Lesson 4: Wasting Away – A Memoir

Wasting Away

A desperately ill child’s reflections of sounds and smells from the confines of his bedroom as he struggles with the fear of dying.

I lay on the floor on my back staring blankly at the ceiling. The threadbare rug was no help against the warped floor planks but it was better, no lower, than my bed. I could not stand or sit without vomiting and lying on my bed was too high and brought on nausea. If my grandfather’s grave was open I would have climbed in.

I remained there listening to my mother cutting material on the dining room table next door. The sound of the scissors on the wood formed a comforting rhythm and I felt calm now. The sound stopped and my mother opened the door to see how I was feeling.

“Michael, what are you doing on the floor?” she said as she hurried to me. “Get yourself back to bed this minute. What will the doctor think of us? You on the floor and all.”

“Mom, I can’t, my bed is too high, I’ll be sick.”

For the first time since I was found in a hole at school and brought home she had a good long look at me. I saw the expression in her eyes change; she looked scared which frightened me.

“Mom, am I dying like Pop? Did he also want to vomit all the time?”

“Now don’t you be talking that way child! Your grandfather was old and died of cancer of his blood.” She wanted to help me up but the moment I sat I began retching. She laid me back down and rushed off to fetch the enamel bucket, the one that was always used when we were sick. It had chips now.

With the bucket next to the bed I hung over the side to get my head lower. This is how the doctor found me. He examined me as best he could between my retching spells; I had nothing left to vomit. When finished he lay me back down with my head over the side of the bed and left with my mother to the dining room. I could not hear what he told her but when he left my mother came back in and told me that I was very sick and that I must stay in bed.

Later that evening when my mother was cooking, the smell of fried sausage caused me to vomit violently. Bangers and Mash for supper was not on my menu! I could only manage one small non-salted cracker and a sip of water. Little did I know at that time but this was to become my diet for the next three weeks. I could not stand the smell of normal food, it just made me vomit.

After dinner, all the family came in see me. They were all amused as they looked at me. Eventually my mother chased them all out and sat on the bed next to me.

“You have Yellow Jaundice the doctor said. It has made you very yellow, especially your eyes,” she said brushing my hair back with her rough hand. “You’ll be in here for a while yet.”

“Am I dying?” I asked. “I’m not ready, I’m only twelve,” I pleaded with her.

“Enough of that then,” she said smiling, “only the good die young.”

I was not convinced.

Later that night a ghastly storm struck. The wind caused the branches of the tree outside my window to scrape with eerie screeches on the gutter and roof. It howled with ghostly fluttering sounds down the chimney.

I lay flat on my back thinking that death had come to get me.

Suddenly the entire room shook. The mine siren whined out its call for the rock-fall. This happened often in the past but that first night terrified me; the ground is going to open up and take me because I’m dead.

This was the first of many frightening nights. For three weeks I endured the lack of food and the ranting and ravings of the wind and ground. I was lonely!

At the end of it all I was a skeleton of a boy with a resolve to live and face everything life and the world had to offer.

About Michael Reyneke

At present, I'm a full-time SAP Business Consultant (to quote my business card), however, I will retire early next year. Writing and photography are my hobbies but I intend to write full-time to keep my creative faculties primed.
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6 Responses to Lesson 4: Wasting Away – A Memoir

  1. freckles says:

    Michael, what an awful distressing time for you. Having 7 children, listening to you relieve your memoir, tugged at my heartstrings. What we see as an adult is so much different to how we see and feel as a child, yet you described each detail well. How frightening even the wind and the branches scratching at your windowpane! Nicely written.

  2. Jude says:

    This is a very poignant memory for a twelve year old. What an awful time it was for you. Made me remember my jaundice days – ghastly. You don’t seem to hear about it these days. You were able to draw the reader into the frightening experience with your descriptions.

  3. moonwriter says:

    I agree with the previous posters..I was definitely drawn in and felt the discomfort that came through your descriptions – including the moments of storm! I love being able to feel like I am present in your memories!

  4. becky_n says:

    Ditto to the above. I could hear the scissors cutting fabric and feel the need to stay low. It seems that the memories that have the most detail are those which were created in poignant moments like the ones you describe in your piece: the sound of scissors cutting fabric, the chipped enamel bucket, the smell of bangers and mash– these details made your piece come alive.

  5. Hana says:

    I agree with the other comments, Michael. Your piece was very alive and filled with descriptions that reflected your 12-year old self so well. I thought this was very well written and liked what you wrote at the end to bring it all together into the person you are today.

  6. terrysmith says:

    This piece was well done. You certainly portrayed the 12 year mind well, thinking he was going to die like his grandfather. The imagination working over time with the eerie screeches from the branches. A scary time for sure!

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