My mom looks like my mom, but she isn’t awake. Rather, she’s sleeping and I can’t see if she has any paralysis or loss of motor function or slurred speech. As I watch her stir, but not as if under her own conscious control, I can only remember my yoga instructor’s direction to breathe. Always focus on the breathe, feeling the rise and fall of your chest and listening for that rustle going in and out. It means hope and perhaps tomorrow or at least another moment. Passing but still here.
I’m broken and feel more tears welling up in the corners of my eyes, like a bad cliché in a dime novel. I’ve been a fucking faucet today and can’t even call my boyfriend to cry on his shoulders since we’re in a cold war. Not a good relationship. So I succumb to the water as it flows.
Mom was never that sturdy to begin with, despite what life has demanded of her. For now, she’s breathing. And I see the gentle rise and fall of her chest. She’s alive but I knew that already. My mom looks tiny curled up on her hospital bed, her form twisted sideways with wires and whatnot jutting out of her. I see machines and don’t want to imagine what they mean.
Her body is smaller now as she’s wasted away recently and I’ve ignored her slight frame fading, more involved in my own daily stress and pressure. Sure, I know its all been so hard for her and she hurts. But I’m so self focused that I choose to ignore the pain in the world, including hers. I will her to retain the parental role whether she can still carry that cross or is instead falling under such a heavy burden. Children can be selfish.
I need to get back to my office and hate myself for thinking that way. But I still have a company to keep solvent and my mom will live or die without me. I just need to show that I came and demonstrate my love? I do love her and can’t fully express the pain I feel in seeing this prostate form, weak and battered before me. Perhaps I yearn to just escape this truism, that my mom isn’t young the way she once was. How come parents are allowed to age and get weaker, losing their health in the process? Shouldn’t they always be there for us, when we need them? I still need her.
Resigned, I make a decision.
I’ll wait until she wakes up and my staff will handle the manufacturing meeting. While she might have entered this place without either of her children by her side, she shouldn’t wake up here the first time alone. Hospitals are too frightening for the sick. Sterile and burdened with those in pain or scared, ill and desperate, the surroundings only magnify the oppression of an “institution”. A hospital isn’t our home and the flimsy beds are about saving lives not comfort.
I stifle another sob and try not to break down as I watch her sleeping, peaceful, but how am I to really know? Her body has been rebelling more often now as her health continues a steady decline. Last year it was pneumonia and the year before she broke her hip. Life kept her busy and I suspect she never really took care of herself. Working long hours on her feet, having little cash for doctor visits and the best food, she wore down. The life of a single parent is never easy.
Another tear falls on my jeans and I wonder at how it travelled so far before I noticed I was crying. I pat my eyes, trying to dry the wetness without spreading black mascara across my face. I hear the noises of a busy place around me, with chatter mingling into footsteps and an occasional laugh.
My mom can’t break apart and disappear, I think, panicking. The universe just shouldn’t allow such a reality to occur. My whole life she’s been such a constant and there for me. Now? Now I know nothing except that my world is falling apart and my company needs me too. The chattering voice in my head keeps talking me into a frenzy of “no” and “this can’t be happening” and I will that stupid voice to just shut up. Next thing I know it will be reminding I’m fat, as if that matters now.
I’ve turned my phone off and not bothered to check if I have messages, desperate or not. Frankie can juggle things for a few hours. People today are so used to instant responses they seemingly forget that patience was once a virtue. I watch my mom, trying to focus on her not the crazy world from outside that I’ve brought into this room.
Still, I’d do anything to protect the company I’ve built; but perhaps I’d do just slightly more for my mother. She’s the one who gave me confidence to follow my dream, when I was struggling trying to decide between Muse and law school. I sigh and study her form, curled and covered, as I ponder my conflict.
“Follow your passion, “ she told me then. “I never did and every day regret not taking that one risk extra. Law school will always be there but your company has real orders today,” she’d continued, dumping some new Lauder products on our kitchen table, not dissimilar to my earlier activities at my office today. “You can do better,” she’d finished, with a half smile. I still remember the rose floral dress she was wearing as she proved her devotion to me. Again. That was the only day she ever hinted that Estee Lauder wasn’t the best possible product. Loyal to a fault, she picked my product first.
I’d kissed her cheek then ran to my room, basically a small and dark closet. Curled up on my bed I’d crafted a shade of lipstick similar to the undertones of her dress. It was my first huge success.
For my mom is my muse, and Muse is also my muse. We draw inspiration from what we love. My mom is so pretty in a soft and feminine way. Meanwhile, the company lives its own life too, but with a harder edge to its femininity. Now, it needs to have a production meeting in an hour, regardless of traffic or life and death matters. I text Frankie and tell her I’ll likely miss the meeting and others need to handle the manufacturing issues without me. That is what I have a COO for, right?
I sit in the chair next to the bed and take mom’s hand in mine. I feel all hope seeping out, dissipating into air, and tears welling up again, and again and again. They don’t ever seem to stop today. I’m usually upbeat but once and a while things really get to me. Usually, when I lose control of something. My whole life I’ve been fighting the odds, with few resources on my side. Alone unless a friend or their parents came in to help. I’ve always been the underdog and sometimes I just get tired.
Mom stirs and I wonder at what she thought while I was growing up. She rarely said, preferring to remain a resolute mystery. Perhaps now I’ll never have a chance to find out. My phone beeps and I see Frankie’s agreement come through via text. “We’re set to take the meeting without you. NO problem!!!” Another tear falls.
We all get stripped bare at some point in life, don’t we? Then we need to rise from our own ashes, resurrected, and begin to fight again. Or so mom taught me and now I’m scared that I’ll need to get by without her. Will she wake up with a fully functioning brain or will I now be talking to a woman who can’t remember me?
And Ron texts me telling me that he’ll be here soon. But what can I respond until the doctors tell me more? Mom’s hand is limp and I kiss her palm, whispering promises in the wind.
I text Ron back and we arrange to meet for dinner. I stand, stretching, waiting. Then I see movement on the bed and mom opens her bright blue eyes, staring straight at me. She lifts the hand I’d just returned to its resting place on her white bed, nestled in a thigh.
“Cora!” I exclaim and pray that I like her answer.