The Herald, December 2014
I was four when I got my first pair of roller skates. They were hard black plastic with a rubber strap to hold my tiny foot in. They weren’t perfect, as most of our Christmas toys weren’t, but they were under the tree and they were mine. With a part time, evening job in the toy section of a local department store, our father was allowed to purchase the toys damaged by other children cheaply. My older sister, Carol, and I didn’t care. We thought Santa was fabulous!
My mom helped me put them on over my slippers and tighten them around my ankles. Carol ran and got her skates and quickly slipped them on so she could show me ‘how to do it’ in our basement. Hers were silver metal with bright red leather straps. She wore the shiny metal skate key around her neck like an Olympic medal. I stopped, grabbed the box that my precious skates came in, and searched feverishly for my key. I shook the box and turned it upside down. Nothing. My sister must have seen the tears well up in my big green eyes and my lips begin to quiver. Hating to see her baby sister cry, she took the cord where her skate key dangled from around her neck, bent down and pretended to tighten my skate wheels, and then draped the cord over my head and let it fall around my neck. It hung down to my waist but I beamed with excitement. She took my hand and slowly towed me across the tiled basement floor like a pull toy, telling me to shuffle my feet.
“Come on, you can do it,” she said over and over until I was shambling along all by myself.
The room was silent except for the rhythm of her breath and the soft beep of the machine behind her hospital bed. As she lay there asleep, I prayed. For healing, for peace, for our future. Cancer is never something you plan for, or hope for under the tree. But you open it and deal with it with your strength, hope, and family. You learn to accept the face looking back at you in the mirror. You smile and try not to show your fears as you go on from one treatment to the next waiting for the perfect cocktail that will cure that satanic condition.
After the doctor left we stood in the doorway. We just finished a lap around the 8th floor of North Shore Hospital in New York. I looked down at her and smiled.
“Come on,” I beckoned, “let’s go around again. You can do it.” She smiled back at me and nodded yes. We shuffled around the floor again. Past the nurses station and around the bend. She’s really quite strong. Though she is four years older, she is two inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter than me. She may be a whopping 90 lbs. when wet, but she’s strong and a fighter. Carol is a personal trainer and was in great physical health before the throat cancer hit a year and a half ago. The doctors agreed that her physical condition prior is a huge factor in her ability to undergo such rigorous and harsh treatment. It makes me want to join the gym and get rid of my extra weight and get in shape. She has always been an inspiration.
We do yet another lap before retreating back to her room and her bed. We giggle like school girls as we reminisce over our childhood, teenage years and life in general. She falls back asleep and I sit quietly. I breathe in rhythm with her and smile. I extend my right hand out and over her and pray for God’s grace and Jesus’ healing. I plan our future and look forward to her recovery and visit to my southern farm.
Now on flight 826 I look out the window. Slowly and smoothly ascending I leave JFK and New York. The soft clouds begin to obscure my view of the landscape dotted with homes, trees and surrounded by water.
I remember the shiny, silver skate keys. They are now on the red strap that once secured the silver skates around my sister’s foot. The leather is old- fifty years old- and brittle, but still red. They hang on a peg in my kitchen. As I stare out over the clouds I smile at the vision of the two of us, so long ago in our basement. I think I’ll send those keys up to her when I get home.