It was hot, May in western Colorado. The swamp cooler was making its productive din trying to cool down the little house we had bought one month earlier.
I was on the couch next to the front door wearing the pair of maternity shorts that were too short and a denim, sleeveless shirt with pearl snaps that I wore almost every day toward the end of my pregnancy.
I dialed the phone from memory back when you still dialed phones and knew people’s numbers. I imagine my mom in her kitchen that she loved so much. I can see her answering the phone and then tucking it between her chin and shoulder so she could talk to me and carry on baking.
As I cried, “I’m not ready to be a mom. I don’t know everything,” I imagine she paused and looked out the garden box window full of Christmas cacti and ceramic chickens to see my dad on a ladder digging beetles out of their aspen and pine trees in a futile attempt to save them.
She laughed when I said I wasn’t ready for motherhood and replied, “You know enough. It will be fine.”
My mom knew so much that is lost to us now, stuff I never took the time to learn from her, like how to crochet or use a sewing machine for anything other than sewing a straight line. I still haven’t used her brand-new machine because I’m sure I don’t know how to load the bobbin and not having her here to ask hurts too much.
Days before she entered Hospice care, just about one year from today, she was explaining yet again the magic formula for microwaving the perfect baked potato. I think it went something like: 2 minutes on one side then turn it and 2 minutes on that side, turn it. Two more minutes on that side, turn it and then one more minute. I don’t really know because I was angry about having to make her a potato and didn't want to learn.
I let everything make me mad. Mad was easier than sad. And I had so much sad. All that sad got caught up with the hatred I have for cancer.
I hate cancer so much. What cancer did to my mother defies words. If you saw it, saw the cancer on my mother, you understand. If you didn’t see it, I could never properly describe it and it’s too hard to try.
I wanted to care for my mother with the quiet dignity with which my mother lived her life. But I couldn’t. I let the sadness-turned-anger cloud my vision and weigh me down with negativity. I was too weak and emotional. I let the pain hardened myself against my mother.
I would sit at my desk upstairs in the mornings working on my lectures. When her bedroom door hadn’t opened by 9, I would let myself start to think. Maybe I had heard her slippered feet shuffling to the kitchen for the last time.
Thinking about my mother not getting up, dying in her sleep, was such a relief. No more doctor’s appointments, no more discussions of her bowel movements, no more fixing her food she didn’t like, no more being a terrible daughter.
It’s been 11 months and I’m still so stuck in the guilt of being such a shitty kid.
WHY COULDN’T I HAVE BEEN NICER? I did try. I hated what had become of my mom’s life. She was trapped in this house. She couldn't drive any more, walking was hard, seeing almost impossible.
I know she was scared and lonely. I tried, but I was too lost in my own suffering to really help.
I tried, but it wasn’t enough. I hid inside my angry shell.
I’ve had a few people tell me what a good daughter I was for taking in my mom. I want to believe them and I can see how someone would think I was good for sharing my life with her. But my heart knows the truth.
I failed my mom when she needed me. That’s something she never did to me. My mom was always there for me. Until now when I need her the most.
If I could talk to her now, I wouldn’t bother apologizing. Words are just words.
I would just deal the cards and make her tea. I’d put lots of powdered sugar on her Eggo’s (her shaker of powdered sugar still stands next to the toaster. No one has touched since she’s been gone). I would make cheeseburger pie from the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box and talk about whichever reality show is on.
I would just be nicer. I would show my mom kindness. It’s not hard to do. Kindness doesn’t require extra steps. Kindness is just letting your love show.
I would tell her I miss her and then I would try to beat her at cards.