The beach stretches on for miles as you crest a dune, the sunlight sparkling off seashells half-buried in the sand. No one else is around as your family runs toward the ocean. The water is cool, but a warm, gentle breeze makes the temperature perfect. You sit on the sand and watch as a crab scuttles toward your half-finished sandcastle. You jump up and chase your little brother when the starfish he put in your hair falls into your lap. You eat lunch in the shade of a lighthouse and watch sailboats gliding across the waves. As you walk back to the car, the moon comes up over the water and stars glitter in the darkening sky. What could possibly be better?
For four children who had never been to a beach, nothing. When my parents decided that our summer vacation for 2007 would be to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, my three siblings and I were thrilled. We had spent every summer vacation before visiting historical sights, but this summer wouldn’t be full of battlegrounds or colonial houses; it would be a summer of sunlight paradise.
Our family trailer was packed and ready to head south the second week in June. But my sister, only nine years old, became sick the Thursday before we left. Since the age of four, Olivia had suffered intermittent spells of vomiting that would leave her inactive for up to three days. Worried, but hoping that Olivia would recover as usual, my parents hitched up the trailer Saturday morning and drove three hours to the halfway campground with my sister curled up in the back seat.
When the light outside woke me Sunday morning, my parents were discussing the need to get Olivia to a hospital. I looked over at her, still asleep on top of her cushion. My sister’s already skinny frame was almost skeletal; she hadn’t eaten in four days, and nobody knew how to help. Though slightly annoyed that our trip was being cut short, my twelve-year-old brother Jordan and I responded without complaint to the worry in our parents’ voices. We packed quickly, and, after a hasty lunch, climbed into the car. Neither of us saw our parents’ faces as we drove away. They had tried everything possible to help Olivia over the last six years. Doctors had repeatedly told them that there was no problem, but they had watched their daughter suffering, incapable of relieving her. It was going to take a miracle to bring Olivia home from the hospital.
The UVA Children’s Hospital was one of the best in Virginia, and Olivia was put under the care of a doctor who noticed what the others hadn’t: her ureter was kinked, and her kidney had swollen to the size of a cantaloupe. Every penny my parents had was put into surgery, and instead of enjoying sunny afternoons on the beach, Jordan and I spent them babysitting our two-year-old brother and visiting the hospital. It wasn’t the most exciting way to end a summer, but when Olivia came home from the hospital more full of life than I had ever seen her, I didn’t care if we never went to the Outer Banks.
My family moved across the country the next summer, and we haven’t been back to North Carolina. The beach may sound ideal when compared to a summer spent at home, but for me, ideal happens when my family gathers together, everyone present and healthy, and ready to tackle anything, knowing that whatever it may be, we will all be in it together.
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