Today, at Twelve
My father died when I was very young, and all I remember about him is his smile, off-white teeth, pretty but not perfectly shaped, against red, swollen gums. I can’t recall his nose, or his eyes, or his lips; I’ve seen pictures, but pictures are never the same as memory.
I started coughing when I was six. My grampa joked that I was just trying to be like my mother; I said something nasty back that I knew hurt her feelings, because nobody wants to be their mother- not even at that age. And I never found the right time to tell her I didn’t mean it.
I got a bad cough when I was eight. My mother worried it might be tuberculosis; my grampa said it was probably just a lung infection. I didn’t speak to my mother the entire trip to the doctor; she was so much worse and I was fine, and she’d been saving the money so she could go to the doctor. Outside the clinic I broke done. Through tears, I told her she needed the doctor more, that I was young and strong and I could wait. But she was my mother, and she wasn’t hearing it. I told her fine, if I had to come first, then I’d get a job after school, and her and grampa and me would pool our money so she could get well.
My mother died when I was nine. Tuberculosis- and it wasn’t even the resistant strain. But her immune system was gone, and we couldn’t afford the medicine. Under her pillow we found money she’d hidden away, enough, her letter explained, to pay for my antiretrovirals for a while. I’m twelve now, and I feel better; my appetite is back, and my body feels strong. Grampa worries I’ll become resistant, or that we won’t be able to afford the new ARVs. I worry that he drinks too much. There’s only so much worrying anyone can stand. I’m dying, but who isn’t? Today I’m alive.