Pick Me

Absence (installation 2009) by JParadisi

I am five years old, lying on a mat on the floor in a darkened room. Peeking out of the corner of tightly squinted, but not quite closed eyes, I watch Mrs. Sundeman, seated at a child-sized table, place gold stars on our morning’s work. She sits on a child’s chair. With the side of my face pressed against the mat on the floor, her black shoes with stout heels are in my direct line of view. I peer up towards her face, willing her to see I am a good napper. “Pick me, pick me,” I chant silently. “Please pick me.” I force myself to lie still on the uncomfortable mat.  It’s naptime in kindergarten, and I want to be the best napper so Mrs. Sundeman, the teacher will pick me to have the magic pencil. Then I will choose, one by one among the sleeping children, who will get off the mats first by tapping them on the shoulder with the magic pencil. With the magic pencil, I choose who returns to play and who stays on the uncomfortable mats.

I am not chosen. It is not enough to lie still with squinted eyes. Mrs. Sundeman prefers children who dream unconsciously to those who like me cannot lie still without thinking. I do not know how to lie still and not think of something. Even with my eyes tightly closed, I see swirly lines and arabesques in brilliant colors against the black backdrop of my eyelids. My thoughts are full of ideas for pictures I will draw and I struggle not to tell the child lying closest to me, because we are not supposed to talk during naptime.

I am an adult now. I am a Registered Nurse. I hang bags of chemotherapy on IV poles and attach it by tubing to the IV sites of cancer patients looking at me hopefully as if I am administering Jesus in a bottle. They come in hoping for a cure, but many would be satisfied with simple remission, allowing them another birthday, another holiday, another anniversary with their families. I can hear their silent chants, “Pick me, pick me.” I smile at them while setting the pump. I ask if they are comfortable in their lounge chairs. I bring them warm blankets and pillows.

She lies in a lounger. Her cancer refuses to go into remission, and we both know. She no longer chants “pick me, pick me.” I gently hug her body of skin stretched over fragile bones. I never had the magic pencil. I never will. I am not the one who gets to pick, and for that I am grateful.

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