The memories are heavy in here.
I laid my head on the carpet. Body sprawled out, taking up all the space I could. The heat was heavy, too. Invading the air, it pressed its weight against my skin. The mugginess soaking me in afternoon spoil.
I breathed in deep, drenching my lungs. It was never enough, I thought. I could never do enough.
Images played through my mind. Nights spent staring out the window to the stars, her arms reaching around to point out the constellations that surrounded us. Days with paper and markers spread all over the floor, careless even to worry about the dark purple and blue that had begun to coat the carpet. Morning sleeping warm in the plush bed, comfort surrounding me. Her golden eyes the first thing I would wake to. Good morning.
I sat up, my spine curved into the posture as I kept my head low. Sweat rinsed my skin, keeping my clothing taut. I had ran hard that morning, running from some invisible force. I felt that if it I slowed for too long it would catch me. Nipping at my heels I could feel it start to envelop me, tightening my chest. Squeezing out breaths I kept moving – even when the tears finally did start running down my face.
A soft knock at the door, “Karen? Are you all right in there?”
I exhaled and deflated onto my folded my knees. “Fine, dad. Really. I’m just stretching.”
“Ok, then. Just wanted to make sure.” I hear him shuffle on the stiff carpet, pausing for a second. After a moment’s contemplation, likely him listening through the wooden hollow core door, he moved on down the hall.
Fine, that’s what I keep telling myself. Yes, it’s been hard but I’m fine….We knew it was coming, said our goodbyes…there were some dark days there, but I’m fine now. Fine. Such a frigid word. One syllable, neat and clear. End of conversation. I’m fine.
She had been diagnosed last year with stage three breast cancer. It came as a shock but when you have the kind of parents that avoid the sterile halls of doctor’s office at every opportunity, it couldn’t be a surprise. Stage three is tough, with the cancer growing beyond it’s beginning bounds and the start of lymph nodes being overtaken. But it’s still beatable.
First came the mastectomy. She had been so nervous, removing a part of her body that was private and yet some factor of being a woman. Why, I’ll look like a boy! she said to me out of the blue one day. I just smiled and told her she was mistaken. She didn’t need breasts to be beautiful.
Then came the radiation therapy. That’s always been a funny thing to me – radiation. We try so hard to avoid the toxic in our lives yet there we were, shining it right on her. It helps, the white coats assured me. It helps, I told her while she was throwing up after the first time. It helps, I told her when we had to use a wheelchair just to get back to the car.
And through the whole time there was chemo. Injecting drugs straight at the source to get rid of it all. With it went her fine blonde hair and her appetite.
None of it worked. Metastatic – that’s what the white coats called it. It went beyond the lymph nodes and dug deep into her bones and organs. The cancer was taking over and it was leaving us with a woman I hardly knew.
Months passed and we kept on fighting for that small chance. But in the last month, she’d had enough. She so badly wanted to have the strength to bake a meal for my father. Or even just to put on her nice clothes and go out. But no matter how hard she tried, they always ended up sitting tight on the couch, her falling asleep on his shoulder with a microwaved dinner cooling at her knees.
I didn’t want those to be the last images of my mother. I tried so many times to trade my reality for nostalgic dreams. Failure was met with each childish attempt. Depression loomed at my edges until it finally wrapped around me like an indisposed blanket. Even in her weakest hours, she asked about me. I worry about you. Where is that beautiful smile that I love so much? At least I could give her that.
Then she was gone.
The golden light that lit up her eyes faded and her breathe silenced. No longer a person. A body to be buried. Dust.
I’m fine. Really, I’m fine.