The Music Did Not Stop

by Angela Townsend

Mom was in college and Daddy sold space, and I could always have one of them within one hour. This got me on the bus all November.

The bus had changed. It was once my buttercup chariot. Florence the driver taught us the lyrics to ‘Thunder Road,’ and Jimmy Kelly invented a dance. We passed by pregnant cows, horses with melted-ice-cream stripes on their noses, and alpacas who Daddy said belonged to “little country squires”. The ride ended, the day began, and I got to spend eight whole hours at Pakanasink Elementary School.

We read about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and cheetahs. A woman with cotton-candy hair let us sculpt ourselves in Plasticene. I gave a book report on hobbits, and everyone clapped. The music teacher sang a song about impossible dreams. Pete Green, the fastest boy in the fourth grade, jogged so I could catch him. Eric Washington brought me his favorite Daffy Duck figurine, to keep. Mrs. Moore called us “young adults” and wrote quotes from Nelson Mandela and Dolly Parton on the blackboard. A kindergartener named Austin fell asleep in my lap on the ride home.

Sometimes I wanted to sleep, too. Sometimes it felt like a sleep emergency. One time I felt so wobbly, I lay down in the grass. Dina Shah made me a flower crown but cried because I looked too white. I ate some grapes and sat up again.

Sometimes it was slow-motion ooze. I told Pete Green it felt like some mean marinara was creeping up my linguini legs. He said I was very creative. He was only three foot ten, which made him cute.

I was five foot two. I knew that because one day, so many bad beans were jumping up and down in my stomach, I asked Mrs. Moore to call Daddy. He was in Manhattan, and he was a “space man” but would come.

I heard my name on the P.A. system: “Angela Townsend, please come to the main office. Your grandpa is here.” The secretaries were silly. I knew they meant my daddy. They did this all the time.

He was wearing one of his oatmeal jackets, the ones that felt like carpet. His eyes were green, which meant he was going to cry. Daddy had given me hazel eyes, but his were prettier.

We went to the pediatrician even though he had already said there was nothing wrong. We found out that I was five foot two and eighty-one pounds. I did not have a fever. I was diagnosed with wanting to come home.

“You don’t understand,” Daddy told Dr. Freedman. “Angela loves school. Something is wrong.”

Dr. Freedman said I was being “fanciful” and that we would “monitor” the situation. I asked if he was being facetious.

“How do you know that word?”

“I don’t know.”

“We read with wild abandon in our house,” Daddy said, and his eyes were as brown as tea.

Daddy played the radio nice and loud all the way home, and I even laughed when he sang along with the funny Scottish men who would walk five hundred miles. I tripped over the new pine tree in our front yard, and Daddy carried me upstairs.

“What would you like to eat, sweetheart? What can I get you?”

I wondered if grapes might have magic powers again. I did not want to throw up. I asked if I could watch The Real Ghostbusters cartoon in the guest room bed. He tucked me under the comforter used for company, with the yellow tulips, and brought me ten stuffed animals.

When I woke up, Mom was home. She was going to become a psychologist. We watched Flashdance when she went back to college, and she told me it was never too early or too late to make a dream come true. She told me that every time she peeked in my room, it was Christmas. I read her all the books I wrote, and we pretended she was Regis Philbin interviewing the world’s youngest novelist.

Mom made macaroni with cubes of mozzarella and let me eat it on the couch. We watched a movie about Russians who were not bad people after all. We agreed I would go back to school the next day. She would only be an hour away.

Pete Green said he was glad I was back, and he drew me a picture of an army man. I was happy to be at school, but then the beans started jumping again. I started to cry, and he told me to stop. I told him I was going to throw up. He took out his ruler and pressed it into his stomach and pretended to vomit. I said if he was my friend, he wouldn’t do that, and he stopped laughing. Pete Green said he was scared, too.

Mom took me to Dr. Worley, who worked with Dr. Freedman. We learned that I was five foot two and seventy-nine pounds. We learned that I had a mild infection. I did not have to go back to school the rest of the week. Thursday was Thanksgiving.

Mom put on Moonstruck because it made us happy, and we got under the tulip comforter together. I fell asleep before they even called the silly man a gagootz. When I woke up, Mom was looking at me, and her eyes were very dark, and she promised we would get to the bottom of this. I did not tell her I knew I was going to die.

She wound up the music box shaped like a yellow bird, and we listened to it until it slowed down. I started to shiver. We could not let the music stop. Mom wound the bird again and again.

I did not tell anyone at Thanksgiving I was going to die, but I think Mom knew. She helped me get dressed in my red sweater with the white cats, but when she pulled on my tights, she yanked me off the ground like a stuffed animal. Mom was good at not crying, but she did gasp. Grandpa called me “Princess” and Grandma gave me both of her sequin Christmas-tree pins. I did not tell them I would not be here for Christmas.

The next day we would see Dr. Kleeman. Mom said he was “no bullshit”. Mom was originally from Brooklyn. We did not say “oh God” because God was good to us, but sometimes Mom said “shit” or even “sonofabitch” to make me laugh. Daddy had been in World War II and sometimes yelled “Shit, piss, and corruption!” which is something you learn in the Army.

Dr. Kleeman said I was five foot two and seventy-two pounds. He had bangs like a little boy, but he was old. He was angry when he heard that no one had made me pee in a cup. I asked if it was preposterous. Mommy told him about the tights. I liked Dr. Kleeman’s office best because he had the One Hundred Cats and a Mouse poster. They were all different. I was the orange one with the ribbon. Daddy was the green one with eyes bigger than his body. Mom was the beautiful ballerina cat. Dr. Kleeman said he couldn’t tell me which one he was.

Dr. Kleeman gave me a juice cup and asked me to pee as much as I could. I knew he knew I was going to die. I was careful to pee neatly. I hid the cup under my sweater walking back through the waiting room. A little boy was doing somersaults on the rug. I did not remember what that felt like.

Dr. Kleeman put a plastic stick in my pee, and it turned so purple it was black. He said this was good news. We had an answer. I had juvenile diabetes.

I asked Dr. Kleeman if he had read The Baby-Sitters Club. He had not. I said I knew I would need to take insulin shots, just like Stacey. I told him I was happy that the novelist made Stacey the cool babysitter, if she had to have diabetes. She designed her own clothes and wore wild earrings. She was kind.

I said I was not so big on cake anyway. We were more of a gingersnap family. Grandma made cookies called cucidati with figs inside. Did Dr. Kleeman know that cucidati meant little bracelets?

Dr. Kleeman said I was in ketoacidosis, and we should go to the hospital. I asked if I might die, and he said, “Most assuredly not.” We went home and I made my last peanut butter sandwich. I called Michele Kramer, who said diabetes was not as bad as the virus she had last summer. I called Dina Shah, whose mother drove her over so she could give me a book about Siamese cats. We called Grandpa, who said I would be the Princess of Power. I asked Mom if he meant She-Ra, and she said yes, but better.

Mom sat in the backseat while Daddy drove. We were going to meet Dr. Noto, who was famous. He was almost as small as Pete Green and told me that I could do anything but fly a plane solo or go scuba diving alone.  

I named my I.V. “Irving Victor” and the nurse said that was awfully dignified. My pee stick went from black to peach. A man who looked like Uncle Buck brought me red Jell-O, and it tasted better than anything since September.

The nurse had a tattoo that said MERCIES NEW. She told us that she hated Bart Simpson so much, she wanted to stick an insulin needle in his big balloon butt at the Thanksgiving parade.

Daddy’s eyes were green, but he was laughing.

Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, The Razor, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and The Westchester Review, among others. She is a 2023 Best Spiritual Literature nominee. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.