A few years ago, I made this little short film as a Christmas present to my sister, Liz.
For those of you that are new here, my sister was a working cowboy until she got chronic Lyme disease in Nevada and we almost lost her. Sometimes, when she was at her most sick and ready to give up, I would remind her of who she was at heart, and how her story is bigger than just her – her story gives hope to those in pain from a horrible illness that kills, and her bravery and joy gives me light everyday. This is a really personal thing, but Lizzy chose to share it – and because of that I think it’s okay. I have seen her story bring hope to so many who are battling this wretched disease, and I know she will always be a blessing, because she is willing to share and help others in their own fight.
I’ll never forget it, she was so strong looking.
My best friend with skin the color of latigo from the sun, and hands that would make manicurist run. She had blonde hair form a bottle, and her mascara always ended up under her eyes for some reason. And she was beautiful.
We trotted out as the sun came up, and giggle at each other’s impersonations, local news and recent fashion magazine articles we had read in camp by generator.
We didn’t keep quiet most of the time, because it was just us. I always liked that.
We found the pairs up on BLM country; saw two elk and a random boot in the sagebrush. I always like finding that weird stuff when a cabin is nowhere in sight.
When we hit Coyote Lake, Liz’s skinny ass made me laugh when she pretended to pass out. “What a dork” I thought to myself. She rolled to the side, and I giggled. Her horse blew a few rollers and moved to the side, Liz didn’t right herself and I wondered why she was being such a dink. Then I realized she wasn’t pretending.
When we got her off her horse, she had turned white as the girls who pretend to be untouched at rodeos, pale. She almost looked translucent. I started freaking out inside, but pretended nonchalance and said it was probably her blood sugar or something. We laughed it off, cooled our ponies off, and headed off to check that gate, the annoying one that was always having elk run through it.
A few years later, I walked into the back bedroom or the headquarters house in California. Nevada was eons ago, and so was Lizzie’s color. She tried to lift herself up to drink the tea I brought, and then gave into a half slump against the pillows. Her weight was nothing. She looked like a skeleton, and the shiny blue eyes that always barked at me to “Get out of the GD gate” were silent and hooded. I always felt like bawling when I thought about her eyes. The mole that made her look like a little stock dog, gave her a sweet and off-kilter look that made strangers trip over them.
I loved pointing it out and watching boys ogle and not know what to do with their hands.
She always smiled, even when she was dying. Mom and dad had said the doctors there was a possibility she wouldn’t be making it. Her doctor’s son had passed away from the same disease, and I struggled to remember if I still believed in a god who was good, if he could let this happen to the kindest gentlest soul I knew.
I lifted the hospital bed’s back, so she didn’t have to sit up, and handed her the hot tea. We still drank it dark and sweet, a product of living in Scotland all those years.
She thanked me with her eyes, a smile, and soon was so tired she had to lie down again. I stay, looking on my laptop at social media and telling her about who is where, what is happening back in her home, and leave out who replaced her at her old job. She never makes a peep, but I notice the shaking beginning, and soon her body is convulsing. She can’t stop the shaking and tremors; they are a recent thing and attack her fragile body like machine gun bullets. She doesn’t make noise, but drops squeeze out of the side of her eyes and she clenches her fists until her short nails leave marks in her palms.
I call, almost screaming for my mother, who – not very far away comes running. We sit and say soothing ridiculous things about her being fine, how sorry we are, how we love her, how it’s going to stop soon. We ask again and again what we can do, what we can get her, how we can fix it. She tries to comfort attempts and us that flashing smile, turning the comforted into the comforter. The fear is always close by.
My mother doesn’t sleep. Always researching for something some story, some clue to save her daughter. My father works until he almost has a heart attack from stress, trying to send her to the best doctors, to pay for the $1000 a dose medication that must be taken three times a day, and telling his wife that they will find a way to help, to save her.
The afternoon wears into evening, and she falls asleep. Twitching and jerking, tears pooling on long dark lashes while she sleeps, she cant hide them when in dreamland. My mother asks me a question, gently, and I bark my response in anger. Not knowing how to ask what will happen when I loose my best friend. How when I brought her bridle horse to her this morning I had to almost carry her to the door to pet his nose and say hello. How she cried into his mane and then begged me to take him away. I wanted to say How DARE you have let her be a cowboy. Let her work outside. How DARE you let this happen to my best friend. How DARE you bring me up to believe in a god who lets this sort of thing happen.
The anger permeates everything in the house, and Lizzy wakes. We bring crackers and sprite as her body rejects anything she tried to eat, and she still smiles as we move worriedly around her, busying our hands to feel like we are somehow in control.
I think back to the girl I knew up on the colt, looking for dumb black cows on BLM country. The girl in my head smiles, and her sunburned cheeks crinkle with happiness and sheer joy. The girl in the bed reaches for my hand, and I’m jerked back to reality.
It’s been five minutes.
It has lasted eight years.
Nevada is four hundred miles away.
And there is dust on her saddle.
Do not believe me about Lyme disease?
Do not believe me about hardship and pain?
Live, for five minutes in her body.
Say goodbye to everything you have ever loved.
Ever worked for, and ever known.
And tell me about the pain you feel, when it is all ripped away.
Then come back again, and let me know if you believe.