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Bones Beneath Stars

By @TheOneAndOnly

growing up is stupid

The earliest years of my childhood are like a series of half-developed photographs. Fragmented vignettes that came and slipped away before I could make sense of it, and far too soon to determine whether it was worth anything at all.

Rainy, hot-chocolate soothed afternoons stirred by the blaring of faraway sirens, the gentle grays and greens interrupted by bold flashes of red and blue.

Sticky summer evenings spent wilting helplessly beneath the sun’s fading glare, lightning bugs crawling along my sweaty palms.

Hazy sleepless nights whiled away beneath blood-soaked bed-sheets, one shaking hand tracing the stains whilst the other clutched my bleeding nose.

I don’t remember what my childhood was, but I remember how it happened.

It crawled along slowly, like the kind of nightmare you force yourself to wake from.

And just like a dream, it was gone all at once.

The children’s ward at Juniper Hospital seemed to 6-year-old me a magical place. Magical, because everything is magic when you know nothing of the world around you, and the terrible secrets that linger just beneath the promise of something extraordinary.

The hospital walls had been painted to resemble nebulae; plastic stars painstakingly arranged into semi-realistic interpretations of constellations that glowed incessantly through the nights. I remember traversing the hallways wearing nothing but a loose hospital gown, clinging onto a nurse as she showed me the planets and stars.

“How do you manage to keep them inside?” I’d asked her.

“It’s magic.”

However, the strangest magic that resided in Juniper Hospital appeared to be the ever-elusive magic of Getting Better, which was why, the nurses told me, so many lucky children got to go home after only a few short weeks of treatment. When Mom came to visit me during my first two weeks, I’d excitedly inquired when my time would come. When the magical fairy of Getting Better would slap me with her wand and make the big, bad Illness go away. Mom had offered a tight-lipped smile and a warm squeeze of my hand, but no answers, no hints as to when the Getting Better would come forth from the dark shadows between the plastic stars of Juniper’s artificial universe and take me gleefully by the hand.

The doctors attempted to explain it to me once. They’d announced I’d go home, but not for long. Never for long.

“The other little boys and girls have sicknesses that the doctors know how to cure,” my first doctor told me.

“Yours is more of a mystery,” the nurse added, smiling in the commiserative way most adults did when they saw me. I was an enigma, a quandary– the sick kid.

When I went home for the first time, the nurses had given me a handful of plastic stars to hang up in my bedroom. Every night, I’d marveled at their otherworldly glow. Sometimes it was enough to distract me from the blood cascading from my nose, the icy chill that sometimes settled in my chest; the way my room would swim before my eyes until my consciousness was pulled out from under me like a tablecloth in a magic show.

I hadn’t minded the frequent trips to Juniper so much back then. The sirens were soothing, the stretchers were familiar. I smiled at the masked faces of paramedics as they scrambled to find more needles to stab me with.

But one night, the stars began to fall.

They piled along my blankets and carpet like colorless plastic eggshells. Their glow flickered and faded until it disappeared altogether.

I moved from Juniper to another hospital, and then another, and yet another still. They were strange hospitals; they lacked constellations. Their walls were white and thin enough to betray the screams of other young patients during the late hours when I could not sleep.

They say that children grow up when they get older.

But I grew up when I came to realize that I would never live long enough to get older.

I moved from one treatment to the next, until just like the stars, I fell too.

Growing up is stupid.

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