Someone once said, “You are where you’re supposed to be.” More specifically, it was Annalisa’s father who said that each time she complained about not wanting to be somewhere she didn’t want to go. That was life in the Martinez family. Papi was the big daddy, and if he said the sky was gray when it was clearly blue, you had best be sure
not to argue the case with him because you’d be spending the entire day not only dealing with the color of the sky but the reasons why you were never ever ever to question your elders. As Annalisa got older, she got bolder but there were still times when she would give in to arguments with others knowing that she’d rather have peace than to be right.
It was odd that she thought about what her father had told her years ago, at this particular moment. For the first time since before her daughter was born, she was going on a job interview. This would be the second interview for this position, and she was sure she would get the job but she was nervous nonetheless. She was the one that had made the
appointment for this job interview, she was the one that went through all the motions to get this job and now she was wondering if she was doing the right thing.
It was a position for part time work in an advertising agency. The flexible hours the position offered her allowed her to still have timeoff to be home for her teenage daughter, Amber. She had always enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom but the last few years she was aching to do more with her life. A part-time position would allow her to do her
daily chores, her errands, spend time with her family and still get out of the house and feel productive. While she loved staying home, one could clean a room and organize drawers so many times in a week and Annalisa was beginning to feel she was at loose ends. Soon her daughter would be leaving for college and the reality of that hit Annalisa hard.
She wanted to find something she could do for herself.
In the past everyone expected everything to be done and if she didn’t get it done because she had taken time out to do something for herself, the look of shock that registered on the faces of family and friends alike, was more than she could stand. She had always given in; but not this time. Annalisa felt that if she didn’t do something for herself,
something to feed that longing, she’d go nuts.
That very morning as she was preparing for her interview and rushing her daughter out the door for school, so she wouldn’t miss the 7:00 am bus, she received a call from the Human Resources Department, her interview would have to be rescheduled for a later time in the day as the person she was to meet was called away on business so someone else would be handling her interview for them “Oh great!” she thought. Annalisa was nervous enough to begin with. Now she had to extend the anxiety with more time. As excited as she was about getting this job, she was apprehensive about answering questions that might take her out of the running. She knew how some employers didn’t want to hire women
who had families because they always had to deal with last minute crisis. But Amber was old enough to care for herself and she trusted that her husband would not have a problem making do without her for a few hours a week. Still, she worried that the interviewer would
question that, and while it was illegal to discriminate againstsomething like that, it still happened. Yet, if this was the second interview, maybe the issue of her being a stay at home mom all of these years was not an issue. It suddenly hit Annalisa that maybe this was a
blessing in disguise for her. Maybe this other person who was going to conduct the interview was just like her; a woman with a family at home.
“You are where you’re supposed to be.” Echoed quietly in her mind. This was meant to be and she would not allow this change in time to get the best of her.
Annalisa thought she’d take the bus any way and spend the morning in Manhattan enjoying the beautiful summer weather. Soon the weather would change and those long walks would come to an end until next year.Besides, walking amongst the working folk in the greatest city in the world would help her feel as if she was already a part of the working
force and might help settle her nerves. She settled down for one last cup of coffee and turned on the television as she always did. The news was babbling about the highlights of the day when one of the newscasters stated with intense seriousness the “This Just In” story of the day. A building collapse had occurred not to far from where Annalisa was supposed to be that afternoon. Watching the events unfold kept her glued to the 1950’s like steel chair in her kitchen. One of her home project years before had been to turn her kitchen and the
dining room area into a 1950’s theme. Her husband thought she was nuts,
but everyone that came to visit, loved the feel of sitting in the past while surrounded by modern appliances.
All the channels were covering the building collapse when Annalisa grasped that the building was not too far from where she was supposed to be later on. Had she left at the original time, she would have been caught in the fracas of the big mess evolving right that moment.The telephone shrill woke her out of her trance, making her spill her
coffee on her pajama bottoms. Thankfully she was not dressed yet for the interview or she would have been very upset about having to agonize over what else to wear. That never bothered her but it took her three days to pick just the right outfit and she had made no provisions to choose another one just in case.
“Annalisa? You home?” shrieked the voice on the other end. It was her aunt Violeta obviously disturbed about something. “Si, Tia, it’s me.
Que pasa?” she asked growing concerned that something had happened in the family. “Nada mija, I just saw on the television about that building and it’s down the street from where you were supposed to be this morning. You didn’t go? You chickened out didn’t you?” Violeta
“No Tia, I did not chicken out. Remember, it’s my second interview. Can you believe that? They want me Tia. My first job interview and they want me back. They just postponed it for later on in the morning because of a time conflict. How can you think I was going to chicken
out Tia?” Annalisa asked surprised. Of every one in the family who was against her going back to work after all these years, Tia Violeta was the only one in her corner. She was surprised that her aunt had doubted her.
“I’m just checking mija. I know how this familia is. They get at you and keep going until they get their way. I just want to be sure that you go for what you want. If your esposo and tu hija are okay with this, then those are the only two people you need to contend with.
Every one else can kiss you where the sun don’t shine.” She giggled. Violeta was a toughie in the family. Every one loved her and feared her. When she had to say something, good or bad, it was out there. She didn’t color anything up for any one. You always knew what you were getting with her.
They finished their conversation with Annalisa promising tocall her as soon as she got out of the interview and of course to becareful of all the mayhem happening downtown. As it turned out the interview was postponed for later on in the week because the area had
been blocked off and no one knew exactly how soon they could get back into their building. Annalisa was a bit disappointed but she felt that the time she had now would allow her to gain more confidence; something she did not admit to her aunt or any one else. She knew if she told any one that she wasn’t sure of her decision to go back to work, they would
do their best to work on that insecurity. It wasn’t that they were being mean or at least she didn’t think they were. But as her Aunt Violeta had told her when she decided to go back to work, the family always depended on her to do for them at the last minute because that’s
just how Annalisa was and they saw her going back to work as they losing out on their convenience. It was her Aunt that gave her the fortification she needed to take the first step.
With the whole day ahead of her, Annalisa went about doing a few
household chores just in case the interview was moved up a few days
earlier. She was done within two hours and decided this would be a free
day for her. No one was expected home until six in the evening and the
rest of the day was all hers. She giggled like a little child in the
playground when she dipped her foot into the warm bubbling tub. Her
strawberries and cool whip on a plate along with her melted chocolate
kept company with her current book on the small stool she kept in the
bathroom. Her mouth was watering as she sunk in deeper into the water,
letting the coconut oil cover her entire body. Nirvana. She loved these
The phone rang as it always did when she was in the tub. She was
annoyed that she hadn’t thought to bring the phone into the bathroom
with her but there was nothing she could do about it now. Her gut told
her it was probably a call that would ruin her private moment in the
tub, so she let the answering machine pick it up.
Sure enough, she could hear all the way into the bathroom, her mother’s annoying voice. She couldn’t make out what she was saying but she was going a mile a minute and it was probably another scolding for
Annalisa. She wondered what she had done now to upset her mother or one of her sisters. It was always something. Annalisa sunk deeper into the tub trying to push away the shrill sound of her mother’s voice in the other room. She wondered how on earth her father had tolerated her all the years they were married. They were complete opposites but she was
sure that her father, in his own way, found what others could not see. He loved her mother and that made him a saint in Annalisa’s eyes.
Annalisa lost her father when she was 16. He died and left behind a
broken family. The family she once knew no longer existed. It was as if
overnight someone replaced each member of her family with another
bitter and angry person. As a result her relationship with her family
became estranged for years after her father died. As hard as she tried
to keep the peace it was always a work in progress. Eventually Annalisa
turned her energy to her own family, her husband and her daughter,
creating their own traditions and memories, which still had remnants of
her life when she was younger, before her dad passed away. It was a
struggle for Annalisa to spend holidays without her entire family. It
just wasn’t something they ever did. That first year was hard for her
but she made the best of it. She invited friends over to fill the void
where her family should have been. It wasn’t so bad, it was different
and she loved playing hostess for a change. Every one had paid her the
highest compliment and she found herself at times waiting for someone
to say something nice and then ruin it with something negative as was
always the case in her family. That year, the holiday was a special one
for her unknown to her husband and daughter. Annalisa felt good about
herself. She was validated, not just by her husband and daughter’s seal
of approval on how everything turned out but by the simple fact that
she could survive without her entire family. For years, she believed
she had to put up with them all because that’s just what families do.
But the holidays, a special time for her, proved that even though she
missed them, she could do without them. The cycle had to end and
Annalisa made a point to do the things she had missed doing with her
own family years before. She was no longer the woman who wept at night
longing for the family that once was. She was determined to carry on
her father’s traditions and create a few of her own.
Her dad was a strong man, a determined man. Every one in the
neighborhood respected him. He gave so much of his time to the church
and to the school. He volunteered to do it all whenever he could. He
always felt grateful that when he came to this country, the
opportunities given to him allowed him to make something of himself.
“Giving back Annalisa, no matter how small it seems to you, is always
bigger to someone else. What might seem insignificant to you, can mean
the world to another. Never think that what you do is not enough. If
you are doing something for someone, you are where you’re supposed to
be. God wants you there. Don’t question it. Just do it. Eventually,
you’ll get the message and learn the lesson.” There was that saying
again. It didn’t always make sense what her dad said but she trusted
his every word and if he said something would be okay, then it would be.
Annalisa lived her father’s words as often as she could. When she began
working at a small advertising firm, she volunteered for a program that
focused on Illiteracy in America. Little by little, she found other
ways to volunteer in her neighborhood, following in her families
footsteps of giving back and making a difference. This fulfilled her
life. For some, working a 9 to 5 job was enough, for Annalisa, this was
just being grateful for having a good life. When she met her husband
Mario, she knew that life could not get any better until the day their
daughter Amber was born. Annalisa made a choice then, to quit her job,
continued volunteering but being a full time stay at home mom. She did
not want to miss one moment of Amber’s young life growing up.
That’s how her life was for the next 16 years. And with the exception
of her mother and sisters who always seemed to sneak their way into her
life without an invitation, she was happy. When the tragedies of
September 11 occurred, after her initial shock, Annalisa began to
volunteer at the respite center in Ground Zero. She had the late shift
and spent the night comforting the many rescue workers that were there
to help the city recuperate from the massive trauma. She always had a
kind word for anyone wishing to pour their hearts out even though she
too was hurting. She had lost several friends that day. But so many
others had survived including her husband Mario. This again was another
instant where she had to give back.
Annalisa began making patriotic ribbons for all the Red Cross
workers that had come to New York to help out in the recovery efforts.
It was one way of keeping busy between shifts and the doom and gloom of the news stories every single day.
An hour before she was to end her last tour, Pastor Evangeline came
over to Annalisa and handed her a thick bag. Inside, she said, was a
prayer shawl. It was a Kaleidoscope of dark and light greens. Annalisa
wasn’t into the color green but these colors stood out for her. These
shawls had been knitted by women in her church as they sat praying for
peace, healing, love and hope. Once the shawls had been done, the
pastor would bless them. They would send the shawls to anyone that had
done God’s work or that needed some comfort in their lives during a
trying moment. Annalisa did not want to accept the shawl as she didn’t
think her ribbons were God’s work or that she had done anything to
deserve it but the Pastor told her that no matter how small she thought
her actions were, she had affected so many. She was spreading her own
message of love and hope and she gave Annalisa the shawl.
The shawl was put in a corner chair in Annalisa’s room. She didn’t know
quite what to make of it but it was a treasure and looking at it
brought her comfort. Annalisa would not know how much comfort that
shawl would bring to her in the days to come.
On her last day of her shift, as she got into her car to drive home,
Annalisa was overcome with an intense sharp pain in her stomach. She
had to catch her breathe and wipe the sweat off her brow before she
could continue with the ride home. She got into bed that morning; in
the fetal position knowing that the pain was her ulcer coming back for
yet another visit. She hadn’t had an ulcer in over three years. But
that morning, the symptoms were all there and she knew what she had to
She called her doctor’s office; asked his assistant to call in a
prescription for her usual ulcer medication. It was a routine for them
except this time the nurse called back telling her that the doctor
wanted to see her… She was too tired to argue but she needed her
medication. After he examined her he agreed it was an ulcer but he
wanted her to have an ultra sound.
“Are you kidding me? It’s an ulcer. We’ve gone through this before.
Doc, I’m busy, I’ve got a ton of things to do. Spare me the sticky,
icky, globby mess of an ultra sound and put me out of my misery.
Please.” She begged. She had no time to waste on an exam that would
verify what they already knew. The doctor told her to humor him and
when she had the ultra sound he would then call in the prescription.
She accused him of holding her hostage as she walked out of the office
and headed towards the lab for the sonogram. Once the sonogram was
done, the prescription was called in as promised. The pain seemed to
have subsided temporarily and Annalisa decided since she had to wait
for the prescription to be filled, she’d head home and take a nap
before heading to the pharmacy.
The loud annoying intrusive clanging of the telephone woke her from a deep slumber. At first she felt a bit disorientated. She let the phone
ring and decided the answering machine could pick it up for her. Once
she heard her doctor’s voice she turned to her side and picked up the
phone. “What now?” she murmured. There was a bit of hesitation before
he began to speak. He wanted her to come into the office as he wanted
to discuss the results of the ultra sound. Annalisa sighed and told him
she’d see him next week when she went in for her routine check up. The
sound of his voice told her he was serious. “No!” he said. “You need to
come in now.”
What could be the problem? She thought on her way to the doctors’
office. Annalisa always let her imagination run wild. It was a joke
amongst her and her sister. Every time either of them wasn’t feeling
well, Annalisa would say in a thick heavy accent, imitating her father,
“It must be a tuma”. This time she wasn’t laughing and she couldn’t
imagine what could be wrong. The drive to the doctor’s office seemed to
take forever and of course finding a parking space was another obstacle
she had to endure. Until she spoke to her doctor she knew the noises in
her head would not subside.
“In the process of checking out your ulcer the technician found a mass on your kidney. We’d like to check it out to be sure it’s nothing. I
think it’s just an infection but I’d like to be completely sure. So I’m
sending you for a CAT scan.” He tried to make it sound as if this was
just a routine exam but the way he spoke to her, so professionally, so
book term, his stiff action, him not looking directly at her as he
always did, convinced her there was something else going on. In fact,
she just didn’t feel right about anything the moment she walked into
“How could he have found something in my kidney when the ultra sound was done in the stomach area? The kidney is to my left side near my back.” She demonstrated as if the doctor had not known where the
kidneys were. Annalisa wanted to be sure that what she was about to
endure was not due to some technicians mistake. Her doctor told her
that when she arrived for her appointment she was there an hour earlier
than she was scheduled. The technician did the ultra sound as per the
manifest sheet he had for the scheduled patients that day. The patient
that was supposed to have arrived at that time was due to have an
abdominal ultra sound and he mistakenly thought she was the patient.
Either way; because of that mistake, the mass was found or they wanted
to take a look at it. Still not convinced Annalisa felt that perhaps he
got the wrong results. Maybe the results they were reading were from
the patient that had to have the actual sonogram she had. This was
beginning to frighten her. And the thought that this could all be due
to a mistake was upsetting to her. Her doctor would not hear any more
protests from her and sent her to the hospital for the CAT scan. When
she didn’t hear from him that evening, Annalisa wanted to believe that
all was well and that every one had just panicked for no reason. No
news was good news. But the following morning, as she went about her
usual chores, the phone rang. She knew instantly without checking the
caller ID that this was not a call she wanted to take. Reluctantly she
picked up the phone.
“Hello!” she said in a child like whisper. “Hi, this is Laura from Dr.
Franzetti’s office. The doctor would like to see you this afternoon in
his office to discuss the results of the CAT scan.” “I’ll be there,”
she sighed as she hung up the phone. The rest of the morning floated by
as she tried to busy herself with mundane things to do around the
house. She hadn’t told Mario about this because he had enough on his
plate working at Ground Zero and she thought it was a silly ulcer, why
bother him with it? She knew without a shadow of the doubt that the
news was not going to be good. And when she walked into the office 4
hours later, the look on all the staff’s faces reinforced her fears.
“I had a specialist check out the CAT scan and the sonogram. You have a
tumor. It needs to be removed. I know you don’t like hospitals and I
know you will argue with me about this. I’m prepared for you this time.
If you want a second opinion, here is a list of doctors that have
already viewed the results of both tests. Whatever you decide to do,
you must go see them and this must be taken care of.” When Dr.
Franzetti could not look Annalisa in her eyes, she knew that her worse
fears had come true.
Hours later she found herself sitting across from the surgeon who had
walked in out of breath. At that moment, she wished she had told Mario
so he could be here with her; whatever the news, good or bad, she
wanted someone to share it with. She regretted her decision in not
telling her husband. The surgeon walked in, gave her his routine
Hi-Nice-to-meet-you-smile. Looking over her reports felt like a
lifetime to Annalisa, She kept thinking to herself, “Didn’t this
numbskull have enough time to go over these reports? Why is he
stretching this out?”
“You have cancer.” Nice going doc, could you have colored this up a
bit more for me, she thought. “Okay fine, I have cancer. And you know this without a biopsy? Just looking at pictures you can tell that I have cancer? And so if what you are saying is true, then no problemo doc. There’s a history of cancer in my family. I’m used to it. It’s my turn now, so you go in, remove the tumor and I get to have blond hair. I’ve always wanted to have blond hair but was to chicken too dye it. Once I lose my hair, I can go get a blonde wig and see for myself if blonds have more fun. I don’t really think they do, I think it’s just a saying but hey, I get to find out once and for all if it’s true. Huh?”
She knew she was babbling. She always did when she was nervous. This
was more than nerves. This was shocking. The reality of what she was
just told was not something she wanted to grasp right at that moment
and as always she tried to deal with her realities with humor, except
this time, as hard as she tried, she couldn’t muster a laugh, a smile,
not even a smirk. And the doctor’s wide open eyes, staring at her,
indicated that he didn’t seem to grasp what she was doing either so he
let her talk until she was done.
“I’ve seen this before. It’s my specialty. You can’t have chemo or
radiation. We have to remove the kidney and hope for the best. This
type of cancer does not respond to any chemo, any treatment at all. By
the time we discover it, it has already spread throughout the body. I
don’t know how much time you have left until I actually go in and see
for myself. I’m sorry. I just think in situations like this, honesty is
the best way to handle this. I like to give all my patients hope but
when I see something like this, I need to prepare them. They have a
right to know the whole story in order to make decisions.”
Annalisa knew what he was saying but it was as if she wasn’t in her own body. She was looking at him, going through the motions but numbness enveloped her entire body. This wasn’t real. This wasn’t happening. There was no way this was true. He was wrong, they were all wrong but deep in her heart Annalisa knew that no matter how many doctors she went to, the prognosis would be the same. The doctor promised to call her back with the information regarding her surgery. She left his office, got in her car and had no idea how she got home. How could she tell Amber? How could she tell her daughter that she was dying? How could this be happening to her? She had a high school prom to look forward to, a high school graduation, and college. She had her entire life ahead of her and now Annalisa would have to tell her daughter that all that was about to change because she was dying. Amber and Annalisa were not only mother and daughter, they were best
friends. They shared a relationship much like the Gilmore Girls on the
WB channel. They loved watching that show every week to see the
similarities of their television counterparts. Only on the show,
Lorelei, the mother, didn’t have cancer and Rory, the daughter, was
going to college. How would Lorelei handle this situation with Rory?
How would Rory react? How stupid of Annalisa to think of this when this
was not television or some novel she was reading. This was real life.
And for the second time in her life, she had to face a reality that
would change every one’s lives. That night, Annalisa laid on her bed, staring up at the glow in the
dark stars’ she had decorated her ceiling with years before. Each star
represented someone in her life that had passed away and every time she
found herself missing them, she’d find their star and think of the good
times. Now she was looking for a spot on the ceiling to add her name to
She woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep. The first thing
she saw was the prayer shawl. She grabbed it, held onto to it for dear
life and began to say the prayers the shawl came with. She wrapped
herself in the shawl and fell back to sleep. The next morning she woke
in a fog. She didn’t feel like her usual self and it hit her again like
a sledge hammer what the surgeon told her the day before. She had to
tell Mario. She had to tell Amber. She didn’t know if she wanted to
share this news with the rest of her family. Somehow, one of them would
find a way to blame her for this.
Annalisa had so many things to work through. One minute she was living a simple, carefree, happy life, and the next she was facing death. Her mind was going through so many different scenarios at once that she
couldn’t seem to make sense of any of them. She took a deep breathe,
got out of bed and headed for the shower. She turned the water on and
stepped in. The warm water engulfed her as she began to cry silently.
The tears failed to mix with the rushing, pounding water from the
shower. Yet, no matter how long she kept her face under the water, they
seemed to make their own impression. “Get a grip!” she yelled mentally.
Mario and Amber were home today as it was Saturday. She had to get the
crying out of the way if she was to present a positive attitude in the
negative news she was going to hit them with. How do you just tell the people you love that you have been given a death sentence. Okay, maybe death sentence was an exaggeration of sorts but that’s how it felt to her as each minute went by. No one knew exactly what to expect until after the surgery and the results of pathology reports came back but to Annalisa, she couldn’t find a way to get out of her feeling of doom. The water kept crashing into her skull as the tears began to flow even more. What now? What do I do? She thought. I have to tell them and I can’t wait any longer. She tried to put things into perspective. She was determined that if her life was going to end in a few months she was not going to waste them thinking of death but instead she would live them. If God was giving her a few more months then she wasn’t about to throw away that gift. She refused to believe she was dying, it was the only way she could cope, and the only way she could deliver the shocking news to Mario and Amber.
Nonetheless, it was in the back of her mind with every thing she did.
Taking a deep breath, she toweled dried herself, slipped into her
happy feel good pajamas and ordered some pizza. That usually put every
one in a good mood. They set up the DVD player, and got ready to set up
the movie when she told them if they could hold off for a few minutes
because she had something to tell them. She looked at Marion but turned
her attention to Amber. When she told them of the diagnosis she left
out the part that she knew would change both their lives. She told
Amber that all would be fine and once the tumor was out, they could go
back to doing what they did best. Amber wasn’t buying it but she had no
choice. She knew she would not be able to get her mother to say any
more than what she had already told her. Mario decided he would wait
until they were alone that night to ask her more questions, he was sure
Annalisa was hiding something. The only thing Mario didn’t count on was
his wife playing dodge ball with him. He wasn’t going to push it. If
she felt like talking she would. When the time was right that she could
say what else was on her mind or whatever else she left out of her
conversation with the doctor, he would be ready to hear it. In the
meantime, he would just support the family as best as he could.
Days turned into weeks and Annalisa began to prepare for her surgery. She informed family members and some friends but quickly refrained from telling others as each time she told someone what was happening to her their heads would take a discombobulated turn to one side as their demeanor went from happy to pity. That’s the one thing Annalisa did not want. She wanted to be treated as she always had been, pity was not on her agenda, so she stopped discussing her situation or telling anyone about it. The other thing that began to upset her was that every time she told anyone about her situation, they would shrug it off with, “Oh don’t worry about it. Now a-days, they have treatments for everything.” Some people got carried away and began to tell her stories of their own family members, each one worse than the next. Each time she heard another “Oh don’t worry,” or another morbid story, she wanted to scream at them. “How dare you belittle what I’m going through? I don’t care what the friend of your sister’s cousin went through and I don’t care
if there are all sorts of treatments out there, there isn’t one for me
so shut up and let me tell my story! If you can’t be there for me then
keep quiet!” Annalisa didn’t want pity, she wanted compassion. She knew
some of her friends were trying to be comforting and helpful but all
she wanted was someone to feel her fear, to understand what she was
going through. She wanted acknowledgement, not pity, not stories, not
dismissals. She wanted comfort and she was beginning to realize that
some people just didn’t know how to give that. Whatever happened to a
good old fashioned hug?
Three weeks before her surgery, Annalisa received a package and a note in the mail from a young boy. He told her that a friend of his mother’s
had sent her a ribbon that was made from someone in New York. The
ribbon had a special meaning for this young boy. His aunt was on one of
the planes that had crashed into the towers and he had nothing of his
aunt to remember her by. He wrote that the tag made him feel connected
to her and that Annalisa’s ribbon just made him feel closer to her. In
the package were three spools of ribbons. He wrote that he knew she
would not take money for the ribbons that she had been making but he
wanted her to accept the ribbons so that she could continue to make
more for others to make them feel as comforted as she had made him
feel. As she took the spools out of the package, a tiny picture of an
angel fell out. The young man told her that the angel was for Annalisa.
He wanted her to have something from him and the angel was something he had kept from a card he had once received.
Two days after that package arrived, another one came in the mail. This time it was from a woman who had received some ribbons from her sister in New York and she wanted to thank Annalisa for her selfless act. She was in awe that Annalisa in her time of grief and shock after the 911
attacks could take out time to do this to honor those that had died. In
the package was another angel. Three days later a letter arrived with
yet another message from someone in California and in that letter was a
bookmark with an angel. Annalisa began to track where all these letters
and packages came from and soon the map on her wall was covered with
pins and almost every state in the union had received one of her
ribbons. Her little project that grew from grief, sadness, shock and
depression was now bringing hope, smiles and comfort to so many. People began writing to her asking for more ribbons and the days before her surgery were filled with processing these requests. And with each package of ribbons she sent out, another package would come in the mail with a thank you, a blessing and an angel.
A week before her surgery, it finally hit Annalisa that soon she would
know how much time she had left. She had to face it and she gave into
her tears. She allowed herself to think about the diagnosis for the
first time since she told Mario and Amber. Now she had no choice but to
think some more. Putting it behind her these past few weeks were just
like a thorn in her side. The weight on her shoulders was becoming too
much and she knew had no idea what would lay ahead of her, so she had
to be strong. She had to get a grip and think clearly. Yea, okay. Sure.
As if. She banged her fists into her bed, screaming that this just
wasn’t fair. She had so much living to do. She had a right to her
daughter’s graduation, her prom, her college years, her marriage and
her grandchildren. She found herself angry that this was happening to
her and she couldn’t understand what she had done wrong in her life to
have deserved such a life sentence. Her throat was raw from all the
yelling; her body ached from all the tension of banging her fists into
her bed and pillows. She fell asleep and woke up when her daughter
returned home from school. As she opened her eyes, she saw the look on
her daughters face. She couldn’t believe that in a few short months,
those eyes would be a memory.
Another package arrived in the mail and the angel was bigger than the
one she had received the day before. She had been surviving in a daze
the past few days and when Amber came into her room she looked at the
top of Annalisa’s desk and commented on all the different angels, the
sizes, the shapes, the styles. As she walked out of the room, Amber
said, “Mom it’s like those ribbons of yours. Each one is different but
the colors are the same. They represent all those that were killed. I
think someone is trying to tell you something. You think they are
trying to say thank you for remembering them” The goose bumps on Annalisa’s arms grew an inch high. That’s when it hit her. Annalisa knew she was not going to die. The angels were a sign. She had been engulfed in self pity all these weeks that she had
forgotten to fight, to believe and to hope. The angels were coming to
her from all over the place. From people that knew someone that was
either hurt or killed in the three attacks that day. Either God was
telling her that she was going to die and have safe passage to heaven
or he was telling her, he was sending her angels to watch over her. She
chose to believe the latter.
With just two days left before her surgery, Annalisa had an energy
inside her that was indescribable. She had a lot of planning to do.
Suddenly she found herself making her usual lists of things to do. The
list grew bigger and bigger, her hope growing by leaps and bounds. She
knew, without a shadow of a doubt that she was not going to die. She
couldn’t quite figure out what exactly made her believe that, but the
angels had something to do with it. Annalisa had wasted enough time
feeling sorry for her and she had two days to change things around.
Christmas was in less than a week and she was going to make this the
best Christmas ever.
The day of the surgery all her family gathered around her to take her
to the hospital. Annalisa commented that she felt as if they were all
following her to the cemetery, they needed to lighten up. She wasn’t
going anywhere and she needed them to believe that. Her older sister,
Isabella, thought she was morbid and Erica, the sister she was closest
too, thought she wasn’t dealing with reality. As the nurses began to
prepare Annalisa for surgery, Erica helped Annalisa put on certain
garments that were required for the procedure. The stockings they made
her wear came up to mid thigh and Annalisa tied up the back of her
hospital gown, walked out of the dressing room, turned around and began
to walk like a Paris model. “And now we have the latest in hospital
wear, straight from the halls of the pine soled walls of Albert
Einstein Hospital. The thigh high white stockings with the hole in the
foot area is for allowing the toes to breathe and a path of sweat to
escape combined with the latest in gown wear showing just a little bit
of booty instead of the usual butt cleavage that is most popular of
many plumbers in our area. If you notice this particular style was
created for the patient who is about to lose a kidney.” Erica was
mortified as Annalisa paraded herself and the nurses began to laugh
hysterically. She looked at Erica and said, “Oh stop it, I’m just
kidneying around. Lighten up sis, it’s all good.” Erica and Annalisa
broke out into uncontrollable laughter, holding each other and keeping
both their legs crossed to keep from peeing on themselves. While the
laughter was lighthearted the hugs were intense. Each of them knew what
could be waiting on the opposite end of the hallway. The doctor came too soon to speak with the family and tell them what to
expect. It’s not like she hadn’t heard it all before but this was
something she was not going to tell her family. Let someone else handle
that. After he was done, he marked her left side and Annalisa insisted
that he put a smiley face on the side. He complied. He dropped his pen
on the side of the bed and when no on was looking, Erica, drew the sign
of the cross. “It’s for mami.” She said. At that point every one had
something to write on her side. She figured it would keep the surgeon
busy while the anesthesia took effect.
Annalisa woke up groggy and in intense pain. Her mother stood next to
her in the recovery room. Annalisa couldn’t take her sad expression.
With what little energy she had, she lifted her head and told her mom,
“I want the name and license plate number of the man who stole my
kidney.” Her mother rolled her eyes upward to heaven and muttered
something with the usual “Ay Dios Mio,” comment, which meant “Oh My
God.” Annalisa knew that her mother was in no mood for jokes but this
wasn’t about her mother, or her sisters or any one else. This was about
her and this was how she chose to handle it.
She was sent home four days later and just in time for Christmas. Each
year, Amber and Annalisa would celebrate Christmas eve with new pajamas but in the chaos of all that had happened the past few weeks, Amber had forgotten to buy the new pj’s and was saddened when that evening as they were making the hot chocolate and preparing to watch a Christmas movie, they had no new pajamas to wear. Annalisa smiled at Amber and instantly Amber knew her mother was up to something. She may have been under sedation but that gleam in her eye told her that her mom had done something to make Christmas Eve special, and sure enough, underneath the bed was two shiny boxes covered in the shiniest, glittery shade of bright candy apple red. Amber tore open the boxes and there were two brand new pajamas. She was hopping around the room like a child in a playground but the tradition lived on and Annalisa couldn’t have been happier. Carefully, Amber helped her mother get into her new pj’s and together they cuddled in bed to watch their movie. Mario was busy making hot chocolate. He never really liked the Christmas movies but once a year, he gave into them, just because he liked the look on both
their faces. It reminded him of when Amber was much younger and she
used to get excited about watching all the Christmas cartoons and
movies on TV. For just a few seconds he regretted the many times he
hadn’t stayed around to watch the movies. But work was always something that came first during the holiday months and he always was okay that this was their special time. He and Amber had their own moments and traditions. Seeing the both of them watching the Christmas specials in their brand the pajamas gave him a sense of peace and normalcy. With all that had been happened for the last two months, this was a wonderful site to embrace. He stood watching them longer near the bedroom door than he expected and then went to heat up some food for their evening snack. Annalisa was asleep before long but Amber didn’t care. She had her mother home with her in their new pajamas. Christmas morning bought yet one more surprise. A few weeks before Christmas Annalisa had seen a beautiful angel for the top of her Christmas tree in a department store. When she looked at the price tag it had been way over her budget. She thought maybe they’ll put the angel on sale after the holidays and she could buy it for next year.
Earlier in the week, her uncle had sent her a package for Christmas and
she chose not to open it until Christmas morning. She had forgotten
about the package until the last present was opened and they spotted
the gift near the back of the tree. Amber helped her open it. Annalisa
was growing tired but this one package had to be opened. To both their
amazement, what greeted them behind the shiny metallic paper of gold,
silver and green, was that very same angel. She told no one except
Amber about the angel and she knew Amber would not have shared that
information with anyone else. But there was her angel, was this another
The days after Christmas Annalisa made it a point to get out of bed
every day and stay up just a little bit longer than the day before. She
wanted to get her strength and energy level up so she could enjoy her
company on New Years Eve. They all decided since Annalisa would be in
pajamas that they would all have a pajama party to bring in the New
Year. Annalisa was determined to do her happy dance that night even if
she couldn’t move the way she used to but do the dance she would. Every
one thought she was crazy. Her happy dance was always a poor imitation
of James Brown’s, “I feel good.” She was determined and try as hard as
they might to convince her otherwise, she would not listen. Her mother
was making the sign of the cross once again invoking the Ay Dios Mio
ritual. She thought for sure they took part of her daughter’s brain
when they removed her kidney.
Everyone showed up around noon New Years Eve. They let Annalisa sleep the afternoon away because they knew she would want to stay up past midnight. Once she woke up, she took a shower, did her hair, put on
some makeup and came out with another set of new pajamas. Everyone was amazed at how good she looked and Annalisa was feeling pretty good. As they sat down to eat dinner, her mother began to say grace. She thanked God for the food they were about to receive and the many blessings they have received from Him thus far. Soon they were digging in to all the traditional foods for the holiday. The Pernil was tender and spicy. The neighbors that showed up for a quick visit enjoyed the taste of the
Roast Pork. They said it each time they tasted it that it was better
than the one they made the last time. The Pastelles were smooth and
delectable. In her family, they looked forward each year in making the
traditional Roast Pork, Spanish rice, Flan custard, and all the
wonderful delights from La Isla Del Encanto, Puerto Rico. Annalisa
excused herself and headed for her room. She needed to be alone for a
few minutes. Seeing the family there that evening was a bit
overwhelming. She sat on the edge of her bed when the phone rang. It
was her doctor. She panicked for a moment. No one worked on New Years Eve, if he was calling her it couldn’t be good news. “I’m sorry to disturb you but I had the hospital call me as soon as they received the lab reports from the pathology. I wanted to call you
personally to wish you a very happy and healthy New Year. I don’t know
how, I don’t know why, and I’m not going to figure it out either but
the cancer did not spread. We caught it in time. It had been in your
kidney for two years and that’s unusual. You have some friends in high
places. Have a Happy New Year.” Annalisa hung up the phone speechless.
She wanted to scream in sheer delight but had no strength to do so at
that moment. The phone rang again. “Oh no!” she thought. He read the
wrong report! She thought.
“Hi Sonia, it’s me Joe, from the pharmacy. I’m closing up in about an
hour and I was setting things up for tomorrow when I realized you never
picked up your prescription for your ulcer. Did you get some samples
for the doc to tie you over? I can wait for you now if you want to send
Mario to pick the prescription up.” Annalisa found herself stuttering
and whispered a no thanks to Joe and hung up. That’s when it hit her.
The pain that brought her to the doctors in the first place was from
the ulcer. It was diagnosed with both tests results. The pain was very
real. What did this all mean? She never took the pills to alleviate the
ulcer or her pain. She recalled the pain she had experienced back in
November. She begged the doctor to give her the medication until they
took the ultrasound. How was it possible that with all that pain, she
never once took the pills?
The pain, the mistaken ultra sound which found the mass, the shawl, the angels from all over the country, her special angel on Christmas
morning, the forgotten prescription; all messages, all lessons. She
could hear her father saying to her, “You are where you’re supposed to
be, Annalisa.” She remembered the times her own father was sick, when
she thought she could take no more of his own suffering and he would
tell her, “Annalisa, there are so many people far worse of than me. I’m
happy to be alive. All of this is making me strong and it will make you
strong one day too.” She had no idea how true that would be. She hadn’t
experienced the physical pain her father had but she was sure that she
understood now what he must have been going through when he knew or
thought the end was there. The panic. The sheer intense enormity of
life leaving you and there was nothing you could do about it either
made you a strong person or one that gave up. Annalisa never gave up
although it was very tempting to do so. She knew now what guided her
during her times of need.
As all this began to fall into place, Annalisa heard music coming from
the living room. Amber had put on James Brown. As she walked into the
living room, Annalisa held on to her side for comfort and support and
strutted her stuff once again as James Brown crooned his song. “I feel
good, like I knew that I would now, I feel good, so good, so good, I
feel good.” Her happy dance wasn’t her best that night but as the
family got up to join her, the clock struck 12 and a new year, a new
life had begun for her.
Copyright © 2006 by Sonia Agron