“”I haven’t talked to mom in a year. Dad doesn’t even like to acknowledge that I’m here. I can’t lose you too, Man,” she says. She touches my shoulder delicately like I would break if she put all her weight on me.”
My mother’s dying and it feels as if I’m going with her. I remember the night she came home with tears in her eyes. She sat all of us down and broke the news to us. She had cancer. My father stared at her with tears and my sister walked away. I stayed there for my mother’s sake. Her seeing Rosie walk away hurt her more than the cancer ever would. The next day we took her to the hospital–all of us but Rosie who refused to look at Mom, let alone be in the same room as her. Ever since then, mom has been in and out of the hospital.
My pen’s ink is just starting to disappear. I shake my pen once more, hoping that it will bear with me and work a little while longer. As soon as I begin the next sentence, the pen gives up. Frustrated and angry, I throw the pen across the room.
The front door opens. I look over and see dad all wet in a tan trench coat. He sets down his black worn out briefcase by the door and leaves his keys on the small table next to the door. He walks through the hallway. As soon as he enters the kitchen, I know he’s had a bad day. I keep to myself and go to pick up my old pen and to get a new one. I sit back down and slouch over my work.
Dad sighs and grips the counter’s edge. He stays there for a moment before turning and walking to the sink. The water gushes and cascades down his hands. He turns off the water and quickly dries his hands on the towel that rests on the oven handle. He returns to his old position at the counter.
“Have you and Rosie eaten yet?” He asks quietly. I look up for a moment from my work. Dad’s not looking at me. He’s looking at the couch that still has mom’s old blanket on it from yesterday. I look back down and don’t say a word.
“All right then. I’m going to go to bed. If you want to visit your mother in the morning, be up by 6:45,” he says before stalking away. Rosie appears from the stairs and slides past dad as he doesn’t move.
“Sure, let’s not talk about the giant elephant in the house,” she says, walking over to the fridge and pulling out the orange juice. I ignore her and continue to work. She takes a sip and stares at me through all that black makeup.
“You haven’t said anything all day. What’s up?” She asks, sitting down on a stool next to me. Her makeup is sloppily done but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I continue to concentrate. She taps her fingers against the marble. Her silver bracelets clatter with every move she makes. She stares down at her orange juice as if it’s sour.
“I haven’t talked to mom in a year. Dad doesn’t even like to acknowledge that I’m here. I can’t lose you too, Man,” she says. She touches my shoulder delicately like I would break if she put all her weight on me. I take a breath and look at her. She has a tear running down her cheek, making some of her makeup go with it.
“You’re ruining your makeup,” I say. She wipes her tear away and sniffles.
“Screw my makeup. Manon, you can’t disappear. Not now. Okay?” She says. I nod and fiddle around with my pen. Rosie returns to her look of disgust.
“Cool. I’ll see you later,” She says, grabbing her cup and walking away, mumbling something about sensitivity. I turn around on my stool and stare at the living room couch. Just yesterday mom was sitting there, laughing at something on the TV. Today she’s back in the hospital.
I’m up at 6:00 and in the shower by 6:15. I race down the stairs and walk into the kitchen where my laptop and phone sit. I shove them into my bag and grab a banana from the bowl in the middle of the island. I sit down and grab a piece of yellow paper and a pen.
Dad and I have gone to see Mom. We will be back later. Don’t do anything dumb. -Manon
I slide the paper into the middle of the island. Dad walks down the hallway, towards the kitchen. His hair glistens with water. He opens the cabinet and pulls out a mug. He begins to make some coffee.
I look away from him and busy myself with getting everything that I need for today. Today is a big day for mom and me. She has her first day at her new support group and I have to send in my applications for college.
I need to get out of this house. There’s nothing here for me anymore.
Dad takes his mug that has steam coming out and walks towards the front door. He grabs his keys and his briefcase before opening the door. He turns to wait for me.
I sling my bag over my shoulder and walk towards the door. I duck under dad’s arm and he shuts the door behind him. He and I get in the car. The engine turns over and we slowly drive away from the house.
I hold onto Mom’s arm and she holds onto mine. We slowly walk down the halls of the hospital. She’s talking to me about all the nurses and their kids. She gets all the hospital drama gossip. We pass an old man in a wheelchair who waves with a smile at Mom.
“Hi Hank. I’ll see you later for some black jack,” she says. I look at her with a smile.
“I didn’t know you were allowed to gamble here,” I say. Mom turns back her attention to me, rather than where she steps.
“Oh, we’re not. Hank and I love to play so we do,” she says. I laugh and lead her to a door that reads Meeting Center. I slowly put my hand on the door’s handle.
“You ready?” I ask. Mom nods and puts her hand on mine.
“Let’s do this,” she says. I push open the door and hold it for her. She wobbles a little but gets the feeling of walking on her own and makes it to a seat. Everyone looks at her as she sits down. Some of the women here have scarves on their heads, while others have a little bit of fuzzy gray hair, and others have a full head of hair. I look over to Mom’s fuzzy head and compare it to the others.
“Welcome!” A perky woman, with a buzzed haircut says. Mom smiles and looks up. She’s still trying to catch her breath.
“Hello,” Mom breathes. I close the door and walk to the corner where a small chair is.
“Is that your daughter?” The perky woman asks. The woman points to me with a big smile. Mom looks at me and nods.
“Yes. I hope it’s alright that she’s here,” mom says. I can tell she doesn’t like the perky woman. The woman nods and stands up. She walks over to mom and stretches out her hand.
“Monica,” she says. Mom grabs her hand and gently shakes it.
“Lori,” mom says. Monica walks over to me. I quickly put my laptop away and stand up. I grab her hand and firmly shake it.
“Manon,” I say. Monica smiles. She walks back to her seat and sits down. As the minutes pass, a few more people walk in. It seems as if they all are admitted to the hospital. Monica pulls out a clipboard with lined paper. She grabs a pink pen with a cancer sign on it. I pull my laptop back out and begin to work. I only begin to listen to what’s going on around me when Mom starts to speak.
“Hi, my name is Lori and I have breast cancer. I’m not concerned about what is happening to me. Okay, maybe I am a little worried, but I’m more worried about my kids. When I first broke the news to them, which must have been the hardest thing ever, my youngest kid, Rosie, walked away and hasn’t spoken to me since. She won’t even be in the same room as me. I’m more scared about losing my kids than losing my life,” She says. Monica nods and sends me a look. I close my laptop and give mom all her attention. A woman with a scarf around her head speaks up.
“Lori, I understand that your children mean the world to you, but there will be no world for them if you don’t try to get through this. If Rosie–Rosie, correct?” The woman asks. Mom nods and crosses her legs. The woman continues, “If Rosie hasn’t talked to you since then, let her come to you. I’m sure she’s scared and confused. Cancer is something that doesn’t just hurt the person it’s in. It also hurts the people around them. Give her time.” The woman finishes with a nod. A few people nod, agreeing with her. My heart begins to thumpity thump thump and my face feels warm.
“I understand that cancer is a terrible thing, but losing my girls is worse. They are my world so with them, there is nothing more important,” She says.
“I’m Cynthia, by the way. Lori, forget about your kids for one second and think about yourself. This is your time. Use it wisely.” I stand abruptly. The chair screeches back and people look at me. I set my laptop in my bag and grab it.
“Excuse me.” I say and walk out. I slam the door shut behind me and angrily sling my bag over my shoulder.
My head rests in my hand while my other hand is busy, clicking the mouse. My eyes sting and my head hurts from staring at the computer screen for too long. I stand up and rub my eyes while walking to the kitchen.
I shuffle past a smiling Rosie who is contently staring at her phone. I open the fridge in search for something to fill my grumbling belly. I shut the fridge when Rosie’s shrill, unattractive laugh bursts the silence. I walk back over and stand at her side. I glance at her phone screen and see the name Dylan.
“Who’s Dylan?” I ask. Rosie looks up at me, her smile completely gone now.
“I dont know, who?” She asks with the tiniest hint of a smile. I look at her with an ‘Oh really?’ look.
“The person you’re texting.” I say, pointing to her phone.
“Look Man, I don’t have any time for your dumb games. I am busy writing a school essay.” She says, pointing to her phone. I glance down and see that she has a writing file.
“I’ll leave you to it,” I say. She nods and returns her attention to her phone. I sigh and walk back over to the fridge.
“Did you eat?” I ask, moving things aside to see what there is to eat.
“I thought we had finished our conversation. No. I haven’t,” She says. My chest tightens at her attitude. I pull out the last of the cold slices of pizza. I put a piece in the microwave and wait for the beeps, signaling that it’s done. When the microwave goes off Rosie looks up.
“Did you make me some?” She asks. I pull out my pizza and put it on the counter.
“No Rosie. It’s not my job to babysit you. You want people to make you dinner, you complain to mom,” I say. She looks taken back. I sigh and put my head down. I put a hand to my forehead while the other rests on my hip.
“I didn’t know that was what you thought.” She says. By now her school work is just a memory.
“I don’t. It just came out. I’m really pressured with finding schools and stuff. Plus Mom’s support group didn’t really appeal to me,” I say. Rosie nods. She hops down off the stool and walks over to the fridge. She pulls out the whole pizza box and throws it down next to my small slice. She shoves me to the side and opens the box.
I grab my plate with my food and walk to the kitchen table. I slide into the booth and have my back to the window. It’s now dark out. After a few minutes Rosie joins me. We quietly eat, not talking or looking at each other.
This house is empty with nothing left but a broken family.
I’m sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair, facing Mom’s hospital bed. She’s smiling at the TV. I gaze out the window and see my high school just across the street. I sigh and focus on my application for college.
“Is my helping with that holiday thing at the elementary important?” I ask. Mom looks up with a cute little smile.
“Huh?” She asks holding back a little laugh. She took some medicine a while ago. It’s now kind of kicking in.
“Never mind,” I say, writing it down.
“I’m on pills,” she says before returning her attention to the screen.
“I know, mom.” I say. I crack my knuckles and decide to take a walk. I tell mom I’ll be back and if she needs anything press the yellow button next to her bed. She’s half listening, half in her wonder world. I close her door, making sure it doesn’t make any noise as Bert, her grumpy, sleepy, next door neighbor constantly yells at me for “Closing the door too loud.”
I wander down the halls glancing at the different patients. Two kids in wheelchairs zoom down the hall laughing. I smile and watch them turn the corner. Two male nurses and one female nurse runs after them. A big rack of blood flashes by me. I wander down a few more halls until I find myself in front of the doors to the lobby. I push one open just as soon as someone else does. We bump into each other and my chest and stomach and neck begin to burn. The smell of freshly brewed coffee climbs up my nose.
“Oh. I’m so sorry,” I say. I look up to see a boy with disheveled hair and a shocked look on his gorgeous face. He has emerald green eyes with a tiny dash of brown in the middle. He has a spare bottom lip and some stubble climbing on his face.
“No, no, no. I’m so sorry. Oh. Uh…here let me help you,” he says, grabbing my arm and pulling me to the side of the hall. He takes the few napkins he had in his hand and begins to rub my shirt. Bold.
“It’s okay,” he looks up at me for a second before returning to his work. I grab his hand when he begins to rub harder.
“Stop. It’s fine. I’ll get it. I think you’re just making it worse anyways,” I say. He has a horrified look on his face.
“I am so sorry. I already said that,” I think that last part was more for him than me. I stick out my hand.
“Manon,” I say. He hesitantly takes it, shocked at my ‘peace offering.’
“I’m Callum. Nice to meet you, Manon,” he shakes my hand firmly. I don’t judge people on their looks, or their attitude, but more on their handshake. If it’s firm they have a personality and can stand up for themselves and don’t need me or anyone else to do it. If they have a weak handshake they have no backbone, no personality, and I instantly shut down on them. But luckily his handshake was firm.
Just what I need. A little firmness and backbone.
I’m leading Mom back through the hallways. Tomorrow I won’t be able to because I have to go back to school.
“Second day of your support group,” I say with no emotion. Mom looks at me and stops walking. She pulls at my arm and asks me to take her to the side of the hallway.
“You don’t have to come because I remember the last time wasn’t your favorite,” she says looking me in the eyes.
“It’s just an opinion that people agreed with, Mom. It’s not like it’s true. Right?” I ask. She quickly looks down, but returns her gaze to me.
“Right,” she squeaks. She begins to walk on her own in her pink bunny slippers. I walk to catch up with her and lead her to the room. She sits down in the chair she was in the last time. I stand at the door and watch her sit down to make sure she’s okay. Someone bumps my shoulder with theirs. I turn to my right to see Callum looking back at me.
“Hello,” he says, looking straight ahead with his hands in his pockets.
“Hi,” I whisper back. He looks at me through the corner of his eyes.
“So this is why you’re here,” he says quietly, “Because you’re sick.” He finishes after pausing. I look at him, startled. I grab his shoulder and turn him towards me.
“No. I’m–I’m not. My mom is,” I say, pointing to her. He looks at me with concern, but also a look of relief.
“I’m glad you’re okay and I’m sorry about your mom’s health. My mom’s sick, too,” he says, pointing towards Monica. I look over in the direction he’s pointing to and see her standing talking with a big smile on her face. Callum puts his hand back in his pocket. Monica looks our way with a big smile that only gets bigger when she sees Callum. But when she sees me her smile lessens. I look away and nod my head. I decide to change the subject.
“How was your coffee?” I jokingly say. He smiles.
“It probably tastes a lot better on you.” He says. His eyes fill with fear. I laugh.
“Not like that it’s just the coffee here is already so bad that spilling it on clothing probably made it better,” He says quickly.
“Hey. I like the coffee here!” I say.
“Then Starbucks must be a jackpot.” He says back with an adorable smile. I scoff and smile back. We lock eyes for a moment until Monica tells everyone to sit down. I now just look around and see that a lot of kids and teenagers are here as well. Are they all sick? They all look healthy. Monica claps her hands together.
“Hello everybody. Today we have brought in your children to see how they feel with all of this, and a way for you all to try and work out any tension. Please take a seat next to your parents.” She says, unclasping her hands and motioning for all of us to do as she said, and sit. I give a tight smile to Callum and go sit next to my mom. She grabs my hand, not looking at me. She’s nervous.
Each parent and kid go around and talk, occasionally crying, occasionally laughing, or occasionally not acknowledging each other at all. My mom begins to speak, but I barely listen because I’m thinking about school and homework, and how I’m going to have to make Dad and Rosie dinner, and how I’m going to have to force Rosie to even get near her backpack.
“And how are you during all of this, Manon?” I look up and tuck away my bitten nails.
“Besides the fact that my mom is dying, and my sister won’t talk to her–let alone be in the same room as my mom, and my dad shutting everything out. Feeling, me, Rosie, Mom and her cancer? I’m fine,” I say with a little too much force. Mom looks at me with tears.
“You feel this way?” She asks. I look at her.
“Mom, you’re gone! I’m making dinner, making Rosie do her homework, and making sure Dad doesn’t do anything…to hurt himself and the…and the family.” I barely get the last part out.
“I am not gone! I never will be! You need to talk to me about this!” She yells. She begins to cough. I go to rub her back but she swats my hand away.
“I’m not gone. I can stop coughing myself,” she hisses.
“Then why does it feel like you are gone?” I squeak. My eyes burn and my throat tightens. A lump forms in my throat and I have to try and clear my throat. If I say one word I know I’ll break down into tears. Monica speaks up.
“That’s all our time,” She whispers. I stand up, along with everyone else. Callum stops me before I leave.
“You okay?” He asks. I nod and make awkward hand gestures.
“Yeah,” I squeak, “I have to go.” I rush out the last part before leading mom back to her room in an awkward silence.