It must have been Great Lakes Christian College week here at the blog. In fact, it’s been girl’s dorm, 3rd floor week! All three stories are inspired by my Nunnery Sisters from the old college days (why called the Nunnery? Cause boys weren’t allowed up there.). Kelly Haven lived on the other side of the 3rd floor…and I think I may have bummed pizza off her a few times. Mary Anderson lived next door to me my freshman year (and roomed with me that summer). And now, Carrie Leazenby. Ah. My sophomore roommate. I am proud to say that I was her last roommate before she got hitched. Well, here’s Carrie’s story idea…
Setting: Normal, IL; Modern Times
Conflict: Mentally ill, no one knows. She tells everyone that she’s dying of cancer, but that is a lie.
Amelia practiced her cough. It wasn’t raspy enough. Not full of enough rattle and weeze. She walked to the mirror. Watched the face she made when she coughed. It wasn’t strained enough.
The sunken in cheeks would help her case. After months of eating only celery and drinking water, she was finally down to a “sickly” weight. That’s what her mother would have called it, at least.
She rubbed her hand across the smooth skin of her scalp. A few rough spots would need to be shaved. She would be able to let the hair grow back in a few weeks. That’s when her chemotherapy was done. At least that’s what she told her family.
Cancer. All throughout her body. Almost to the bones. Dangerously close to taking over her brain. She wasn’t well. She would die.
That’s what she told them.
Her family gathered around her. They cooked meals for her, paid her bills, held her when she cried. They had fundraisers to pay for her treatment. A 5k run. Coffee cans by gas station registers with her sad, sad story on it.
Amelia is 27 years old. She has lived with a rare form of cancer that the doctors still don’t know how to treat. They’re doing their best with chemo and radiation. But it doesn’t seem to be knocking out this cancer. Please, put a penny or two in this can. It will help us keep fighting to save our daughter’s life. God Bless you.
And a picture of her. Bald head. Missing eyebrows. Smiling weakly. Hugging her niece.
Hundreds of dollars were collected from those cans each month.
Amelia stood, looking in the mirror. She tied a bandanna around her head. Pulled her jacket on.
“Amy,” her mother called from downstairs. “Amy, it’s time to leave for your appointment.”
She walked toward the staircase. Sighed. Slumped her shoulders. Took each step slowly. Deliberately. Let her face droop.
“I’m coming, Mom,” she said, barely above a whisper. “Just gotta catch my breath.”
“Oh, honey.” Her mom walked to the bottom of the steps. “Do you need your inhaler?”
“No. It just makes my stomach upset.”
“Okay. Well, make sure you talk to the doctor about that at your appointment.”
“I will. I have my question list.”
“Do you want me to come in this time. You know. Just sit in the waiting room?”
“No, Mom. You know that makes me nervous.”
“But I have questions for the doctor, too.” She pulled a piece of paper out of her back pocket. “I just want to know how to take care of you when…well…when you can’t do things for yourself.”
“Oh, Mom. I know. And that time might be soon. But I need to talk to the doctor alone.”
“So, you just want me to drop you off again?”
“Yes. I’ll text you when I’m done.”
“Right. I’m sorry.”
Thirty minutes later, Amelia was walking into the office building. She rode the elevator to the third floor. The placard outside the doctor’s office read “Dr. Patti Mackson”.
“Amelia,” the receptionist greeter her. A new receptionist. Amelia had never seen her before. “Have a seat. Dr. Mackson will be right with you.”
Silently, Amelia found a chair and sat. She thumbed through a magazine. Shifted in her seat. Let out a few coughs. Noticed the concerned look on the receptionist’s face.
“Are you okay, dear?” the receptionist asked.
“Cancer,” Amelia answered.
“I don’t have long.” She paused. Coughed again. “I’m sorry.”
“Honey, you’re too young to be so sick.”
“Amelia?” Dr. Patti asked. “Are you ready?”
“God bless you, honey,” the receptionist smiled at her, with pity. “I hope there’s a miracle around the bend just for you.”
Dr. Patti’s office had a few comfortable chairs. One long couch. Amelia figured it was for patients who wanted to lay down. She preferred to sit and clutch a pillow to her stomach.
“How are you doing today, Amelia?” Dr. Patti asked, shutting the door behind her.
“Not so good.” Amelia looked at the floor. “I don’t think I have much longer.”
“Why would you say that?”
“It’s just what I’m feeling.”
“Have you talked to a doctor about that?”
“You’re the only doctor I go to.”
“But I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a psychiatrist. That’s very different.”
Amelia was quiet. She chewed on her bottom lip. Let out a few coughs. “I guess I’m just getting kind of tired.”
“Tired of what?”
“Of living this way.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I need to tell you something.” Amelia sniffed. “I’ve been lying to you.”
“I don’t have cancer.”
Dr. Patti put her hands on her knees. “I suspected that.”
“I don’t know why I lied about it.”
“When did you start telling people you were sick?”
“I don’t know.”
But she did know. Amelia remembered the exact moment. It was when her little brother started coughing. It was raspy, rattly, weezing. Her mother spent hours with him in the bathroom, running the shower as hot as she could, letting the steam fill the house. The little baby was at the doctor’s office a few times each week. The whole world was all about him. All about how sick he was. All about how they needed to keep him alive.
Amelia realized that they loved him so much that they couldn’t bear the thought of him dying.
“Dear God,” she prayed. “Please give me a cough like his. So that I can be loved, too.”
Then that night, that night he coughed so hard. It was so bad. Amelia was only eight. But she knew what was going to happen. She knew that it was over. He was going to die. Her father called for an ambulance. Her mother held the baby so close to herself. Screaming at God. Screaming that it wasn’t right that He was taking her baby.
The ambulance arrived. But it was too late. His cough was gone. His life was done. There was nothing to be done.
When they zipped up the tiny black bag, Amelia tried a cough. It was weak. Thin. Wispy.
It turned no heads. It gained her no attention.
In that moment she knew she had to figure out a way to die. It was the only way to be loved.
And so, she willed herself sick.
For nineteen years she did this. Tried to be loved. Tried to die.
And then it became too much. Doctors wouldn’t see her anymore. They knew what she was doing. Family members were doubting her.
“No one’s that sick all the time,” they would say.
But her mother would stand up for her. Her mother tried to keep her healthy. Happy. Alive.
“I could tell them that I’ve been healed,” Amelia said, looking at Dr. Patti.
“Don’t you think the truth would be better?” Dr. Patti crossed her legs. “They deserve the truth.”
“But they’ll hate me.”
“They might be angry. But I doubt that they’ll hate you.”
“I took all kinds of money from people.”
“What did you do with it?”
“I put it in a box under my bed.”
“You’ll need to pay it back.”
Amelia scrunched up her face. Put her hands on her face. She wept. “What is wrong with me? Why did I do this?”
Dr. Patti grabbed tissues from a box next to her chair and handed them to Amelia.
“What kind of idiot does this to people?” Amelia felt her face, her head. “And shaves off her hair so people believe that she’s dying? God, why did You make me like this?”
Dr. Patti put her hand on Amelia’s shoulder.
“Why did I do this?” Amelia looked up at the doctor. “Why? Can you tell me that?”
“I think all you’ve ever wanted is to be loved.” Patti crouched down next to Amelia. “Right? You wanted people to see you. To know that you’re important.”
“And they never saw me until I pretended to be sick.”
“That’s very sad. It’s very, very sad. I’m so sorry about that.”
Amelia gathered herself. “I need to go.”
She rushed out of the office. Past the receptionist. Down the stairs. Fast. Fast. Into the parking lot. To her mother’s car.
Her mother was inside. Reading a paperback romance novel.
Amelia opened the passenger side door and slipped in.
“That was fast,” her mother said. “Did he answer all your questions?”
“No.” Amelia shut the door and turned sideways in her seat, facing her mother. “I need to tell you something.”
“Oh no.” Her mother sunk into her seat, a look of dread on her face. “Has it spread again?”
“No. No. Listen, Mom,” Amelia said. “I don’t know how to tell you something. But you might be really angry with me.”
“Amy, you can tell me anything.” Her mother reached out a hand, cupped Amelia’s thin cheek. “Whatever it is, we’ll work it out. Nothing you can say is going to make me love you less.”
Amelia sighed. Breathed in deep, warm air. “Mom, I don’t have cancer.”
“What?” Her voice was shaky.
“I never had it.” Amelia felt a tear roll from her cheek to her mother’s hand. “I lied.”
“For all these years?”
“But why? Why would you lie about that?”
“Because I wanted you to love me.”
“You went through all of that just so that I would love you?” Her mother’s face turned down. “Oh, Honey. You didn’t have to do that so that I would love you.”
“But I didn’t know how else to get your attention. When he died…”
“Yes. When he died, I just wanted you to hold me like that. To be so important to you that you would do anything to keep me alive.”
Amelia found herself being held. Cradled, really. In her mother’s arms.
“I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so so sorry.”
“Shh. It’s going to be okay.” Her mother kissed her head. “I am so glad that you aren’t dying.”
Amelia closed her eyes.
For the first time, she was glad, too.