Carla’s barely in the door before I’m on her with the letter. She reads it and her eyes widen with each sentence.
She grips my forearm. “Where did you get this?”
“Keep reading,” I say. The charts and measurements will mean more to her than they did to me.
I watch her face and try to understand what is happening in my world. I’d expected her to dismiss the letter out of hand just as Mom did, but her reaction is … different.
“Have you shown this to your mother?”
I nod, mute.
“What did she say?”
“That it was a mistake.” I’m whispering, hiding from the sound of my own voice.
She searches my face for a long time. “We need to find out,” she says.
“Find out what?”
“If it’s true or not.”
“How could it be true? That would mean—”
“Shh, shh. We don’t know anything yet.”
We don’t know anything? Of course we do. We know that I’m sick. That I’m not allowed to leave my house on pain of death. I’ve always known this. It is who I am.
“What’s going on?” I demand. “What are you hiding from me?”
“No, no. I’m not hiding anything.”
“What does this mean?”
She sighs, and it is long and deep and weary. “I swear I don’t know anything. But sometimes I suspect.”
“Sometimes I think maybe your mama’s not quite right. Maybe she never recovered from what happened to your papa and brother.”
The oxygen in the room is replaced by something else, something thin and not-breathable. Time does slow down now and I get a kind of tunnel vision. The walls are much too close and Carla recedes away from me, a small figure at the end of a very long hallway. Tunnel vision gives way to vertigo. I’m unsteady on my feet and then nauseous.
I run to the bathroom and dry heave into the sink. Carla comes in as I’m splashing water on my face.
She puts her hand on my back and I sink under the weight of it. I’m insubstantial. I’m Olly’s ghost girl again. I press my hands into the porcelain of the sink. I can’t lift my eyes to the mirror because I won’t recognize the girl looking back at me.
“I have to know for sure,” I growl, using someone else’s voice.
“Give me a day,” she says, and tries to pull me into a hug, but I don’t let her. I don’t want comforting or protecting.
I just want the truth.
Proof of Life
All I have to do is go to sleep—quiet my mind, relax my body, and go to sleep. But no matter how I will it, sleep just will not come. My brain is an unfamiliar room and trapdoors are everywhere. Carla’s voice loops in my head. Maybe she never recovered from what happened. What does that even mean? I look at the clock. 1:00 a.m. Seven hours until Carla comes back. We’re going to do some blood tests and send them off to a SCID specialist that I found. Seven hours. I close my eyes. I open them again. 1:01 a.m.
I can’t wait for answers to come to me. I have to find them.
It takes all my effort to walk instead of run to my mom’s office. I’m sure she’s asleep, but I can’t risk waking her. I grab the handle and for one horrible moment I think the door will be locked and I will have to wait and I cannot wait. But the handle turns and the room lets me right in like it’s been waiting for me, like it’s been expecting me.
Her office is perfectly normal, not too neat, not too messy. There are no obvious signs of an unwell mind. Crazy, jumbled, chaotic writings don’t cover every inch of the wall.
I walk over to the big desk at the center of the room. It has a built-in file cabinet, so I start there. My hands are shaking, not a tremor, but actual shaking, like an earthquake that only I feel.
My mom is meticulous and extravagant in her record keeping. She’s kept everything and it takes me over an hour to get through just a handful of files. There are receipts for big and small purchases, lease agreements, tax documents, warranties, and instruction manuals. She’s even kept movie ticket stubs.
Finally, toward the back I find what I’m looking for: a thick red folder labeled Madeline. I pull it out carefully and make myself a space on the floor.
The record of my life starts with her pregnancy. I find prenatal vitamin recommendations, sonograms, and photocopies of each doctor’s visit. I find a handwritten index card with two check boxes—one for boy and the other for girl. Girl is checked. My birth certificate is here.
As I search through, it doesn’t take me long to realize that I was a sickly baby. I find pediatric sick-visit reports for rashes, allergies, eczema, colds, fevers, and two ear infections, all before I was four months old. I find receipts for lactation and infant-sleep consultants.