As I sat in the plush, denim colored hospital chair, I glanced over at my mother. I thought to myself, “Is that really the same woman who raised me?” Her head is naked except for a few tuffs of hair towards the rear of her scalp, and her face had become swollen and patchy due to the chemotherapy. However, she is still filled to the brim with life. My mom isn’t a quitter. She beat cancer once, and she’s strong enough to do it again. My dad interrupted my thoughts,
“Haley, want to go grab some dinner from the cafeteria?”
“Sure.” I responded hesitantly.
“Okay. Hun, we’ll be back in a little.”
My dad kissed my mother’s head gently, and we left the room. I feel terrible leaving my mom by herself for more than 5 minutes. She is the type of person who feeds off of being around others. Her and I have a special connection, not like most mothers and daughters; our bond is different. I don’t share everything with her. Hell, I don’t share much about myself to anyone. Our bond is more of a yin and yang type of bond; I feed off of her happiness and she feeds off of mine.
As my father and I walk down to the cafeteria, we pass hospital room after hospital room, mostly filled with older people who look like they were only going to see the sun come up a few more times before death took over. It is rather depressing, being surrounded by death. The beige walls and dull, marble floors add to the simple, yet complex idea of death. “Is mom going to be okay?” I ask my dad. He stops walking and turns to face me, “Yes. She beat it once, she can do it again.” I’m not even sure why I asked; I knew that’s how he was going to respond. I am only 16, how am I supposed to know about life and death? Sure, I had lost my grandpa, but he was old. That’s what happens when you become ancient. My mom is only 54, she’s not meant to die this young. I don’t believe Billy Joel when he says “Only the Good Die Young.” That’s ignorant. The good deserve to live long and prosperous lives; my mom deserves to live a long and prosperous life.
We leave the hospital around 9:30 at night when we notice that my mom is struggling to keep her eyes open. My father and I drive home in good spirits. We pull into our driveway and suddenly my phone begins to ring. I look at the caller ID and it’s my best friend, Shayla. I have known Shayla since I was seven years old. We went to school together almost our entire lives. Shayla is the same age as me, except she looks like she’s 5 years older. She has long, straight, black hair that frames her face perfectly. She has baby blue eyes and the complexion of an Italian model.
“Hello?” I answer the phone.
“Haley…can I come over?” I can tell she had been crying.
“Of course, what’s wrong?”
“I’ll tell you when I get there. I just need out of this house. Be there in ten.”
I hang up the phone and let my dad know we’ll be expecting company. Ten minutes later on the dot, the front door opens as Shayla lets herself in. “Hi, Mr. Simmons. Thanks for letting me stay,” she mumbles before grabbing my hand and running upstairs. As we walk into my room, I notice she’s wearing long sleeves and pants, which is odd because it’s the heat outside has been at an all time high. Combine that with Pittsburgh humidity and wearing long sleeves is a death sentence. We sit down on her bed, and that’s when she rolled her sleeves up and showed me her arms.
“He hit me, my stepdad. He kept hitting me. When I tried to run away, he grabbed my arms. Those are finger prints, Hay.” Her arms were covered in dark purple bruises. You could see the fingerprints from where he had grabbed her.
“Why would he do this to you? What happened?
“I was in my room talking to Jake, when he yelled upstairs for me to take the dog out. You know with the military I never get to talk to him. So I stayed in my room until Jake had to go. Whenever I went downstairs, I noticed my stepdad was drunk. He just started yelling at me saying I disrespected him and he won’t allow that in his house. He was so drunk, Hay. That’s when he started hitting me.”
“Does your mom know about this?”
“No. She’s out with her friends for the night. I really don’t want to tell her. This is the happiest I have seen her since she lost my dad. I don’t want to take that away from her.”
I don’t know what to say, so I just pull her in and hold her while she cries.
The next day, my dad, Shayla, and I all go to the hospital to visit my mom. My dad asks me why Shayla isn’t going home. I just make up an excuse that her parents are going to be out of town for a few days and she doesn’t want to be home alone. We arrive at the hospital and sit down with my mom. As we’re all sitting there conversing about our days, the hospital’s head doctor knocks on the door and let’s himself in. He’s wearing a long, ghost white doctor’s coat with a few pens sticking out of the pocket. He looks to be in his late 60’s, with visible white hairs stretching throughout his barely black ones.
“I have your test results. Would you like your daughter and her friend to step out
while I tell you?” My mom and dad look at each other, than glance over at me. “Hayley can stay. Would you like to stay, Shayla?” My mom asks.
“No thanks, I’ll let you guys hear this as a family.”
Shayla excuses herself from the room and closes the door behind her. I nudge into the small hospital bed between my mom and the guardrail. My dad sits on the other side. The doctor begins flipping through pages on a brown clipboard, then stops and looks up at us.
“We got your test results back today. I wanted to come explain everything to you
and give you the news personally.” He hesitates. “I’m sorry to tell you, but your cancer has gone metastatic. It’s no longer just in your breast. It’s travelled to your brain, and lungs. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
My heart drops into my stomach. My eyes begin to fill with tears, and I instantly begin to sob. The doctor calls a nurse in to take me outside of the room where she closes the door. I run to Shayla with tear soaked eyes. I can feel the thickness of my mascara running down my face, but I don’t care. I just want to be held. I just want to wake up from this nightmare.
The drive home seems longer than usual. I sit in the passenger seat with tear filled, puffy eyes and stare out the window as the late night skyline flies past our car. My phone is sitting on my lap on the Do Not Disturb setting. I don’t feel like talking to anyone right now. My dad attempts small talk many times, but finally gets the point after I don’t respond to him. Instead, him and Shayla carry on short conversation. I’m too lost inside of my own head to even mutter the slightest of words. All I want is to cuddle up into my bed and forget today ever happened. We finally pull into our driveway after what seems like hours. As I get out of the car, my dad comes over and holds me. He whispers with tears in his eyes, “Everything is going to be okay. Your mom is going to be fine. She beat it once; she can do it again. She’s a fighter” We walk inside and go our separate ways. I travel upstairs with Shayla and head straight for my satin sheets and lonely bed. My head hits the pillow and I escape to my dreams.
I woke up the next morning with my head throbbing; my eyes are swollen shut, and I have slight amnesia. I pick up my phone to 7 unread messages. That’s when reality hits me. As I scroll through the messages from mostly family members and close friends, I become numb. I don’t want to leave my bed. Can’t I go back to my dreams where everything was safe and happy? Where illness and death didn’t exist? I lie back down onto my bed and continue assessing the fact that my mom could be gone tomorrow. I think to myself, “How is a 16 year old girl supposed to live without her mom? She won’t see me go to prom. She won’t get to disapprove of my first boyfriend. She won’t get to meet my husband or see my first house. What happens when I have kids and they ask about their grandma?” Just then my dad knocks on my door.
“I’m going to see your mom in a little. Want to come with me?”
“Of course. Let me get changed and I’ll be downstairs.” I responded.
“Okay. I’ll cook up some eggs and bacon for you. You need to eat.”
My dad always pulls the “You’re too skinny” card with me. I had an eating disorder when I was 14, but I got over that within a year. He still keeps an eye out on me though, especially when my mom is in the hospital. I can’t blame him. I throw on a white t-shirt from a basketball tournament I was in last year and some jeans. I slip on my faded black Nike Free’s and walk downstairs to see Shayla sitting at our kitchen table with her coffee in hand.
“How’d you sleep?” I ask.
“Pretty good, how are you feeling today?”
I shrug my shoulders and grab the plate of food my dad made for me. I manage to hold down some eggs and a piece of bacon even though I don’t have much of an appetite. We sit in silence until my dad is ready to leave.
We get to the hospital and walk past the same set of doors and look out the same set of windows as always. However, today they seem a bit drearier, like someone had painted everything grey. We get to room 307 and see my mom lying in her small, white bed covered in a white knit blanket. She sees us coming and a smile stretches across her face. Even with the news we received yesterday, she’s still as bright as can be. I walk into her room and awkwardly give her a hug as she’s lying down. My dad does the same.
“How are you feeling today?” My father asks.
“I’m doing well. It’s a new day, who knows what will happen.”
“Have you spoken to the doctor yet?”
“Not yet. He’s due to be here soon though.” My mom responds.
I’m not sure how she does it. My mom never seems to be sad, and for once, I can’t help but be miserable. I feel bad that I’m messing with the “yin yang” relationship we have. I don’t want to disappoint her. Just as I am about to turn the television on, the same doctor from yesterday walks in, and Shayla exits the room.
“I hope everyone got some rest last night. After reviewing the scans, we have come up with a few options on how to take this on. Option one, and the best choice in my opinion, is surgery. Although it has a slight risk to it, we can potentially remove most of the cancer from your brain and lungs, as well as what is left in your breast. The surgery on the brain is the most challenging, but we have successfully performed it here multiple times. Option two is increase your chemotherapy doses. However, the side effects of that will be severe. You will have intense nausea, headaches, and you might lose feeling in your toes and fingers, along with some other mild effects. Option three is to let nature take its course. We will keep you on the same dosage of chemo that you are on now. We won’t perform any surgeries or put you on any new medications. We will just let nature do it’s thing and see what happens. You could be a miracle. I’ll let you folks talk about this amongst yourself and I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
The doctor exits the room and my parents begin to discuss their options.
“What do you want to do?” My father asks my mom.
“I think surgery is the best option, like the doctor said.”
“I agree. I don’t want to see you having to go through the side effects of the
chemotherapy, and I want to see you fight this. You beat it once, you can beat it again.”
As I’m sitting there, I think to myself, “Sure guys, I don’t have an opinion. Don’t worry about me, I’ll just sit here and look pretty.” I get that I’m young, but it’s my mom we’re talking about. She gave me life, and I have to just sit here and accept her death? I decide to go out into the hall and see how Shayla is doing. I see the back of her long, charcoal black hair standing at the end of the hall on her phone. She’s waving her arms around like she’s playing a game of charades with the wall. I sit down on the beige, rock hard hospital chair outside of my mom’s room and wait until Shayla gets off of the phone.
“What was that all about?”
“It was my mom asking where I was.”
I could tell she was upset by her low, solemn tone.
“What did you tell her?
“The truth. I can’t lie to my mom, you know how close we are.”
“I know. What did she have to say? Was she upset?”
“Turns out, he has bee hitting her too. I had no idea, Hay. I never would have
expected my mom to put up with that shit. That’s just not like her.”
“He has two different personalities, Shay. The one your mom fell in love with,
and the one he has when he’s drunk. You’re mom probably is trying to keep hope that things will change. Hopefully after finding out he hurt you too, she’ll rethink things.”
“I hope so, I can’t live knowing that my mom is getting hurt. She deserves so much better, as do I.”
“I know, Shay. Everything will work out.”
“I’m going to head home and be with my mom if that’s okay. Will you be alright?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Go be with your mom. Let me know how things go.”
“I will. Thanks for letting me stay. I love you.”
“I love you too, Shay. You know I’m always here for you.”
“The same goes for you.”
We give each other a long hug and I watch as Shayla walks at a faster pace than usual down the long stretch of hallway. I walk back into my the hospital room as I catch the end of my parent’s conversation, “So, surgery it is. It’s risky, but it’s our best shot.”
The golden sun shines past my shades and allows a sliver of light beat onto my face and awakens me. It’s 7:30 in the morning and I jump out of bed. “Today is the day,” I think to myself. “Today is the day that dictates the rest of my life.” My mom’s surgery is scheduled to begin at 1:00 this evening. I walk downstairs to see my father sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, coffee in his right hand and a peanut butter sandwich in his left. “Good morning,” he says as he stands to give me a hug.
“Today is the day, huh?”
“Yeah. Are you worried?” I ask.
“Only a little. She beat it once, she can do it again.”
“Yeah, I hope so.” I respond as I pour myself a cup of coffee. Coffee always had a special place in our house. Every morning, all three of us would sit around the kitchen table, coffee in hands, and talk about our plans and goals for the day. It was a great way to start each day, and I’m glad that my dad continued that today.
“Today, I think it needs to be both of our goals to be there for your mom and to
act calm. She needs to know that we believe that everything is going to be okay, even though we aren’t sure. We need to at least act like it, for her.”
I nod my head in agreement and understanding as I finish my lukewarm cup of coffee and stare out the window at the rising sun.
It’s strange how the weather usually correlates with one’s emotions. It never fails to rain when I’m sad. However, today is different. It’s a gorgeous day outside. The sun is shining so bright it’s almost blinding. There isn’t a single cloud in the sky so the rays of sunshine bounce on forever. We arrive at the hospital at 9:30 to spend time with my mom before the surgery. With all the risks involved, we decided we needed to spend as much quality time with her beforehand. I sit at the foot of her bed and talk about anything but her surgery. We make each other laugh and avoid all serious conversation. This could potentially be the last conversation I have with my mom; I want to make it memorable for both her and I. 12:00 finally rolls around and the nurse comes in to take my mom. We say our “See you laters” and watch as they roll my mom down the same dreary halls and past the “Hospital Personal Only” doors. Shayla walks into the waiting room shortly after and sits next to me.
“How’s things with your stepdad?” I ask, figuring conversation will help time pass quicker.
“It’s getting better. He is taking AA classes weekly. He’s been sober for a week, so it’s a start. He realizes he has a problem.”
“That’s good to hear, Shay. I’m so glad you guys are working this out. I want you to be the happy family you were meant to be.”
“Me too. We’re getting there. How was your mom this morning?”
“Good. We tried keeping her spirits up, considering it might have been the last time we talk to her. This surgery is so risky.”
“I’m sure she’ll make it. She’s one of the strongest women I have ever met. She beat it once; she can do it again.”
Shayla grabs my hand and squeezes it as she looks as me and smiles with puddles filling up in her eyes, almost as if she’s saying, “We’re in this together.”
The hours drag by as I am constantly checking my phone for the time. The surgery is supposed to take about 7 hours, and it’s reaching 8:00. I have my head stuck in a game of Candy Crush on my phone to keep my mind off of things. My dad is sitting next to me reading an issue of Photography Magazine and drinking yet another cup of coffee. Shayla is sitting in the other side of me sleeping. Just as I am about to get up to get something to eat from the cafeteria, the doctor walks out. I search for any sign of expression on his face. At first glance, he looks nervous, worried even. But as I look again, I see signs of relief. I throw down my phone and turn to wake up Shayla. This is what we’ve been waiting for; she’s strong enough, she can do it again.
This was my first short fiction story I wrote for my Creative Writing Class. Feedback would be greatly appreciated!