Conqueror of the Darkness

She reminded me of a spider.  Dozens of small metal circles covered in glue surrounded her skull.  Attached to each was a colored wire.  Yellow, red, blue, green: they resembled spider legs.  These wires went every which way but eventually all reached a big rectangular device attached around her waist.  Occasionally, that device made a strange beeping sound.  It scared me.

Sometimes my sister, Megan, had these all over her head.  Other times, she did not.  When it was time to remove the wires, my sister sat in the bathtub.  My mother bent over her, trying to scrub out the glue.  They were at it for hours, using all types of chemicals from under the kitchen sink to dissolve the sticky mess.  The end result: Megan, no longer a spider.

“Her head gets the hiccups,” my mother told me to explain why Megan sometimes could not control her limbs and face.  I now know my sister had to undergo electroencephalogram (EEG) tests.  The wires observed the electrical signals happening in her brain.  Why?  To detect and record seizures.

She was different and at the time, it scared me.  For the majority of my childhood, Megan was my sister, and then sometimes a spider.  But a couple days later, my sister again.

When my sister resurfaced and she could conceal the monster inside from my view, we played together, jumped in leaves, built snowmen, swam in blow-up pools, and all the things that created the cliché childhood.  Being two and a half years older than me, Megan protected me on the bus from the mean older boys, walked me to my classes at school, and rode the bus home with me.

One morning before school, Megan and I sat eating our breakfast at the kitchen table. Cheerios floated in milk in child safe, bright colorful plastic bowls.  We ate in silence, bringing our spoons up to our mouths at a steady pace.  My mother busied herself at the kitchen counter, packing our lunches for the day of school that loomed ahead of us.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Megan’s spoon still.  I instantly knew it was happening.  Again.  I looked up in terror and saw what I expected.  Her eyes locked on a spot on the wall behind my head, body shaking violently, left side of her mouth pulled downward, milk dribbling out onto her shirt.  I called my mom over, panicked.  She came over calmly.  There was nothing we could do besides stand by and wait for her eyes to refocus and body to be still.

When the shaking stopped, no one was hungry any more.  The dishes were cleared and Megan was fine.  I was more shaken than she was.  She went upstairs to change her shirt.  I packed my backpack.  I had to go outside to wait for the bus alone, but I continued to glance at the front door of the house, waiting for it to open and for the happy Megan to bounce along the pathway.  I wanted her to wait with me.  I needed her to protect me being the shy five-year-old I was.  I heard the screeching brakes of the bus down the road.  The front door never opened.  I got on the bus hesitantly, waiting for my bus buddy to run up the driveway.  She didn’t.

Some nights, I woke up to screaming.  Other nights, it was the creaking of the floorboards as my parents rushed down the hallway into Megan’s room.  She had night terrors; she was terrified of things we could not see.  Things that no one could see except her.  As I sat up in bed, eyes wide against the darkness, I could see their footsteps in the hall, no matter how gently they tiptoed, casting shadows against the small strip of light under my bedroom door.  I could faintly hear their comforting whispers.  I lay awake, long after our parents traveled back down the hall and long after Megan fell back asleep.  I lay there wide-awake wondering.

I prayed that one of these nights, Megan would sleep all the way until morning.  I wanted her to experience what a good dream was like.  I wanted her to beat the darkness inside her head.

I had heard about many miracles of God.  Why wouldn’t he help my distressed sister?  The faith that my parents drilled into my being with endless hours of church, slowly slipped from my grasp.  Did He have no mercy?

One night, we had company over.  Our aunt and uncle occupied the guest room downstairs and my cousins took over my room.  I collected my sleeping bag and went to sleep in Megan’s room that night.  We settled down.  After some time her breathing steadied but mine did not.  I was waiting.  I was waiting for what terrified me to happen right before my eyes.  My sister would disappear.  She would become trapped inside her malfunctioning body; a spider would take over and I didn’t know how to get her back.

I waited and waited.  The sounds of no sound should have been comforting, knowing that at that moment, my family was all safe, asleep, and content within their heads.  Instead, anxiety took over.  My backed ached from the hardness of the floor beneath me and my sleeping bag acted as a sauna.  My eyelids did not feel heavy, yet it must have been past midnight.  Eventually, the shaking did start, as did a strange gurgling noise.  There was no screaming.  My parents wouldn’t hear and come to the rescue.  Not knowing what to do, I clutched my sleeping bag under my chin despite the humid temperature inside and waited some more.  The shaking continued, but eventually stopped with a thud.  I flipped on the bedside light to see Megan on the ground, tears beginning to fall.  I could see her arms desperately trying to hoist herself up, yet not able to.  Despite my childish fear, I quickly slipped out of my sleeping bag and crawled over to her.  Sitting next to her, I wrapped her in my small arms.

That was the first time I really saw her cry.

“Why can’t I get up, Dana?  Why does this happen?” I didn’t have an answer.  “I feel like another person in my tummy – see, it happens everyday.”

We sat there together for a while.  Once the darkness started turning into a dusky gray, I helped her get back into bed and wondered if I should fetch my parents.  Megan motioned for me to join her under her floral comforter and I knew my sister had returned.

“Please don’t tell Mommy and Daddy,” a weak voice begged me.  She seemed embarrassed.

“I won’t.”  It was a whisper, but I knew she heard.

Now, Megan is seizure free.  My miracle finally came true.  My daily desperate prayers answered and my faith restored.  Six years of four small, orange pills every day did the trick.  My sister is stronger than anyone I know.  I now understand why God made us fight through the struggle: to create a bond that I know we will never lose.  Not only does my sister protect me, but I protect her as well.  She conquered the darkness for herself.  Spider?  Gone.