Suddenly there was a loud crash, followed by what sounded like a rain of smaller, shattering crashes. I rushed up the stairs to find my sister lying face down in the hallway. Rachel had fainted again, this time while holding a glass full of water. It was a humid summer day, and she had just come back inside after tanning on the roof as she often did. Instead of walking up the stairs and getting to drink her water in peace, she fainted. Her bikinied body was glistening with glass and droplets of water.
“What’s going on up there?” I heard my dad yell from the kitchen.
“Rachel fainted again. Can you come up here?” I responded, almost automatically. I heard the sound of his old knees creaking as he scurried up the stairs.
Rachel’s face was turned to the side, her eyes closed and cheek pressed into the carpet, forcing her lips into a pucker. She looked almost peaceful lying there on the floor, but specks of red were appearing on her skin where the glass had punctured. My dad kneeled next to her and began to softly tap her cheek and open her eyes, while saying somewhat aggressively, “Wake up, Rachel!”
She was unconscious for a minute or so before she started coming to. Her eyes continued to roll back into her head, but she had a slight smile on her face. Rachel was always the type to wear a smirk in inappropriate situations and had a way of always making me feel better, even when only half-conscious.
While my dad tried to made sure she didn’t have a concussion or any broken bones, I started to pick tiny shards of glass off of her back and legs and out of her long, coppery brown hair. I couldn’t help but think that the pieces of glass that covered her body were almost beautiful; they looked like dusted snowflakes. Then, I saw her hands.
My dad picked Rachel up and carried her to a couch in the spare bedroom, where he laid her down on her back. She was still smiling, but it became more forced as she became fully conscious. There were shards of glass all over her chest, stomach, and legs. A crescent of glass fragments and specks of blood made up one side of her face, and her hands resembled a reddened mosaic.
“I’ve been in a lot of weird situations from fainting, but I never thought I’d be watching you pick off bloody glass from my half-naked body” Rachel said, laughing. My dad awkwardly inched out of the room to get gauze and bandages, and Rachel laughed even more. I rolled my eyes, laughed, and continued to rid her of the dusting of glass on her skin. Because that’s what sisters do.
* * *
When Rachel was thirteen, she was diagnosed with a disorder that caused her to have an extremely fast heartrate, low blood pressure, and many fainting spells. She was often fatigued, both as a side effect of her condition and of constant discouragement. Doctors refused to believe in her symptoms and tried to tell her it was all an illusion made up in her mind. Meanwhile, she was fainting on top of glass.
She was yet another culprit of an almost-invisible fiend, a disguised malady whose concealment only made matters worse. For a person with a condition that made simply waking up in the morning feel like running a marathon, Rachel could run multiple marathons a day. I should know.
* * *
I remember the first time I saw my feet turn blue. I stood up at my desk at school, watched the room spin around me, and looked down to see two blurry spheres of blue. Quickly sitting back down, I put my hand to my chest and felt a heartbeat that was hurried and heavy, like pouring rain. I closed my eyes and felt it travel up through my chest and into my head, settling behind my eyes.
After that moment, I wasn’t able to leave my bed for two weeks. Every time I sat up too quickly, I fainted and fell right back down into my pillow. I remember my dad asking me to simply walk down the block. “Sarah, you can at least do that, can’t you?” he’d say, but my legs felt numb underneath me, and my feet were still turning blue when they felt like it.
Rachel would come in my room and bring me ice cream from our favorite place, Sebastian Joe’s. She has never been the type to be over-compassionate, but I think she knew before any of us that I was dealing with something far too familiar to her.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with the same condition as Rachel. I felt embarrassed by it, embarrassed by the fact that I had to bring liters of water to school and sit to the side during gym class. I hated the comments of “I wish I had what you had so I wouldn’t have to run the mile during gym” and “You don’t seem very sick.” I would come home from school – if I went to school in the first place – and immediately lock myself in my room. But Rachel didn’t do that.
* * *
Rachel was, by any definition, the most stubborn child there was. She loved to throw tantrums and cause my parents great dismay, but she never had a single hair out of place. I, on the other hand, was more of an introspective child. I was always off on my own, tying things in knots or seeing how many playing cards could fit between my toes, and my hair was always a blonde, fluffy mess. Needless to say, we didn’t always get along.
I was always the sick child when we were younger. I got some sort of stomach flu almost every month, which Rachel absolutely hated. The second she heard me getting sick, she’d run downstairs and curl up in a fetal position with her eyes and ears covered. At one point, I even had scarlet fever. Rachel was the stubborn, shiny-haired, healthy child, and I was pretty much the opposite.
We grew up, and things changed. Rachel was still headstrong and beautiful; I was still easy-going and only a little less disheveled. But I grew out of my illness, and Rachel never really did. She’s in and out of hospitals before I even hear she’s there, but every time we finally touch base, she laughs about it and sends me graphic pictures of her IVs.
* * *
While Rachel laid on the couch, covered in glass, I wished to see a reflection of myself in her skin. Instead, I saw someone much stronger than I could ever be. I saw nights spent in hospitals and days spent in bed; but I also saw passion and intelligence and so much unfettered strength.
“Don’t worry about me, sis,” Rachel whispered when she saw me staring at her red hands, “I’m okay.” With that, we grinned at each other, and I continued to carefully wipe away the tiny crystals of glass.