As Brave as Sharon


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Tampa tall guy who gets senior discounts without asking, seeker of physical fitness and Spanish fluency who likes books and newspapers and Debussy in the morning  [+]

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My sister’s brain tumor was a slow elevator down from the honor roll to the funeral page. In between was an eighteen month decline that she pressed forward to her sixteenth birthday, which we celebrated a month before she died. It’s been fifty years but the memory still comes at you like words painted on the interstate, a mile a minute.

From the side of her head the tumor pushed out and kept pushing until finally they had to operate. After that she was like a stroke victim, half-paralyzed and hobbling around, skinny as a rail and carrying her right arm like a limp doll. She walked around the neighborhood alone and visited with neighbors even though she could barely speak. This was the dark ages of neurosurgery and they knew nothing, just operate and send in the next one, is what it looked like to me. Still, death came as a surprise.

After surgery Sharon kept up correspondence with her friends, writing laborious left-handed letters and sending pictures. The ones taken pre-op she touched up to cover her distorted skull but nothing could hide the grade school errors in her composition, her a straight A student before. Some of those letters circled back to me and even now they are hard to read, not because they’re so sad but so optimistic.

I was eleven when I rode my bike home from school and saw mom out front in the driveway, talking to Miss Eddy. “Our little sister died today,” she told me. I raced inside and ran into Sharon’s bedroom and found it empty. “She went into convulsions,” my mom said, herself a World War II Army nurse who knew death. “I knew she couldn’t last.” What came after that I can’t say because that’s where the memory stops.

My turn came with a bulge in my abdomen but instead of courage I faced it with what is known in the Army as stomach trouble; i.e. no guts. Since my physical had just passed I didn’t do anything until the next one came up a year later, afraid to start the sequence Sharon went through. Like her my bulge kept getting bigger and I checked my estate plan and made sure everything was in order, burial directive written out and delivered. Then seemingly a glance my primary diagnosed a simple hernia and ten years after surgery he says I’ll live to be a hundred. Maybe by then I’ll figure out how to be as brave as Sharon.
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