I have been here for a month. I´m not allowed to leave the 8th floor. The treatments I´m on lower in my immune system. It gets so low that I can´t fight off viruses or infections. Ever see “The boy in the bubble”? That’s me, except I’m a girl named Sara and my bubble is the 8th floor of University of Washington’s Critical Care Unit. Don’t worry about me being stuck here, I have a great view. Out my window is the concrete and windows of the building across from me where murders and hardcore sex never happen. There is one window, if you walk down the hall, that looks out at what I think is Lake Union. I´m not really sure. It is a huge Lake, filled with sparkles, my favorite color, and kayaks, my favorite yak. Anyway, they took me downstairs like ¾ into my sentence so I could get some testing, or something done, and I was looking out the window at a bunch of trees. Not quite a forest or even a grove. I don’t know what classifies a grove, but this little patch wasn´t. I don’t even know why, but it made me cry. I didn’t even have the time to process, here are some trees and that makes me feel…??? Nope, just started crying and felt kinda overwhelmed by it.
I’m sure there are hospital rooms from other bubble girls that have great views. Mine doesn’t. Just concrete buildings, windows, no murders. No crazy sex parties. Believe me, I waited. Entertain me in a strange building! Instead, my window was like a television that got stuck on the infomercial channel or worse, the surveillance footage of the garage.
Watching again early in the morning, I gazed expectantly at my usual spot. I wasn’t sleeping well tonight. I never slept well, even before I was sick. It wasn’t uncommon for a sleepless night to turn into daylight. Standing in a daylight place that I wasn’t expecting, there was a girl. The curtain was drawn, she stood on the other side, a silhouette framed by beige folds of apartment life.
Like a cat in the window, she started out into the world. Too early for cartoons, probably not allowed to make noise in the house. She had on dino pajamas. Cartoon characters from a show I can’t quite remember the name of. Extinction Buddies? Jurassic Jimmy? I waved, she didn´t.
I realized then, that she had the same dismal view as me. Concrete building. The tough depressed me. Two solitary strangers disappointed in what they see in each other, neither conceiving they were both too similar. In that silence, the people window watch.
Tired for waiting for something to give, I left my dino – clad stranger to her own devices. She´ll be ok without me, I thought. I pulled away from my perch, unvelcroing my ass from the windowsill. Committed to rebellion, to not be like my silent stranger. I can make as much damn noise in the house as I want. That thought alone made me feel very adult. I have leukemia and I´m a big girl. I pulled the door shut as quietly as I could. People in the Hospital are sleeping. The rebellion will start tomorrow. I pinky promise. I slipped down the wall, and even though some of the doors are open, I try to not look in. Some things you can´t un-see. tubes, ventilators, IV drip lines beep, drip, and weez by a symphony of sickness for the cancer harmonics. Death is a very musical people. Seeing a room is not what I am afraid of though.
Making eye contact with another patient, that’s what scares me. People in the Critical Care Unit know that they might only have a few weeks to live. The sickest ones have a certain look to them. You’ll know when you see that look. You won’t want to see it again. I train my eyes down on the evenly spaced hospital linoleum tiles, counting squares as I pass. It’s heavily polished. I can see an amorphous reflection of a girl in a gown hovering below me with each step, bound to my feet. That’s me. Sick girl Sara Launching her escape. I notice the floor has an unrealistic shine to it. Like the health of the floor is equal to the health of the people. Which isn’t true, because this is a nice freaking floor that lies, but like any deception it continues for the sake of other feelings.
Things are ok.
Things are fine.
Things are great.
Wait, They´re not.
This life is really disappointing,
And it could have been better.
I liked living you in the beginning.
You don’t still like me?
Why, what happened?
I got to know you.
I cringe at my imaginary conversation, life let me down. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Jessica told me this was my fate; things were meant to happen like this. She’s a bitch. We don’t talk anymore. That was our last conversation. I really don’t believe in fate. I told her so. I can´t stand the idea of a world where I don’t have control of what happens. I see a cart loaded with red jello. I steal some. I wonder if fate saw that coming.
I don’t eat jello. There never really is a good time for it. I liked it when I was younger. I really did. But then I didn’t. You just stop one day. When you´re a kid, you like it. Sometimes you insist on eating it. When you start again, it’s not a treat anymore. It’s not a snack time, it’s a final concession made in a dimly lit old folks home. That’s where you meet jello again. Might as well be accepting a bar of soap at an Auschwitz camp.
In turn the cool plastic container over in my hands. I was originally convinced that stealing the jello would make it taste better. I can’t tell thought. I lose my appetite and I throw the infernal container away with conviction. Another patient sees me. From her wheelchair, she smiles an applauds a little with her weak hands. The most amount of triumph per square inch in this whole hospital. I don’t feel hungry, but I feel better. I can feel jello in the trash can gleaming to tell me why it matters.
Jello: Don´t walk away.
Me: Or What?
Jello: We could fix this
Me: We don’t have do
Jello: I could change
Me: Not to me
Jello: I can give you what you need
Me: Are you sure to know what I need?
Jello: I won´t let your down
Me: I don´t care, not about you
I kick the jello cart, as I walk by.
Fuck the jello.
My adrenaline pumps, everything sharpens like a broken church window. I no longer smell the Vick´s vapor rub and lemon Pledge of the hospital. I smell freedom. I smell freedom from you oppressive bitches.
I walk back quickly. Not so quickly that anybody could suspect something. Walking more casual than a 1970´s Carlito’s Way extra, I passed the nurse’s station. Just cruisin ya crazy dames.
We all smile back. I am sure that neither one of us means it. I hold my breath the whole time. Spots cross my eyes as hit the blind spot.
In the clear. The perfect crime. I see the woman in the wheelchair. My applauding friend. Her usual place in my life. Like the parent that I always wished would encourage me. You’re doing great Sara. The two of us, we have a secret. She knows about the jello. I wink at her. She smiles back. Triumph by the square inch.
I´m outta here Maude.
I’m sure that’s not her name,
But I call her that in my head.
You give me hell Sara!
I pass here in silence, I will give them hell.
Back in my room, I have the closet open and I am shedding hospital garb for an escape survival suit. Grey fleece pullover. Pink pj´s with Johnny Cash printed all over them, my favorite pants.
Wig? Bandanna? Quicksilver beanie? My choices for head gear. Bald girls need headgear. I grab the beanie. Crimes of the Century need stealthiness. I pull it down over my ears, look in the mirror, make my best robber face.
Sara, you can do this.
The beanie makes your eyes look good.
You’re so vain.
That’s just something pretty people say. I tease.
Cancer makes me full of myself. Back to my best robber face. Time to go. I start down the hall with my head down. Don´t talk to me. I project, hoping for Obi wan kenobi mind control. The nurses, they fight me. My mind control doesn’t work. The nurses know something is afoot. They call out to me.
Don´t give them too much information.
Where are you going?
On a Walk.
Ok, three words, good job Sara.
Make sure you´re back by eleven.
They need me back for chemo. Chemotherapy, I don’t want to do. It feels like injecting death. Watching that red line creeping toward me, I am never more aware of how sick I am. I hate it. Sure, I´ll run back to die faster, I think to myself.
Whatever see you.
I mumble as the elevator doors close. I´m not coming back. I stepped out into the font foyer, passing new incoming prisoners. Wish you luck. Entering the old world that forgot about me, I step through the doorway and the movie transforms from grey technicolor. Alive again. This is the time of day when the concrete buildings cast their longest shadows. My time. The electric doors slide shut behind me, as if the hospital was ready to complete its rejection. Ok, leave then.
Which way do I go? Questioning my new independence. I´m not from the city, but I was born for exploration. Anywhere but here Sara. I pointed my toes in the first direction and started to walk. I stopped by a burrito stand. Mmmmm food.
What d’ya recommend?
The Wake and Bake.
Ok. Gimme that.
Can I Get that without the burrito?
The girl laughed. I got a pretty dope sense of humor. Checking to see if anybody else heard, my new secret accomplice charged me less than the price on the sign. Burrito in one hand and change in the other, I walked by a balloon vendor.
We traded. I sat down on some stone steps feeling their coolness on the back of my things, handful of balloon strings, eating a burrito. Appreciating my independence, thinking to myself, now this is living.
From behind me, a noise closing the distance like a dolphin searching out prey with sonar clicks. Click, click, clickty, click. Not a dolphin but the usual suspect of unusual proportions, The rhythmic music of sexy shoes hitting the concrete and timing itself with my bites. A midget prostitute wobbled toward me. She was decked out in a short white skirt and pink halter top.
Her comment makes me instantly insecure. This tiny jerk. Everything shrinks to a point. Maybe she’s complimenting me on my chic choice of hand accessory, but it feels like it´s at my expense. Old grade school bullies flood my head as thirty of the meanest children chant:
Might as well be kill yourself. What do you ya mean, nice balloons, I growl in my head.
I attempt to counter against my tiny aggressor.
The prostitute gushed.
You could tell she wasn’t used to people being nice to her. I feel like an ass. This midget prostitute is really sweet. She didn’t mean anything by what she said. Sometimes we have people pegged wrong. I´d love a balloon. She nodded her oversized head toward the police station. I just got out, solicitation in the third degree. I nodded my head toward the hospital. Got out too, tired of the jello.
We laughed together. Gallows humor. I held out a green balloon as an offering of peace, though for a second, then offered the rest of my burrito too. Jail food is terrible. Even worse than hospital food. The prostitute eagerly took the burrito and the balloon. Hey, cool pants man. I love Johnny Cash.
She spun on her heel with a ballerina’s ease and walked of sashaying with her green balloon. I smiled inwardly. I just met the patron saint of tiny sluts. I will always think of her when I see a green balloon.
I got up with newfound energy and walked in the other direction. When I got to the bridge, I hesitated. There wasn’t a sign saying cross at your own risk, but it felt like there was. Like crossing in would involve serious peril. What am I doing? I´m not afraid to cross. I´m not afraid of anything. However, I was a little concerned about the homeless man at the mouth of the bridge. He was intensely moving around an imaginary ball of energy. I crossed to the other side. Girls with balloons know better.
Stopping halfway across the bridge, I looked out at the grey water below me, then up at the silver sky. The water that stretched below me, then up at the silver sky. The water and clouds clumped together like colorless blobs of playdough. Feeling inspired to add some color to this plain backdrop, I released a purple balloon, watching it float up and then get carried away by the wind. Then I released a blue one, watching it go through the same process. One after another, streaming up and away. Until I had only one left. The black one. I can give everything up, except you black balloon. Me and you to the end. I turned my eyes away from the sky. Sashayed across the bridge. It doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make me unhappy either. The patron saint of dying girls.
The sad faces of the city surrounded me as the world died amongst my newfound madness.
The neighborhoods became more rural the further north I traveled. Concrete buildings, parking meters and fire hydrants transformed into town houses, front lawns and garden gnomes. Just a girl with a shaved head and a black balloon, nothing to be alarmed about suburbia.
This one is much stranger than the other. Ancient. Stone lions and stone carvings gracing the handrails. I like this bridge. I walked across, alone. In the middle, I stopped. Learning over the edge on my tippy toes, I looked down at the 150 ft drop. A bike path running through the lowest point, a woman and her child walking through it. I could end it here. No more chemo. No more cancer. No more Sara. Just. Jump. I pictured myself sprawled out below, lying askew on the bike path. The woman and her child running to my crumpled body screaming, “Somebody please help!”, I lived a good life. The people left would cry. But they always cry. Would this be any worse than my family watching me waste away? I took one of my rings off. The silver one with the emerald. My grandma gave me this ring before she died. It always reminded me of her. Clutching it in my right hand, I felt it press a circular groove in the soft skin of my palm. I opened my hand to look at it. The groove already bruising a fleshy purple ring. I was always bruising. It´s from my lack of platelets. Stupid leukemia. Angrily I hucked the ring, watching it tumble into the trees. I´ll never see you again. A piece of me disappearing. One by one, rings, watch, necklace tumbling away. Each relieving me like weights that used to keep me bound to the ground. Without them, less and less of me existed. I could be airborne. Tears streaming across my swollen red face. Fuck these rings. Fuck cancer. Fuck jello. It’s so unfair, I don’t want to die.
I was crying so hard, I didn’t even see the woman walk up beside me- She had an enormous yellow umbrella blooming above her.
Oh, sweetie, Don´t cry.
I stared at her bewildered,
Blinking through my tears at this kind face.
I just can’t, I just can’t do it.
I blubbered out.
I´m so scared.
The woman nodded her head in agreement. It is hard.
What scares you the most? She asked.
I have leukemia.
You´re scared of leukemia?
No, not leukemia.
I took a breath.
She smiled and patted me on the arm.
Everybody dies sweetie.
I don’t have any kids.
I haven’t paid for my house.
My dogs will be left alone.
People will watch me suffer.
There’s so much I want to do.
The lady with the yellow umbrella stood, nodding in agreement. She leaned, looking over the edge of the bridge and then back at me. I lost my sons in the war. I was a mother, and then I wasn´t. Their laughter didn´t fill up my home. Their muddy shoes didn´t dirty my carpet. I never thought I could get over it. I wanted to die. I begged the Lord to let it be me instead of them. I came to this same bridge to end it.
You were going to kill yourself?
Life is hard.
It can also be beautiful.
More than we expected.
That day I didn’t end my life on the bridge. I came here and realized I wasn’t living without them; I was living for them. I have a new responsibility. Every morning, I come here to remind myself of my boys, of the days that I have to appreciate life. I know I can do it. I can be brave. Life is hard. It’s always hard, but you too can be brave. You are stronger than you imagine, I can see the strength in your eyes. The woman with the yellow umbrella put her hand on my chest and I felt the fear go out of me, like she poked a hole in the bottom of a milk carton of grief. She comforted me in a way I can´t explain.
I was lying.
It started raining. Huge drops beginning to come down.
Ruefully, I muttered to myself.
It’s always raining.
She told me.
She winked and handed me her umbrella.
Here, this will keep you dry.
And that black balloon,
Give me that awful thing.
I handed it to her.
What about the umbrella?
Won’t you get rained on too?
Smiling and holding the black balloon in her hands.
No, I like the rain.
It reminds me I am alive.
Now get along. I need some time alone. Unable to deny her sweet request, I couldn’t refuse. I turned and walked back toward the hospital. Spinning my new yellow umbrella, I grinned. The patron saint of living girls. I looked back at my mysterious stranger, now just a speck at the midpoint of the bridge. She had the balloon held above her head showing it to the sky, with the rain pouring and thunder cracking. Without warning, the balloon exploded in her hands, shreds flying about. From where I was, I heard her laughing, with her face to the rain.
By: Paul Thorsteinson