Justin hates his seven-year-old sister, Katia, for having Downs Syndrome and for being a girl. She hates him as well. One day, when their parents are out of the house, Katia has trouble breathing and must go to the doctor. She knows that she has congenital heart disease and that the condition is life threatening. Will Justin have a change of heart for the better before she dies? Can Katia forgive her brother even if he does change?
She lay, crumpled on the couch, dejected and not wanting to move. She plugged her ears, but Justin was still screaming. He was still shouting at her…
“Why can’t you just be normal?”
Katia had heard the words too many times.
“Why couldn’t you have been a boy…a normal, healthy boy?”
“Come on, hit me,” Katia replied, still plugging her ears. “Want. . . you want me to die?”
“I don’t want you to die, dumbo,” Justin said, coldly. “I wish you were never born!”
The words pierced Katia’s heart. Though it had been like this for years, it still hurt.
Katia had been born seven years before, seemingly normal and healthy. Even then, Justin, her older brother by ten years, had been disappointed that she was not a boy, but ever since their parents had learned that Katia had Downs’ Syndrome, Justin hated her.
Katia could not lie. She hated him as well for every mean comment he had ever said.
A year later after Katia’s eighth birthday, things were the same. Justin was still teasing Katia and getting angry with her every time she broke one of his things or said hi to one of his friends. He liked to pretend she didn’t exist, and that hurt Katia the worst.
One time, Justin’s mistreatment of her got so bad that their mother had to talk to him.
“She’s your sister, and you better start acting like it, young man,” she said. “She has feelings, you know.”
Katia was grateful for that conversation, but it had no lasting effect. It seemed that Justin’s soul was just as black as his hair, his hate stronger than his muscular form. Nothing could change Justin’s heart of stone.
Katia stared at the soft carpet in front of her and wished she could drown in it. She was so tired of having to face Justin that she almost wanted to kill herself, but she didn’t have to.
Slowly, it had progressed. Katia did not know that it was this severe, but now, her lungs felt tight. The room felt grey and hazy, and Katia had to remind herself to breathe. She breathed. . . breathed with all her might and kept on breathing, but still she gasped for more.
She coughed. Her face turned blue. She was downstairs, all alone. Her parents were on a date, and Justin, who had been instructed to ‘babysit’ Katia, was now playing on his computer.
Katia stared. She did not know what to do, and her body felt cold… as cold as Justin’s heart.
She gasped for air, but it escaped her. She and her parents had known that she had congenital heart disease, yet they had not told Justin yet. Maybe they should have.
“Justin,” Katia gasped.
Her head hit the floor, and she was out.
Miraculously, Justin had heard her soft whisper, or maybe he had only gone downstairs to get something out of the basement refrigerator. Teenage guys were always hungry.
“Katia, you okay?” he whispered at the girl.
Her eyes were closed, her face blue, but her heart was still beating.
“You okay?” Justin shouted. “Don’t scare me like this, you little swine!”
Just as the words left his mouth, Justin wished he could retract them. He saw that Katia had not been trying to scare him. She was in fact in danger of her life.
When Katia’s eyes opened, she was in the hospital, still struggling to breathe but succeeding more often than not. Her brown hair was cold and sweaty.
Her parents were close by, standing near the door of the room, and someone was standing next to her bed, but Katia’s mind was still too blurred to know whom it was.
She recognized the voice now as Justin’s and would have jerked up and shouted for him to leave if she had had the strength.
His voice sounded less hostile than it usually did, but still, it reminded her of abusive words and other cold things, colder than her sweaty, brown hair.
“Katia, are you okay?”
“You care?” Katia asked.
“You love me, then?”
Realizing she could die any moment now, Katia grasped at acceptance.
Justin breathed, but he could not answer.
“You love me, bro?” Katia asked again. “You love me?”
She was desperate now.
“Yeah,” Justin responded. “Underneath all this coldness… I always have.”
His face looked contorted, as if he was trying not to cry.
“Please, Katia,” Justin begged. “Before you die, tell me you forgive me. I’ve been the worst brother, and you’ve never done anything to deserve it.”
“I’m an angel,” Katia smiled blissfully, unconcerned though she knew she was going to die.
“You are!” Justin agreed, looking weak. Weakness looked good on him Katia decided, though she had never seen him wear it before. He had always been strong… too strong.
“I forgive you,” Katia whispered.
She was glad she felt frail because if she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have been able to forgive. She would have still hated him, but somehow, death seemed too present a reality to let petty things, even huge petty things, get in the way of their reconciliation.
Justin clasped her hand in his, and his eyes were moist. He never cried. It wasn’t like him, but today just in time, he had learned to love. Just in time, he had learned to cry.
And with that, a seven-year-old girl slipped out of her body. An angel left the world.