Another recycled photo of me and my sister in Arizona in the 70's. I'm the upright one.
Hey, kids. It's crutch time again and this stolen blog post is long, so here it is from my old blog, August 2006:
She looked sick when she woke me up for school and I told her so.
"I know. I'm not feeling well, but I don't have any more sick time left. I'll be okay. Don't worry about me."
I waited until I heard her leave the house before I got out of bed. I had on the same brown polyester bell bottoms and mustard colored shirt with the big collar that I had worn the day before. I wanted to wear it that day too and I was afraid my mom would catch me.
* * * *
When I got home from school there were at least five cars parked outside our house. My grandma told me that my mom had had a stroke on her way to work. She was alive but in intensive care at the hospital. My mother had been in and out of the hospital for uncontrolled high blood pressure most of my life. I could tell this was different. Usually, my grandma came over and took care of us when my mom was in the hospital. Sometimes she would go at night when we were asleep and we would wake up and notice that someone had cleaned the toaster and know that meant my grandmother was there.
This time though, there were aunts and uncles and cousins and talk of my mom's sister coming from Chicago and my mom's brother coming from California. This time there was a lot of food and everyone was being nice to me. This time I knew something was up.
* * * *
The next day my aunt and uncle flew into Sky Harbor. My mom was out of intensive care already, but they were going to stay for a while anyway. That night they went to see her at the hospital with my sister. Erin was sixteen and the only one of us allowed in the hospital. The rest of us stayed home with my grandma.
My mother died during Medical Center. I'm sure of it. We were watching and a patient flatlined and right then I knew my mom was dead too. If my family had come back from the hospital and told us everything was fine, I may not have even remembered that moment. It's only when a bad feeling is confirmed, that it becomes a moment.
* * * *
I went to school the next day. No one thought it was a good idea. I went anyway. If I could just do everything the way I always had, things would go back to normal. I'd come home from school and play with my friends and then at 5:30 my mom would drive up in our little white Toyota that we had named, Helen Wheels. She would make dinner and we'd eat it while watching The Andy Griffith Show and then later, Little House on the Prairie would come on and even later than that we would go to bed and sleep until my mom woke us up again.
I told one girl at school that my mom died - Leanne Heaton. I made her promise not to tell anyone else. After lunch my teacher called me outside to talk about my loss. I was so mad at Leanne Heaton. I even wrote about it in my journal with the use of several underlines and exclamation points.
* * * *
My next theory was that my mother wasn't really dead at all. It was just a ruse to give her some time alone to rest and get better. Maybe if I was really good, everyone in my family would let her know that it was okay and she would come back again. It was very hard to behave because I was angry and I hated all my relatives - they were telling me what to do and they weren't my mom. I constantly reminded myself to be good. I would repeat it in my head like a mantra. When I walked to school I would think, "Be good, be good, be good, be good..." When I was going to the bathroom I would sit there a little longer to have some time alone so I could really concentrate, "Be good, be good, be good, be good."
But I was not good. I was greedy and angry and disagreeable. We were moving with my aunt to Chicago. She lived in a suburb called, Alsip. It was on the southside and had gigantic water towers painted red, white and blue for the Bicentennial next year. I was excited to see a basement and snow. I imagined that Alsip would look like places on TV.
Some of my aunts bought me wool sweaters in preparation for Midwestern winters. I hated wool. The sweaters itched and choked me at the neck.
"You'll appreciate those when it's below zero outside," one of my aunts assured me. But I never appreciated them, even in January.
My aunts took me shopping right before we left. I asked for anything I thought I could get. They bought me a teen magazine with John Denver on the cover. I loved John Denver and was sure that when I grew up, I would move to Colorado and live off the land. Be good, be good, be good, be good, be good.
* * * *
None of us kids attended my mom's funeral. It was a decision made by my older sister and we all went with it. Her thinking was that she didn't want our last memory of my mother to be of her dead in her casket. It only helped to support my theory - If I didn't see her dead, then it wasn't true.
I went trick-or-treating on Halloween. I have no idea what my costume was that year. I didn't do any tricks - no burning bags of poo, no ding dong ditch 'em and no stealing my brother's candy. Be good, be good, be good, be good.
The day after Halloween, I watched my uncle sweep up my room. It was hard to see a pile of my toys, stuffed animals and the ribbon I got for the best Bicentennial themed drawing of a Minuteman all mixed with dust balls and thown into a green plastic garbage bag.
* * * *
In movies and books, people were always saved at the last minute. The knight in shining armor showed up right before the princess married the hideous ogre. I was sure that's what would happen to me. I stepped up my mantra on the drive to the airport, even moving my lips at the risk of teasing from my brother and sisters. Be good, be good, be good, be good.
It wasn't too late. She could be waiting at the airport. My mom might be at the gate, with our dog and our cats that we supposedly gave to different neighbors. Supposedly. She would take us home and we would burn my wool sweaters together while I showed her my John Denver magazine.
On my very first plane ride, I simultaneously wondered if the new kids we would meet in Chicago would still be able to hear the Arizona stations on our radio and if my mother would be waiting in the terminal at O'Hare.