Why so serious

No other place can give you such a rollercoaster of emotions. No other place will drag you through terrifying fear, depressing sense of guilt, tears of sorrow to tears of joy and laughter caused by spark of hope. From happiness filling out your heart, as all those positive test results makes you see things more optimistically. To indifference, caused by lack of strength due to constant duties you need to fulfill when being in the facility. And back to sadness, because of this little demonic whisper telling you how unrealistic is to finish this training with Szymon coming back to normal life. Silenced by his smile and joy when playing toys with me.

And on this path of peaks and valleys to sustain sanity you develop, consciously or not, certain type of defense mechanisms. You start to have this strange sense of humor, black, sarcastic humor, which in most cases helps you to fight off the depression.

It was very disturbing for me when for the first time I have faced parents in the common kitchen area laughing, having fun, while I could not feel anything else besides sadness and powerlessness.  It was such a contrast to my emotions, that I have start to wonder. “What the hack is wrong with those people?!? Their child is about to leave, fly to heaven, and instead of sorrow I see joy on their faces?” I could understand Corporals and Captains having fun at work. One liked the job, other needed to cope somehow with stress. But parents?

Soon, I’ve realized, that there is no other way but to let it all go, trust God and just see where he leads you. Time help me also with it. Once we got a bit more familiar with all the procedures. Facility stopped being unknown, horrific place to us. And we heard from Captains, that it is not that quick and certain, that our son will fly to heaven. We start to have more and more those moments when smile returned to our faces. And enjoyed the time we had we Szymek as much as we could.

People who we started to meet in the CSD also helped us forget for a second where we were and what we were going through.

„Oh shit! I wet my bed!” Mark stood up quickly seeing a stain on his bed. “Neah, can’t be” He looked at his dry trousers, making him even more puzzled on what has happened during the night.

“What the hack has happen?” He nervously started to check himself to see why his bed is wet while the clothing does not show any sight of him having a bad night. The mixture of slight embarrassment, discomfort and puzzlement on what could potentially happen.

Mag seeing Mark trying to figure out what has happened at night could not help laughing.

“Oh, just face it. You peed in a bed!” She smirked at him.

This did not help, as Mark started to be even more embarrassed. At this point he was sure, that this was not a case, but could not find a reason for his bed to be wet.

“Shit! Drip leaked.” He shouted and felt a relief in his voice, as it just proved it was not him.

This did not last long, as now he started to worry why this happened and if Bubcia will not need again the meds.

Mark called the corporal to come and fix the issue. In the meantime, Ann, his wife came after a night spent home, to take care of Bubcia.

“Good morning Mrs. Ann. Coming to change your husband?” Corporal welcomed Ann.

“Yes, I leave him for one day and we have an accident.” Ann responded to Corporal, at the same time teasing Mark a bit.

“You have a nice-looking sister.” Corporal continued while fixing Bubcia’s drip.

“Sister?” Ann asked confused as she did not have any sister. At least not to her knowledge.

“Yes, she was here yesterday in the evening, when I was starting my shift. I saw her leaving the room.”

“A, thank you, it was me…with make up!” Ann responded with a smile and slight confusion, as she never would assume that dressing up and putting make up on can change her looks so much.

Ann and Mark were this breath of fresh air much needed in those stuffy rooms. First people, we share the room with, who brought with them, this very needed here, sense of humor. With slight distance to reality and a bit of sarcasm, it helped to loosen up dense atmosphere. They were the ones who helped us cross the bridge to the other side, to join those parents who digested the fact that for next couple of months they will need to be here and started to find some positives in that situation. And this helped a lot, fact that Mag could take her mind of the training, Szymon uniqueness and talk about other, non-related topics, help her not to collapse. From clothes, shoes, wine, travelling and books to just making fun of situations we were struggling with caused that all those demons that were hunting us for past few weeks were not that scary any more.

Sophie – The great warrior

“Keep running!!! Don’t look back!!!”

She was wakened up in the middle of the night by her mother, dressed up quickly, bow placed over her shoulder and put on the horse. Mother knew it’s the only way to save her, give her time to get stronger.  The best thing she could do for her is to put her on that horse and let her go. She told her where to go, where to seek shelter, and just hoped she will make it before he will come and take her.

The horse was steaming on this freezing night giving an impression it was a machine and not an animal. Running through the woods with an enormous speed, omitting all the obstacles on its way. Sophie knew the sanctuary is not more than a day ride, but she felt his heaving breathing on her back and could not afford the comfort of resting, not even for a second.

When next day was heading towards the end, and she could barely hold the horse. Just about the time she started to lose hope, finally in the distance she saw the doors of the orphanage. Few more minutes and with last of her strength she rang the bell. Last thing she saw just before fainting was a monk opening a big wooden door.

“Finally, I feared you will not make it”. Said the monk to himself while carrying her unconcise to the room. He put her to bed, allowing to rest for a while before preparing for next day. As he knew they need to be ready for his arrival.

Early in the morning they heard loud knocking on the door. “In the name of Sir Can, I ask you to open the door!”

“How, can I help?” Asked the monk, opening the door.

“Make way, for the Lord.” Guards pushed him away, opening wide the entrance to the courtyard.

Minute they were inside they started to sniff around like hunting dogs looking for its prey. The courtyard was small, empty square, with nice gallery surrounding it, which lead to the monks’ rooms. Above them ware orphanage’s windows, where you could see little children peeking, and trying to understand what is the rumor about.

“Gather them all here, and make sure no one is hiding!” Order Sir Can to his guards.

Soon after, all the monks and children were standing next to each other on the courtyard, and the only difference telling who is who was their height. As all of them were dressed in the habits with their heads hidden in the hoods.

“Take them off! One with the curly, red hair is the one.” Sir Can order to the guards.

They took off children’s hoods to search for the little, red hair girl but to their surprise each time they took off a hood they did not see any red hair, they did not see any hair. Just bold heads, one after the other.

She was standing in the line, waiting for her turn. For a second she took the hand out of the habit to look at the small lock of her red hair cut day before. Cut by herself to blend in with the rest, to make sure he will not have an easy job spotting her. She looked down on the floor when guard took her hood off and waiting till he passed her. Luckily, he was not spending too much time looking at her before he moved to the next child.

They finished with the last one, fifty children standing next to each other, all of them bold, all hardly recognizable. There was no chance to spot the one they were looking for. Little, beautiful red hair girl. No chance to get his promised one, which drove Sir Can into madness.

“What is this!?!” He yelled and screamed. „Where is the red head one, where are their hairs! I know you’re hiding somewhere in this crowd! Step out or I will kill one of the monks!” He walked back and forth trying to spot little Sophie.

No one moved, all were standing like little stone statues. No one even dared to make any noise. Sir Can came to one of the monks, took out the knife and slip his throat. Monk fall on the floor and the rest just look at him dying, but no one moved, not even blinked to betray the precious one that was amongst them. As they knew that once she will have a chance to get stronger, she is their only hope against him, against his tyranny.

“I will give you last chance!” Sir Can spoke with calmness and firmness in his voice. “I will give you 3 months to grow your hair, and come back to take what is mine. When I’ll be back and see you all bold again, I will kill you all! Knowing that one of you will be her. This is your last chance to spare your lives and give me her instead.”

Sir Can turned on his toes and left the courtyard assisted by his guards. When they left everybody breathe a sigh of relief.

“We don’t have much time, and I know you are young and should be spending time on playing with other kids rather than learning how to fight him off. But you don’t have a choice, so let focus our minds on training you.”

Little, bold girl look at the monk, he was the same who open the door the other day, and with fear in her heart she just nodded, to show that she agrees.

Time was passing by quickly and with each day Sophie was learning how to hold the bow, aim properly, and shoot to hit a bullseye from far distance. From the early morning till late night, with freezing fingers she was practicing and practicing. And there were days where she wanted to give up, just give herself to him, but soon, she saw a picture of her loving family, of dying monk, and this was giving her back the motivation she needed.

Sophie was learning fast, and started to shoot with high precision from longer distances, she even manages to hit the bullseye on the moving target. This gave her confidence that when he will be back, she will stand a chance against him.

“You are very talented, and learning fast.” Said her teacher. “But this is still not enough to beat Sir Can. We will start now our last phase of training.”

The monk opened right hand and showed her piece of cloth that he was holding. He blindfolded her and said. “You will not see him, you will not hear him and you will not feel him. He will come in most unexpected moment, and will attack you with his full power. Now you need to learn how to sense him with your intuition.  Know where he is without any of your senses, as this is the only way to beat him, only way to win with him, so he will leave you once for all.”

Hair grew longer and longer on her head, remaining each time, she looked in the mirror, that she has less and less time to master the skill of blind shooting. The beginning was very difficult, Sophie could not even hit the area outside the target, shooting arrows in all the directions. The monks asked children to avoid courtyard gallery, to ensure that none will get hurt.

“This is the end. I will never master that.” She wept.

It was any time soon, when Sir Can was to arrive again, during one of cold night, when She decided not to go to bed but practice. Her teacher approached her.

“Please take off your blindfold.” Asked her quietly, almost whispering. The gallery was lit by torches placed round main square, giving a magical appearance to this place. When she looked again she saw first flakes of snow coming down from the sky.

“I have asked one of the girls to draw his effigy. Take it and place it on the target. Stand there for a while and try to remember how he looks, what you felt the day you saw him. Try to remind yourself how he walked, talked, what emotions were coming from him. And place all those feelings to this target. Let your heart guide you.”

Sophie came back after a short while. “Now close your eyes. Spin and stop. Don’t shoot! Wait a second. Bring back again that picture in your mind, bring back all those feelings, and don’t aim. Now, clear your mind, shoot before thinking.  Let the arrow find the target.”

When she opened her eyes again, arrow was sticking from the bullseye.

”But how? Did I?” Sophie asked surprised, not fully believing that it was the same arrow that she released a second ago.

“Yes, you. Now, go to sleep as I sense he will come tomorrow.”

Late evening, they heard same knocking, which disturbed their peace over 3 months ago. This time they let them into the main dining room. This was the place where each day children ate before and after hard work. Everybody was already standing in two parallel lines right next to the walls. Room was lightened by torches hanging from the walls. The monks were standing next to each of those torches having the children stand in front of them. There was a dense silence in the room. Everybody waited for what was about to happen. Sir Can entered accompanied by his guards. “Take them off!” He yelled. They were uncovering their head one by one. Each showing short, freshly grown hair. Sir Can walked close to each one of them, making sure he will not miss her. When they were close to the end and still none of the children were showing those beautiful red hair, he turned around, and as he was about to say something, she walked into the room carrying a bow and arrow in her hands. She stopped right in the center of the room, opposite to the Sir Can, uncovered her head to show her beautiful hair and look deeply into his eyes. In this right moment the monks, blew out all the torches making the room completely dark. You could not see even what is at the extend of your own hand. Complete silence was building up the suspense, as Sir Can knew, that even small noise will reveal his position to the girl.

Suddenly the silence was broken by the noise of three arrows bursting through the air and sound of body falling to the floor. Followed by the noise of guards trying to scream, make a sound, but their voices were quickly disappearing. When the torches were lightened again, everybody looked to see all of the guards laying on the floor dead. In the middle of the room, it was him, Sir Can laying on the floor with three arrows piercing his heart. The silence was present till next morning, as nobody dared to say a word. Everyone knew that they need to take this secret to the grave.

Soon after Sophie returned save to her mother, who anxiously awaiting her. Her heart was full of confidence and courage, that whatever evil will come to her, she has strengths and skills to fight it off. Her mother was happy to see her, have her finally back in her arms. Still with all the happiness she saw that her heart changed. Her heart from now on will always fear, that this may happen again and she might lose her for good.

Round Six – High hopes

„This is unacceptable!!!” Captain Blind entered our room and tossed the recent test results on Szymon’s bed. “We put so much effort in making sure your Son will make an early cut! We have listed him into European Space program, supported with Neupogen, in between chemotherapy injections, to ensure proper tumor growth, and all for nothing!! Instead of growing his tumor shrank. Now it’s almost half of the size it was when you were listed. Marrow is clean and bones are showing much lower presence of cancer cells…”

“Yell, scream… spill all that anger on me. The second you leave the room those words will bring me to tears… but for the first time in the long time those will not be tears of sadness, those will be tears of joy…” I looked at her trying note all what was she saying but my mind suddenly went somewhere else. To the place where I wanted to be for a past few weeks. I heard her voice but second she told me the good news, rest was not important.

“…this puts us back in the whole training program. If this will be his way of reacting to the training I am not sure if he will make the flight at all!!! Do you hear me!?! There is a risk he will be cut of the program!” Captain Blind stop for a second to catch a breath. “It doesn’t make sense anymore. I had such high hopes in you and you ruined it all.” With much calmer voice, hearing here ambitions just collapsed. “I need a break… long break. I am going for an annual leave.” She paused for a second with her thoughts wondering off to some other place. “Your test results are not showing any risk of sudden change. You can go home for couple of days. We will inform you who will take your son when you will be back. Thank you! And have a nice trip home!” She left the room.

Mag and I looked at each other and fall into our arms. We waited so long to hear something positive, to have some proof that our prayers are being heard and it finally came. Our hearts finally felt a relief. Huge burden was taken from our shoulders and tears, which fall on our cheeks, were not coming from sadness but from happiness.

“We are going home!” Szymek shouted and energetically started to pack his things. He looked so adorable, bustling round, lifting his hands up and down, showing how much he is busy with packing.

“Yes, we are going home!” We replied looking at him with all the love we had in us.

“And Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday and aphooo”. Szymek looked at us smiling.

 “Yes! And birthday cake!” Mag replied with a smile. “It is our new tradition, to have birthday cake each time we leave the facility! And blowing up candles”. She lifted him up and I finished picking up our things, so we could head to the car.

We walked the corridor to the elevator and suddenly saw this place in much more cheerful colors. Warmer, sunnier tones, feeling that not only terrible thing can be encountered here.

We left for home, having Captain Blind’s words in our hearts. We left for home much lighter, much younger, and full of hope. Hope, which for the first time, was something more than just our wishful thinking. Hope giving us first signs, that it is possible for Szymek to be cut from the program due to lack of any signs of cancer in his body.

Close to our home we spotted Granny, Bunia – Szymek greatest companion, walking back home from grocery store. As we stopped to ask her if she would like to ride with us those couple of meters back home, it was good reason for Szymek to get anxious and get out of his seat. It was also a good reason for him to ask if he can fulfill his new passion, which was driving a car while sitting on my laps. I took him on my knees and we slowly drove those few meters to our driveway. And as much as I tried to forget the nightmare he was going through, pretend for a second that we are just a normal, typical family, as much as I loved seeing him having a time of his life, turning the wheel left and right, as much as I tried to take the most from this very moment, I could not quiet this one horrific thought, which hunted me in past few weeks. The thought telling me, that in a year or so what currently brings me so much joy and happiness, what is so much important in my life – time spend with my son, in few months’ time may just be another memory of him cherished in my heart. Memory treasured so deeply and constantly return too, as this is the only thing I have of him. The only thing I was left with from the day he flew to heaven.

“Why are you crying?” Mag saw my tears and asked.

“I am stilling memories. Trying to store them deep in my heart.  If we will not succeed those will be only thing I will have left of him…”. I replied.

Her tears came without asking for permission…

We have entered the house, decorated with balloons. Soon cake with lit candle was waiting for Szymek to blow it. And for the first time with joy in our voices we sang birthday song.

 “Happy birthday! Happy birthday!” Szymek tried to sing with us.

”Dear who?” We asked.

“Shiimek!” he replied with a big smile.

Smile hidden deep in my heart and warming me up during cold winter nights.

The sound of distal air

“Hush! Let the music play. Just close your eyes and pretend that this sound is something else. Let the violins, trumpets, cellos and clarinets lull him to sleep. Please, allow it, just for a second, to make this world perfect again, make this world more beautiful than it really is. Please be quiet, don’t say a word, let me submerge into the music of beeping pumps and pretend it is something else…”

From day one, when you walk on the 7th floor’s corridors, you are overwhelmed with all different sounds. From children’s laughter, caused by them playing on the corridor, Captain’s consulting their cadets among each other, Corporals teasing themselves, to loosen up dense atmosphere caused by stressful work, to less pleasant sounds coming from the treatment rooms, where children, who needs to have a new needle inserted to their port, are crying, screaming, asking to make it stop. And from time to time you can hear sobbing parent, well hidden in the corner so that his child will not see him having a break down. All of that gave a unique master piece, a symphony of sorrow. When I sometimes sat outside of Szymek room, to rest a bit, and closed my eyes I felt like it was penetrating me up to my bones.

On top of that, there were those beeping pumps, standing in all the rooms. Those pumps, to which most of the cadets were connect, to take their meds. And even though they all looked the same each beep was a special one. Each beep was associated with a child, your child, therefore you listen to it, like it would be his or her heart beat. Reacted to any abnormal behavior. Fear caused by the fact that pump might malfunction was high, therefore each time you saw an error you ran to a corporal ensuring nothing wrong is happening, nothing which would harm your little one.

From the start, you are instructed what to do, when the pump is jammed. “Close the clip, mute the error beep and ask for our assistance.” Corporal said, while showing how the pump works. “Most common error is caused by either pump having a small amount of air in the tube or the meds are over. In both cases, as I said, key is to close the clip, so that blood will not float back to the tube, and ask for assistance. Otherwise we will need to clean the tube and it is not that easy.”

“What?! She is talking about the air in the tube with such a calm voice?!” I though. “They teach you in school, that air injected into your veins will kill you and she is saying like it was nothing?!”

We were freaking out each time we saw “Distal air error” text on our pump. Closing the clip immediately and almost running to the corporal saying, that something wrong is with our pump. And could not understand why they are taking this so peacefully, something even with a bit of the smile.

“No problem Mr. W. Let me just finish distributing the meds and I will come to your room.” Corporal responded with warmth and smile on her facing. It shocked me a bit that she is not seeing that as potential life threat, but just a normal, nothing to worry, error, and will come in few minutes. So, I just turned around and went back to the room.

After few weeks, we realized that it is so commonly occurring thing, not causing anything bad, that finally understood why corporals do not react with panic when we report this to them.

Unfortunately, there is one sound that makes Captains and Corporals run. I saw it twice, both cases pressed by accident. Frist time by Szymek playing with the buttons on the wall, and second me, when I leaned against the wall – life threat Alarm. It was then, when I saw them coming to the room, at least three people ran. Hoping to see him flying, hoping to help him on the way. What was a disappointment on their faces, when I told them it was just a false alarm. An accidental push, which we promised not to do again…and we kept our promise.

“Hush! It’s night again. Lights are dimmed and little ones are asleep. I can quietly walk the corridors to hear it heartbeat. Its music full of pings and beeps, distal error sounds, combine with parent’s snoring. Music no one would want to hear but me. As this it is free of cries and pain..sleep little ones tomorrow comes another hateful day.”