When surgeons wheeled away my sister, her twenty-five-year-old body so tiny and wracked with illness that there was room for a second body on the gurney, I thought about throwing myself onto the bed next to her, remembered how doctors said, even before she was born, that her life would be short and painful, that I should be thankful each time her body survives another night.

But as the gurney rolled out of sight, I did not yet know—

—that, watching her disappear, I would realize I haven’t prayed in years—and that I won’t

—that I would count the number of times surgeons have cut open her body and brain: thirty-two? Thirty-three

—that during the operation, her brain’s ventricles were going to hemorrhage

—that the neurosurgeon would run to find me in a relentlessly gray waiting room, beads of sweat dotting his forehead

—that he would say, It’s bad. It’s bad. I think we can save her. But she won’t be the same

—that while the surgeon warned me and perspired and apologized, I would bite my tongue until my mouth filled with the taste of rusty blood

—that I would stuff my sister’s pale pink bathrobe—her security blanket—between my teeth to keep them from shattering

—that the fabric would smell like her and I would try to swallow her scent

—that my mother, who would sit two chairs away from me, hands folded in her lap, would nod along with the surgeon’s prognostication and only say, I’m not worried. I have faith

—that when I saw my sister hours later, her forehead would be so brutally stitched that it would look like they zipped up her skin

—that days later, when she woke, she would not know me

—that she would push her hair, still matted with blood, out of her sapphire eyes, study my face, and ask Are we friends?

—that I would tell her I’m your sister, we’re best friends

—that she would nod and say okay.

Kristin M. Distel holds a Ph.D. in English literature from Ohio University, where she wrote and defended her dissertation, Gendered Shame, Female Subjectivity, and the Rise of the Eighteenth-Century Novel. Kristin has recently published articles and book chapters on Toni Morrison, Theodore Roethke, Stella Gibbons, Kate Chopin, Larry Levis, Natasha Trethewey, Phillis Wheatley, Mather Byles, Samuel Richardson, Eliza Haywood, and Frances Burney. Her co-edited volume, a reissue of Sherwood Anderson’s The Triumph of the Egg, was published by Hastings College Press. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, JuxtaProse, Coldnoon, Complete Sentence, The Minetta Review, Rag Queen Periodical, Lehigh Valley Vanguard, Flyover Country Review, The Broken Plate, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and elsewhere. Kristin works as the Coordinator of Academic Coaching and First-Generation Student Programming at Ohio University.

Photo by Amy Selwyn