Breathing in Sadness- Short Story

Prompt: A 17 year old girl has a father who walked on the family and a mother who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. She has a fear of being blamed and left alone and behind in the world. 

Breathing in Sadness

“Ms. Chandler?” I raised my head up tiredly to meet the eyes of the doctor. I could see the pity in his eyes and I couldn’t stand it. What right did he have to judge me, to see into my eyes and discover the life that I had led? To find some sort of a story that may twist and warp itself so it would fit my situation- a situation in which there was no father present, and the only one in the empty hospital room was a defeated seventeen year old girl?

“Is my mom done?” I asked him as I stood up and smoothed down my hair.

“Actually, Ms. Chandler…” He gestured for me to sit down again and my heart started to beat furiously as he took a seat beside me. He glanced down at his chart that was held loosely between his fingers. My mother’s chart.

“Emma, your mother’s illness progressed much faster than we originally estimated.”

Originally estimated. They had originally estimated that she had maybe two years left at the most by the way the cancer was eating away at her.

I could feel the familiar panic rising up, threatening to choke me but I pushed it down. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad. Maybe she would beat this. Maybe the doctor’s didn’t know anything. Maybe she still had time. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

“In order to continue her treatments I think it would be better if she was admitted into the hospital. That way we can keep an eye on her at all times.”

I didn’t say anything and neither did he. I felt that I could no longer despise this doctor. Not if he would be the one to look after my mother in areas where I couldn’t. But I wished with all my heart I could hate him. I wished I could rip the chart out of his hands and throw it across the floor. I wish I could yell and scream and beat my head against the wall until I was just as broken as my mom.

“Emma?” I felt his hand tentatively rest on my shoulder.

“How long?” I whispered.

He didn’t say anything for a moment and I closed my eyes preparing myself. Yet even with all my preparation I was struck hard by his answer.

“A couple of weeks at the most.” Weeks. My mother, the woman who had raised me and fed me and pieced me together when I fell apart would be torn apart in a matter of weeks. After that it was just a blur, I couldn’t hear what he said over the rushing in my ears. Over the laughter of my mother’s voice that echoed in my head.

Sometime later, I was sitting beside my mother’s hospital bed watching her chest rise and fall softly. There were tubes streaming in and out of her body and the steady beat of her heart was reflected on an automated machine.

She was the only one I had left now. I closed my eyes against the tears that threatened to fall and like so many times before, I couldn’t let them. I had to be strong, or at least give the illusion to the women in the bed.

My cellphone hung loosely from my hand and for the tenth time I called Dad’s number-not at the very least surprised when it went to voicemail. Dad was a worker. A “very busy man with everything being an obstacle unless it was his work,” as mom used to refer to him with the sadness swimming in her eyes.

I wanted to desperately believe that he loved us. That he wouldn’t leave us completely. That he may have walked out one late night on a rainy Tuesday but that he would always come back. That every possibility had the chance of occurring.

But where was he? In a meeting? Jetting around the world and talking and laughing with his other wife? With his other children? God, didn’t he care?”

The tears leaked out of my eyes and I wiped them away hurriedly as if I had committed a great sin. After all, what did tears do? They were just showing your sadness, your weakness, your inability to cope with the hand that life had dealt you. No, there was no use crying.

“Emma?” I glanced down at mom who was slowly resurfacing to reality. A smile emerged on my face, one full of confidence and easiness, and one that was as used almost as much as my broken expression.

“Hey mom,” I shifted and dropped by elbows on my knees, leaning closer to her. Still smelt like Jasmine, despite how hard the hospital tried to change her. “How are you feeling?”

“Just tired. How are you holding up honey?” She gazed at me concerned. Who was going to look at me like that after she was gone?

“I’m fine. I’m-I’m doing great.” She didn’t believe me. But she didn’t push it further. We had both learned over time if someone doesn’t want to confess to something, they won’t no matter how hard you push them.

“Gotten a hold of your dad yet?” I hated the hopeful lilt in her voice. I hated how she could expect something from that man even after all this time.

I sighed, “No,”

“Oh, I guess he must be busy at work,” I didn’t bother to point out that it would be 2 in the morning in L.A. right now. Some things were better left unsaid.

We spent the evening just talking about inconsequential things, every once in a while getting interrupted by a cheery nurse to take mom’s vitals. She fell asleep around eight and I was left wide awake.

There was a window bench in the corner, surrounded by a huge window. After watching mom for a few minutes, I finally got off my cramped chair and made my way to the washroom, quickly brushing my teeth before grabbing a pillow and blanket out of the closet. Mom would be incredibly angry if she learned tomorrow that I hadn’t bothered to sleep at all so I figured I might as well give her the illusion of me being well rested. As if those things still mattered.

On my way over to the bench, I froze as I looked out the window. There was a girl standing there, a hospital bed behind her, a pillow in one hand and blanket in the other. Her long hair was messy and tangled, her skin pale, her hands clenched tightly.

But it was her eyes that I couldn’t stop shaking at. They were open with fear. And there was no bigger window to the soul then the sunken eyes right here. I could see her disappointment, at her father who left her, at her mother who had been caught in the crossfire, at herself in various moments of her life as she tried to make sense of the whirlwind that continuously moved around her. I could see her sadness, reflected so deeply and yet it never seemed out of place. Never seemed if that sadness ever really left her eyes. They were a part of her.

And one thing was clearer than the other. Her emptiness spoke volumes. Her defeat and fear merged to convey the ocean that was loneliness. Where would she go when the person in the bed left this world? Where would she go if her father had completely disconnected himself from her life? Where could she rest her head at night, and where would she live? Or would she waste away?

I moved backwards, stumbling as I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to see her anymore. I didn’t, I couldn’t. And suddenly it became a lot harder to breathe. What would happen to me? Who would take care of me? Who would wipe away my tears and look after me? How could she leave me?

But maybe I was to blame. I sank down and clutched my head between my hands. Somewhere in my life I must have done something and this was my punishment. Was it for loving the wrong people? Was it breaking away from my mom because I didn’t want to be that kid? The kid who was always looked at with pity. Was it the yelling and the fights? Had I done something to make my dad finally decide that he didn’t want me anymore? Was I the reason my dad left, the reason my mom’s happiness left and in place came an illness that could only be removed with the soft brush of death?

Was I to blame?

I could imagine everyone turning away from me. Leaving me alone. I could see their disgust. She killed her mother, got rid of her father. I could see them shaking their heads and whispering. Who would take in a home-wrecker? A killer? I would be alone.

I covered my mouth to stifle my sob. I won’t cry. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t…and then I was. Tears streamed down my face in great rivulets and I didn’t bother trying to wipe them away. My sadness, my loneliness, my pain came rushing out and I cried. I released the burden on my shoulder and prayed for a lighter tomorrow. I let my self be encompassed by the water and let my screams transform into heart-wrenching sobs. I allowed myself to be weak. I would be strong today but please just let me go for now.

I hadn’t realized I had fallen asleep until a nurse gently shook me awake in the middle of the night and directed me towards the bed. I followed her guidance without a word and closed my heavy eyes, my heavy heart, my heavy mind and knew this would be the last sleep of forgetfulness I would get.

I was to stand at trial tomorrow in front of my guilt and bow my head. Would pack my bags weeks later and leave the cold body behind. But for now, I dreamed of breathing in life. I had only breathed in sadness for seventeen years but just for a few hours, I wanted to breathe in life.

Hospital Room


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