The End Of The Middle
My mother never made it to France before she died.
Visiting France was a critical item on her bucket list, but one never crossed off. She never went because she was too busy being an attentive (sometimes overly so) single Mother.
By the time I was in my early 20’s and had saved up some of my own money, my mom – let’s use her name from here on, it’s Deb – and I decided to go on the trip together since I would be able to contribute financially. My excitement grew strong as we sat on our front porch in the August heat with only a map (back when people still used paper maps), red wine, and a bowl of Ruffles BBQ chips. Orange and oily fingerprints stained the map as we traced the route we would be taking, which she didn’t mind. Deb always considered herself very “French”, in that she was rarely without a cigarette and glass of red. She couldn’t be bothered by such trivial things such as staining a map. While route mapping, our fingers paused in Paris to argue about how many days should be spent in the busy capital. She wasn’t interested in big cities with “touristy” sites. She would rather see the countryside, try and get by on minimal and slightly (very) butchered French on our own. But it was her trip, so I said,
“Fine”, or “Bien”,
agreeing to minimal Paris. I was just happy to see her happy. This was the trip she had been waiting for, and it was finally going to happen. That’s why I found it very strange when her excitement diminished seemingly overnight. I had figured after costing it out, she decided it would be too expensive. If only it were as simple as money.
The cancer was already eating away at her cells as we sat there in that very moment.
Information I was never actually given, but had to piece together based on finding letters from doctors, family members, and the (heavily) downplayed version I got from her. I remember her telling me,
“There is a little bit of cancer there,”
“A little bit?” I remember thinking. “What the fuck is a little bit of cancer?”
It wasn’t a little bit, it was a lot. It had aggressively made its way to stage 4, into the lungs. And she never stopped smoking. Stage 4 lung cancer, and she kept smoking. Stubborn as a goddamn mule.
Needless to say, the trip became the least of our concerns. The timing of it all breaks my heart over again every day. Couldn’t cancer have just waited a few more weeks?
In lieu of France, my dad flew in from Florida to take us on a cottage trip to Elora. It was no French countryside, but it was pretty. And maybe the first time we were all together since I was 4. I was still basking in her waves of denial and downplaying. She told me she would make it to Christmas, and for this event, and that event, etc. I chose to believe it. In reality, when I would look at her and see how frail she had become, I knew. If you could see her at that time, you would know too … “How could anyone recover from this?”
But then I’d say, “shut up, brain! Everything’s fine…”
I loved my denial, and so did she. It was a great spot, I soaked it all up. I had top-of-the-line blinders on at all times and refused to take them off and look at the truth.
Her last night alive was election night in the US, Obama vs McCain. A loyal Obama fan and political enthusiast, she had a small TV wheeled into her room to keep tabs on the results.
On her last night in the hospital, I lay down on two chairs put together, fighting hard against the need for sleep.
I kept dozing off for probably a few minutes at a time, and waking up to the sounds of the heart monitor beeping, terrified of the inevitable moment I would wake up to silence.
It’s a strange, terrible, and tragic thing, essentially just waiting for someone to die. And there is absolutely nothing you can do.
The only thing I could do was fight the sleep so that I could say goodbye. Even though she was put on such an obscene amount of morphine I’m still not sure if she even knew who I was. I leaned in to hug her and literally felt my mom’s last breath beneath my head. I did not know it was going to happen right then, and it felt like having hot knives coated in cayenne twisted into my heart. Moments before she went, my aunts and I panicked and kept repeating
“Obama won,” even though the results weren’t final yet. Because we all knew her so well, we know what would make her happy, that… was our last message to her. Not “I love you”, not anything else poetic, but – “Obama won.” All I can say about that now is, thank fucking god he really did.
Naturally, I sank into an immediate depression. But about 8 months or so later, Deb did make it to France. Thanks to a roommate, a pilot, and a wildly incredible coincidence.
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