The Oldest Middle Child
1. It gets tiring picking out which mask to wear each morning. The strong mask. The tired mask. The scared mask. The sick mask. The big sister mask. The oldest child mask. The younger stepsister mask. The “I never have to worry about you” mask. The “I’m sorry you had to grow up so fast” mask. The “Sorry kiddo, I’m going to Colorado and then to Hawaii. I’ll see you next month” mask. The “Sorry, I can’t come over. My mom is sick” mask. They never seem to match what outfit I have planned.
2. Your standard oldest sibling comes equipped with increased maturity, a natural sense of protection over their younger sibling, dependability, a strong personality, a loud laugh, the ability to raise themselves, a temper, a wanting to stir the pot, a love for all the arts, an obsession with Panic! at the Disco, anxiety, a little extra baby fat, a fear of heights, depression, a fear of being on a boat and not seeing land, freckles from past sunburns, childhood scars, a good sense of humor, and the ability to understand what the doctors mean.
3. “Laura, you need to let her go out more,” she said through the phone. “The poor kid has no friends.” A thick silence fell between them. “I need help Mom.” A sigh came through the other end. “She’s barely thirteen. She can’t raise her brother and help take care of you. If you would just get up and go out more instead of sleeping all the time, you’d see it's all in your head, and you would feel better.” “Look, I gotta go. Talk to you later.” Click. I pretend that I didn’t hear a thing.
4. Your standard middle child comes equipped with an invisibility cloak.
5. “John, come on!” My mother is angry, and I’m sure the whole neighborhood knows it now. Mount Vesuvius has nothing on her. “She broke her glasses—John they’re six years old! How long do you go between new pairs? She needs a new pair. She can’t use those. She needs a new prescription! That pair was from the third grade! No! She can’t wait two weeks for a new pair, that’s why we’re going to Lens Crafters!” A few seconds of angry silence pass. I’m sitting right next to her, but I can’t understand what my father has to say. “John, I can’t afford it! I need you to pay half so our child can see!” That’s what child support is for. He says he hopes it gets better, and the phone call ends. “Mom,” she says defeated. “I need help.”
6. Having an invisibility cloak has many uses. It gets you out of having to attend “family” Christmas parties every other year. With this fashionable cloak, you get to be left alone all weekend. Snuggle up with a good book and maybe the babysitter will forget you’re there. For your sixteenth birthday, you get a set of luggage. The older sisters, who aren’t lucky enough to have the invisible cloak, get a set of golf clubs. They also get stuck riding in the backseat on the way to Florida. And Colorado. And Lake of the Ozarks. And Texas. And California. At least the invisibility cloak goes with every outfit.
7. By seventeen, I had spent more time in and out of hospitals than any doctor in the GI department. I can review my mother’s medical history like it was second nature. Do you need her medication list? Do you need to know what medications she’s stopped recently? Yes, she smokes. She will never admit that though. She weighs 210 and stands at five feet and one inch. And a half. Her abdomen is a road map. This scar is from having her gallbladder removed. These scars are from having twelve inches of her small intestines removed. This one here is from an old stoma she had. She almost kept the ostomy bag, but that is a secret only I know. I can change an ostomy bag with my eyes closed. I can pack gauze in an open wound that has to heal from the inside out. Oh, and these scars are from when she had two hernias removed. I can calm my mother down when the doctors can’t translate their jargon into English. I can understand the many, many test results. Not all tumors are cancerous. MRI images are hard to read, but wait - I think these are your kidneys? So, that means that these are your intestines. Yes, Mom, they look good. No bright spots.
8. On Senior Night, my marching uniform clings to my body the way a wet shower curtain clings to the inside of the tub walls. It is a good time of year to be wearing a thick, dark purple, and black uniform. My name is the last to be called. I walk down the side of the track with my parents, holding a purple carnation that the Band Parent Association handed out to every senior. It is slightly wilted, but still so vibrant. We stand still, smile. Flash.
9. A week later, my band director hands me a printed photo of me, my mom, and my dad. Pale and sweaty under the Friday night lights. We almost look like a family. My mom stands next to me, and it is evident where I get “it” from. Her blonde hair falls straight onto her black coat, her gloved hand holding a rose that all the moms received tonight. My dad is behind us, his hand resting on my shoulder. The only thing we have in common is our tummies and our noses. It is the only photo of me and both of my parents.
10. By twenty, I am sick too.
Violet Pina is currently a nursing student. Creative writing was never really a hobby of hers until she took a class at SIUE and fell in love with it. Violet lives in Glen Carbon with her husband and two cats whom she loves dearly.