Posted July 26, 2010on:
This weekend, I made the trek from Long Island to the back woods of Connecticut, where my sister and mother live. This is the first time I’ve seen Mom since her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis in June.
I have no good reasons.
I have excuses, but no good reasons. Rob’s graduation, work, cars in various states of repair, house in various states of repair, chores… you know. Typical day-to-day grind. Plus, there’s another Patty-related issue: I am directionally challenged. I can get lost in a phone booth. I’ve worked at my current job for nearly ten years, in a building where things are designated as “North Entrance” or “South Entrance” and still can’t distinguish between the two. So, driving by myself to Connecticut is an adventure that could result in me landing in Kentucky or something. (If I had a dollar for each time I headed to Laguardia Airport but ended up at Kennedy…)
To address at least my direction disability, I took the ferry across the Long Island Sound. That was a pleasant trip. I arrived at Mom’s about 90 minutes later.
She couldn’t get out of bed.
The radiation treatments drained her and created some new problems. They significantly helped her pain, but she was so weak and exhausted, she couldn’t even sit up. It messed with her blood sugar, so now she’s on insulin. It also created blood clots, so she’s taking blood thinners. There was a tray of at least a dozen prescription bottles beside her bed.
So, since she couldn’t get up, I curled up in bed with her all day Saturday. She taught me to read when I was four. Exchanging books, talking about books was always “our thing.” But she was too tired to read, had no interest in audio books. I offered to read to her, but even listening required too much effort. We made small talk for a while. How are my boys, she wanted to know. She feels guilty that she missed Rob’s graduation. He understands, I assured her. She asked about my in-laws. My mother-in-law also faced a cancer resurgence. “I thought there’d be more time,” she blurted during a conversation lull.
She is a prisoner, really. Confined to bed, dependent on us to get her to the bathroom. She looked at me, managed half a grin, and said, “You know all those times when you say, “Oh, I wish I were dead” but don’t really mean it? Don’t say that anymore.”
I swallowed the lump that suddenly choked me.
We watched cooking shows on TV. She used to love to cook. My husband always tells her she missed her true calling – she should have opened a restaurant. At one point, she reached over and held my hand and in that moment (my eyes are tearing. Crap.) I remembered how many times I’d felt that hand over mine, guiding me, stopping me, cleaning me, tickling me, comforting me, yes – even smacking me at times, but only when I deserved it, and it felt exactly the same.
I’d expected it to feel different… weak. Paper thin skin. Smaller, perhaps. I was prepared for that. I was prepared to be the mom this time. I was NOT prepared to be a little girl again and oh, God, I need to stop now because I’m crying all over the keyboard.
On the ferry trip home, I had the misfortune to sit beside an adolescent girl and her family. She was about thirteen, wearing way too much makeup and texting for an hour straight. She was probably a very pretty child, when she wasn’t sullen. Her mouth had that little sneer… you know the one that looks as if everything in her world just smells rotten? A perpetual Ewww sneer. This kid was Miss Bad Attitude 2010. At one point halfway through the Sound crossing, her mother said something that pissed her off. When you’re thirteen, EVERYTHING your mother says pisses you off.
The girl looked up from her texting and said, “Shut up, Mom! You’re such an idiot.”
I saw six or seven different shades of red and very nearly picked up Miss ‘Tude by her designer duds and pitched her overboard. How I was able to contain my anger should have been billed as The Miracle on the Sound. I flinched and glared. Noticeably. The entire family stared back at me.
And then the mother apologized. APOLOGIZED!?
Things are sort of a blur after that, but I think I responded with a short diatribe about how some people just returned home from visiting their dying mother and don’t appreciate seeing other mothers shown such blatant disrespect… something like that.
Little Miss ‘Tude never met my gaze. She still thinks there’s plenty of time. Poor deluded child.
It’s almost funny… almost. When we’re kids, our parents are heros. When we’re teens, they somehow become massive idiots who do nothing but embarrass and restrict us. But when we’re adults, we come to appreciate their wit, wisdom and love and all too soon, the roles shift. We become the parents; they become the children. Time feels as if it’s all fast-forwarded. When I was thirteen, I couldn’t WAIT to be grown up and suddenly, I’m middle-aged. I thought there’d be more time, too.
I drove off the ferry and was home twenty minutes later and sat in a bit of a coma for the rest of the evening. Chris and I watched Terminator: Salvation and every time Christian Bale said, “You are the Resistance”, I thought of my mother, fighting to resist the spread of a disease she already knows has won.
I really thought there’d be more time.