Things I’m Thankful For, Part I

By Laura Edwards

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve decided to pen a new entry on each of the next four days, with each post dedicated to something for which I’m thankful.

Tonight, I’m thankful for my ability to see. I’m blessed to possess two eyes that, with the assistance of contact lenses or thick glasses, receive reflected light and usher it through first the cornea, then the pupil, then the lens, and then the retina, where, finally, it is converted into electrical impulses and sent to my brain, where an image is produced. This is an amazing process that took nearly three full lines to describe but that in reality happens instantaneously and without requiring any thought or effort on my part. Since I was 9 years old, I’ve had a hard time climbing out of bed in the morning without first putting my glasses on, but once I do that, the world is crystal-clear.

I’m thankful for all of the visual memories that will forever remain preserved in my heart. This very instant, I can see the way the sunlight trickled through the leaves of a certain tree whose canopy watches over a sidewalk that runs alongside the Undergraduate Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina. I used to take that sidewalk to South Campus just so I could walk through that dappled light. Now, I can see the fountain at SouthPark Mall in my hometown, as well as the thousands of pennies slumbering under the water’s surface, and my dad’s face as he tells me, his only child, a story, and the scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream perched atop a sugar cone from the Baskin Robbins, the closing of which left me in tears. (I immortalized that particular memory in the novel I never finished once the doctors discovered the terrible truth about my sister’s genes.) Now, I can see my great-grandmother’s laugh – because she laughed with her eyes – as she watches a funny movie with me in her basement, an ice-cold can of “Co-cola” in her hand and an unfinished game of Chinese checkers on the coffee table. Now, I can see my husband’s face as he asks me to marry him on the sidewalk in front of my grandparents’ house in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where we spent our first wonderful long weekend together as best friends just three days before he asked me out (not the first time he asked, but the first time I said “yes”) during the first semester of our senior year of high school. Now, I can see my little sister’s beautiful, working eyes focus on me as she runs to give me a hug.

I graduated from college in the spring of 2004, and that tree beside the library is no longer a regular part of my life. The SouthPark Baskin Robbins is so long-gone that most people living in Charlotte these days probably don’t even know that it ever existed. My great-grandmother passed away a few years ago, and I never got to tell her goodbye. My husband and I are still as in love as we were on our wedding day, but my grandmother is very sick, and the house where John asked me to marry him was sold two months ago. And my sister has not made eye contact with me in a very long time, because Batten disease came along and decided that she doesn’t deserve to see. So I cherish photos I took of her more than a few years ago – the ones in which she is looking at the camera. And more than ever, I cherish each and every moment spent with my blind sister. I cherish the miracle that is her presence in my life, and I hate the disease that wags its finger at me every day, tells me to stop fighting back, and tells me I should be satisfied with the memories I already have and stop dreaming of making more.

What Do You Wish For?

By Laura Edwards

I went out for a sweet treat last night with my two favorite girls – Taylor and my mom. We experienced the euphoria of Yoforia, a new frozen yogurt shop situated conveniently (i.e. dangerously) on the way home from my office. After eating our yogurt piled high with toppings, we sat on the bench in front of the fountain outside to watch the sky as it thought about storming, then sprinkled a few stray drops, then shifted colors like a kaleidoscope until finally fading into early dusk.

I can’t walk by a fountain without making a wish, a trait I picked up through countless nights at the old SouthPark Mall fountain outside the now long-extinct Baskin Robbins with my dad and enhanced in recent years by my increased need for fulfilled wishes. So as the late afternoon sky changed from cotton candy blue to deep purple and lavender to fiery orange and back again, we pulled out our wallets and produced handfuls of change. We fed the fountain with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to the fountain’s and our hearts’ content, squeezing our eyes shut tight and making a wish on every last coin.

I wish for a strong run on the rain-soaked streets of my neighborhood as soon as I publish this post. I wish for a sound night’s sleep tonight. I wish for a successful surgery tomorrow morning to fix the nose I broke playing soccer three months ago. I wish to feel well enough this weekend to watch the Americans at least play England to a draw in their World Cup opener. I wish for a summer filled with charmed memories created from here to the white sands of the Virgin Islands – images and smiles to bottle up for another day. I wish for a coming year in which the dark shadow of Batten disease moves at the pace of a snail – or not at all – to envelop my sister. I wish to see her grow up to experience the same milestones I have been lucky enough to live – graduating from high school and college, falling in love, getting married and finding a way in the world. I wish for a cure. I wish for the strength, the courage and, above all, the miracle that could write her happy ending.

Wishing on Pennies

By Laura Edwards

Everywhere, there are reminders of the passage of time: the sight of the setting sun at the end of a mild day on which the spring buds stretched their arms and reached for the sky, just six days after our area saw heavy snowfall; the excitement with which my little brother spoke of the major concentration he’s just chosen on the eve of his senior year in college, though I am still often shocked to stand beside him and realize once again that he has grown taller than I; the high school classmate who walked past me at SouthPark Mall tonight – with several children in tow; Taylor’s hair – which, as it grows, marks the time since it was shaved in an operating room far away from home, in the Pacific Northwest.

I had a few minutes alone while I waited for John in the mall earlier this evening, so I set my bags down and found a spot on the side of the fountain, pulling my knees up under my chin to watch the water rise and fall. The moment immediately brought back memories of a tradition long ago, one I shared with my dad when I was still an only child. Mom frequently had volunteer meetings on weeknights, so after eating grilled cheese sandwiches or Burger King for dinner, Dad and I would head to the Baskin Robbins in SouthPark to get ice cream cones (mint chocolate chip in a sugar cone for me) and throw pennies into the fountain until Dad’s pockets were empty. This tradition has stuck with me long past the extinction of that particular Baskin Robbins; in fact, the on-again, off-again novel I started writing in college has a whole scene – a whole chapter, really – in which the book’s main character and her mother, who has late-stage brain cancer, share a picnic by a similar fountain in a mall in Vermont.

Tonight, watching the fountain seemed to make time stand still. But when I lifted my eyes and invited the rest of my surroundings back into my consciousness, I was reminded of how much the mall of my childhood has changed. Gone are Sears and Hecht’s and the old movie theater, supplanted by Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co. Once the place where I could take my high school soccer teammates out for Sbarro’s pizza after practice – and still in our shin guards – it now touts itself as “the Carolinas’ premier shopping destination,” and I suspect that our grass and sweat-stained shin guards would get dirty looks.

While SouthPark’s been busy remaking itself, my little sister, who was born during the days of those beloved after-practice pizza outings, is growing up. Once happy with Gymboree, then The Children’s Place, she now prefers to get her clothes from Justice and, during a short phase that seems to have ended, Abercrombie. My mom recently told me a story of how she had T and her girlfriends in the car one afternoon and offered to put on Radio Disney, only to get cries of protest and requests to play Kiss 95.1 (a decidedly more “grown-up” selection, though according to the station’s website, Disney creation Taylor Swift did make the High 5 today). And though she simply giggles and grins, then turns her head when you ask for details, it seems that T and her friends have officially discovered boys this year. One night recently while Dad was out of town, John and I took Mom and T out to dinner at McAlister’s. About halfway through the meal, T started talking about one of the boys in her class. Mom told her to show us what she’d been carrying around in her pocket, to which T responded by producing a carefully folded scrap of paper with a phone number and the words “Scott’s Home Phone.” She’d carried it around faithfully all day. That was almost a month ago, and in the time since, rarely have I seen her more animated than she was right then.

Though the changes in T have made for many happy memories like that night at McAlister’s, they, too, signal the passage of time – a scary prospect for a family like ours. I would do anything to be able to press ‘pause’ and take the gift of additional time to ensure that T won’t ever really have to stop growing up. But I can’t do that. The sun has already set on this day. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to not only press ‘pause’ – which could only be a temporary solution after all – but to rewrite the entire script. I will be at MexiCafé tomorrow afternoon for Tip-off for Taylor as part of the latest attempt to do just that. And tomorrow evening, after everyone has gone home, one team has lost and the other has won, I will no doubt once again find myself willing a blank screen to be filled with words that give meaning – and belief – to our journey. And just for good measure, you’d better believe I tossed a penny into that fountain.