I woke up to find Otis staring at me. “Are you ready for your ‘check in’ today?” Otis’ simplistically announced reminder rendered me a little startled, for I had forgotten the events of the day. “Perhaps you will be granted your surgery today,” he pointed out. “Then you’ll be better once again.”
I was supposed to go to the hospital to have a, what they labeled for the more timid kids, “check in.” On these monthly dates, my school schedule remained unchanged, per usual. The minor difference of where I would go after school was the only change that took place.
“It’s hardly frightening,” I said.
“Shall I go down for breakfast, or are we not hungry this morning?” Otis asked.
“I don’t think I wish to eat this morning, but of course you have the bowl,” I said while pointing towards the golden bowl, which was originally room decor but was now filled with chocolate Easter bunnies that Otis had brought with him and eaten when he did not share a meal with me. He now rummaged through the bowl, looking for the one that first drew his attention. I finished dressing for school while he did this, putting on a pair of light wash jeans. I added a belt I received from my mother yesterday, which was new and just unwrapped from its packaging. Once I slid the belt through the last loop, put on my usual black high top sneakers with penguin socks, brushed my hair, and grabbed my also penguin-themed backpack and lunchbox, I helped Otis get ready for school. I grabbed his black backpack and metallic lunchbox. Today I packed him a chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookie so he wouldn’t squirm under the irresistible want of cookies when they were just laying on the kitchen counter. I could hear them rattling in their foil wrappers, stuck inside the metallic prison. While they rattled, I let the box fall into his backpack, empty except for a chocolate bunny he had grabbed just now, his mustard yellow backup beanie and a folded piece of paper that appeared to be garbage, although this one was folded into a perfect square.
Otis and I left the large brick house and admired the reflective dew placed on the petal of each flower in our front yard. Our gravel path from the house to the sidewalk was wet, and disagreeable weeds were bursting through exposed patches. Gravel was dispersed across our grassy yard, usually of a vibrant green color in the sunlight. Otis didn’t arrive with shoes, and standard pairs don’t come in ovalular shapes. Therefore, Otis now suffered the painful task of trudging barefoot down the path in question. My father was in the car already, prepared for his daily task of driving Otis and me to school. We approached the silver Toyota and could already hear the music my father practically professed love to. While he played his favorite songs, I announced that Otis and I were, as my father liked to say, “buckled up and ready to go,” and we drove off to school.
School days tended to be normal, though the first school day I shared with Otis was of an opposite atmosphere. My teachers and peers had been notified of my penguin friend, or what they referred to as my “situation.” That day I was stared at by all. Even by the group of seven year olds that claimed they didn’t care about any matter except for those relating to them personally. My teacher’s attitudes shifted drastically and were overbearing and tentative, the qualities a worrying mother holds. I sat in the back of the class due to the shyness that emerged whenever I had to sit in the front row of a classroom. The teacher that morning had created a scene while dragging a heavy desk and letting it rest beside mine. This seat had been established as Otis’ seat. Periods of learning were seemingly normal, but the interactions between the beginnings of classes were displeasing. During recess I received countless invitations to partake in lunch and activities with kids who had the word pity clearly written on their eyes and face. I refused the forced offers with a stern, “No thank you.”
I sat with Otis at a green table adjacent to the sandbox, which I soon hoped to introduce to the penguin. Once I flaunted the magical sandbox to Otis, we quietly gazed at the individual grains of sand, and watched them fall from shovel to bucket. The 40 minutes of time permitted for recess ceased eventually and academics resumed. My father and mother accompanied Otis and me on the car ride home that day. During the meager five minutes we spent waiting for them, he and I sat on an artificial patch of overly green grass, under a weak and small tree, and we stayed silent, but in an enjoyable way.
Today my father insisted on playing his music throughout the ten minute journey to school. The roads had small chunks of ice placed on curves and street corners, and most of them were half dirt and sewer water. The view was unpleasant, but the car was warm, filled with music, and smelled of cinnamon and hot chocolate. Otis and I sat in the back of the car on the grey cushion that was home to stains of brown, green, and purple. Now I felt free to talk to either Otis or my father whenever the opportunity pleased me, however I was rarely in a talkative frenzy. On the ride to school today nothing varied in my usual manner, so I thought about the “check in” and possible surgery. I could picture my calendar, existent for only a month, with very few dates marked and holidays yet to be acknowledged. I knew, though, that I had marked this date as the day of surgery, and I trusted the permanence of the black sharpie I used would rub off on my chances of surgery today. My head then manifested certain ideas, such as images of sharp metal tools poking at my brain, like how a curious child would use a stick to poke a dead squirrel. While thoughts of such things were present in my mind, the car had pulled up next to the new strip of sidewalk separating school and vehicles. I felt no rush as I slung my bag onto my back and helped Otis do the same. “Thanks dad,” I blurted out after I had already swung the heavy car door open and, with Otis, stepped onto the ice cold pavement.
We walked confidently, or maybe it should be described as a walk that didn’t show any signs of fear, for confidently was far too strong and adjective to apply with such ease. I watched the parking lot of the Jones School, which we had now managed to reach, stab Otis’ unarmored feet. I also perceived that his face was still pleased and his current disposition unchanged. I then brought my gaze to the American flag on our school’s rusting pole, thrusted around by a strong and sudden wind. There was no urgent need to describe the school day today, for as I mentioned previously, even on a day involving hospital matters, school remained quite bland and redundant. Even the presentation I looked forward to had been postponed 24 hours. Until Wednesday I would have to wait to give the gift of my eloquent speech, and surely my audience would have to wait for me. For every normally scheduled class, Otis and I took our seats, as each student must do. During recess, Otis and I enjoyed the presence of each other in the sandbox. Previously, Otis had thanked me for the cookies that had been rattling in his lunch box all day, and he finished them both shortly and without creating any crumbs. We had lessons about our universe and solar system during the period assigned to science. I knew that I would never wish to traverse the vast Milky Way but instead wished the teacher knew that not all students have a vocation to be an astronomer or astronaut. Most periods consisted of this same pattern: a lesson taught and aspects of said lesson thought of as useless or uninformed. My criticisms may seem harsh, and they truly are compared to the fact I originally endured each lesson with a fake smile plastered on my face. But to argue in favor of myself, humans evolve, and therefore I have acted knowing that it was a mere repercussion of that piece of information.
After I saw the silver Toyota emerge from the street corner, I felt apprehensive. Otis placed his wing on my clammy and sweating disaster of a hand while I gazed at the vehicle that could possibly be driving me to my death. If I failed to mention before, the surgery had a high fatality rate and therefore a low percentage of survival. During the time they announced all statistics to my already rotting brain, I hadn’t had the option to save them for later use. While I fretted, a playful pair of siblings were horsing around on their way to their car, their mother joking with her two strong and healthy offsprings. Superstition has no home in my heart, but maybe this meant I was to leave the hospital, surgery accomplished, ready to horse around with Otis (I had no siblings to do so). I was sure that I was just irrational, for I had never seemed so close to insanity than I was then. The Toyota slowly glided into the spot right in front of me, and stopped driving. Otis glanced at my entire body and turned his head down to look straight at my face. I took a step closer to his body, emitting warmth and kindness from its large figure. I wrapped my arms around him as far as they could reach, my fingers never meeting each other, and Otis and I molded into one. I leaned on the supporting figure while he employed his strength to push me towards the open car door. I slid into the backseat with cold feet, in the figurative way while it was also true in literal terms. I let Otis plop, which was the best word to describe the bounce he applied to each move, into the seat beside me. “Hi,” I said, addressing my parents and their phony, drawn on, smiles.
Pediatric wing hospital rooms don’t change. Yes, the peculiarly placed cartoons differ in rooms, but the idea of a stereotypical pink image plastered on one wall and some form of action movie hero or machine on the opposite wall remained the same throughout. It would be strange for any child to announce that they have a fondness for room 310 yet not room 306, due to the fact that each room was an unexciting replica of the other. I sat now in room 316, staring at a much too large image of Batman in the middle of realizing this action was wasteful and frankly dissatisfying. I turned away from the agitating sight, knowing very well I didn’t want to turn the other way just to see another particularly galling image displayed of a perky cartoon princess, who apparently had a dress code that stated they must wear a pink gown on all occasions. You could already see a dilemma had arisen and was now inducing inactivity, therefore I let every part of my anatomy fall into the slightly comfortable hospital bed. I had become accustomed to the features present in each hospital room, so I rolled over, after only being bored for a modest time of five seconds, and seized a long black remote control. I then turned to Otis, sitting in the region of chairs designated for family members of the sick patient, and asked him, “SpongeBob?”
“Whatever you feel suits this situation,” replied a happy, and faintly smiling, Otis. I communicated my wants to the television, hung up next to cobwebs on the corner of the right wall, and it flickered from black to an underwater reality where sponges may speak if they wish.
I watched SpongeBob for the timelapse of an hour, not including the intrusions and disturbances, which caused me to pause on several occasions. These occurrences were commonly periods of five or 45 delaying minutes, and consisted of obtrusions by my parents or doctors coming in or my departures for various medical tests. Otis, however, always remained seated in the room while I was about and speaking to the adults that currently dictated my life. I attended to his needs while doctors tended to mine. Dr. Roberts would come in and demand my presence, and for me to cease my current activity. I was prepared to do so, but then I would hear Otis utter words such as, “If you leave the show playing while you leave, I will be much obliged.” I would then repeat his words to Dr. Roberts, and he would either agree to the simple request, or on other occasions he might claim he didn’t wish for any energy to be wasted by the continually running television. These moments of argument, obtrusions, and departures plainly summed up every aspect of a “check in.” The only part to ever be frightened of was if your doctor affirmed that the tests showed no progression, meaning that your sickness had worsened. In my experience that day and in the past “check ins,” the situation in question had never been mine.
It had been a three hour “check in” that day, most likely due to the fact that I might be rushed into surgery the second I was noticed again, and therefore the tests done on me needed to be extensive and certain about my capability to have the surgery. The night sky was darkening rapidly, and the sun was falling like a large and fiery stress ball from its high point in the sky. The hospital room was almost completely engulfed by darkness, and I was only partially sure that the surgeons had enough light to operate during this dark hour. The sound effects of SpongeBob were likely quite audible to the patients of the rooms near mine, yet I refused to turn down the volume of my distraction. I had pestered my mother about five minutes earlier to fetch some chocolate items and drinks from the vending machine down the eerie looking hall. She would squarely refuse each time I begged.
“Please mom, I’m sure it won’t harshly influence my health!” I had pleaded. My father, a less overbearing parental figure, announced that he would bring me a singular chocolate bar for me to feast on. I didn’t bother to request one for Otis because I knew he always had a chocolate bunny, or even one in bar form, at hand. My mother accompanied my father on the short journey even though it required only one being, but still I had been left in the dark room with Otis. The flickering TV was the only light shining on our complexions, for none of us took the liberty to turn on one of the lamps on the Ikea nightstand. I had not seen Otis rest yet, but he stood beside me for quite some time, proving his steadfast loyalty. He still stood, unwavering.
My father and mother returned with a pea sized chocolate almond, a large disappointment compared to my hopes of a king-sized Hershey bar. I scowled at their failure to meet my needs until I noticed three other people making an entrance. One was Dr. Roberts, and it wasn’t a very shocking sight for he came and went as he pleased, but he was accompanied by two other young and quite timid looking doctors. I could now understand that my parents had been bombarded on their way to the vending machine by these doctors, and I could see that they knew further into my future than I did. They had a faltering smile on their tired out faces, and I recoiled from the disgust of the fake happiness they put on display just for my benefit. Otis had backed away into a chair without me noticing his movement, and he sat there now, staring at the scene that unfolded in front of him.
“Am I having the surgery today?” I asked while quivering, just so I could get the thought out of my head and into the room. I was somewhat annoyed that these grown adults chose not to disclose this information yet, allowing it to be much more awkward for the child in the room.
“You are, Bella, but don’t freak out kiddo,” Dr. Roberts said while attempting to be humorous. He clearly did not know my prior hatred of the degrading word “kiddo,” but I let him continue.
“We don’t think you’re going to die Bella, I mean we can’t promise life of course,” he continued while I thought, So he’s basically assuring my death. I suppose I was just indignant that he mentioned that he couldn’t promise life to an eight year old girl. Of course she was going to interpret that she was going to die. I hardly listened to what he half told me and half told my parents about the way the surgery would work, and the confusing and unpronounceable medical terms. I now stared back at Otis, noting earlier that he had still been staring at me. He got up, unnoticed by the adults of course, and handed me a chocolate bunny, similar to the time I had first been in his presence. I was in no mood to eat, so I rested the bunny on my nightstand, ready to eat and enjoy it with Otis, post-surgery. For now I let the muffled noises of speaking be mere background noises, and I stared at the TV that was still, now quietly, playing season one episode three of SpongeBob.
Shortly after the time spent talking over the surgery, I was to prepare for the event itself. If I am to speak candidly, I had still not quite accepted the fact that I would soon be the dead squirrel poked by a stick, but I supposed at least the poker knew what they were doing. The two young doctors did not seem like highly competent surgeons. They were both much too clumsy, and shuffled reluctantly to my side. They began a painful and maddening process so I could go into surgery shortly. I felt like the turkey on Thanksgiving day, being prepped and touched by others. I was handled and medicated, and grabbed and poked, and I was stared at by my blood relations, and by my penguin friend. A rather embarrassing thing for them to do in this scenario. My mother and father stared and yelled lines of what they thought of as encouragement. If you compared them and Otis, Otis would seem quiet and bad tempered. However he was quite the opposite. My parents constantly repeated things such as, “It’s ok honey!” and, “You got this, it will be alright,” but Otis knew to sympathize, not encourage, and to do so whenever I flinched or quivered. He would then say cooly, “I understand it’s frightening.” I wished for him to embrace me once again, but he hadn’t the chance for I was now being lifted, similar to the first scene in the Lion King movie, by the three doctors in the room. I strained my neck to glance back at the TV which no one had turned off. I didn’t wish to lose my spot in the show. While I did so, Dr. Roberts practically let me fall onto a new and uncomfortably hard cot. My parents dared not to hold back their tears, and they looked as if they were already mourning my death. Otis stood unharmed by any trauma, and he just stared with sympathy as they rolled me away from him.
“Bye,” I whispered to Otis, hoping to make it out of the surgery to see him once again. I then turned to the humans who created me. Our loving family, I could tell, would likely not be complete without me to look after. “I love you both very much,” I cooed, calming my parents down instead of the opposite. I had now officially been rolled out of my hospital room, and I felt dizzy while I stared down at the moving nauseating green tiles of a long hall. I tried to look back, to see Otis, to hear the ending credits of SpongeBob, to see how dark the room had gotten, to eat the chocolate almond, to hug a penguin. I was slipping away from the friend that cared about me the most, and I nearly screamed. The doctors pacing in front of me burst open a set of double doors, the same dramatic way they did it in TV shows. My parents were pushed back, not allowed to go any further into the sterilized room where my mind would be opened up to the world. I hoped my thoughts of contempt against the doctors stealing me from Otis would not escape in my weak moment and reach their ears. I eagerly wished to see if Otis was there, right next to my parents, wishing me luck. I was quite indignant at that moment and wanted to yell at the doctors, but instead I was instructed to count back from ten, “nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three…” I trailed off. That is all I remember.
I was extremely warm. My mind immediately asked the question if I was being eaten up by a raging fire or being burned by a dying out candle. To find the answer I had to see what was happening to my body. That’s why I opened my eyes. Contrary to my predictions, I was under three layers of heavy blankets, and I felt like the bottom layer of a piece of lasagna. I wasn’t sure what to do with my limbs, and I felt uncoordinated as I tried to move and failed in the process. My legs had been immobilized from the pressure of these blankets, and my tongue had never been so dry, and my eyes never so heavy. I tried to open my eyes, to rest them on the world, without using my fingers to prevent my eyelids from falling and hiding my sight. I gazed around as long as my exhaustion would permit. I let myself feel numb and morose for yet another moment, until my slow-moving mind undertook the reality of the situation. I was briefly paralized by the shock surging through my now profusely sweating body. I was alive, and from what I could tell, I was also healthy. I had the inclination to burst from my restraining sheets, but It was doubtless that there was certain medical equipment attached to my body. I imagined I had survived my brain being removed and then placed again in my head. To be frank, I knew that was most likely not the case. However, I could still claim I had survived a surgery, counting on the fact I wasn’t dreaming of life in this current moment. My face now swelled with pride. I was beaming, a fact I knew without needing a mirror. I soon thought of not myself but my loved ones. I could let myself relax now that I could keep the promise I made of eating that final chocolate bunny with Otis. I gave myself the courage to finally cease the resting of my limbs and to move around. I suppose I had been quiet while I pondered my mortality, for I now noticed my mother and father sitting in a chair, simply staring at their brown shoes. The awkward moment refused to pass, therefore leaving me to start a conversation. “Hi,” I croaked with my raspy voice.
As basic and cheesy as it sounds, my parents looked as if they had seen a ghost in their presence instead of their once sickly child. My mother had a thing for the dramatics, and her reaction proved this statement far better than I could. She choked on tears as they rapidly streamed down her face, and she contorted her face during this period of carrying out and what I thought of as a celebration. My father simply swallowed, in a very exaggerated way, and tapped his foot repeatedly on the tiles beneath him. Shortly after I spoke, my parents both tightened their arms around my fragile and weak waist. I flinched for a moment before I enjoyed their loving embrace of affection. I too hugged them with the best of my ability, for my hands were too small and their bodies too large. We sat for moments of tranquility, until my mother felt the need to explain the fact that I was still alive.
“The surgery went great!” she boasted, “You’ve gone from a pale ghoul to my lovely daughter.” Yes, that was a truly kind sentiment for my mother to speak, however no tears rose to my tired eyes just yet. After the strong feelings of reunitement subsided, I longed to meet Otis once again. I hadn’t been able to scan the room for the presence of the perpetually quiet penguin. I did so now, and returned with frustrating results. Otis did not appear to be in the white hospital room currently, an odd occurrence for the clingy penguin.
“Do you happen to know Otis’ location?” I asked my euphoric mother. She bit her lip as if it wasn’t obvious for me to take that as a sign of worry. “Mom,” I said flatly and quite frustratingly. I thrashed around my bedding for some time until I was able to free my puny arms. I panted like a dog in hot weather after my draining struggle. Next I looked on the fragile nightstand for the Easter bunny chocolate I had left behind, part of my promise to Otis. I threw my head from side to side,with my eyes now wide open but still glazed over. I looked at each parent as they avoided my gaze. “Is this the same room I had before?” I quickly spat. They took quite a while to submit a valid response, but my mother answered with the short word, “Yes.”
“Did they throw away the chocolate by chance?” I asked with the hope I could still indulge in eating. My father chose to chime in this time, with another one syllable, depleting word.
“No,” He murmured.
I meditated for minutes trying to figure out how the chocolate did not sit before me and where Otis might be. During this exasperating period, Dr. Roberts chose to make his entrance. Poorly timed, but crucial. He entered with a lively attitude and did a strange and horribly executed dance on his way towards my bed.
“There’s my number one patient!” he squealed like a schoolgirl. “How are you feeling today Bella? I’m sure your parents announced that we removed all tumors and you should be strong and healthy in no time.”
“I’m feeling fine Dr. Roberts,” I replied, contradicting his happy demeanour with my sullen one. “Yes, I have been notified about my current state of being.”
He then proceeded to flip through what I have identified as my chart, ask a few more questions, and speak to my emotional parents. They, like most times, left the room during this conversation. They all soon re-entered, coming back to my side clearly not as high-spirited as they were a mere one minute ago.
“What?” I said in an angry tone, but with a slight quiver in my voice.
“We were just wondering if Otis has interacted with you this morning,” Dr. Roberts said, addressing me, yet looking at my parents. He most likely intended the question to be smooth and calm. This dear doctor failed in that case. He scratched his head and couldn’t keep his sight in one direction for more than a moment.
“I haven’t seen him yet,” I answered quite indignantly towards my nervous doctor. Dr. Roberts apparently felt no need to respond to my snappy remark, and he tripped towards the wide-open door. My parents took whatever signal he had made, and sat next to me. I wished they hadn’t. For the bed was too small for a group of three.
“Bella, we’re really sorry…” my mother began but could not complete. She had unplugged whatever was keeping the dam together, and the tears appeared once again.
“Honey,” my dad cooed, taking over for my saddening mother. I felt the redness in my cheeks, and from my current state of feeling I could tell they were the same shade as a ripe tomato. My nose soon became a peach-like color, and rain from my fading blue eyes watered the peach and tomatoes. “We don’t think Otis is here, anymore.” my dad finally finished. I watched as my statuesque father let rain onto his face as well. It was surely a rainy day for the Court family. I was no idiot, and I could easily put two and two together. I would not protest Otis’ disappearance. I would not argue with my father and mother, for I had no case. Calm, collected, accepting. These words did not describe my presence. The drizzling rain turned into a flood, and the dam was crushed into pieces. I forced my hand to reach the nightstand. My uncut nails yelled while they were pushed into the chipping paint, and they tried to grasp the form of an abandoned bunny. My beady eyes saw no presence of a black backpack and metallic lunchbox, no beanie left in the hallway, and no penguin asking for SpongeBob. My parents backed away, and now they really saw a ghost in me. I screamed for my neighbors to hear, for them to feel my pain. I thrashed around, pulling my hair, until the loudspeaker announced my room number. Blackness.
I was Bella Court. Today I turned nine, and my mother bought me red wallpaper.