The brakes squealed as the car halted to a stop as my aunt whispered to my uncle. Sheer shock and fear were clearly shown on my uncle’s face as he and my aunt whispered furiously back and forth. Worried, I asked my cousins, Shieen and Syed, if they knew what was going on. However, they reassured me that everything was fine and we continued to chatter about the birth of my baby sister, Shanaya. Soon enough, my uncle started the car again and we made it to the hospital. Buzzing with excitement, my cousins and I ran towards my dad, hoping that we would be able to meet my little sister. Instead of the bright smile, I expected to see, I was met with teary eyes. I was instantly confused as to why my dad was crying- after all, it was a happy day. As the tears began rolling down his cheeks, I rushed to wipe them with my small hands while fear began to creep into my mind since I had never seen my father cry before. I began to look around as my dad pulled me into a hug and I spotted my aunt who was also wiping away her tears and sniffling every now and then. I grew more and more fearful as well as nervous- why wasn’t anyone telling me what was going on? “Baba?” I called out to my father. Growing up Bengali, I was always taught to call my father, Baba and my mother, Ma. “What’s going on? Where’s Shanaya?” I asked, pulling his sleeve. He then commenced to say the words that forever changed my life:
“She needs surgery, Sheaneela.”
My breath got caught in my throat as my dad’s words repeated over and over in my head. Just as well, questions began filling my six-year-old head as I was unable to fully comprehend what was going on. It was extremely difficult for me to grasp onto the idea itself that babies need surgery, nevertheless the fact that my sister would have to go through something so terrifying at such a young age. Entirely caught up in my thoughts, everything seemed to be a complete blur as my father dragged me to a waiting room. Watching the chaotic hospital, I caught a quick glance of my mother who had been lying in a hospital bed. When we finally arrived at the waiting room, I began to feel suffocated. At that moment, all I saw was white. It seemed to feel as though the white floors and walls were closing in on me and I was being sucked into my worst fears. I kept my eyes on the clock to prevent shedding tears, I concentrated so hard on to the clock that all I heard were the gears that turned while its hands continued to rotate. Each minute passed more and more slowly, and I filled with more dread as each second passed. I blinked rapidly, trying to prevent my tears from spilling out of my eyes. I refused to cry, at that moment all I could think was that my parents had enough to deal with, they didn’t need to bother with me too. I swallowed the lump in my throat that arose every time my mind lingered to the topic of my family, constantly telling myself that if I were to cry, I’d just upset my parents further. I spent the first six years of my life as an only child, so I was used to being alone. But that day, for the first time I had felt lonely. It felt as though no one understood how I was feeling like no one cared about me but only cared about my parents and my sister.
Later that night, my dad took me home and I immediately rushed to my bed. I pretended to fall asleep as my father came in to check on me. Once I had finally heard my father emitting soft snores, tears began pouring out of my eyes as I silently sobbed into my pillow. My heart continued to shatter into a million pieces as I thought about my sister’s surgery that would take place the following morning. Suddenly, I forced myself to stop crying as I began repeating “Stop crying, if anyone sees you, they’ll tell Ma and Baba and it’ll just hurt them more.” This line eventually became my mantra for the next month. Looking back, the main thing I remember was my mother’s pain-stricken eyes. My mom had chosen to stay with my sister in the hospital as she continued to recover from her surgery. I missed my mother so desperately, I wanted nothing more than for her to come home. Eventually, she left my sister at the hospital to come stay with me every now and then. I recall seeing the pain that was so evident on her face as she left my sister to come be with me. Never have I ever felt so guilty and selfish as I did that day when I saw my mother’s face. All that my six-year-old self could think was that my sister needed my mom more than I did, that I was inflicting pain among both my sister and my mother because of my selfish and greedy reasons.
However, at the same time, I felt my heart being crushed as I felt like my mother preferred to be with my sister than with me. I felt like I was a burden to everyone around me as if I was unnecessary baggage that got in the way of everything. As horrible as it sounds, at one point I even began envying my sister. After all, everyone wanted to be with her, she was all that anyone could think or talk about. Whereas, I believed that everyone tried to avoid me like I was the plague like I was unwanted. Bottling up all my feelings and emotions, I smiled through the days and pretended to play like everything was absolutely fine. I briefly remember hearing adults whisper about me. They were concerned as to why I was so quiet and smiley all the time, they didn’t understand why I wasn’t acting out. I pretended not to hear them, as I repeated my mantra over and over again in my head. As the days went by, I began to grow bitter and I felt a strong distaste towards the universe. I questioned why this was happening to me, why I felt this way.
It started to feel like the day my sister was born was put on repeat: I hid my feelings during the day, and at night, I unleashed my resentment towards the world.
As Christmas time approached, I was finally allowed to meet my sister. I remember feeling all the hatred and negativity I felt diminish into thin air as my mother told me the news. The terrible feelings were quick to be replaced with excitement, something I hadn’t felt in a while. I recall wanting to look the best I could for the day that I met my sister- I tore my closet apart as I looked for something to wear. Finally choosing a pink sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, I decided to let my hair out from its usual ponytail and to instead, wear my favorite headband which was black and was adorned with tiny silver stars. As I strode into the same hospital whose walls and floors once enclosed me into a darkness, I felt as though this time the blinding white tiles and walls were welcoming me in.
Before I was allowed to see my sister, I was taken by a counselor, Troy, who spoke to me about how I was feeling and how I was coping with what was happening with my sister.
Staying true to my mantra, I simply told him that I was doing fine and that I had grown used to all that was going on. At the time I didn’t realize it, but Troy knew that I wasn’t being entirely truthful. As a result, he took me on a walk around the children’s wing of the hospital where I was allowed to speak to kids my age who were dealing with all sorts of illnesses. My heart grew heavy as I saw all these people who had barely seen the outside of the hospital’s four walls. Suddenly, I felt grateful for all that I had. I was beyond lucky that I was allowed to go to school and make friends, I started to feel thankful for everything since some things I took for granted, other kids would kill for. After my tour around the hospital, Troy brought me back to the conference room where he asked me how I was coping again. He promised me that whatever I said would remain a secret between the two of us, and with that said, I began to tell him the truth. After I had gotten everything off my chest, I felt relief, free, and most importantly, I felt as I was a piece of my innocence was being given back to me. Handing me a piece of paper and crayons, Troy let me draw a picture for my sister. My excitement grew as I completed my masterpiece and I was being led to my sister’s room. The moment I locked eyes with her, she changed from being something to me to someone. I let go of all the negativity and was full of love as I looked at the tiny baby. Shanaya slept peacefully in her crib along with a white and brown pattern puppy, who we named Snuggles, years after. I remained in a state of awe as the nurses taped my picture to the side of her crib. I could not believe that the tiny child in front of me had gone through a surgery, she looked angelic as she slept. Happy that her two daughters were finally together, my mom took a picture of the two of us, Snuggles, and my artwork.
Later that night, I was filled with optimism and joy for the first time since Shanaya was born.
The day my sister was born, my six-year-old self was snapped out of the idea that everything was rainbows and unicorns and that there was no bad in the world. I was quick to come to terms with reality and accept that there was indeed, pain and sorrow in this world as well as the fact that sometimes the universe works in ways that no one expects it to, that with pain comes joy- even if it feels like you have forgotten what happiness is. Being as young as I was, I couldn’t fully understand the emotions that I had felt and that made it even more difficult to look on the bright side. Since then, I have learned to not avoid my feelings, but to embrace them. I was never able to understand the saying that some things are blessings in disguise, but since my sister’s surgery, I have realized that my sister having surgery taught me to not only be independent but has also taught me how to tackle a tough situation. Her surgery helped me become appreciative of everything I have and has taught me not to take anything for granted. Most of all, it has shaped me into the person I am today by instilling certain qualities in me, including trying to help anyone in need and always offering my shoulder to anyone who needs to cry. Today, my sister is eight years old and no matter how much we argue about who gets the TV remote, I am still as enchanted by all that she accomplishes and does, as I was the day I first saw her.