1. How it all began
Rusty hinges creaked and groaned and flaked nasty orange dust all over me as I pulled the hidden attic ladder down from the ceiling. Cold, New England wind howled outside and breathed at me from the darkness. I shuddered, half expecting the Headless Horseman to jump out.
We were starting late this year. Usually the Halloween decorations came out before October. The kinds of decorations I never really liked – smiling ghosts and dancing demons, nightmares that sit on the porch and give you candy. Stuff that makes people believe everything they have to fear is “out there”, far away.
When it’s actually been inside you the whole time.
I took a deep breath and climbed up. I yanked on a string to turn the light on, and little monsters scattered into the shadows. Old cobwebs filled the corners and dust covered everything else.
Brr. This attic always freaked me out. Andover is in an old part of Massachusetts, and our house was no exception. Old houses filled with old spirits, conjured up and restless from all the witches and sorcerers back in colonial days. Days with mystery behind what your eyes saw, and nights filled with shadows that kept you from going outside.
“Keep calm and get this over with,” I told myself. I took a couple deep breaths and visualized insulin pumping into my veins, a trick my doctors taught me to keep from totally losing it. Control = survival, and no insulin = bad, for a diabetic like me.
A stone chimney cut through the attic and went up through the roof. For some reason, the little imp-sized space to the right of it was where we kept all of the holiday decorations. Right beside the boxes full of knit scarves, blankets, and mittens, all just waiting for some poor soul who needed a spare Christmas or birthday present.
Grumbling, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled.
My face ran straight into an old spider web. Gross! I growled and screeched at the same time, frantically wiping at my face. At least, I hoped it was an old spider web!
Calm. Calm. Deep breaths. Control.
I put my hand down again to crawl that last foot and “crack!” the floorboard snapped beneath me. My hand pushed right down into hundreds of years of gross. It just couldn't get any better.
But instead of bugs, or insulation, or whatever was beneath attic floors, there were things. Objects. I pulled them out.
Through the cloud of dust I kicked up, swirling in the dim light and the wailing ghost-wind, I saw what they were. An old, old, small journal with a dark and smooth leather cover, and a woven necklace with a metal medallion. On the cover of the book, burned deeply into the leather, were three words:
Tituba's Dreadfull Cooking.
I flipped through the pages real quick. It was full of beautiful, careful writing. Tall, thin letters that spoke of times long passed. They were...recipes? That's what they must have been, 'cause all throughout it there were short lists, like ingredient lists. My eyes paused long enough to start reading a few words.
“Soake the nails in Vinegar and Urine.”
“Sara, don't stay up there too long!” Marilyn's voice drifted up at me from below. “Your dad said he saw bats fly under the eaves.”
Alright, definitely too much. Why not just send me into the Amazon jungle? I stuffed the book and necklace into my hoodie pocket, grabbed the handle of the Halloween box, and lugged it downstairs.
I stuffed the necklace and the cookbook under my pillow and jumped straight in the shower, even though I had already taken one. Nasty attic dust. On my bed again, clean and warm, I stuck headphones in my ears and turned on my mp3 player.
I was pulling the cookbook out when the door opened. My dad was standing there with his mouth moving. I guess he thought I'd be able to hear his voice through the music, even though I couldn't hear him knocking on the door. Strange how parents' logic works.
I pulled my hand out, empty, and paused the music. “What did you say?”
My dad was a big guy, with big hands and a big presence. Standing there in the doorway, it was obvious that the opening wasn't designed for him. He couldn't walk through without ducking a little. His curly brown hair, pudgy face, and the tan clothes he always wore made him look like a big teddy bear. I smiled.
“Thanks for getting the decorations,” he said. “And it’s almost ten o’clock, honey. You know what that means.”
Right. He didn't have to remind me, not after three years. He was used to people listening to him, anyway. He's pastor of the Baptist church here in town, the one standing real tall at the corner of Central and Essex like it has something super important to tell you. Just like he does.
I got out my little glucose-checker thing. “How’s Mom doing?” I asked him, as I swabbed my finger with an alcohol pad.
“She’ll be fine – soon enough. Lots of bruises and a sprained ankle, though. There’s no way she would have been able to get up the ladder.”
“Well, you’re welcome. I’d hate to deprive her.”
My sarcasm made him grimace. “Come on, Sara, be nice. Getting thrown from a horse is no laughing matter.”
“I’m not laughing!” I lanced my finger. “Not laughing about jabbing myself with needles, either,” I grumbled.
He turned and left, which made me feel relieved. The thought of him and that book in the same room just seemed weird.
I couldn’t help but wince a little at the sharp prick of the needle. Three years of this self-inflicted torture, every night. And every morning. And afternoon. In between, too. That makes, what, 365 days, four or five times a day for three years...a million times or so I had made myself bleed into a little machine. Torture yourself to stay alive. Nice.
Diabetes was definitely a part of my life now. The big blue circle. Forget that, it was my life. Because if it wasn't, I'd be dead and gone. I never thought that every day, every hour, every mealtime, every night out with friends – every everything – would ever completely and totally revolve around one single thing.
Diabetes. Type 1, to be exact. Wasn't I too young to be diseased? Didn't old people get diabetes? I hadn't even graduated high school yet, and already I felt like I knew what my grave was going to look like.
But I'll get to that. Hopefully.
The numbers read 148. Not ideal, but at least I'd probably make it to see the happy halls of Andover High again. Haha. Joy.
My eyelids were getting heavy. I wanted to get a good look at the book, but I needed sleep even more. If I knew anything, it was that my life needed to be on a strict schedule. Diabetes, again.
I flicked the light off and crawled into bed. Maybe if I fell asleep with the book under the pillow, it’d be in my head by morning. Something I’m sure millions of kids have tried, but has never worked.