Content warning: The following story contains references to someone losing a parent to cancer, which may be triggering for some readers.
"She was Supposed to Go Home on Monday," Nathanial Garrod
As I entered the convalescent hospital for the umpteenth time, I leave the crisp March Friday morning outside and I am welcomed momentarily by the smell of popcorn before the scent of piss mingled aggressively. Putting the popcorn maker near the front of the hospital was a noble effort, but not quite enough. After over a year of treatment, recovery and relapse, my mom has been in the convalescent hospital since Thanksgiving.
I visit my mom every day. She is insistent that I stay homeschooled, my family finds a middle ground by signing me up at a local high school for ninth grade independent study. So every day, I come to the hospital. I do my work. I spend the afternoon at the library. I go back to my aunt and uncles house. And repeat.
I turned my CD player off as I headed down the hall towards my mom’s room, watching the Tupac CD slowly stop spinning.
The friendly nurse, Mary, was on shift as I passed the nurses station.
“How’s she doin’?” I asked Mary.
“Why don’t you go in and find out for yourself?” she said.
“You’re answering a question with a question. It must be pretty bad,” I said.
Mary smiled cryptically.
“Inspiring,” I said sarcastically, while walking away.
When I walk in to my mom’s room, I think about how she has visibly aged several years in the last few days.
“How was breakfast?” I asked.
“It was good…I guess.” She paused. “It was just the usual pancakes. Hey, can you wipe up the syrup that’s dripping off the table? It’s right there on the corner.”
I pulled the table away slowly, and grabbed a napkin. I was looking for the dripping syrup, but couldn’t find it. Strange.
"It’s right there by your hand,” she said her voice showing a little desperation. I looked again, but still did not see it.
Mary walked in.
“Can I talk to you for a minute, kiddo?” She asked me.
“Yeah, sure. What’s up?”
She motioned for me to follow her as she headed towards the nurses station.
“I’ll be right back mom,” I said, but she was already zoning out. I shook my head and followed the nurse over to her station.
“What’s up?” I repeated.
“She’s been like that since late last night,” she said.
“Like what? Delusional?”
“That’s what the reports say.”
“Is it bad?” I asked.
“That depends on your definition of bad.”
“You know what I mean,” I said. I was getting tired of people skirting the truth. Not that that had really been an issue. More like people being over-honest. I brought myself back to the moment, where the nurse had just finished letting out a big long sigh.
“She probably won’t be alive next month.”
“Oh! I’ve heard that one before!” I exclaimed, a sardonic smile breaking across my face.
“Yeah, but this time it’s serious.”
“Oh? As serious as it was at Thanksgiving? What about Christmas? Valentines day?” I started yelling: “So what is it now? My mother isn’t going to live to see another April Fool’s day? What?”
"Chill out, kiddo,” Mary said in a stern voice.
“Chill out? Chill out? How can you expect me to chill out when I’ve heard people tell me my mother is going to die every month since November?”
“Relax. Just go for a walk.”
“Yes. A walk.”
“Now?” I questioned.
“Yes, now. Leave”
“Let me tell my mom.”
“Okay,” she said, turning back to her paperwork.
I walked back into my mom’s room. She was sleeping again. I walked over to her side and shook her.
“I’m gonna go for a walk, mom. I’ll be back a little bit later.”
“Okay,” she said.
It started raining lightly as I left the hospital. I walked and watched the rain fall. I ended up by the creek, walking along a recently developed paved path. I stared at the creek and thought about how powerful the water was. There was so much of it, and it moved so quickly. The rain fell around me, increasing in steadiness. I kept walking.
An overpass crossed the path. I sat against a rock, rain falling around me but not on me. Bicyclists pass by, but for the first time in my life, I feel truly, completely alone.
Mom was doing worse. It was obvious. The Cancer was getting to her. The Cancer was… The Cancer was taking her.
I stand and run to the railing between the path and the creek.
“WHY?!” I scream into the rain and wind.
“Why?” I mutter to myself, sobbing.
I kept walking, pushing the hospital out of my mind. I put one foot in front of another. I kept moving forward. I find myself, after many steps, at the apartment my mom and I once lived in. I miss it. All it has been for months is storage. I kept walking. One foot moves. Then the other. Repeat. I sit at the mall for a few minutes, or maybe a few hours. Time is a blur. I walk to the library. I try to put the hospital out of my mind, but it is the only thing on my mind.
The weekend passes. Saturday is not notable. Sunday, I go to church with my aunt and uncle. Everyone wants to know about mom. We visit the hospital, but my mom is asleep the whole time.
It’s Monday morning. I wake up. I wake up on my own, not with an alarm, or my aunt playing a grating hymn CD at full volume. It is silent, save for the sound of my uncle eating Grape Nuts. I pour my own Grape Nuts. We sit together in silence. My aunt is usually still home at this time.
She is not home. And then…
A key is in the front door lock. The dead-bolt turns. The key moves out. Aunt Catherine is home? I am confused. The key goes into the knob lock, which pops quietly. The door opens. I feel a gust of cold air. This is weird. Weird. She comes over and hugs me. I know what it is. I think. Aunt Catherine kneels by my chair. I know. My Uncle Bob is quiet. I know. I want another bite of cereal. I know.
“Sweetie,” she grabs my hand. “Your mother is dead.”
“I know” is what I say in my head. “Oh,” is what I say out loud. Funny how that always turns out different. She hugs me again. It is a strong hug. Like you would hug someone who lost the only person who raised them, and you are next in line to care.
“Finish your breakfast, and we’ll go down to the hospital.”
Things are moving quickly. I talk to people. Hug people. Move stuff. I am here. I am there. It blurs by. By the end of the day, we have emptied the room of my moms stuff. It seemed like a monumental accomplishment, yet the entire apartment was next. So much stuff.
It is night, and I am alone in my room. My mother is now gone. One by one, the tears start rolling down my face.
It does not feel like it, but my mother is gone. I turn the light off, and pull my blankets close. The tears still roll down my face. They quantity multiplies, and the speed increases. I will never be able to hug her again. Or talk to her. I will never be able to listen to her advice or lectures again. I can’t argue with her. Or read to her. Or listen to her reading to me. I will never be able to watch a movie with her, or make dinner for her or go on a walk to the library with her. That part of my life is over.
So I cry.
Before I know it, I am asleep.
About the art:
I was lucky enough to meet Nathaniel a couple years ago in Oregon, and the dude has such a lively personality. It's so heartwarming. We mostly interact on the internet these days, but he's always full of positivity and support, which is in credible for today's pretty cynical culture (myself included).
Nathaniel's story stands out to me a lot because I know I felt a lot of these emotions when I lost my dad to cancer not long ago. So as I read his wonderful narrative, I felt myself aligning perfectly with much of the circumstances he explained.
When it came to making the art, Nathaniel didn't have a direction. So I wanted to make something that was bright, flowy, and had black contrasting letters. The quote comes from the Saul Williams song, "Tao of Now," which is a constant reminder that we don't necessarily lose people when they die. We keep their memories in our lives even after they are gone. The defiance of the statement has always stood out to me and its oddly comforting, so I hope it has the same impact on Nathaniel.
I'm thankful that we had Nathaniel's story to close out our March stories because it's a beautiful narrative for a heartbreaking story, but one that reminds us to keep those we love and lost close to us in both physical form and in memory.