When I’m about six months old, just one month after my dad and brother have died, I’m checked into a hospital with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). I don’t know what that is and I make a mental note to google it. It was severe enough to keep me in the hospital for three days.
And then her record keeping becomes less meticulous. I find a printout about RSV from the web. She circled a section that explains that RSV is more severe in people with compromised immune systems. I find a photocopy of the first page of an article on SCID from a medical journal. Her scrawls in the margins are illegible. After that there’s a single visit to an allergist and then visits to three different immunologists. Each concludes that no illness was found.
And that’s it.
I dig through the cabinet again for more files. It doesn’t make sense that this would be all there is. Where are the test results? There must’ve been a fourth immunologist, right? Where’s the diagnosis? Where are the consultations and second opinions? There should be another thick red folder. I scour the files for a third time. And a fourth. I spill other folders to the ground and rifle through them. I hunt through the papers on her desk. I thumb through the pages of her medical journals looking for highlighted passages.
I’m breathing too quickly as I run over to her bookshelves. I pull down books, shake them by their spines willing something to fall out—a forgotten lab result, an official diagnosis. I find nothing.
But nothing is not evidence.
Maybe the proof is elsewhere. It takes me only one try to guess her password—Madeline. I spend two hours looking through every document on her computer. I search her Internet browser history. I look in the trash folder.
Where’s the proof of the life I have lived?
I turn a slow pirouette in the middle of the room. I don’t believe the evidence of my own eyes. I don’t believe what I’m not seeing. How can there be nothing? It’s like my sickness was invented out of the much too-thin air that I’m breathing.
It’s not true. It can’t be.
Is it possible that I’m not sick? My mind flinches away from this line of thought.
Maybe she keeps other records in her bedroom? What didn’t I think of that before? 5:23 a.m. Can I wait for her to wake up? No.
The door opens just as I’m walking over to it.
“There you are,” she says, relief evident in her voice. “I got worried. You weren’t in your room.” She comes in further and her eyes widen as she takes in the chaos surrounding us. “Did we have an earthquake?” she asks. Eventually she realizes the mess is man-made. She turns on me, confused. “Sweetheart, what’s going on?”
“Am I sick?” I ask. My blood beats too loudly in my ears.
“What did you say?”
“Am I sick?” I say it louder this time.
Her burgeoning anger dissipates replaced by concern. “Do you feel sick?”
She reaches out a hand to touch me, but I push it away.
The hurt on her face makes me slightly ill, but I press. “No, that’s not what I mean. Do I have SCID?”
Her concern morphs into exasperation and a little pity. “Is this still about that letter?”
“Yes,” I say. “And Carla, too. She said that maybe you weren’t OK.”
What am I accusing her of exactly? “Where are all the papers?” I demand.
She takes a deep breath to steady herself. “Madeline Whittier, what are you talking about?”
“You have records for everything, but there’s nothing about SCID in here. Why can’t I find anything?” I grab the red folder from the ground and shove it at her. “You have everything else.”
“What are you talking about?” she asks. “Of course it’s in here.”
I’m not sure what I was expecting her to say, but that was not it. Does she really believe it’s all here?
She clutches the folder to her chest like she’s trying to make it a part of herself. “Did you look carefully? I keep everything.”
She walks over to her desk and clears a space. I watch her as she examines the files, rearranging them, smoothing her hands over pages that don’t need smoothing.
After a while she looks up at me. “Did you take them? I know they were in here.” Her voice is thick with confusion and, also, fear.
And that’s when I know for sure.
I am not sick and I never have been.
I run from the office. The hallway stretches out before me and it is endless. I’m in the air lock and it is windless. I’m outside and my breath is soundless.