I went to the mall a few days ago with Everett. He just chilled in his stroller, snacking on food while I shopped at Forever 21, my for whatever reason, favorite store. I bought a new scarf, a few sweaters and a bag. (I’ve gotten better at buying things for me and now it’s super simple to do, with no guilt attached).
I never take him to the grocery store or Target or any trip, really, without food to keep him occupied. His favorite on-the-go lunch is a spinach, cheese and pesto quesadilla. I make a big batch in bulk and freeze them in baggies, ready to grab for an adventurous day that involves leaving home.
On our way to leave the doors of the mall, I let him out of the stroller to run around and he must’ve thought he instantly became king. He trotted along a few feet away from me, looking over his shoulder to keep a watchful eye on his “mum mum.”
Refusing to stop his fun, we stayed, and I took him on the clear glass elevator to get to the first floor. He had a face of astonishment as he watched the world around him go down down down, looking at me and pointing and saying ooooooo!
The elevator opens right up and onto the food court, and the smell of Chinese chicken wafted my nose when we walked out, immediately making me think of you and all our times sitting there and eating after our shopping trips.
I looked right at “our” spot, where the turquoise-topped chairs remained the same, simultaneously searching for the sampling kung pao chicken lady. Remember the one who would always be holding that black serving platter with toothpicks sticking out of the bite size pieces of meat?
The trays we’d eat off of were red and I can still see the white rice and orange glazed fried chicken clumps. I can still taste the extra packs of soy sauce we’d douse our meals with, remembering how you’d tear the corner of the plastic packet off with your teeth and still manage to look pretty while doing it.
Not wanting to feel those memories anymore, I quickly walked away from the area and into another store, thinking nap time can wait today…what’s the rush to get home? And I ended up finding a super cool jacket Grandma is going to get me for Christmas.
The last time I was at that food court, I was being interviewed for a clothing company called Buckle. It was the “cool” store during my senior year of high school, the place I bought all my Lucky Brand clothes in attempts of being a cool hippy.
My possible future manager, Holly, asked me all these questions and I was confident the whole time that I would get the retail job; I felt I looked the part. I just wanted to speak out and say, are we done yet? I’ve got to get home. My mother is dying and I have no time to waste. Am I hired or not?
You were sick at home, and it was only a matter of time at that point, like we were all just waiting for it to happen.
I never think about those last few weeks. I never really think of you being sick. It all happened so fast, between your diagnosis and death, it’s like this small time frame in my mind that can easily be swept into the abyss of my brain.
Because I felt so mentally stuttered when getting off that elevator and smelling that frickin’ fried chicken, I know something inside me needs released. So I went and found the journal I was keeping around the time of that interview–around the time you died, and really kind of re-lived your last weeks of life as I read through it.
July 18, 2008
I talked with Nana a lot today, mostly about Mom and how absolutely crazy she’s been acting lately. She has gone psycho. She tells Allison and I all the time that we don’t care about her and she knows we want her dead. And the other day, I ran downstairs after hearing her yell at Dad, and when I looked at her, I couldn’t even get my words out to yell. I was so upset with her. I thought after the diagnosis in January and how good she’s done, it was a lesson for us all to love and treat each other differently. It’s like she forgot that we almost lost her. I feel disgusted with my own mother; why is she acting like this?
August 1, 2008
Well, cheer camp is all over with, thank god. But this year was actually the best out of all six.
I drove home with Stephanie and her parents, and while in the car, Nana called me to say the cancer had spread to Mom’s spinal cord. That’s why she’s been acting mean and confused and upset.
I hung up the phone, looked out the backseat driver window and water welled in my eyes. Steph’s mom reassured me that this would just be another treatment and that Mom would do great, just as she has been doing. I wanted to believe Janice. I wanted to believe Mom’s best friend.
When I got home, Grandma was waiting for me. After I showered and ate some lunch, she took me to the hospital to see Mom and Dad. I will never forget getting out of the elevator, turning the corner, and walking into the communal waiting room where Dad and Allison were waiting. Mom’s room was twenty or so feet behind them and her door was open. All I could see were her legs, tucked tightly under the light pink hospital blanket.
Just by looking at Daddy’s face, I knew something awful was happening. For a split second, before he said anything, I thought she had already died. I was so confused, I couldn’t think straight or crooked or in any way shape or form.
I was so scared and felt like I couldn’t breathe. Dad talked me through it, and then sat Allison and I down, explaining to us that the cancer spread to Mom’s brain. He told us the treatment options, something involving a box on her head and more needles and radiation and tests. And he said he had the option not to treat her any further.
Somewhere in all that, I heard she’d only have months to live, regardless of treatment or no treatment.
Even writing about all of this, days later in my journal, I still can’t comprehend it.
The next hours at the hospital were long and I just wanted to get out of there. Mom was so much more lost and confused than from before I left for cheer camp. I remember calling Dad (because Mom was being so mean and I didn’t want to speak with her) while I was up there to tell him I made captain. He was telling Mom, “Did you hear that Jenifer? Hayley is senior caption!” And she barely made a response. I thought it was her still being ignorant, but really, cancer was all throughout her brain.
Dad’s voice was too cheery, like it wasn’t his usual tone. Now looking back, I know he was trying his best to be nice and hide the fact that mom was dying. He wanted to keep me innocent of what was happening back at home, keep me in the world of cheerleaders and positivity, even if it was only for a day longer.
Dad took Allison and I home from the hospital towards after dinner-time, and I’ll never forget the drive home on the Pittsburgh parkway. We were in the BMW, the car Mom always said she wanted when she’d turn forty years old. Dad bought it for her thirty-ninth birthday back in April, probably knowing waiting another year was of no point.
The roof top was down, and the summer day air was fading away as it hit my face and blew my hair wildly in all directions. It was warm to breathe in but cool feeling on my skin because of the wind.
I sat up front. Allison was in the back. I should’ve been with her. But I think we all just wanted to be as alone as we could in the space of a convertible.
The sun was going down and the city looked so beautiful. It felt so wrong to be driving home without her, like we were leaving her behind for good. None of us talked, but you could feel how hurt the three of us felt. How confused, mad, sad, angry and awful we felt. We knew the truth now. We knew what was coming.
Back at home, we stood in the kitchen near the sink and Dad held me and we both cried. Then Allison came downstairs and we continued doing the same thing. It felt like we were uniting, on the same front, knowing what we’d be facing in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
I called Mrs. Treml and told her everything. She said I could spend the night, and I told her I’d think about it. I called Tyler, too, then Janice. She came over with Stephanie. We all talked for a long time, and eventually I left, with Dad’s permission. He told me to go wherever I would feel best, and I wanted to be with my other family, so off the the Treml’s I went.
Dad went back to the hospital and Allison went to her best friend Lauren’s house. We were all where we needed to be.
The next morning, Tyler made me pancakes with cinnamon in the batter, and in between flips, I made him hold me for a long time, burying my face in that stupid hippy drug rug he wears. I cried. And told him I loved him and then left. I don’t even think we are “together” right now, but I know I have the support of him and his family and that’s all I care about. I didn’t eat the breakfast.
I showered when I got back home, and Grandma and aunt Sara took Allison and I back to the hospital. Mom was even worse than the day before. There were times when she couldn’t walk or talk. I can’t describe what it’s like seeing your mother like that. She kept trying to unlock her closed bathroom door with a hair brush and said something about firewood. She’d get mad at Grandma when Grandma tried helping her. She looked at Grandma like, who are you lady, and why are you getting in my way?
Currently as I’m writing this, Mom is home. Everyone has been visiting and Aunt Jessica and Uncle Todd came up from Virginia, bringing Cole and Tatum back from their visit down there. It feels good to have them back and they seem to be handling everything okay so far. I don’t know what Dad has told them.
I’m just in disbelief that my life has changed so fast. Prior to cheer camp, I thought the cancer was gone. I thought she was better, just meaner. Now she has limited months/weeks/days to live.
August 3, 2008
I heard noise down below from my attic bedroom and went to see what the commotion was about. Dad was giving Mom a bath at 11:30 at night. She has her days and nights mixed up. When he put her back in bed, she kept trying to get up, like a stubborn little child. Dad hasn’t slept for days and I feel so helpless. He looks like he could fall asleep standing up. I told him to rest and that I’d stay with Mom for a little. She fought me the entire time, relentlessly trying to sit up and out of bed.
It’s scary to think of what will happen in the near future. I could never have imagined any of this happening; not even the cancer, but just how it’s all ending–her not being able to talk to us, Dad having to feed and wash her. She can’t really even walk anymore and I’m not sure she knows who everyone is.
Her and I sat together at the kitchen island today while I ate an apricot cookie. She’d always buy them from Giant Eagle and she stared at me while I ate it, telling me “I was silly,” in broken up syllables. I gave her one, and we each ate them together with glasses of milk.
Dad took her to Dairy Queen in her convertible and when they pulled into the garage, she had thrown up ice cream everywhere. I helped give her a bath afterwards. It’s like she’s crumbling apart, and we have to watch it because we love her and there’s nothing else we can do.
When I think of other people’s Dads, I know they’d never take care of their wives the way he’s feeding and bathing and carrying and continually loving Mom. And he’s somehow managing to pull us kids through all of it, too. I could only hope that I have that kind of marriage someday, and now I finally understand how much my Mom and Dad loved each other.
On a happier note, I interviewed for Buckle today and got the job. I have tried to just keep doing normal things, seeing my friends etc.
August 14, 2008
Mom is doing really bad, not talking or eating or moving. Family has been visiting again, and it feels sickening to know they’re all here to say their last goodbyes as she sits in the same upright position in bed. Cole and Tatum are in Harrisburg with Aunt Katie and Uncle Ryan; Dad didn’t want them here for what we think is the final few days.
And that’s it. That night, on the 14th, you left our world.
The morning after you died, pictures were being taken up at the high school for the senior cheerleaders and football players. I got ready, straightened my hair, did my makeup and put my blue and gold uniform on. As I went to leave the house, the door halfway open in my hand, Dad simply said, “Hayley.” And just looked at me, his face expressing something I can still see now in my mind. He was silently telling me, you go show them. You’ve got this. You are okay. Life will continue on and you show up there strong because you’re Mom’s daughter.
I’m crying now just remembering it. It was in that small moment of three seconds that I was reassured I could face anything and I could do anything and you were now with me always.
I walked out of that house feeling solid as stones, both in my mind and body.
I parked at the school, grabbing my best friend Jessie and Kayla K, asking if they would just wait there for a second with me before walking towards the whole football and cheerleading team. Everyone knew.
I took a pause in the parking lot, took a breath and continued “onward and upward,” as Dad always says.
And it’s funny. When I look at the group picture that was taken that morning, Chris, in his numbered 2 football uniform, is positioned (almost) right behind me.
When I sat down to write to you this morning, I had no intention of bringing all that heavy “stuff” up. I really only wanted to tell you about the mall with Everett.
But now that I’m thinking of it, the other night right before I had fallen asleep, I had the impulse to turn on my nightstand light and make a post-it that said: write about the last weeks of mom’s life…tell the story of what happened. But I never made a note; I was too lazy and too tired and then completely forgot about the idea until the food court and thinking of that interview.
It seems like this entry to you was just supposed to happen and it unfolded with ease.
But let’s talk Everett now, because my oh my is my child cute and fun and vibrant and as always, loving his life.
He gets easier every month, but also more confident as his own person, making tantrums more common in our house. For his morning diaper change (the one when there’s a big load of poop) he always fights me, squiggling his legs and lifting his butt up way high and twisting his hips from side to side. And I’m like, dude! I’m doing you a solid here…cooperate, please.
Yesterday, without fail, he did his restraining attempts again, this time getting crap on my hands and the carpet. My natural frustrated reaction happened so fast: I spanked his right bare bum cheek with the power of my fingers, just enough to make him cry. He looked at me like, what the hell, Mom? But he held still for the rest of the diaper change.
I told Allison because it was my first time ever “hitting” him, and her response was, ahhh poooooor Everett…don’t you feel bad?
And I straight up said, “No. It worked and he got the message.”
I’m pretty sure I survived the wooden spoon a few times and still grew up with more love and security than I could handle. Everett will be fine. If a mother wants to nurse her three year old when they get a toddler boo boo, or if another mother occasionally spanks her child, I respect it all and don’t judge.
Everett will look at me and say “mum mum,” in the sweetest voice with literal love in his eyes. It’s like they sparkle, I swear to god. And when we go for walks now, I let him out of the stroller for some of the time and he loves running free around the vacant school that’s by our house. The other day he took off too fast and fell, busting his upper lip open. He looked like a parrot or that Marge Simpson character, the one with the tall blue hair and big top lip.
I got him a leash so he can’t run too fast ahead of me and into a pot hole again. So now I can literally walk the dog and Everett in each of my hands.
He can now eat snacks out of a bowl without trying to play with it, so I set cut up grapes or cheerios or chunks of maple chicken sausage (his favorite) out on the porch while he plays. Things like that make life so much more simple…who would’ve thought.
And he says hi now, waving his arm and matching the high pitched tone of voice that we all do when greeting someone. If I’m inside, I’ll hear him out on the porch saying, “HIIII!” when our little neighbor girls walk past. He even does it to passing cars.
Last week I saw a homeopathic doctor in the hopes that she’d be able to help me with my lips. I know you’re probably sick of hearing about it, but just bare with me for a second.
She did certain kinds of tests to detect weaknesses within my body, and gave me a set of herbs and supplements to take. I have disfunction in my small intestine and gut so I’m on an anti-fungal diet and intestinal repair mission. And I wasn’t surprised to hear that news, after being on six antibiotics, which virtually destroyed any and all good gut bacteria I had.
Today marks over a week of not only taking my supplements, but no wheat, soy, dairy, vinegar (yea, no wine) and sugar. It sounds completely extreme, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford the extra meals I’ve had to make and have the time to be at home and cook. I’ve been in the kitchen a lot. And so far, I feel good. I literally have nothing to lose (besides getting buzzed off my beloved Blue Moon with Aiellos’s pizza), so why not believe in this and give it a try? I feel less tired too, and I know it’s because I’m eating better.
I use your juicer daily, too, not knowing how that machine is still running and grinding up whole fruits and vegetables into what tastes and feels like liquid gold. I think of you every time I use it. It has to be at least ten or eleven years old.
Every other doctor or dermatologist or specialist has failed me so completely, I have honestly questioned how the whole modern medical field works. It makes me think of the bastards that missed your cancer the first time you came to your doctor, telling them you felt a lump.
By the time they actually found it, it was stage four and everyone knows what that kind of diagnosis means.
I’m not saying purely herbs and juice would’ve cure you, but maybe it could’ve complimented your treatment tremendously.
I have arrived at the point of whatever in terms of this lip peeling. It has been seven months since I’ve honestly kissed Chris while having sex and it sucks. It’s like eating pizza without the crust; it just ain’t good. But we still love each other and are still playful and fulfilled. I even dare to say we’re happier than most other married couples who can still make out with one other.
I feel like this “illness” is a literal physical blockage to where I want to go, a test to see just how serious I am about this law of attraction stuff and making changes in my life. Because if this “ask and it is given” mentality is real, I have the power to heal myself. Right?
Last month I didn’t get pregnant, of which now, I’m thankful for. I need this time to get better: to straighten out whatever imbalances are going on inside my body, in the hopes of fixing what’s going on on the outside. And while I’m sad to be putting another baby on hold for the time being, I know everything is always working out how it should.
If this lip shit didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have started to re-read my favorite books about attraction and healing and happiness and believing. And who knows, maybe this new diet will be something that will lead me to feel so fantastic by the end of the month, I won’t want to change it.
I trust this whole process. I really and truly do, for the first time since it all started back in March. I just know I’m where I should be, and even if my skin doesn’t heal, I’ll still be where I need to be, learning what I need to learn.
And one last thing….we are leaving for Maine in three sleeps!
I don’t know if I ever told you when our plans were set into motion early spring, but it’s really happening. It was a trip that seemed “too hard” for so long because of money and Everett and blah blah blah but I wanted to go, I imagined us there and wah-lah, we’re leaving this Wednesday.
Richard booked us a hotel using his literal millions of Marriott points, so we have a two bedroom, living room, full kitchen suite, where I can cook.
Papap is flying us up on his plane. I feel like such a spoiled brat saying that, but I’m going to rather say I’m proud. How awesome of an experience that’s going to be. Papap the pilot, flying us to Maine.
And Lauren, my sister-in-law, is staying at our house to watch the dog while we’re gone.
We are set. And I cannot wait to see Everett on Acadia beach, his toes in the sand, just as I have imagined since the beginning of this year.
I’ll talk with you when we get back. Send me a sign up there that you’re with us; I’ll be waiting to find it.