What It Feels Like to Fall Down the Rabbit Hole

By Emily Lewis // As Told to Lena De Vore and Mollie Wagner

Mollie Wagner

More stories from Mollie Wagner

Idioms In Reverse
February 21, 2020
Tiny Love Stories
January 17, 2020
Stephanie M. Luc
December 17, 2019
Lena De Vore

More stories from Lena De Vore

December 6, 2020
Trapped in Desire
June 12, 2020

What to wish for? My dreams of fairy lights and a new lipstick collection were achieved quickly after my thirteenth birthday, and now as I blow out the candles embarking on my fourteenth year on this little planet, I seem to have everything I need: my family, my friends, everything is perfect. I am starting my life, a newly 14-year-old girl, on the right foot.

Or so I thought.

That was what washed through my mind the night of my fourteenth birthday. Life seemed perfect for a girl like me. I blew out my candles and felt the world at my fingertips. Everyone I love surrounded me with flashing lights and big cameras; it was my day, and it was all about me. I was thankful for that last birthday when everything felt normal.

I woke up sad. Maybe it was my turning of age, or maybe it was the clouds swirling over my little town; I didn’t know. All I did know was that day was different. I woke up later than usual and crawled out of bed, expecting my mom to comment on my new teenage attitude. Maybe that’s just what being 14 was all about: being in a funk.

Rain fell on that Thursday afternoon, the day after my birthday. I walked into the kitchen and didn’t see any of my family members. I patted my hair down and spun leftover streamers between my fingers. I watched them curl as I released my grip; they were blue and white—my dad’s favorite colors. My mom called my brother and me into the family room where she and my dad were already sitting. It was odd, just like that day. As I took my place, I felt a wave of uneasiness seep into my ears and sink down to my toes. They quickly began to tingle.

My dad took my mom’s hand, her shoulders relaxed as she acknowledged him and took a breath. My brother’s eyes darted toward me, but I didn’t break eye contact with my mom. Her curls were more deflated and the bags under her eyes were deeper than usual, she sat stiffly on the cream colored chair. As the words crept out of her mouth I heard them hit the floor with a thud.

Or maybe that was my heart falling into my stomach.

As my eyes remained locked with my mom’s, I could hear in the shakiness of her voice that the news was bad…really bad. She gently tiptoed around what she was actually trying to say, but I listened to every word. When she finally choked out that my dad was diagnosed with stage four head and neck cancer, I saw the past 14 years crumble in front of my eyes. I couldn’t see my mom anymore; I couldn’t see anything.

I was upset and angry.

I didn’t want to believe what was now spewing out of my mom’s mouth. My brother got up from his chair and walked out of the room, my mom wept into her hands and I sat there staring at the mess in the middle of our now broken circle. I felt faint, numb and out of body. This wasn’t what I wished for; this wasn’t anyone’s wish.

I don’t like thinking about that day or any day after.

School was hard. As my grades began to plummet, so did my dad’s health. I spent as much time with him as possible, soaking in every memory—remembering him and recognizing his strengths in light of all the weakness he was experiencing.

I woke up and kissed his cheek goodbye as two men escorted him out of our house. By the time I got home from school he would be back in his bed, on the brink of consciousness. Whether he was responsive or not, I told him about my day. I told him about my eighth grade girl drama, trying to give my life a sense of normalcy.

All of the treatments and chemotherapy he was going through weren’t cheap. Dad couldn’t work anymore and mom’s income wasn’t stable enough, so money was scarce. Everyone’s pots were starting to boil over, none of us knowing when the other’s would snap or what would set them off. Every step I took in my own home was like walking on eggshells.

Throughout his diagnosis and battle with cancer, I experienced all seven stages of grief. I didn’t want to believe that someone like me could go through something like this, I don’t think anyone in my family did. He lost over 100 pounds and his skin hung loosely over his bones. As his disease started to spread to his lymph nodes, he was given a permanent feeding tube. I thought his time was slowly coming to an end.

Until the day finally came.

I woke up again with a pit in my stomach, this time anxious, like I was supposed to be anticipating something. The trees dancing outside my window, almost like they were begging me to dance with them, dragged me out of bed. As soon as I walked down the hallway I was greeted by my mother, who would put her hand on my back and guide me to the family room. My dad already sitting in the cream colored chair, an empty one next to him for mom.

Those stupid chairs.

I hadn’t sat across from them like that since the day after my birthday six months earlier. What was wrong this time? I thought I could blow out the candles again in just six months. I’ll fix this mess, dad. I promise. My brother held my hand as I sank into the couch, seeing my dad in that bony, broken condition. You could hear a pin drop in our little home as the four of us studied one another. Mom finally moved first, she reached behind her and put a folded piece of paper on her lap. I watched my dad’s eyes fill with tears as he stared at my mom unfolding the paper and reading it out loud.

To this day, that was the most emotional day of my entire life: my father’s clean bill of health.

My brother fell into my arms, my mom into my dad’s, until we all wrapped our arms around one another. Our family wasn’t broken anymore. We sat there for a long time like that, in our newly fixed circle.