Steven’s life is turned upside down when his baby brother is diagnosed with cancer.
I’m baking in the June sun, in a brown gown and a funny square hat on my head. It’s middle school graduation and I’m spacing out, as usual. “How did I get here? What have I learned since last September? How could my life have changed so much in only ten months?” The principal’s making a speech, so I’ve got some time to think about it.
It all started in September when Miss Palma asked us to write a journal entry about the most annoying thing in the world, and I wrote about my little brother Jeffrey. He’s five years old, eight years younger than me, and while I have brown cowlicky hair, glasses about an inch thick and braces, Jeffrey has perfect teeth, 20/20 vision and golden curls. But that’s not what’s really annoying about him. What bugs me the most is how he idolizes me, follows me around and wants to do everything just like me. And in doing that he destroys my stuff, including my sanity and my self esteem. Take the Dangerous Pie incident. Jeffrey has always known that he’s not to touch anything to do with my drums—no matter what. I’m serious about my drums, and last year I became the only seventh grade drummer to be admitted to the All City Band—ever! They had to send a special bus to the middle school to pick up me and Annette Watson, who’s an incredible piano player. But last year I came home after school, and decided to use my Special Sticks to practice with. They’re signed by my all-time drum hero, Carter Beauford of the Dave Matthews Band. When they weren’t on the shelf, I went running for Jeffrey, hoping I wasn’t too late. I was. He was sitting on the kitchen floor, stirring an ungodly nasty mess of something in a big pot with my drumsticks! I got them away from him and cleaned them up, but they still smell funny. And that’s only one of the ways he was annoying. He also has a knack for saying exactly the right thing to embarrass me in the very worst way, in front of all the people I want to think I’m at least close to cool.
Jeffrey stopped being annoying on October 7, just about a month after that journal entry. I’d woken up early and gone down to the basement to get in some work on my practice pad before school. So of course, about the time I got warmed up, Jeffrey comes in and wants me to make him some oatmeal. He’s complaining about his “parts hurting” the way he has lately, and says that “moatmeal” will make him feel better. He’s not gonna let me alone, so I give up and fix him the oatmeal. I put him on a tall bar stool so he can mix in the water before I nuke it, and the next thing I know, I hear a crack, a thump, and a whimper. Jeffrey’s slipped off the bar stool and cracked his face against the counter as he fell. His nose is bleeding like it would never stop, and he starts screaming like a banshee. Of course that wakes up the ‘rents, and I get all the blame for everything. But that’s over as soon as Jeffrey pushes my hand away from his nose, and we all get a look at the blood. All that blood. All over me. All over the towel. All over Jeffrey. This was no ordinary nosebleed. My mother instantly decided to take him to the ER, and was out the door in mere minutes. My dad and I stare at each other in shock before we separate to get ready for the day, both wondering just what was going on with Jeffrey. No matter what I do that day, I can’t stop thinking about Jeffrey and all that blood. Then, when I get home from school, my mom is waiting for me, and I finally find out. Mom has this pale, set look on her face, and she says in a soft strange voice, “Steven, your brother is really sick. The fall this morning had nothing to do with it. But he’s really, really sick. He has leukemia.”
And just like that, my world is turned upside down. Jeffrey’s been sick for a while and has to start chemo immediately. That means he and my mom have to spend several days at the hospital in Philly, an hour and a half away. Dad turns into a zombie, never talking to me about anything—it’s almost like he’s disappeared. I live on nukable food and don’t tell anyone about Jeffrey, even when people want to know why I’m more spacey than ever. I think if I can just keep my head together, things will get better. But they don’t. They get worse. And worse. When the neighbors and the family find out about what’s going on, they descend on us, which isn’t always good, but they all bring food, which is good, and my diet improves. When teachers find out why I haven’t even looked at my homework in months and don’t talk in class any more, they help me make up everything over Christmas vacation. But nothing makes a real difference. Jeffrey is still sick. My family is still in debt over our heads with medical bills. My mother still doesn’t have a job because she has to spend all her time and energy on Jeffrey, and my dad is working ninety hours a week and looking like he’s on the verge of flipping out completely—and there’s nothing, nothing, nothing I can do to make any of it any better!
What’s it like to watch your baby brother dying of cancer? Take a look at Steven’s story and find out.
This booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart.