by Aiden Steele Castro
Tumors sprout cunningly, and take root
Unnoticed in developing organs, hideous fruit
Demanding a grim and perpetual harvest.
                                            —Corrinne Clegg Hales

I spent majority of my adolescence in Madera, California;
locked behind sanitary sliding doors at Valley Children’s Hospital.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia had ravaged my youngest brother’s body,
and that hospital became my home for months on end.
The room was small and always smelled of filtered air, germ-x, and antibiotics.
I’ll never forget those plastic LED’s that coated the ceiling;
positioned together like divine intervention,
and made to resemble the stars that we were no longer allowed to see.
The doctor took my brothers vitals every few hours,
and the IV machine would beep louder and louder
every time they neglected to bring new distilled water bags
to replenish his small withering body.
It kept us all awake,
and I never understood how he slept through it all.
One night he spiked a fever that wouldn’t go back down;
more nurses came to our room in panic,
as his body convulsed from the tremors of his fever.
My mother and father helped strip his body
as the nurses began to dip him in cold water.
I put a towel to cool his shaven head.
He was battling an unknown virus that even the doctors could not explain.
The chemo—killing the antibodies he needed for protection.
I sat on the purple vinyl couch
that folded out into our bed for the night.
I watched as my mother struggle
to hold back what looked like desperation.
My father was pacing the room in fierce prayer,
asking God to cure him from whatever was attacking his body.
While I was asking God why he chose to hurt my brother, and not me.
I hid in the bathroom while the doctors showed
my brothers blood levels to my parents.
He had low levels of platelets and hemoglobin,
and I ripped at my veins while no one was watching.
The bathroom tile was cool and I pressed it to my face;
hoping that it would somehow cool and affect him.
I cursed at the LEDs above his bed for not giving us a normal life,
and every time my brother vomited from the nausea
that chemotherapy would bring like a gift on Christmas,
I hoped that it was possible to run away from it all.
I changed the night I watched my brother dance with death.
Twenty-four hours of me being sure you were dying,
yet you managed to get up the next day:
to eat the sweet apple sauce
that you couldn’t swallow the day before.
The sickness came and went like a prayer to God’s ear.
But the fear of death remained,
and I learned that those plastic stars on the ceiling
could resemble the fever blisters that were left on your body.