Pillar Strong | Julie Hagy
Color flooded my eyes. A purple flower with a yellow center.

The artist carefully etched her simple masterpiece onto the wind-kissed flesh of a young girl's cheek. The pavement was strewn with lightly blurred pinks, blues, and yellows of sidewalk chalk. In sweatshirts and jeans, the parents sat, chatting amongst themselves in a semi-circle of hard-backed plastic chairs. In front of them, kids scurried around in variety of Halloween costumes, dribbling basketballs, and chasing each other.

There was no sense of death here.

A girl in a Tigger costume pushed against my leg. The top of her pleated dark brown head came just above my knees. “Ahh,” was the only communication verbally emitted. Her hand was reaching for the table beside me. Just out of her reach was a multitude of snack-sized bags of chips. Jill, an employee of Edmarc, her named spelled out in large dark letters on a orange pumpkin name tag, rushed up to the table, a camera string winding in her fingers. “This is Adriana,” she said, looking for recognition in my face as she patted the girl on the head.

When Jill had taken me through volunteer training the previous week, she had been especially enthused about introducing me to one little girl. This was she. She is a two-year-old patient in cancer remission. As Jill held up each bag of potato chips, replacing them when Adriana declared “No!” I looked at the little girl. She was beautiful, radiant. Not at all like the pictures of children I had seen on the front of the monthly hospice brochures.

“And this is Flo Rivera,” Jill said, her arm resting on the back of Adriana’s mom, who had joined us at the table. She was a broadly built woman, dark, and intimidating. I was nervous. So many mountains separated us. How was I, a healthy twenty-year-old who had never experienced motherhood, much less the face of death, to relate? I felt it first when I shook her hand. There was a certain embodiment of strength in this woman. Her voice was sturdy and her mannerism straightforward. She was different. She was a pillar. Her strength set me at ease.

Inside, quiet-spoken moms lined the walls of one of the Sunday school classrooms. Biblical lessons, plastered on poster board outlined the room. In the center of the room, ripped pieces of construction paper clung for dear life to the last shreds of masking tape that connected them to the thin carpet. They were reminiscent of an earlier cupcake walk.

Adriana clasped a small pink-iced cupcake in her hand. “I want to lick it!” she exclaimed, running her tongue across the length of it. Flo was in the middle of a conversation. “I want to lick it!” she told me. The icing removed, only the cupcake remained. “I want to bite it,” she said, smiling gleefully, as if she held the world in her hands instead of part of a slightly moist yellow cake mix.

I smile. Adriana would probably have had the same tough decision between chocolate or vanilla ice cream too, I realize.

Flo is in conversation with one of the quiet moms. “Adriana looks great,” the mother says. “She looks so much different from last year.”

“Yeah,” Flo says, in her laid-back manner, “She didn’t have hair last year.” She gives a half-chuckle.

In the hallway, there are two water fountains. Both are low, yet the one on the right is considerably taller than the child-level one beside it. Adriana cannot reach the shorter of the two. She is two-years-old and she is thirsty.

Flo Rivera, Adriana’s mother, is not paying attention to her daughter’s nagging, so she reaches for me. She has met me not more than fifteen minutes ago, yet her arms are open. I hold her up to the water fountain. One drink does not satisfy her. Nor does two or three sips. After about five, she insists on pulling the knob herself which reinitiates the fascination of the entire process.

Finally satisfied, or merely bored of the activity, Adriana is ready to be set down. Water drips off her smiling lips, and onto her glowing olive skin before cascading down the plush orange and yellow material of her Tigger costume. She runs back into a room where Razzle Dazzle, the clown, is performing a magic show. A year ago, Adriana did not have this energy. A year ago, Adriana was not this happy. She did not have the glow that accompanies youth. At Fall Fest last year, at one year of age, she faced the possibility of dying.