I wasn't allowed to play outside, and I hated my mother for it. I watched my friends from school ride their bikes past my house and begged her to let me join them, arguing for nearly an hour over the matter.
"You'll fall off your bike without me there to hold the back of your seat."
I promised to wear all of the knee and elbow pads and the giant helmet that was a little too big for me, even if it was sure to earn some teasing insults from my friends.
"You're allergic to the grass. I don't want you to get a rash,"
I promised her I would not set foot in the grass.
"Bees fly around this time of year. You're allergic to them."
I insisted it would be okay if I wore bug spray and carried my EpiPen with me.
The more reasons she gave me, the more I argued with her, just desperate to play with my friends outside--to be normal.
And, eventually, she agreed. She looked away and began crying, telling me to do whatever I wanted. "And when one of your friends knocks you off your bike and you fall over into the grass, breaking your arm in the process and getting poisonous bugs all over your body, make sure to take yourself to the hospital." She sulked off into her room, and made sure her loud sobs were audible.
I did not play outside that day.
I was twelve when I first began questioning all of the pills and medicine I took everyday. I felt fine. I always felt fine, and when I asked my mom what the seven prescriptions could possibly be for, she snapped at me, telling me that I was sick, and the antibiotics were very much the only thing stopping me from catching every illness known to man and dying.
I stopped taking them, and because I was only twelve, I wasn't smart enough to think about throwing them away, to hide the evidence. My mom noticed that there were too many pills in the bottle on the second day.
She screamed and cried, and in the car on the way to the hospital I heard her muttering, "Our father who art in Heaven..." the entire way.
My mom forced me to sit in a wheelchair when we made it to the hospital, and ordered me to not get up as she went to talk to the nurses. I waited in the waiting room for nearly two hours, eventually hearing screaming coming from behind the doors that led to the doctors offices and patient rooms. She bursted through the doors and marched over to me. "We're transferring you to a different hospital, Shawn. Your doctor has become incompetent." Before she could wheel be away, my doctor calmly walked out, and requested to speak with me.
My mom refused until the doctor threatened to take away all of my prescriptions since we were transferring hospitals. Begrudgingly, my mom agreed. "Three minutes." She said, and left to pull the car around to the front of the building.
The doctor stared down at me with sad eyes.
"Am I going to be okay?" I asked.
"You're fine, Shawn. You're always going to be fine." He patted my shoulder and walked away, as I stared, wondering what he meant.
She continued to get me tested twice a month for new illnesses, but I stopped taking everything my mom gave me. This time I was smart enough to throw them away.
She started going through the trash. I threw them out the window.
She started watching me take them. I hid them under my tongue and shoved them inside the potted plant that sat next to my bed after she left. She didn't seem to question the fact that all of the plants died after a few weeks.
I was seventeen and still didn't know how to drive.
"Why do you need to learn? Where would you ever go?"
I countered that I would eventually need to so that I could pick up my prescriptions from the pharmacy. (I still hadn't taken any of the pills since that day at the hospital.)
"You might crash the car and die. Teenagers are so irresponsible. You don't need to learn. You'll stay here with me."
I watched my friends drive past my house on their way to school while waiting by the front door for my mom to drive me.
I hated her.
I turned eighteen in February of my senior year. For the first time in my life, my mother allowed me to go to a friend's house to spend the night. She drove me there, nearly in tears, listing the rules I needed to follow and making sure that I packed all of my medicine.
When we pulled up to the house she got out of the car, and proceeded to interview my friend's mom for nearly an hour, asking awful personal questions that she had no business knowing. I felt embarrassment like I never had before.
Through gritted teeth, I pulled my mom away from the doorstep and told her that I had changed my mind. She breathed out a sigh of relief and nearly ran back to the car. "I don't trust that women, or her son. I don't ever want you asking to go over there ever again."
I said nothing.
A few months later, I noticed a new bottle of pills had been added to my supply. I fed them to the plant.
Only when I began feeling exhausted in the middle of the day and began gaining weight no matter how much I exercised did it occur to me that I may have legitimately needed the medicine.
My mom drove me to the hospital when I fainted.
The doctor ran tests on me and concluded that I had not been taking my Liothyronine medication. I began to ask what it was for when my mom interrupted me, insisting that she watched me take the pills every day.
"What is it for?" I asked again, agrier this time.
The doctor opened his mouth to speak but was beat to it by my mom. "Don't worry about it, Shawn. You don't need to worry about it."
I saw red. I picked her up over my shoulder and walked out of the patient room. She screamed and kicked me, yelling at me to put her down. I sat her down in a chair in the waiting room and ran back to the doctor, slamming the door shut and leaning against it, afraid my mom would try to get in.
"What's wrong with me?" I asked slowly, shaking slightly,
The doctor seemed to be in shock from what had just happened, and had trouble spitting the words out. "You uh...Your thyroid...it's at zero percent functionality. I prescribed antibiotics that would make the thymine chemical for your body, but--"
"I haven't been taking them." I said, trembling harder. "I thought they were fake."
The ride home was silent. Only when we stepped inside the house did my mother begin yelling at me. Questioning why I hadn't been taking the medication and what else I hadn't taken.
I screamed at her. Letting all of my built up frustrations show until I started crying and kicking furniture. "You've spent my entire life making up all of these sicknesses that aren't real, and now I'm actually sick, and didn't know because there's no way I'd ever trust you about any type of medication!" She ran to her room and shut the door, her sobs echoing off the walls. In my blind rage, I kicked over a bookshelf, and only stopped when a box fell from the top of it. I had never given much thought to the box that always sat on top, before. It had been there since before I was born, and was just a part of the house. The lid had fallen off, it's contents spilling to the floor.
Inside were dozens of photos of my mom with a baby girl who I had never seen before. There were ultrasounds and and baby clothes and a birth certificate. I read the name:
She had been born about two years before me, according to the date on the certificate. I reached into the box and pulled out a newspaper clipping. The headline read:
Kentucky Infant dies after contracting measles from an unvaccinated child.
I ran my thumb over the grainy black and white photo of my sister I never knew I had, thinking back on my sheltered life. Thinking back to how my father left her when I was a baby.
I hated my mother.
But, for the first time in my life, I understood her.