Francis and I met during the fall season. It was chilly; I remember goosebumps popping all across my arms. The first year was spent keeping my distance from her. She was someone I couldn’t relate to very well. She laughed too much. She smiled way too often. She made me feel out of my element.
We were polar opposites, me the pessimist and she the optimist.
She always had that goofy grin painted across her face as if drawn with permanent markers. And she laughed excessively to anything and everything.
The first year I met her, I didn’t like her. She was just… too much to handle.
I kept in touch, often visiting her because she was the little sister to my good friends, whom treated me like family. I wanted to thank them for their hospitality by returning the favor to their beloved little sister.
Rowan loves Francis incredibly. He loves her more than his girlfriend of over ten years. His love for her can outweigh anything.
I wanted to understand that.
There were a lot of things I didn’t understand about Francis. Leukemia was a word that existed not in my world, but she’d been living with it since she was born. She’d known all about it for so long yet, she wore a red cape of courage wherever she went.
I realized after two years of being with her that she was always super and never just normal. She was never just a nine year old girl.
I looked up to her with an age gap of seven. I was sixteen.
I still didn’t like her though.
She was too happy for someone who didn’t know if they’d have a tomorrow. I hated that she would always laugh at my attempts at a joke and how obnoxiously loud she’d get. I just didn’t understand it.
Everyone around her always had a frown and a happy mask around her. Even Rowan was the same. He would laugh with her and cry whenever he thought no one was looking. It broke his heart every day to live life the same way his father had with his mother.
Leukemia was their family inheritance.
Maybe it never registered in my head, all the details she painstakingly tried to explain to me, but I never understood it. I didn’t understand it even when she grew pale and even though she loved to play outside, her body defied her.
She used to call me Ate (Ah-teh), a term of respect in our culture and I used to feel queasy whenever I heard it.
I’d always been an older sister, but never to a younger sister.
Caitlin, her older sister, would sometimes explain to me the joys of having a mini me. Francis was someone she could dress up, put make up on, a living doll. She was excited for the days when they could talk about boys and go out for a drink. That, I could understand. I had my own set of older sisters after all.
There was only one thing we’d truly connected at, being smart.
She was a clever kid.
She often joked about taking after me. I, someone she’d only had two years with. Me who didn’t like the way she laughed and that stupid grin. We’d discuss about life expectancies and the what-ifs that could happen once she was older. We talked about travelling and more often, graduating.
She had never been frail in my eyes until her eyes started to reflect that of my own. Her stupid grin went away and she laughed less and less. Slowly, it ate away at her. The chemotherapy stopped before I’d even realized she’d been having it.
Rowan, out of all her siblings, was the one who felt it the most. He felt the weight of the expenses weigh his family down. He drifted apart from loved ones. He’d relived the days of going in and out of the hospital. He lost the one person, who reminded him of the woman who cradled him at birth.
It was around six in the evening when Caitlin called me to inform me that she’d be spending the night in the hospital. It was a school day, February 9, 2006.
She was eight when we first met. She would’ve been ten.
*names have been changed to disguise the real identities of the people (except for me of course)