(I wrote this sometime around 1991 after my mother had died of brain cancer. It has been edited for this blog.)
My mother told me that six days ago she noticed she had lost her peripheral vision. If she took her hand and lifted it from her side, straight up in front of her, she couldn't see it. She also realized she had been running into things and tripping over the dog, Louie. She said that the other night when they were out to dinner with their best friends from high school (my mom and dad started going together when they were 14) she knocked over two drinking glasses. The next day she went to her eye doctor who immediately sent her to her medical doctor who immediately sent her to a neurologist.
She has a brain tumor. I cried and she held my hand.
Ah, there's a parking space, on the other side of the street. Great, I can avoid the $3.00 fee in the lot here without having to go all the way up the street to the Von's store lot. There are the mountains; pretty clear for August. Damn it's hot. My sweaty finger gets a shock from the blinker lever. Hope it doesn't kill me.
I start to move over to the left of the one way street going north. The spot looks just barely big enough to back into. Those cars are coming up pretty fast behind me. They don't like it when I stop. How do they parallel park on a busy street? Am I missing something? Does that back blinker even work? Wesley is singing out the window from the passenger seat.
"Those cars are going faster than you, mom." He accuses between stanzas. Loud singing.
"Why are you slowing down, mom?" More singing.
"Stay in this lane, mom!"
Is there room in that spot? Sweat runs down my neck; drips from my armpit.
"Can I have a GI Joe for my birthday when I’m five, mom?"
"No, we've discussed it before."
More singing/yelling. Is that white van going to stop? I have to back into this spot. No, it doesn't even slow, but swerves around. I swing my head around to Wesley. The van honks, too loudly and too long. I yell at Wes to STOP for a minute so I can concentrate and park the car. As kids we played guns and war. Is it so wrong for my son to have war toys?
"Maaaawm, it's so hot…I'm tired…I can't walk anymore." His whining, and the cars, and the van honking, and that passing car radio, and the echo my voice makes in my head when I'm trying to talk over this cacophony - it bounces around and never comes out - and that Kaa-lunk, Kaa-lunk, Kaa-lunk of his cowboy boots two sizes too big.
"My back has been hurting again," I tell him. "Get up here first, then I'll pick you up and carry you." Wes climbs up on the three-foot high brick wall. There are bugs and bird-shit on the wall just like on my car. "Don't say bird-poop." With a straight face my dad scolded me when, at eight years old, I exclaimed what I'd found on top of our camper, "say bird-SHIT," he smiled. Wes walks on the wall instead of being carried.
This lawn is too green. Isn't there a drought? Why don't cars stop anymore? There's an empty aluminum beer can. I'll pick it up on the way back to recycle for a few cents. Warm Miller smells like pee. Wes will shake the can to get out the earwigs that are drinking their little pointed butts off. Do earwigs have butts? Yeah, they must.
Wesley picks one of every flower that we pass by. "For you, mom." I put them in my buttonhole and they fall out in the next few steps. I wonder if Wesley will ask me about them later.
He pretends to pick a three-foot rose that is painted on a billboard. "This one's for Nana."
"She'll like that, Sweetie."
There's a dead butterfly on the sidewalk, laying on a crack.
"Don't step on the cracks, mom"
We stop to watch ants crawling all over the butterfly's wings and dead body.
"Are ants good?"
"Yes, they eat and get rid of dead things. I don't like them in my house, but…." He's up at the next bush catching gold moths that are out for the small purple summer flowers.
"Mom, do bugs poop?"
"I think so."
Wes is indignant. "But they don't have butts!"
I'm trying not to step on the cracks.
"Are moths good mom?"
"Yes, let it go, your fingers take off the shiny stuff on their …"
"But I want to give it to the ants."
Is it wrong for a boy to want to kill bugs? I lift the collar of my T-shirt up over my nose and wipe the sweat off my face.
"For you, mom." Wesley Kaa-lunks up from behind and reaches up with one of the small purple flowers the moths were going after. I put it in my empty buttonhole.
In the hospital Wesley Kaa-lunk, Kaa-lunks towards the elevator "I want to push the button!"
The sign in the elevator says "Parking tickets validated for intensive care, days of admitting, discharge and surgery only." I could have parked in the lot today. There are scuffs on the dark brown linoleum. What is that white mesh stuff up on the ceiling hiding the lights? How come you never get used to that sick feeling when the elevator starts and stops. Wes looks at me and giggles, "Whoa." He folds his arms over his stomach as the elevator stops.
Four hours later the doctor comes into the surgery waiting room. Am I the only one who wants to cry all the time? No one else looks like it. Maybe I don't look like it either. The doctor is talking quietly to my dad at the door. Shouldn't he be talking to all of us? I overhear the doctor across the room, "Shurn dig um ash land dif radiation, but we feel good about it."
"Flab is nif ixm benign or only a few months to live," the doctor continues, …can't be sure yet, but we feel good about it."
Later we find out he was lying about the last part.
It's 11:00 p.m. I push the elevator down button. Wes went home with Al three hours ago. He cried and grabbed my arm and pleaded, "I want to stay with you! I want to stay with you!" I tried to think of the right thing to say. I heard him crying all the way out as he went with his dad. "I'll be home later. I promise."
A lady gets in at the second floor. The elevator continues down. The lady flutters her hand over her heart and looks up at the white mesh hiding the lights. "Heart be still," she says. I guess she got that queasy feeling.
"My uncle just had 17 stitches in his head!" she exclaims.
I look at her. Why don't people stop? I had to back up to park.
"Blood all down the side of his head," she continues.
I want to tell her that my mother just had brain surgery. I just look at her.
"Someone hit him over the head with a gun." I look at her. "And can you believe it? It was a friend of his!" she adds.
"Usually is," I tell her. We get off the elevator at ground level. I have trouble finding my car.
When I get home I look at my sleeping husband. My son is grinding his teeth in his sleep. I can hear it across our small house. I go to his room and place my hand on his jaw. I start the shower. The water is so hot. I'll just watch it for a while as it runs off my hair. And that water saving showerhead we got free from the DWP is so loud. I could have parked in the lot today. I forgot to give my mom the big billboard rose Wes picked for her. Why don't they see the back up lights and blinker on?