I woke up this morning with this dull ache down to my core. I went about my routine of getting kids ready for school and out the door, and then walking back up the hill towards the house, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Twenty six years ago, my mom died.
The principal of my high school came into our room. Our heads were bent down working on our quiz, but we could all hear the muffled whispers. Mr. Jennings glanced briefly in my direction, shaking his head from side to side. He looked concerned, and had an intense eyebrow furrow. I looked back down at my quiz and continued working.
“Kathy”, said Mr. Jennings, who had suddenly appeared at my desk. I glanced up at him, still in a slumber from the sleepless night.
“I need you to go to the nurse’s office.”
Confused, but curious, I stood up and started towards the door.
“You’re gonna want to bring your backpack”, he stated before I could take too many steps. I nodded and started packing up my books, feeling the piercing stares of my classmates. Walking out the door, I made eye contact with John, and saw a strange sadness in his eyes, which only drove me to walk faster. What in the world was going on? Had John heard the Principal and Mr. Jennings whispering?
In the nurse’s office, I was directed to sit down, and Mrs. Tyler proceeded to explain why I was there. Her words were deafening. My ears were literally ringing. My head started spinning and I found myself flat on my back on the clinic bed, looking up at the ceiling. I was lost in a fit of emotions….loss, sadness, but indifference at the same time. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I tried to will myself to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.
My grandparents were waiting for me at the front office. I don’t even remember walking up to them. I felt like I was floating above the entire world, and no one even knew I was up there, looking down. I was looking down on someone else’s life, not mine.
We arrived at the hospital, and wandered aimlessly around until we found my mother’s best friend, Terry, who was waiting outside my mother’s room, with a tear stained face and red puffy eyes. Her hands were shaking violently as she reached out to me and took me in a huge suffocating hug. It was all too much, and I struggled to break free. Surely, this was all a nightmare, and I would wake up. I would go about my day, with visions of my mother coming to visit me, while we build our relationship to another level, where she was my mother, and I was her daughter. We would go shopping together, and laugh at funny movies. We wouldn’t be saying goodbye again, and certainly not for the last time.
My mom laid there in a hushed silence, all but the sound of the machines around her. They were like menacing monsters, hovering over her and I wanted to push them away, and crawl in bed with her, but I didn’t.
I wanted to talk to her, because maybe she could hear me? I wanted to tell her that I was sorry I left her, that I should have stayed and taken care of her. I wanted to explain to her how she was always on my mind, how I waited for her to come to my door. I wanted to tell her that I never got her one single letter, and that my grandma didn’t give it to me. And mostly, I wanted to tell her that it was okay. She didn’t mean to hurt me because she was sick, and sick people did terrible things.
She was bloated. Even her eyelids were abnormally puffy. She was a tiny, petite woman, but not today. The infection had spread all over her body, and was like a cancer, attacking her vital organs. She wasn’t going to wake up, but I’ve seen miracles on TV, and I was certain she would hear my voice and open her eyes.
I pressed my eyes closed tightly, and it was like yesterday, when I ran away on that cold night. I ran like the wind, as if I were being chased, but I wasn’t. I was barefoot and shivering, but didn’t stop. I could see the lights of the convenient store ahead, and that was my refuge.
But then something stopped me. This intense and undeniable presence. It knocked the breath out of me, and I turned around, breathing heavily. There was a pain in my chest and I coughed violently.
Mom. She was calling my name, waving my note frantically up above her head, and racing towards me. I was frozen in my spot, and tears were flowing freely down my face. I couldn’t move my feet. And then I blinked a few times, wiped my face, and she was gone. She was never there. She was still passed out with her bottle on the couch.
Maybe she was calling my name now, as she lay so still. Maybe she was trying to get out of her own head and outside to me. Maybe she wanted to encircle me with her arms and kiss my forehead, and tell me everything would be okay. Or maybe not. Maybe she was just gone.
I never opened my mouth to speak to her. I spoke to her silently in my own mind, and then I moved away from her. I watched in a trance-like state as my grandma stood over her and repeatedly told her, “fight, fight, fight”, and then the day was over.
I cried a few tears for the next couple of days, but I had another week of high school left, and then my graduation, so I fought to keep it in. After my graduation, I waited for the breakdown, but it never came. Why I did not mourn for my mother, I will never know, but one day it came.
I was looking through my grandma’s office, and I came across a ton of letters from my mother to me. Letters that I never received, stashed away in one of grandma’s books, as if they were a dirty secret.
I sat on my bedroom floor and read through them. She wanted to see me, and why couldn’t she see me? She missed me badly, and wanted to make amends. She wanted to be my mother and she was trying to do better for me.
All of those years, 8 of them, and I was heartbroken that she never came for me. All of those years, and she wanted me all along.
She was not drinking herself into a stupor or using herself into abusive relationships. She was working as a house cleaner, and she was taking assignments that were close to me, so that she could drive by, and watch me playing in the front yard. She watched me toss my baton, she watched ride my bike with my friends, and she watched me live my life without her.
I laid on my floor, and cried like I never have before. My stomach hurt from the wracking sobs, and I curled up into a fetal position. All of those years were lost, and there was no getting them back. All of my anger and bitterness went away at that moment, and I was conflicted and bitter towards my grandma for keeping her letters from me.
The years were stolen from me. My mother wasn’t going to show up at my door and take me in her arms, and smooth my hair, and kiss my cheek. She was gone forever, and there were no second chances.