying that Santa was going to take them off the good list for stealing his cookies." I waited for him to finish the story, but he only sighed heavily looking out the window while snowflakes fell past. "And then you saw the tree was filled with presents. I don't think you ever believed in Santa again despite mom and dad telling you that Santa said he was allergic to ginger." I laughed slightly but he did not join in. I sighed.
"Ehan, I'm sorry," I said to him, my hands tracing the patterns on the blanket. "I am trying to fight—to live."
He didn't respond and a louder sigh than I wanted passed over my lips. I fell back against the pillows that propped me up. I grabbed the television remote and flipped through the stations, when Ehan's hand startled me, touching my hand with the remote. Tears were streaking his face which pushed me aback.
"Briel, I'm sorry,," Ehan was looking me in the eye for the first time since he learned I was dying.
The nurse came in, interrupting our reunion. She placed my dinner on the hospital table and wheeled it nosily to my bed.
Ehan huffed a smile, his eyes were happy for the first time when he lift the lid to the meal. He picked up a little gingerbread boy I was allowed for dessert.
"Give it to Santa," I smiled and watched as he took the small plate and placed the little confection smiling man underneath the Christmas tree.
I slowly ate my holiday meal. Bland turkey, white meat and steamed carrots. A nurse returned and asked for my brother. He stood, patting me on the head as I absently ate my meal.
It took me awhile to realize the commotion outside my door was coming from my brother. His voice was filled with heat.
"No, you may not. Only family. Stop him. I don't want him in there!" I heard my brother shuffle against the window that looked into the hospital nursing station. I heard his body hit the wall besides the door. "Damn you. Stop. You've done enough." Then I heard the frantic squeak of shoes running towards my door, just as my door swung open.
The light from the hallway flooded into my room. He stood there, his hair covered with crystal snowflakes, a small, perfectly square wrapped box in his hands and perfect smile on his lips. My heart stopped. I couldn't move. Then, hands seized his shoulders, pulling him from my door.
I smiled grimly at his struggle against the hands that held him down. His face was filled with pain as one of the orderlies had clenched his arm, twisting it behind his back as they tossed him to the floor. His perfect face was red as tried to ease their hold on him..
I reveled in seeing him in pain, my arms crossed my chest while I watched him with dark eyes. I noticed the surprised nurse behind her desk, the receiver to her ear while her other hand dialed the police. I hoped.
Her eyes were glued to the fight in front of her desk. This was indeed justice. I stood smugly over his body until I heard the blood-curdling scream that always sent my heart racing. I was back in the room only steps ahead of the nurses. My twin sat up in her bed, her body glistening with sweat screaming, "No!".
I thought she was in pain, that seeing that bastard on the ground had finally made her system give out. But as my ears adjusted, I realized my celebration was short lived. She was begging—no, screaming—for him.
"You have to calm down or everyone will leave," the nurse warned her as she tried to calm Briel.
I hated seeing my sister through the wall of white coats that always surrounded her. It made me nervous as they inspected her. I had long ago realized when a team of doctors surrounded her, it wasn't good.
Four months ago, when I had come out from the anesthesia, the nurses wheeled me down the hospital hall to visit her, the shroud of doctors limited my view. My marrow was the closest match. I had shared my life with Briel, my mother's womb. We had shared everything that helped us live, but now she struggled and my marrow was rejected.
My eyes darted away when the white cloud dissipated. I hated this, seeing her so dead. Every time I'd look at her it tore at my heart. Her shallow, dark circled eyes pleaded.
"Please, I want to see him," she directed her request towards the nurses but I knew she was talking to me.
I ran away from the door as he gathered himself to his feet. His perfectly wrapped box had been crushed in the rumble. As my former friend walked through the hospital door, I saw Briel light up, honestly light up for the first time in seven months.
She had tried to live for us, had put on a brave face, but that was like a candle to her now-luminous countenance upon seeing him. Caden—I felt sick just thinking his name—held the rumpled gift in his hand as he took tentative steps towards my sister. His face was at first with joy but with each step closer it transformed into my family's permanent expression of utter helplessness and concern.