I thought about turning this memory into a personal statement if I ever went to Law School, or Medical School, or any other Graduate School I’ve had dreams about but wasn’t smart enough for— but here I am, sitting on a countertop in my kitchen, writing out a version of it for my blog because I realized the only platform I’ve got is the one I’ve given myself. So, here goes— this is the one about the Lord of the Rings:
It was the beginning of a slow roll downhill for Devika’s health, but none of us knew it then. We were so used to living rollercoaster lives, that at that particular moment in time, we were just in response mode. It was November in my senior year of High School, which meant that at the end of the month, the UC Applications I hadn’t finished were due, as were most of the pre-finals projects, and the looming dread of my 17th Birthday was quickly approaching. But, this story isn’t about me, it’s about Devika.
A few weeks before that night, Devika had developed a spike in her seizures. After the Chemo side effects kicked in, she’s had them every day, at all hours— but this time, they were different. Her seizures became longer, her breathing patterns kept changing, and sometimes she would just drop onto the floor and start screaming. They happened indiscriminately throughout the day, and most times, when we’d least expect it. I remember moments we’d be outside around other people, where I’d be half-involved in whatever I was doing, and half-involved in a deep worry about whether Devika was going to have another seizure in front of everyone— and if that one was going to be the worst one.
When I was younger, my Mom explained Devika’s seizures to me in terms of the weather. The chemotherapy messed her up bad enough to change the hospitable climate of her baby brain into one more like a constant Monsoon storm. When Devika had a seizure, it was like a thunderstorm went off inside her head, and that every millisecond she experienced it, was like a beam of lightning striking down into a different area of her brain. So now, I ask you, Dear Reader, when you read about my sister having a seizure, I want you to imagine what this storm must look like in her head— and what it must feel like watching someone you love experience that.
On one particular night, the night this post is particularly about, Devika’s seizures escalated to a point where she would take long, sharp, inhales and exhales— and start to cry in a way so unique that it almost sounded like words. But, if you’d read “The One Where Devika Got Sick, the First Time” you’d know that the Doctors told us Devika would never talk again. So, once again, I’d like you to imagine the mixed feelings of horror and hope that we felt every time we had to watch her suffer through a seizure. My Mom called her Neurologists multiple times during the day, but the increased amount in her seizures were apparently normal for the new cocktail of epilepsy drugs she’d been prescribed. We would have to ride it out with her until they got so bad her life was in real danger. Throughout the daylight hours, my mom was closely monitoring Devika’s seizures, I was in school, and my Dad was resting before he went to work his graveyard shift that night. My mom took the watch shift the night before, and she’d already been up for more than 24 hours— so it was my turn to step up. Devika was taking longer to exhale after her seizures, and my job was to make sure that I could see her start to breathe again after every bad one. It was a weeknight, and I don’t remember much about what I was learning in school at the time— and to be honest, I didn’t really care. I had homework to do, and essays to write, and I had the time to do it— but my mind just wasn’t present. I was more scared about whether my sister was going to survive through the night than whether I’d get into the colleges I dreamed of attending. Anyways, this isn’t about me, it’s about Devika. At one point in the night, a little before 11, Devika’s seizures were happening every few minutes instead of every hour, and so, since the coffee wasn’t kicking in yet, I figured it’d be an alright idea to just marathon all of the Lord of the Rings movies. Every movie was about 3 hours or so, and I figured if I watched all three, by the time morning came, I’d have successfully stayed awake through the night and monitored my sister’s seizures.
I can’t say I remember every detail of that movie, because, like with most things at the time, I was only half-paying attention. But I can say that I remember that night more vividly than any other night in my life. I remember seeing Frodo scramble every time he dropped the ring, and the way my sister’s back slowly moved up and down with each breath— and how all of it looked in the light of the TV screen against a dark room. I remember Boromir’s death happening in the background while I concentrated on the sounds of my sister breathing, praying that with every inhale, an exhale finally followed. When the Battle of Helm’s Deep was at its peak, I remember Devika squeezing my hand until it felt like her nails were cutting into my palm because of another bad seizure. And sometimes, even still, when I’m alone and I close my eyes, I can hear the cry she made after her worst one, and how it echoed so loudly across the room that it woke my mom up from her deep sleep.
I drifted off a few times through the night, despite the monstrous combination of the loud TV volume and my having consumed multiple cups of coffee. Every time I woke up, I felt guilty. Because, what if she was having the Big One, and I wasn’t there to help her through it? What if the Big One came, and I was asleep on the watch, and everything came apart for all of us because I didn’t wake my mom up and call 911? My parents never told me it was my responsibility, in fact, that night I fought with my Mom to let me stay awake, because I knew she hadn’t slept the night before— so what if the Big One came, and I dropped the ball and fell asleep, and then my mom woke up to see me asleep and my sister not breathing? I couldn’t let her feel guilty for being human and needing to rest.
Towards the end of the third movie, the sun began to rise. I watched the walls in my sisters room start to light up, while birds began to chirp louder than the end credit music. It was winter then, because I remember suddenly noticing how cold the room had gotten, and how warm it felt under the cover of my giant swap meet blanket. Devika didn’t need blankets that night, or any night really, because her body stayed at a constant 99 degrees. I remember when my mom woke up to go to the bathroom, and the disappointed sound of her voice when she realized I didn’t do any of the homework that I promised her I’d get done that night. I failed in that respect, and it was no one else’s fault but mine— but I really thought it was a successful night. In the hot morning shower, I remember feeling a wave of relief run over me because I realized my sister survived another night. It was only for a second, but for that second my whole body felt like a pillow that had just burst open and left small feathers floating through the air. One night down, another one to go.
I’m not placing any blame on my little sister or my family or my situation, because I know that I’m the only person responsible for where I am in my own life. In that same thread, I’m aware that I’m also the only one really responsible for where I go. If anything, all I have taken away from this night, is guilt. Guilt that my mom felt guilty for needing to sleep, that my Dad felt guilty for being at work and not at home, that Meera, my older sister, felt guilty because she had to support us and get up for work too. Most of all, I felt guilty for Devika. Here I was, grateful that she made it through the night, and that we got another night with her— but I didn’t even do any real work. All I did was watch her. She was the one actually living through it, suffering through each and every debilitating seizure, and I was just over here thinking it’d be fun to watch Lord of the Rings while I was on night shift.
There’s never a moment where I don’t feel greedy for wanting another day with her. Every time I’m awake for a sunrise, I think about the night we watched all of the Lord of the Rings movies, and the half-hearted and fully loaded acceptance of daybreak. And so, in closing, I leave you with the one thing I learned that night: For starters, watching all three LOTR movies in one night is a terrible idea— but in that same thread, please take a minute to really think about the little things you’re grateful for in your life. If it’s a movie trilogy whose only purpose is to keep you awake through the night, so be it— but really just take the time to be grateful that you have the time.