Courtney Sheinmel Positively

ISBN 13: 9781416971696

Positively

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9781416971696: Positively
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Since the day Emerson Pressman and her mother were diagnosed as HIV positive, nothing has been the same. When her mother dies of AIDS, Emmy has to go live with the father and stepmother she barely knows, and she feels more alone than ever. Now she has to take pills by herself, and there is no one left who understands what it's like to be afraid every time she has a cold. But when her father decides to send her to Camp Positive, a camp for HIV-positive children, Emmy begins to realize that she's not alone after all, and that sometimes, opening up to other people can make all the difference in the world.

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About the Author:

Courtney Sheinmel is the author of All the Things You Are, Sincerely, Positively, and My So-Called Family. She graduated with honors from Barnard College, part of Columbia University, and attended Fordham University School of Law. Courtney lives, works, and writes in New York City. Visit her at www.courtneysheinmel.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

When my mother died I imagined God was thinking, "One down, and one to go."

We were an ordinary family up until Mom got sick. I don't really remember what it was like to be ordinary, since I was only four years old when it all changed. Most of my life I've been different from everybody else.

But sometimes I look at the pictures of us from before. A regular family. A mom, a dad, a little girl. I can tell when Mom was getting sick by how old I look in the pictures, and whether or not I have bangs. The fi rst time Mom got really sick was right around the time I started to grow out my bangs, so my favorite pictures are the ones where I still have bangs and I know for sure that she was healthy. When my bangs are too long and clipped back from my forehead, I know that means Mom is closer to dying.

I don't remember the first time Mom told me she was sick, and that I could get sick too. It seems like something I've always known. At fi rst, Mom just had a cold. It wasn't a big deal, because people get colds all the time, even though Mom was the kind of person who never got sick. But I was in preschool, so she thought maybe I'd brought home germs from the other kids and given them to her. She figured it was just a normal cold like regular people get. Except Mom's cold just wouldn't go away. She went to the doctor and he put her on antibiotics and said it should clear up in a few days, but Mom got worse. One night she couldn't breathe at all, and Dad rushed her to the hospital. It turned out she had pneumonia, but it was more than that. The doctors at the hospital said the reason Mom had pneumonia was because she also had a disease called AIDS. They said Dad and I also had to be tested to see if we were infected with it too. Dad wasn't, but I was. They figured out that Mom had gotten infected before I was born, and I got it when she was pregnant with me.

Mom went on special medication for people with AIDS, and she got better for a while. Even though I wasn't sick, the doctors said I could get sick at any time because I was HIV-positive, which means the virus that causes AIDS is in my blood. From then on, Mom and I had to go to the doctor every couple of months. They tested our blood for things called viral loads and T-cells. If our viral loads were high and our T-cell levels were low, it meant we could be really sick. My blood was drawn so many times I wondered if I would eventually run out. Every time Mom or I got a cold or a stomachache, we had to go to the doctor to make sure it wasn't something worse. After a while, I started having to take the medication too. Sometimes Mom would look at me and start to cry, but usually she pretended she wasn't crying. She would say something dumb, like there was something in her eye or she was remembering a sad movie.

The last thing Mom said to me was "I love you to the sky." It was this game we used to play from when I was little. "Do you love me to the top of my head?" I'd ask. "Higher," Mom would say. "Do you love me to the top of that tree?" "Even higher." "Do you love me to the roof?" "Higher than that." "How high do you love me?" I'd finally ask, and Mom would say, "I love you to the sky."

She died on a Tuesday morning. Afterward the men from the funeral home came to take her body away, and Mom's friend Lisa took me outside. It was too hard to breathe in the house, but the air outside was cool and crisp. It was April, and we sat on the lawn in front of the house. I bent my legs and rested my chin on top of my knees. It had happened way too fast. She was coughing and coughing for months, but she didn't seem that sick. And then all of a sudden she was really sick. My parents had divorced when I was eight years old, so my dad didn't live with us anymore. When Mom got too sick for us to live on our own, different people came to stay. Mom's father came up to Connecticut from Florida; then her sister, my aunt Laura, came in from Colorado. The last two weeks Lisa had come. And we had nurses in and out of the house. But I still didn't really believe that Mom would actually ever die. Even after it happened, I wasn't sure I believed it. I always thought that we would be all right, just because I couldn't imagine it any other way.

Lisa put her hand on my head. I had known her my whole life. She and my mother were best friends from college. I pretended it was Mom's fingers running though my hair. Lisa was pulling at a knot in my hair and my mother was dead. I could hear the ordinary, everyday sounds -- wheels against pavement, wind rustling the leaves in the trees. A car drove by, like it was any other day. Why was everything still moving? I felt like everything should have stopped. How was I still breathing? I sucked in my breath and held it to see if it was possible to make time stop, but I could still feel my heart beating in my chest and I let my breath out slowly.

"What can I do, Emmy?" Lisa asked.

I didn't answer. Mommy, I said to myself silently, matching up the word to the beats in my chest. Mom-my, Mom-my, Mom-my. I said it over and over again in my head, like I was calling out to her. Mommy. It was a weird word. It was two words put together, like a compound word: "Mom" and "me." As if we were connected, even though there wouldn't ever be a mom and me again.

I thought about who I was right then, on the last day I had a mother. I had just turned thirteen. I was finishing up seventh grade. I was on the short side; my hair was just past my shoulders. That was how she knew me. The problem is, when someone dies, you keep growing. Things about me would change and she wouldn't be there to see them.

And what if I forgot things about her? My grandmother had died when I was nine, and there were things about her I couldn't remember. Like her voice. I couldn't remember anything about it, not even how she sounded when she said my name.

Sitting on the grass with Lisa, I could still hear Mom's voice in my head. I closed my eyes and could hear her saying my name. I decided to practice remembering it every day so I wouldn't ever forget it.

"Emmy," Lisa said, and I opened my eyes. "I spoke to your father. He said he wants to come over, but I told him I needed to ask you."

I thought of my father driving up our block in his white sedan and pulling into the driveway behind Mom's red car. "No," I said. "I don't want him to come here."

It didn't seem right for Dad to be at Mom's house. After all, he had divorced Mom. He had a new wife, and they were even having a baby. Mom had wanted to have another baby after me. I had heard her once talking about it with Lisa. She wanted me to be a big sister, but then she was diagnosed with AIDS. Now Dad was having a baby without her. "I wonder if he even cares that she's dead," I said.

"Oh, Emmy," Lisa said. "Of course he does."

I knew Lisa was probably right, but I didn't want to think about Dad anymore. There would be plenty of time for him. I used to see him only every other weekend and for dinner on Tuesday nights. The last couple of months I hadn't seen him as much because Mom didn't feel well and I was spending time with her. Anyway it didn't matter because now I'd be living with him...and with Meg, my stepmother, his new wife. I hated thinking about her as my father's wife, since that's what Mom used to be.

I wanted to concentrate on Mom and no one else. I tried to hold a picture of her up in my mind. I was full of Mom, but Mom was gone, so I was full of emptiness. It felt like something sharp was pressing behind my eyes. I squeezed them shut but they still felt raw and open. What happens when you die? Did Mom get to see her mother? I didn't want Mom to be alone, but I didn't want anyone else to get to be with her. I still needed Mom with me. I hooked my arms around my legs like I was hugging them. Lisa moved closer to me so there was hardly any space between us. "It's all right to cry," she said.

I pressed my face hard into my knees. The top of my jeans felt sticky. The inside of my chest hurt like it was bleeding. Was that what it meant to be bleeding internally? I hated blood. I always tried to stay away from sharp things so I wouldn't get cut and start bleeding. Seeing blood always reminded me that I was infected, and most of all I hated this stupid disease. I was curled into a ball and Lisa rocked and rocked me. It was getting cooler. During the day the sun beats down on our front lawn, but the sun had already moved, so it was behind the house and we were sitting in the shade. Soon it would be dark. I didn't want the day to end. At least today I had seen my mother. But tomorrow I wouldn't see her at all, or the day after that, or the day after that, or ever again. I made myself say it in my head: You will never see Mom again. I kept my face pressed against my knees for as long as I could, until all the snot and tears made it hard to breathe, and on top of that, I had to pee. I hadn't been to the bathroom since Mom had died. It seemed ridiculous to have to sit up and blow my nose and go to the bathroom. How could I still have to do things like that? I knew later on Lisa would try and make me eat dinner so I could take my pills without getting nauseous, and then I would brush my teeth and change my clothes and get into my bed.

There were so many things to do. I had to keep breathing, and I would have to put things into my mouth and chew and swallow. And I would have to go to the bathroom and go to school. None of it made any sense, since Mom was gone.

And then there were the other things we would have to do because we were still living and Mom was not, like pack everything up and give things away. Right now all of Mom's clothes were still in the big closet in her bedroom. But it would all get packed up. My stuff would be packed up too. The pictures would be taken off the walls. Lisa would go back to New York City, where she lived, and I would go to Dad and Meg's house.

Technically Dad and Meg's house would be my house now too. But home was where all Mom's stuff was -- the furniture, the pictures. I w...

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