The oxygen in the room is replaced by something else, something thin and not-breathable. Time does slow down now and I get a kind of tunnel vision. The walls are much too close and Carla recedes away from me, a small figure at the end of a very long hallway. Tunnel vision gives way to vertigo. I’m unsteady on my feet and then nauseous.
I run to the bathroom and dry heave into the sink. Carla comes in as I’m splashing water on my face.
She puts her hand on my back and I sink under the weight of it. I’m insubstantial. I’m Olly’s ghost girl again. I press my hands into the porcelain of the sink. I can’t lift my eyes to the mirror because I won’t recognize the girl looking back at me.
“I have to know for sure,” I growl, using someone else’s voice.
“Give me a day,” she says, and tries to pull me into a hug, but I don’t let her. I don’t want comforting or protecting.
I just want the truth.
Proof of Life
All I have to do is go to sleep—quiet my mind, relax my body, and go to sleep. But no matter how I will it, sleep just will not come. My brain is an unfamiliar room and trapdoors are everywhere. Carla’s voice loops in my head. Maybe she never recovered from what happened. What does that even mean? I look at the clock. 1:00 a.m. Seven hours until Carla comes back. We’re going to do some blood tests and send them off to a SCID specialist that I found. Seven hours. I close my eyes. I open them again. 1:01 a.m.
I can’t wait for answers to come to me. I have to find them.
It takes all my effort to walk instead of run to my mom’s office. I’m sure she’s asleep, but I can’t risk waking her. I grab the handle and for one horrible moment I think the door will be locked and I will have to wait and I cannot wait. But the handle turns and the room lets me right in like it’s been waiting for me, like it’s been expecting me.
Her office is perfectly normal, not too neat, not too messy. There are no obvious signs of an unwell mind. Crazy, jumbled, chaotic writings don’t cover every inch of the wall.
I walk over to the big desk at the center of the room. It has a built-in file cabinet, so I start there. My hands are shaking, not a tremor, but actual shaking, like an earthquake that only I feel.
My mom is meticulous and extravagant in her record keeping. She’s kept everything and it takes me over an hour to get through just a handful of files. There are receipts for big and small purchases, lease agreements, tax documents, warranties, and instruction manuals. She’s even kept movie ticket stubs.
Finally, toward the back I find what I’m looking for: a thick red folder labeled Madeline. I pull it out carefully and make myself a space on the floor.
The record of my life starts with her pregnancy. I find prenatal vitamin recommendations, sonograms, and photocopies of each doctor’s visit. I find a handwritten index card with two check boxes—one for boy and the other for girl. Girl is checked. My birth certificate is here.
As I search through, it doesn’t take me long to realize that I was a sickly baby. I find pediatric sick-visit reports for rashes, allergies, eczema, colds, fevers, and two ear infections, all before I was four months old. I find receipts for lactation and infant-sleep consultants.
When I’m about six months old, just one month after my dad and brother have died, I’m checked into a hospital with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). I don’t know what that is and I make a mental note to google it. It was severe enough to keep me in the hospital for three days.
And then her record keeping becomes less meticulous. I find a printout about RSV from the web. She circled a section that explains that RSV is more severe in people with compromised immune systems. I find a photocopy of the first page of an article on SCID from a medical journal. Her scrawls in the margins are illegible. After that there’s a single visit to an allergist and then visits to three different immunologists. Each concludes that no illness was found.
And that’s it.
I dig through the cabinet again for more files. It doesn’t make sense that this would be all there is. Where are the test results? There must’ve been a fourth immunologist, right? Where’s the diagnosis? Where are the consultations and second opinions? There should be another thick red folder. I scour the files for a third time. And a fourth. I spill other folders to the ground and rifle through them. I hunt through the papers on her desk. I thumb through the pages of her medical journals looking for highlighted passages.
I’m breathing too quickly as I run over to her bookshelves. I pull down books, shake them by their spines willing something to fall out—a forgotten lab result, an official diagnosis. I find nothing.
But nothing is not evidence.
Maybe the proof is elsewhere. It takes me only one try to guess her password—Madeline. I spend two hours looking through every document on her computer. I search her Internet browser history. I look in the trash folder.
Where’s the proof of the life I have lived?
I turn a slow pirouette in the middle of the room. I don’t believe the evidence of my own eyes. I don’t believe what I’m not seeing. How can there be nothing? It’s like my sickness was invented out of the much too-thin air that I’m breathing.
It’s not true. It can’t be.
Is it possible that I’m not sick? My mind flinches away from this line of thought.
Maybe she keeps other records in her bedroom? What didn’t I think of that before? 5:23 a.m. Can I wait for her to wake up? No.
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