Last week I flew to Kansas City to be with Josh. It was a spur of the moment thing, and I needed it badly. I originally planned to stay three days, but Mom was doing well so we extended it to five. And each day seemed at once infinite and far too short. I got to see so many people I had been missing, I got to sleep in with my cat on my legs, and I got to be with Josh.
I flew back through Phoenix, and remembered that I was leaving with my family the next day to drive back to Arizona. For a fleeting second, I considered sitting in that airport for two days and just meeting everyone in Havasu. I was tired. Tired and disoriented. In the span of three weeks, I had gone from my apartment in Greece to my childhood home to the apartment in Kansas City I had left eight months before. It was disorienting, and for several days I had difficulty remembering where I had put things – my visual brain would sometimes remember the object in question sitting on a table in Greece, on a bookshelf in Kansas City, or on the end of my bed in Crestline.
Five days in Lake Havasu with my aunts and grandmother and mother did much to restore me, in a sense. When I was a teenager, our entire huge family would pack up and drive out to Lake Mohave on the Colorado River and my cousins and I would live in bathing suits and tangled sunstreaked hair for a week, sleeping on the boats and diving into the river at sunrise. I would count new freckles and at least once each trip spend a day convalescing in the shade with a fierce sunburn from the reflection of the water.
This time around, older and wiser, I sunbathed intermittently but spent most of my time sitting next to Mom on the back porch near the pool, reading in the shade. I painted our toes matching shades of pink, and at the end of our trip I looked down at my feet in black flipflops, beaded anklet around sunbrowned legs and it was like I had never left off of being sixteen.
You know, in a good way.
Friday night, my aunt Tammie and I were alone on the back porch. I was looking at the waxing moon reflected on the water. She was smoking the last cigarette of the night. Tammie is a nurse manager and has handled every aspect of Mom’s care since her diagnosis. I could write a book on what I have to say about that – how she has been support for everyone, answering questions and administering care to not only Mom, but me, my grandmother – everyone.
“Her stomach is distended. When did that start?” I asked.
“While you were in Missouri.”
“It has doubled since yesterday. Is it going to continue at that rate?”
Tammie just nodded. She has answered every question I have thrown at her about Mom’s condition, no matter how difficult it felt in the asking. “Her heart is having to work harder. Her liver is shutting down.”
Now it was my turn to nod.
This is how the days go, mostly, no matter where we are. Each day there are new signs of a decline in Mom’s health. She is no longer taking pain pills, having been switched to a PCA pump connected via a needle in her belly. Re-seating the needle is a painful process- after the needle is moved to a new spot, it can take six to eight hours before she is comfortable again. It is a testament to Tammie that the one time she took care of it at the river, Mom felt no pain. Mom’s primary nurse with hospice sewed her a little pink bag to carry the pump next to her. It is beautiful.
We got home from the lake on Monday. Mom was feeling poorly so the drive took about five and a half hours – we stopped a lot. She and I sat in the back seat, talked about things that needed to be done to the house – general maintenance, projects Mom had planned that she now wouldn’t get around to.
That afternoon, after we unpacked, Mom went outside for a cigarette on the deck. It was nearing sunset, and the air was cool and spring-damp; dewy. So I went outside with her, just to sit by her and enjoy the waning of the day. She started talking.
“You know, when you were born – well, I just had the worst doctor. Tammie too.” (My cousin Theresa and I are two months apart in age and were delivered by the same doctor in San Bernardino).
“I didn’t get to hold you for – oh, gosh, I don’t know. I had you at about a quarter to four in the afternoon, and I didn’t get to see you until nearly eleven that night. I thought you were dead, because no one would let me see you and they wouldn’t give me any straight answers. When they did bring you in, I wouldn’t put you down.”
I thought about my eighteen year old mother, newly delivered and sickly convinced that her baby was dead. I had heard this story before, and my anger at the stupid hospital staff was familiar. She then said something she’d never said to me in all the times she’d told me this story.
“You were born with little worry lines in your forehead.”
“Yeah, I was a hideous newborn. I’ve seen pictures. I don’t know how you managed it, but I was born with a little blond crewcut.”
“No honey, you weren’t ugly. You had these little worry lines and when I saw them, I just knew.”
She then went on to mention how my father and grandmother had been crying so hard when they came in to see her that it only further convinced her I was dead. I was curious though, and asked –
“You saw the little worry lines and you just knew what?”
“Oh, I just knew you were mine.”
I came inside shortly after and wrote down every word of that conversation as I could remember it. I am posting it here, knowing that I will come back to read it in some days that follow, days when I am feeling like a lost motherless child, knowing that only some short time before, I had a mother and I was hers.