Sunday, January 24, 2016

“Cancer is annoying.” Mom’s Wise Words.

2 comments :
 
By: Avery B.

I walked up the stairs and into my room only to sit, homework forgotten in favor of the floor, staring at the wall as if the smooth paint could explain everything.
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“Your dad and I have something to tell you.”
My mom glanced over at where Dad sat across from her at our beloved wooden table, his back to the shadowed night outside. It was a scene from an acrylic painting, with low lighting from the black chandelier above, my head bent low, examining the worn and colorful United States place mat below my fingers, and my family scattered around the table, picking at their microwaved leftovers. I looked up for a moment, alert at those foreboding words, forgetting all about my search for a city that was the name of an old Disney Channel character.
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“Go upstairs and change your clothes, then get started on your homework.”
My mom reminded me of what I already knew as a routine after sweaty Tae-Kwon-Do classes, and then turned away to check on the phone messages left on our voicemail. Sinking onto the back stairs, I leaned back onto the speckled carpet, my muscles lethargic from the workout on top of everyday high school. The ceiling hung low above me, and the shadows cast on the stairwell slanted across my face.
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            My hands, hidden underneath my wooden desk, were shaking as I waited; listening to Tara read her memoir on her encounter with her second cousin in India, who somehow believed drugs were cool.  Her memoir set an entirely different tone then mine would. I could hear the hints of sarcasm and exasperation, whereas my words were serious and something I had never written about before.
            “Tara, that was really good! I especially enjoyed your written voice. Good job. Alright, Avery, would you like to go now?”
            Mrs. Kidd’s question referred to my refusal to go first, and even though I still wasn’t ready now, I nodded my head. Deep breath, lean down, look at the heavy words, begin.
            “Your dad and I have something to tell you.”
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“What’s going on?” I smiled lightly; trying to ease the tension of what I already knew would be an awkward conversation. “Let me guess. Ok, did Adrienne finally clean her room? Are Manvel Grandma and Papa moving too? Or does Mom have breast cancer?” In my mind, the scenarios all seemed ridiculous and too big to ever happen to my family.
But as my mom’s strong-willed, stormy eyes stared into mine and my dad nervously cleared his throat, my mouth faded back into disbelief.
“Actually, that’s what we were going to tell you. Your mom went in for a mammogram after she found a lump on her chest and the doctors have verified it’s stage one breast cancer.”
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“Hi, Kristi, this is Dr. Jolly’s office, we just wanted to let you know that all of the tests from the surgery aren’t done, but we wanted to just give you a little bit of what’s going on. The tissue did come back positive with cancer-”
The nurse’s voice slipped to the back of my mind. I knew there was this possibility of the cancer coming back, but it was never a reality. Just like it was never a reality of her getting cancer in the first place.
Mom turned to the side, leaning against the beige wall behind her, the white bandage taped to her throat bright in the fading afternoon. She started crying softly, her hand reaching up to both wipe away the salty water and also hide the tears. My sister crossed through the kitchen and hugged her and I quickly joined her, both of us not sure what to do. I stood there, thoughts rushing through my head as clouds across a sky, trying to imagine what this round of Mom vs. messed up cells would look like.
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My dad’s voice faded in and out as I tried to comprehend what was going on. I gazed at the place mat in front of me, not seeing the numerous cities and large states, only trying to figure out what this all meant. Cancer and Mom?  No. No way. This all had to be a massive mistake.
Even then, as I tried to envision what the next few months, few years would be like, I never could. I couldn’t see what it would be like to walk downstairs and see a head with only short, light hairs sticking up from its mostly bald surface watching TV on our olive couch. I couldn’t imagine having to help my mom take selfies of her hair to post on her CaringBridge to keep her friends updated with her walk with cancer. It was unbelievable that my mom would become more of a teenager than I was, buying cute hats and scarfs and sleeping in until noon.
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            I finished and looked down, not wanting to look at Devin in the back, who knew what my mom had gone through already, or Tara, one of my best friends who wasn’t even aware of what had happened, what was happening.
            “That was amazing! I just have to ask, is your mom ok?”
            I could feel everyone’s eyes on me as Mrs. Kidd asked her question, and my voice was soft in the quiet classroom as I answered.
            “She just had surgery to test some suspicious tissue, so we aren’t really sure.”
            “Well, I hope she’s doing better. Alright, Zoey, you were next.”
            I smiled weakly, and then went back to staring at my essay, hands still shaking.
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Would she email our teachers again, leading to questions about how she was doing every week? Would we have to set up carpools and frozen meal schedules to make sure Adrienne and I were taken care of? Would there be more surgeries and incisions, maybe even overnight hospital stays? Would she still be able to pick me up from school everyday, would she keep her hair, would she beat this cancer as well?
These questions all converged in my mind in a heartbeat, as I stood there with my arms wrapped around my mom, silent and unsure. After a moment or so, we pulled away with weak smiles, and I could feel, like that moment at the kitchen table back when it all started, the weight of the destructive cells settling on our hearts again.
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            I walked up the stairs and into my room only to sit, homework forgotten in favor of the floor, staring at the wall as if the smooth paint could explain everything.
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            And I couldn’t see waking up half of the time to a quiet house and getting ready for middle school by myself, walking to the bus stop hoping my mom would be awake when I came home. It was hard to visualize how our crazy dog would become more likely to curl up at my mom’s side than bark at squirrels in the backyard, and how Mom would start needing waterproof mascara for her watery eyes. I couldn’t see the constant chemotherapy, I couldn’t see the wig, the weak voice, the bandages and IV bruises, any of it.
At that moment, sitting around the kitchen table with my family, all I could feel was the strange numb feeling that blows in with a new change settling over me, and all I could see was my life shifting around a few messed-up cells.
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            I walked up the stairs and into my room only to sit, homework forgotten in favor of the floor, staring at the wall as if the smooth paint could explain everything.

2 comments :

  1. Wow. The structure of this essay is bold and it really serves the piece. It is difficult to communicate a sense of disorientation to readers while still instilling in them the confidence that the writer is capable and in charge. This essay manages to walk that line successfully. It's hard to pick out a particular line, but I was struck by this line, "I stood there, thoughts rushing through my head[...]trying to imagine what this round of Mom vs. messed up cells would look like." (I also love the repetition of the line about staring at the paint. So good)

    A personal note: my own mom is a breast cancer survivor and possibly a perpetual motion machine of love. I was about the same age as this writer when we learned my mom's diagnosis. Reading this essay really tugged at the heart strings, not in the least because it's so evocatively written.

    Thanks for turning such a tough personal experience into art.

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