I ate raspberry jam on warm buttered toast
the delight of the red crunched with the crust
of the bread
and every morning I boarded the
bombarding yellow school bus
-plastered with dirt
caked and crunchy
like the edges of my toast-
with a wide smile
that had little red raspberry clumps
in between my teeth
and butter on my breath
as I took on seventh grade.
The girl who sat behind me on the bus
spilled her milk and cereal
and it soaked through the fine lines of my backpack
that illusion of privacy
zipped up against the rest of the world
and the dripping white
coated my new book
soiling the pages
staining the raspberry red cover
with the little holly berries cased in ice
I could see the ink drip off the pages
the story I had violently looked forward to
became a puddle
of milky grey water
on the cakey floor of the bus
The first time my body gave into the raspberries
was a wednesday morning.
I had brushed my teeth
I was washing the raspberry on my tongue
down the drain,
swirling, spiraling, funneling,
raspberry remnants fading away
a bus to catch in three minutes-
when I coughed.
Unthinking, I didn’t cover-
white porcelain of my sink
speckled on my mirror
covering the bluebirds of my eyes
clipping their wings
soaking their snow tipped feathers
soiling the pages of my book
staining the interior of the story.
Time passed. Doctor visits. Rooms with white walls. No raspberries.
I threw the raspberry jam into the trash can
and watched the glass of the jar shatter
into thousands of little crystals
deadly glass pieces.
Like raspberry blood on a mirror.
It’s life or death.
Blood. They took it. My blood. My raspberries.
Needles, long, in and out of my veins.
My elbows were bruised from
being battered with misdiagnosis.
The treatment might kill me faster than the disease.
Healing would destroy me.
My body was raging in a civil war
but there would only be one casualty . . .
I stopped riding the bus.
My parents found the time to drive me to school.
It took seven minutes from our front door
to the front gate of school.
Seven minutes to listen to the radio
and sing along.
Seven minutes to connect.
where it felt like
the raspberries could not find me.
I was being hunted by my insides
but in the bubble of the car
I could see the world around me
but I was safe
glass walls keeping me safe
this was base in the game of tag
and the raspberries were “it”
I could not be touched.
But sometimes, it would.
It ignored my pleas for mercy
it mocked my desperation
and coughing fits stole my lungs
and swathed them in raspberry
I would vomit
and curse the toast
I used to love.
I spent more time in the nurse's office than the classroom.
I spent more time in my bed than at school.
was the name that the doctors gave me
I did not have to go to school
I refused to drop out.
I told no one, no student, at my school
about the raspberries
who suffocated me.
My teachers took pity.
I’m allergic to pity. It makes me queasy.
It lets the raspberries control me.
They told me I had to leave school.
Too many germs.
My body could not handle the stress.
It was my last day.
I told my friends I would . . .
be going away . . .
for a little bit.
My family was moving to Canada.
I was going to boarding school.
We were going on a long vacation.
I was starting online school.
I told many lies.
I could not face the fact
that my bloodstream
refused to be my host
in the world
The girl who sat behind me on the bus
had not seen me
since the nightmares took over reality.
She stopped me in the hallway
with shame on her face.
She handed me a new copy
of the book
she soiled with her breakfast.
She did not know how dangerous breakfast could be.
I thanked her and she tilted her head
“why would you spend fifteen dollars on printed ink and thin paper?”
She was kind. She was confused. She was ignorant
about the raspberries that clotted my bloodstream.
I giggled with her question,
the bluebirds in my eyes tried to spread their wings
raspberry jam spread over butter toast.
It’s not about the ink or paper, I told her.
I saw the moondust in her freckles huddle in confusion.
It’s about the story.
I can be. I can be anything.
I am 7 and on vacation with my family.
I am 15 and I have fallen in love with her for the first time.
I am 23 and just bought my first apartment.
I am 35 and heartbroken because my lover cheated on me.
I am 47 and was in a minor car accident with my firstborn son.
I am 62 and my granddaughter just became a woman.
I am 81 and baking lemonade cookies for my soulmate.
I am 94 and writing my will.
I . . . I won’t make it to 15. I won’t get to live to 23. Or 35.
My body is hosting a revolution.
It didn’t like my raspberry jam habits.
She didn’t understand. And I wasn’t able to form words to put the momentum
of falling stars
spinning on a swing
kissing a girl
eating cookies in the kitchen
and making toast with raspberry jam
into the paragraph she requested.
But she shrugged, and smiled, and invited me over for a snack after school.
I smiled and texted my mother, telling her most likely.
She beamed. Her smile made my heart bubble.
It took a pace like it used to
when I would wake up in the morning
and begin to make my toast.
“I have some raspberry jam at home, I know it’s your favorite.”
She looked at her toes with a question directed at me
and then her eyes sought mine.
“I have cancer. I start treatment on Saturday. Today is my last day here.”
It came out of me,
like a repressed water stream
bursting out of rock.
Tears pooled in my eyes
and I forgot how to breathe
as I tried to quiet
my raging thoughts.
She pulled me in
and hugged me.
Her arms were a soft blanket
that tethered the string of my balloon
to the earth
and grounded my feet
on the solid floor.
Glass shattered in the trash can.
The sweetness on my tongue making sparkles around me.
Red on the mirror staring back at me.
That after school, she came to my home.
I introduced her to my tired mother.
And we ate butter toast in my kitchen.
And spread raspberry jam over it.
I had blocked the sweet memory from my mind.
The way it tickled my taste buds.
The way my heart froze when I bit into the toast.
I may not reach 19 or 22.
But I am 12. And I am here.
I am with my family and with her,
and I am with my stories,
and I am with
my raspberry jam.