My dad was holding my small nine year old hand with his big, rough hand, a hand that had years of engine grease ground into the creases and under his nails, grease he could never get off, despite all his scrubbing with Go-Jo and other various cleansers.
We were in Charlottesville, Virginia to see my sister, who was in the hospital there.
She had been hit by a car.
I had been waiting a week to see her. My mom was at the hospital with her, I was at home, in Chantilly, Virginia, with Dad. Waiting. I went to school all week long, waiting, waiting, waiting to see her, walking down the hall to class and only thinking of her. Walking with boisterous clusters of children, feeling weighed down and alone.
Finally, the weekend arrived and I was allowed see her.
There we were, my dad and me, standing in the cold fluorescent lights of the hospital hallway outside her room, me clutching in one hand the chintzy rose-scented cloth roses I’d picked out for her and my dad’s hand in the other.
I was warned, She looks bad, you might not recognize her….
I said, I’ll be fine! I just want to see her!
I was sure I’d be fine.
We walked in the room, and there she was, in the right hand corner of the room, sitting on the crisp white sheets of the bed.
Her face was puffy, shiny, discolored.
Black stitches, dried maroon blood, black, yellow, green bruises.
One of her eyeballs was mostly red.
It swept over me then, the lightheadedness, the nausea. The smile fell from my face and I gasped, stepped back, faltered. My brain went hollow and metallic.
A nurse and my dad took me in to a nearby room where I sat on a plastic couch in more glaring, cold, fluorescent lights as the nurse told me to lean my head down between my knees and my dad tried to soothe me.
I did my best to snap myself out of it. I needed to be strong for her.
After I pulled myself together, we went in her room again, where I was told I had to be very careful, because she was sore.
I sat down carefully on her bed and reeled in all my instincts to jump on her and hug her.
I looked at her out of the corner of my eye so she wouldn’t think I was staring.
Her beautiful face.
All puffy and shiny bruised skin with black stitches.
Do I look scary? She slurred and tried to smile but the stiches pulled and her teeth were broken and gone. I shook my head no.
I got used to the way she looked and the way she smelled, like antiseptic, bleach, blood, antibiotic ointment, hospital.
I wanted to curl up with her. I wanted to ask her questions. I wanted her to know I loved her. I wanted her to know that it wasn’t her face that was scaring me but what she had done for her face to look like that even though my parents were calling it an accident, an accident, then why aren’t we suing the man who hit her? Because it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t understand. My mind had let go of the words Lisa had said before she hung up on me, before the “accident.”
I just want to die, she said. No! I sobbed. I love you!
From the moment she hung up and the phone’s dial tone whispered dark omens in my ear, I had waited.
I wanted to see my sister.
I wanted my sister.
I miss my sister.