The Perfect Story

October 20, 2013

When I was young, my older sister would babysit me. She had a babysitting kit, a carefully decorated box that she would use for all of her babysitting activities in the neighborhood.
She would prepare crafts, play crazy games, make meals. And I would hold up my drawing to her and ask if she liked it. She would nod, and smile, and make me feel good about what I had done. And then she would tell me how to make it better. “Try to color in just one direction. It looks neater that way.” She taught me how to become better. And I thought, “I’m going to be like my sister. I’m going to teach people how to be better.
As I got older my sister would ask me about school. She asked me what I was learning, talked about how much she enjoyed learning that when she was younger. She would talk to me about my friends and about the games we played at recess. She would talk to me about the cute girl sitting next to me in class. She was always engaged in our conversations, like she really wanted to know what I had to say. Being young, it was hard for me to appreciate her interest, but talking to her made me happy. It made me feel important. And the second grade version of me realized that I wanted to make people happy.
My sister sailed through high school. She was very smart, excelling in all subjects, but she still worked hard. My sister would sit on the couch, looking through Spanish flashcards multiple nights a week. She would do extra math problems until she was confident she could integrate any equation the teacher threw at her. She would go to Cross Country practice, study for Physics, work on an English project, finish her homework, and still be asleep by ten o’clock. Her dedication and work ethic was unmatched by anyone. At the time, I was finishing elementary school, not really understanding what hard work was. But I knew that my sister, who was the smartest person in the world, was working very hard.
My sister left for college and began to more visibly excel. She was one of the top runners on the collegiate team, her professors immediately fell in love with her continuing hard work and intellect, she made friends who grew to love her as much as I did.
And there the perfect story ends
Suffering from back pain that was ending her running career, my sister went to the hospital. The doctors found a cyst inside of her the size of a small cantaloupe. They removed it successfully, and my sister resumed her focus on finals week at college. Then came a message: malignant cancer. And as fast as a batter hits a ball, those two words changed my sister’s life forever. She returned home and met with numerous doctors. The cancer was rare, very rare. And twice as aggressive as it was rare. Chemotherapy began just a couple weeks after. And so my sister, who had raced through forests in the rain, who could run miles on end, who was beloved by professors and teachers alike, my older sister, my only sister, and my hero, was reduced to a hairless woman, hardly able to walk up and down the block, hardly able to focus enough to carry a conversation. For three months the treatment continued. But like a forest after a fire, she rose out of the ashes. Less than six weeks after the last treatment she began an internship. Her coworkers and bosses praised her efficiency and effort, all the while she still wore scarves to cover her bald head. Less than four months out of chemo she ran a five kilometer race. Slowly, to be sure, but not too slowly; she had completed the race in twenty four minutes. And so she returned to school, a tree that lost its leaves in the winter, but budded anew in the spring.
And I watched my sister take on the world. Her branches spreading, demanding the storm winds to change their path. And I discovered something. Something I didn’t know before. That version of me, the one that will stay with me forever, had a model of what trying hard meant. Had a model of what it meant to never give up. Had a model of how to succeed and rise up when something doesn’t go right. And I had a model of what not only my sister had achieved, but what I could achieve. In spite of the world, I could achieve.
Aron Daw