Sometimes, when the lights just right, I can see her sitting in that tree, nestled serenely in the crook of one of its grizzled arms, like a well loved teddy bear. Sometimes, she smiles at me.
“How. Could. You.” Mom stood at the end of the driveway, her hair slithering from her scalp in all directions, her eyes wide with fury, her pink fuzzy bathrobe looking out of place on this trembling, screaming woman. In the split second it took me to realize what she was holding, my father raced out and wrapped his bulk around her, pleading and dragging her away from the prying eyes of the neighborhood. As they struggled up the front steps, mom lost track of the paper she was carrying and my shameful sin rained down on the front lawn.
“Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas if for my sister to die.” The words, when written, were a child’s way of asking that his baby sister be removed from her misery. After 4 years of watching her body lose its battle with leukemia, my little 10 year old heart had broken enough. I wanted Becky to smile. Sunday school had taught me that Jesus could do that in heaven.
The letter had been written a week earlier, during the most recent in a long line of Saturday nights spent talking to my sister on a walkie-talkie from outside her “germ free” zone.
“Jimmy, I wish all this would end. I wish I could go to heaven with Jesus and celebrate Christmas with a real tree. An actual tree, that wouldn’t make me sicker with its pollens and germs. Wouldn’t that be great?” She had slipped into a coma two days later.
With mom sedated, dad glowering at the television and Becky immersed in day 5 of her silent protest of the injustices this world had dealt her – I knew what I had to do. Was mom right? Could my letter have caused her coma? For the first time since writing that letter, the cold icy fingers of doubt wound themselves around my soul.
Wrapped in a winter coat and false bravado, I set out on my quest to save my sister. Mr. Jones next door was more than willing to help. Old Miss Tucker agreed to help too – although she still grumbled about missing her soaps. The Andersons flew into action as if tripped by an invisible power switch. Two hours and a rather interesting series of scavenger hunts later, our motley crew marched back toward my house.
We were all oddly silent as we sneaked behind the house, although I’m not sure if our whispers were out of fear that we’d wake her or that we wouldn’t. When we reached the maple tree that kept watch outside Becky’s window, I clambered ahead. Years of practice saw me to the upper most branches in a few seconds, a feeling of anticipation loosening the fingers of doubt, giving my young soul some wiggle room. With movements that all at once seemed practiced and polished, our assembly line passed supplies up the tree. Mr. Anderson climbed behind me to help reach the high parts, and Mrs. Anderson stood below directing us to areas we'd missed. We held our breath in anticipation as Old Miss Tucker flipped the switch.
The hush gave way to cheers as that old grizzled tree was transformed. I could see my sisters face from my vantage point in the tree – the colored lights decorating her in Technicolor stripes through the blinds. I willed her to open her eyes.
The sound of caroling brought my parents to the back of the house with a panicked speed. “What’s happened?” my father asked. His eyes traced the faces before him and followed their eyes to his son, high in a makeshift Christmas tree.
“She wanted Christmas, daddy”, I whispered, although I’m not sure he even heard me over Mr. Anderson’s.
“Her eyes are open!” his reverence evident. My head swiveled from my father’s bewildered face to my sisters amazed one. Her eyes were wide, and although I can’t be sure, I would swear she mouthed “thank you”.
“Merry Christmas, Becky” I said amidst the strands of “Oh Christmas Tree” from down below.
When the ambulance came later that night to take my sisters body to the funeral home, her doctor told us it was impossible that she had woken up at all. But surrounded by Christmas lights and maple branches, I knew different.
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