Dark and Light

I was exhausted.  It was Friday night, and I was fried.

I’d taught half days the rest of the week and gone to the hospital every afternoon.  The days passed in a blur, a surreal state where I’d live what seemed like my normal life for a few hours, and then was transported into another world after a thirty minute drive across town to the hospital.   There, I would grab a snack at the cafeteria before going upstairs to my mother’s room.  She’d “tolerated the surgery well”, and so had been placed in a private room to recover.  The room was bright but sterile despite the flood of flowers that had been delivered after she left the ICU.

I spent the hours that I normally would be teaching my students every afternoon trying to cajole my mother into a better frame of mind.  I delivered the good news that my great aunt was coming on Monday to get my mother settled once she came home from the hospital.  I’d called her in desperation after the second day when my mother said she was likely going to not take any cancer treatment whatsoever.   Apparently  even with treatment, the “five year survival rate”  (with cancer, they don’t talk about survival; they talk about making it five years after the diagnosis as success) was around 15 % for my mother’s type of cancer.

Sometimes my mother was in better spirits and sometimes the despair greeted me like a slap in the face when I entered her room.  I brought cards, books, tabloids, anything I could to occupy her time and take the conversation off of What Was Really Happening.   I felt like I was on stage again, much like I was at school, trying to keep my own fears and feelings inside so that I could project the stable, steady calm that my mother needed to pull her from her depths.

I would drive back to Zach’s daycare provider around 5 each day and come home.  The house was cold and quiet except for our old dog, Ralph, who greeted me with a happy wag every afternoon after having been left alone all day.  I would put on my sweats and make some quick food for dinner for Zach and I.  We’d play and read stories for a few hours before I put him to bed around 7:30.

Tom would call usually around 8 or so and always came over when he heard my voice and my quiet answers to his questions.  I felt such a guilt about him.  We’d been having this amazing, new, fun relationship for just three weeks when my mother’s surgery had happened.  He said things like “I don’t know who I am anymore without you.”  He came to my niece’s first birthday party just because he couldn’t bear the thought of going a whole day without seeing me.  There’s a picture of us together there, an impossibly young, happy couple, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders as he stood behind me.   I couldn’t believe how easily he’d accepted my life and its limitations and just embraced all of it.

I wondered, both to him and to myself, what all of this would mean for us.  We had the potential to be in something really serious here, something truly amazing, but I knew that this was not part of the game plan here.  This was the guy who was supposed to be looking for something fun while he was home for three months doing his internship.   Dating me was about as far from fun as I could imagine.  He’d been really great about me and my single parent status, but throwing in a sick mom too?  How much could a twenty year old frat guy be expected to take?   But Tom still called, every night, and came over, even if he was working his second job at the pizza place.

“I love you,” he told me that Friday night when he came over and kissed me awake on the sofa.  He handed me a single red rose that he’d bought at the Mini Mart on his way over.  “I’m not going anywhere.  If I can help you through this, then I will help you through this.  I’m still happy that we met, happy we are together, and happier than I’ve ever been.  You’ll be happy again too. When this all calms down, you’ll be able to be happy again.  And we’ll be happy again, together.  Until then, I’ve got enough for both of us.”

How many emotions could one person have in one day?  I was pretty sure I’d felt them all.

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