August 22nd, 2002


The Ocean

As the saying goes, shit happens. And I’ve always been of the opinion that when it does, more often than not, it happens to good people.

Back when my baby sister was around three years old, I had this nightmare where we’re standing on a pier. Then, right in front of me, she falls into the dark, cold water below. I jump into the ocean after her. It’s night, the water is murky, and I can’t find her.

Until she learned to swim several years later, that image of her falling into black nothingness would pop up every once in a while, and I’d shake it off like a small headache. I’d imagine most guys with baby sisters are a bit overprotective, and this is fueled – in part – by the belief that our baby sisters are highly vulnerable creatures who can be easily harmed by the bad evil things that roam the Earth. Like asshole boyfriends, LA drivers or grizzly bears.

But it’s the smaller things you can’t protect her from.

On my baby sister’s birthday, something that was initially diagnosed as an easily treatable illness took a turn for the worse. Her lower abdomen was experiencing a significant amount of swelling to the point where she couldn’t even fit in her own pants. My mom rushed her to the hospital. And that’s when shit happened.

The doctors detected a mass about the size of an orange around the uterus and left ovary. My baby sister was amazingly calm. I told her everything would turn out fine. I didn’t say this just to make her feel better. I utterly, positively, absolutely believed this. There’s a part of me that sometimes tries to will things to happen. Occasionally it works, like when Stanford came from 8 points down with 30 seconds left to beat Cal. And there are times it doesn’t, like when Bush got elected. But at that moment, it was all I could do.

I spent the rest of the evening researching on the Internet, reading as much as I could on "uterine fibroids," "ovarian cysts," etc. My eyes blocked out the words "malignant" and "cancerous." Those two words could go to fucking hell.

She broke down and cried. And the part that tore me up was that she kept trying to apologize for doing so. I told her to cry as much as she possibly could. It was all I could do to make her feel better. "Cry," I said. "Cry it all out." And then I stopped talking, because of the knot in my throat.

She was feeling better. Morphine can do that for a girl.

While driving to the hospital, Louis Armstrong pissed me off.
"And I think to myself, what a wonderful world," he sang.
"You’re full of shit," I replied.
I found myself having a lot of one-sided conversations lately. Whether it was swearing at my car’s CD player, talking to the mirror as I washed my hands, or staring at the ceiling from my bed at 3am. Surprisingly, quite a bit of the time, I’m praying to God.

What makes it so surprising is that I’m not what you call a devout Christian. Technically, I’m not even sure I even fall under the Christian category. But religion is what people turn to when they’re in a situation they can’t control or understand. When they see that their sister’s lips are white like chalk and hope that whatever’s in that IV can bring the color back.

The doctors said the orange had doubled in size. That’s what my baby sister and I had been calling the thing, an orange. But now it was much bigger than that.
"I guess it’s a small cantaloupe now," I said.
"More like a papaya," she replied.
I’d been doing everything I could to keep her spirits up. And quite often this entailed me making a complete ass of myself for her entertainment. Lord knows I’m a certified expert. So I spent the rest of the day sitting on her hospital bed, cracking fart jokes as if she was eight years old again.

The doctors removed some of the fluid that had been swelling up her abdomen. When I say "some," I mean there was enough to fill two large jars. They would send these jars to a lab somewhere for testing. To find out whether or not it's cancer.

They told us the results wouldn’t be available for another week. Everything seems to be moving in slow motion. It’s not like TV, where you see doctors and nurses zipping around from patient to patient like highly trained hummingbirds. It’s quiet, serene, and heavily sedated.

And you want to push the fucking thing along quicker, because you want your sister to get better as soon as possible. But the hospital is a 5,000-pound elephant, and that’s as fast as that it goes. Part of me says that it’s one of the top medical facilities in the country, and they know what they’re doing. Another part of me wants to grab a cattle prod and just jam it up that elephant’s ass.

But my friends who are doctors have been helpful throughout this. One of them let me know that given my baby sister’s age, our family’s medical history, and the nature of the tumor/cyst/mass/papaya, her chances of having cancer were extremely minimal. And the chances of her recovering and returning to a normal life were excellent.

A normal life would be bliss right now. A life where all one has to worry about is psycho exes, credit card bills, or what’s on TV that night. I want my baby sister to get back to that. It’s what everybody’s been praying for the past few days.

Thankfully, my sister has never been alone. My parents have been sitting at her side every single day, virtually every waking hour of the day – although that’s not always a good thing. And our relatives and her friends have been visiting in droves. The nurses have been cool about not enforcing the two-visitors-at-a-time rule and let us crowd in there like her own hospital posse.

She looked and felt infinitely better. She could even walk around the joint without assistance. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear that her primary source of discomfort now was boredom. I blamed myself for that: I was all out of fart jokes.

Now all that’s left was for the doctors to figure out exactly what the fuck this thing is, and then take it out of her. But as I mentioned before, they won’t know until next week.

If she was complaining how bored she was, that was fixed in a jiffy. I walked into her room with the magazines she asked for, but everybody had beaten me to it. There were stacks of books all around her bed. The girl had her own personal Barnes & Noble.

So here’s the deal. The doctors told us she was well enough to go home. Her condition had stabilized, and she was in pretty good shape. The next scheduled appointment is next Thursday, when we’ll meet with the department head, as well as the other doctors, and be told exactly what this is. After that, it’s most likely surgery. If anything happens in the mean time, we’re to take her back to the hospital immediately. Knowing my mom, it could be a sneeze.

We loaded the books, flowers, and all the other kind gifts into my dad’s car. And my baby sister went home. God willing, she’ll be back to worrying about credit card bills soon.