There was a time in my life when strep throat was the worst case scenario. I was a six year old girl who adored school and hated doctors, especially doctors who wanted to steal me away from darling Ramona Quimby, Age 8 to ram oversized q-tips down my throat.
My brother, the smart whipper-snapper he was, also dreaded strep throat. For him, it was the antibiotics. Can I pause for a moment to tell you that this boy also possessed a gift from the metabolic Gods in that he did not enjoy SWEETS? Ahem.
So, when presented with liquid torture also known as children’s antibiotics, lured with flavors of “pink bubblegum!” and “strawberry milkshake!,” the candied disguise he hated anyway, we cried in unison for sweet Ramona Quimby to rescue us.
One winter night, the situation was especially bleak. Four-year-old, strep-throat-diagnosed Kendall resisted the prescribed medicine like a champ, pulling out just the right amount of tears and kicks to send our family’s dinnertime peace into an immediate nosedive. A professional, I tell you.
“You’ll love the pink bubblegum!,” my parents pleaded.
“Your favorite—strawberry milkshake!,” they lied.
He needed backup. Enter six-year-old sister to the rescue. I jumped into the middle of the spat, motioning for Kendall to climb on my back. Piggybacked and void of socks, jackets or plans, I opened the door and whispered “We’re running away. I won’t let them get you.”
Now, when I wake up and see there’s no one to carry on my back, I worry I broke this promise.
At worst, I wonder if my fear of losing my brother spoke it into existence.
At best, I hate I wasn’t there to wedge myself between him and the pain.
Yet, each time I rehearse these thoughts, I come face to face with someone who’s still here.
The six year old girl who adored school and hated doctors.
The one who thought strep throat was the worst.
The six year old girl who adored her brother and hated his pain.
The one who knew losing him would be the real worst.
Her name is sister.
Sister hides in the wings. I’m not sure she knows the story has been rewritten; her role excluded. I’m too scared to break the news of her brother’s death, and consequently, her own.
She’s waiting with her knees bent, ready for someone to hop on her back. She doesn’t know any other stance.
I won’t get rid of her, but can’t distract her for much longer.
“Pink bubblegum!” “Strawberry milkshake!”, I attempt, to no effect.
She’s on to me. Her hands are empty, the weight on her back light. I want to give her Ramona. I want to give her someone, but I can’t give her a brother. Sister is uncharacteristically quiet, tiptoeing around, knowing the power she has to break my very days in half. She misses him.
It’s then I realize I’ve spent so much time protecting her, that I’ve forgotten to mention I really miss her, too.