I’ve been wanting to talk to you but never completed the past three or so entires I started to write. And the longer I went without finishing one, the easier it got to forget about how important these conversations with you are and how much better they make me feel.
I feel like recently I’ve been writing as if for an audience, not just to you, because I imagine people will read these words some day. But I have to understand that that time is not yet–for now, the words I write are the intimate dialogues inside my head, the musings of a Mother to her Mother. So I needn’t worry what other people will think.
A few mornings ago I opened the fridge to get an egg for Everett’s breakfast and just stood there, staring at all the food inside. My eyes scanned from one item to another, taking little screen shots as I tried to fight what felt like a breakdown coming to the surface. I crouched down in a little squat on my toes and hid behind the hinged fridge door, covering my face in my hands and trying desperately to drown how overwhelmed I felt.
My lips have been continuously peeling for the past three months. It is unbelievably painful and uncomfortable, holding me back from kissing my boys, drinking from a cup, wearing lipstick, and eating normally. I haven’t wanted to tell you about it all because it sounds silly, but I’ve met my wits end, several times now, not knowing what to do after countless creams, two rounds of steroids, two rounds of antibiotics and a lot of false hope from doctors and dermatologists.
I know I can get better, even if there is no cure. I know I can. Because my health depends on me believing that. If I continue to wallow and stare in the mirror and feel sorry that I am inhibited in doing so many things, I will never heal.
“If I am sick it is temporary, for it is natural that I be well.”
My mantra. It’s been on my vision board since March, but I haven’t really bothered to read it more than once every two weeks or so. Or I’ll read it, start to believe I’ll get better, and then when I don’t see results immediately, I think, why aren’t they healing? what am I doing wrong? why can’t I figure this out? And by those questions, I’m putting my energy and faith only in the negative, a situation where the positive outcome cannot possibly come through to me.
I know I cannot die from this. I know I am still in good health. And yet, it consumes me, placing doubt and fear and frustration behind virtually every thought.
Having this “condition” has left me with one question: how did you handle a stage four breast cancer diagnosis?
Honestly. How did you handle the fear? How did you trample through the unknown of doctors and opinions and needles and chemo? How did you go on each day, knowing you may not live much longer? How did you wonder what would happen to your four babies if your sickness took over and took you away? Because I feel like I’m losing it and I’m far from having cancer.
What was it like when you lost your long blonde hair? What was it like not being able to fix it anymore, or brush it, or put it up in a ponytail? What was it like when you looked in the mirror and could see your sickness and what it was doing to your body?
I don’t know how you did it. I would guess you didn’t even know how you did it, just that you did.
I wish I could ask you all of these things.
And I often wonder now if you and I would’ve been best friends…if you’d come over to my house and we’d go shopping or out to lunch and hang out like we used to in my teenager years, except this time I wouldn’t be a miserable bundle of misunderstood hormones, causing fights and arguments with you.
It’s painful to think of not only losing a Mother, but a best friend. Probably the best friend of my life.
I’m lucky to have Allison. I cried yesterday at the fact that she lives in Ohio, and probably will remain there for a long, long time. She’s the person I call for no reason, and I’m the person she calls when something is wrong. Having a sister for a best friend is a privilege, and Tatum is no exception. Although we are twelve years apart, she’s my best friend, too. She’s fun and sure of herself, sharing her happily contagious spirit every time I’m with her.
But it is difficult not having “Mom friends,”–people who can understand the overwhelment of being trapped in a small house with a whiny toddler and no one to talk to. I was robbed of the best person to relate with, the best person for advice and comfort and HELP. I can’t stand not having someone to call on a moment’s notice.
There are people who want to be that person for me, or who consistently offer to watch Everett, but it’s not the same. A Mother is the only one you’d call after having a breakdown before breakfast time, hiding behind the fridge door while wondering what the hell is wrong with you.
I texted Grandma the day of my little melt down, and went over to her house for an afternoon visit. Aunt Sara came, too. When her kids walked in and said, “Grandma!” running up to her with expected requited hugs, I felt sucker punched in the stomach. My heart ached, knowing Everett will never run to you like that.
Sara invited me to a little friend dinner that night, and I decided to go. I was the youngest of the group, but I usually am in social situations. All five of us were Mothers, and it was a relief to hear grumbles about their husbands and children. I felt normal. And I felt thankful when Sara would make a reference to when her and I were little, growing up together nine years apart, and telling the group stories about you and our family, saying, “Oh that was so Jen.”
She’s like a big sister and a best friend, someone who understands every question, scenario and complaint when it comes to marriage and children. I’m lucky to have that, and Sara is family, so she’s never going anywhere.
Everett completely skipped his afternoon nap today. He cried for awhile, off and on, and I had the impulse to look at his mouth. Sure enough, there was another little tooth beginning to pop up on his gum’s surface. When I rubbed it gently, he cried even harder, so I gave him some Tylenol and we laid together. When the medicine started working, I could hear him doing his bird chirps and the day seemed to be saved, just with no second nap.
To kill time, I talked on the phone with Jessie, who was making her seven hour drive down to Kentucky. She’s moving down there and starting a life with her boyfriend, something she has wanted for such a long time but school and work and locations have kept them in a long distance relationship. I’m sure she is so relieved the wait is over and I’m happy she’s headed in the direction she wants. Maybe she’ll be my first best friend to turn Mom friend.
I made dinner, we all ate, Everett took his bath, we played together in his room, and then I left the house and drove out to get Tatum. I really wanted to be with her.
We decided to go for ice cream, but beforehand, stopped at the old house to give a proper goodbye. I don’t know if I told you yet, but Dad and Terri have been moved into the new house for a few weeks now. The old house goes on the market soon.
Tatum and I entered through the garage, which was open and bare and empty. But it’s just a garage, so it didn’t necessarily look wrong, just different. The inside of the house, though–it looked so wrong, as if the whole thing might as well been flipped upside down.
As soon as I opened the back door, I made a right turn and walked straight into the dining room, seeing the naked floral carpet and your custom curtains and the chandelier you and I picked out together. I stood there, stared, and burst into tears, the kind of tears that make your mouth curl into a stiff position and force your whole face to go contorted.
I saw us all sitting in that room as a family, having one of our annual Valentine’s Day dinners. I saw us hunting for Easter eggs, tip toeing carefully because that was the fancy untouched room of the house. I saw the spot where you used to keep everything for special occasions, like painted plates, embroidered table cloths and taper candles, kept safely in a cabinet of furniture that was once great Grandma Jenny’s.
And from there I walked into the entryway, seeing the ten foot tall front door you loved, arched at the top and made of solid stained oak. I pictured all the times us kids stood in front of it, taking pictures on the first day of school and waiting for the bus. Or all the times the doorbell rang and Tanner would bark simultaneously at whosever visiting car was in the driveway. It was the entrance to our home, and never again will I walk through or out of it.
The family room was empty of the couches and entertainment set. All that remained was clean carpet with fresh vacuum marks and the brick fireplace. I remembered all the annual December mornings we had in that familiar space, the wood fire crackling as Johnny Cash sang, we’ve got that Christmasy feeling’ again. Wrapping paper would cover every inch of the now bare floor, and we were all full of love and health and the promise that everything would always remain as it was.
I walked upstairs and went into your laundry room. I stood there with my head gently leaned against the door frame, and imagined you still there, in front of the open dryer, folding clothes into neatly assorted piles.
My room looked like a barren box, with no evidence of the sleepovers I shared in there or all the times I danced in front of my dresser mirror singing to my radio, joyous and free as could be. I opened my hinged closet doors, savoring the sound they made as the left and right sides swung open simultaneously, and remembered picking outfits for school from an abundant selection, quadruple the size of what I currently have now.
I saved your room for last. I stood at the doorway and uncontrollably slowly whined the words, “Tatum I can’t,” but she walked in ahead of me so I followed. I saw the spot where the bed once was, where you and I laid so many nights, watching t.v. and drinking tea together; the bed you’d be sleeping in every morning when I’d come in at 6:30 a.m. and kiss you good bye before school; the bed we were all beside when you took your last breath.
I cried in your bathroom and your closet, seeing you with a white towel wrapped around your head, getting ready in front of the vanity mirror. The linen closet door still faintly smelled like your Mary Kay suntan lotion and I literally stood there and sniffed the white wired shelves, trying desperately to bring you back again in some way. I even slammed the two doors together one last time, remembering the sound they made all those times I walked in on you naked, followed by your screaming.
Tatum went downstairs without saying anything, and I sat in the middle of your empty bedroom, knees bent with my arms wrapped around my shins. I cried continually and when I could, simply said, “I love you Mom.” I felt fine after that, like my peace had been made and my goodbye had been said. That space was yet another reminder of you I’ve had to part with, like your clothes and your car and the fading memory of your face, but relief flooded my veins once I got it over with and walked out of your room.
It felt like the last thing crossed of “the list of letting go.”
I met Tatum in the basement, where I caught her with bright red eyes and water welled up inside them. She was in the au pair room, reminded of the five girls who helped raise her after you were gone. That girl has had to say more goodbyes than any thirteen year old should know, but she’s so strong because of it.
Once she was ready to head upstairs, we locked the house and left, taking a walk down by the creek to see it one last time.
We got a picture together in front of the house, our eyes red and puffy but our hearts content after the chance of one last farewell in remembrance.
Dairy Queen was fun. We ate our ice cream while sitting in the car and it started to rain. We got back to the new house and I snuggled in her bed while she turned on her decorative twinkle lights and lit a candle. She loves her new room. We watched the movie Red Eye until I got so tired I had to drive home.
When her and I were up in the attic of the old house, I found a stack of folded papers I had hidden up there when it became my finished bedroom. Some of them were pages to a romance book I started to write in ninth grade, and the other is a set of poems, which I figured had to be from after you died. They were assignments from school, but I cannot remember writing them.
I can soak up your presence in the wind
As the trees sing in unison with the breeze,
I know you’re watching over me.
I can feel your comforting arms around holding me,
Reassuring problems that only seem to be.
I will overcome the void that has been left
In my heart, memories I know will be kept.
I know it’s cheesy, but when I read through the little bits and pieces such as the one above, I’m reminded at how hard I tried to make sense of your sickness. After you died, I wrote so much. I read so much. I journaled so much. I tried many physical activities. I studied certain subjects. I did “safe” drugs. I moved across the ocean for half a year, and it was all in search of you.
I did everything I possibly could to bring you closer to me, and I’m thankful I had the healthy journey to where I am now. All the books I read, all the journal entires I wrote, all the yoga I’ve done and the runs I once ran, all the places I’ve traveled, all the philosophy assignments, all the fun mind altering experiences, all the people I’ve loved: it has all been a part of you. You’ve been a piece of everything, in a way I cannot possibly explain with a keyboard.
You were the force behind all of my so called “soul searching,” and instead of going off the deep end when things got difficult, I turned to you, my own personal guiding God.
And that’s more than having you as a best friend to call when things get hard. It’s something that makes me more aware of my life, as if you can see what I see and relay to me the beauty I should be noticing and appreciating. You’re my stable reassurance that all is always okay, even if my lips are peeling off my frickin’ face, because you allow for perspective: It’s not cancer. I still have my hair. I still have my health.
I honestly don’t know if I would change it all, Mom. I’ve come to depend on you in the form you’re in now, just as much as I once depended on you when you were physically here. If you were to magically come back to life again, I’d have to go through an entirely new adjustment period, realizing that, yes I could call you, but my all-knowing angel would forever be gone.
I can let go of everything, including the house, but not the permanent protector and guide you’ve become in my life.