I'm sorry, this is really stream-of-consciousness... I can't quite seem to find the right words to describe this...

My mother…

I was freshly 13, a frizzy-haired, metal-mouthed girl, new to life myself— one ends, one begins. My summers revolved around camp and boys… youthful excitement, bright experiences. No fear in sight

Erin and I sit at a table, joking, laughing, killing time before the night activity begins… A tapping on my shoulder distracts me from my string of “dead baby” jokes, and turning, I find the camp director standing behind me. “Sweetie, your father is on the phone, it’s urgent. You can take it in the kitchen.” My father? If anything was wrong, my mother would be the first to call me… unless… Unless something was wrong with HER. I shake the thought out of my head, telling myself that it’s probably something very minor. Once in the kitchen, on the phone, my father lets me have it. “Tiffany, your mother is in the hospital. I’m coming to get you tomorrow. Be ready.” NO. I’m not going to believe it, I’m pleading with him to tell me why, tell me what’s wrong with her. “I’ll be there around noon,” is all he says. Hanging up the phone, I promptly run outside and throw up in the bushes.

On the ride home from camp, I ask him point blank—“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” The innocent, easy explanation for her sudden stomach problems. Looking at him, waiting for an answer, I see his eyes shifting with pain, see his search for the right words, eternity flattening out with each passing mile. Those flowers on the side of the road… they would look so nice on my dresser… “Tiffany…. You mother… is dying. Cancer. She has six months to live.” Purple flowers? Would those look better than the yellow? God, I’m numb.

The problem with pancreatic cancer is that it works too quickly. It sucks up life, eating out any soul left, leaving a body quiet, riddled with pain, clouded with morphine. Walking into her hospital room for the first time, it was the scent that hit me. Cleansers, antiseptic…. Sterilization at its finest. “Mom…?” I whisper, my voice quiet, hidden against all the tubes running through her body. “Oh… Becca… you’re here, did you bring Suzanne?” My own goddamn mother… flesh and blood… my MOTHER… and she can’t even remember my name. I slide out of the room, sobbing, terrified, alone.

Six months was a long shot; she really only lasted six weeks. I spent the whole time by her bed, holding her hand, stroking her hair, refusing to show my tears. I will give her my strength. No matter how much it hurts. Once, I even brought her my favorite teddy bear, so that she has something to keep with her at night… my scent keeps her calm. Growing up, I never felt a connection with my father… my mother and I were always the ones who were close. A child, I used to crawl into bed with her, and together, we would watch the sun rise, watch the birds float gracefully around the trees outside—snow falls, flowers bloom, leaves fall… seasons pass, and she’s with me. That’s all that matters. In her hospital room, things are different. Something passes between us, something unspoken, a written rule stating that we just don’t talk about this. Let’s keep things simple, let’s not let the pain show. Once and only once do we talk about it… I’ve crawled into her bed, curled up next to her, pushing the tubes and IVs aside… she looks hurt, alone, desperate. “You know… I’m never going to see you graduate. I’m never going to see you get married. I’m never going to see my grandchildren…” Tears fill her voice, and this moment is forever locked in my head. I still wake up late at night, gasping for breath, her words ringing in my head. “Mommy… it’s okay. I know you’ll still be there for me.” The strength of my 13-year-old psyche is amazing.

Her health is deteriorating. Fast. Fluid finds its way into her lungs, clouding her breath, sending her off to float in a coma. Occasionally, I will talk to her, and she will squeeze my hand. Does she hear me? Does she still know me? Or is she gone, lost, a spirit in the breeze? My last day with her… it looks bad, and I know it’s about time… but for some reason, protection maybe, I choose to go home and sleep, be by myself for awhile. I’m sure it won’t happen tonight, I convince myself. Sitting in my basement at two in the morning, August 18th, 1994, I feel it. A part of me is suddenly gone. Selfish, fucking selfish, her last moments and I wasn’t fucking there. I hate myself for that. The phone rings. It’s my father. “I know,” I say. Before he can even get the words out. “I know.”

It’s been six years… enough time to ease the pain, enough time to find myself again. And still… still I will be walking down the street, driving in my car, listening to the radio… suddenly, I’m next to her bed, watching her be consumed… my breath is stolen. My heart lurches. And I’m still alone. And oh god, it still hurts.