Today's journaling lesson asked me to write about a difficult childhood memory. After writing about that memory, I had an opportunity to reflect and talk about what was learned from the experience and what positives could be drawn from the negative feelings associated with a difficult memory. This was a fun exercise and this particular story is one that we don't often share with family or friends - I ask you to read this and hold off on passing any judgment about the characters. It is not written to embarrass anyone, it is simply a personal recollection of a child hood memory.
I don't remember the year, but it must have been freshman or sophomore year of highschool. I remember it was the beginning of the track season and I was throwing shot put and disc that year. I remember doing something goofy in band (that's another story about my defiance - but the short story is the band teacher wanted the lights on and I wanted them off. Every time he would leave the room I would run to the door and flip the lightswitch and at some point I tripped ....grace-less and defiant...insert eye roll here) and I sprained my ankle. It wasn't so terrible that I couldn't finish out the day in school, but it was bad enough that the school nurse wanted me to miss track that evening and go to the clinic.
I wasn't driving yet, so my parents were called to pick me up early from school. I generally walked the one mile home, so my parents were likely confused by the call to begin with. Mom wasn't home, she was working for a local auto parts store delivering parts. These were the days before cell phones or voicemail. School couldn't reach Mom, so they called Dad at work. He finished at 3:30 and must have told them he would pick me up around 4 if they could just have me sit and wait for him somewhere. I didn't talk to him, but I'm sure that's how the conversation must have gone.
I remember thinking it was odd that Dad hadn't called Mom. She would have gotten done with work sooner than he did. I didn't think too much about it and was just happy to spend time with Dad (although I wasn't sure how I was going to explain this one). He wouldn't be at all proud of my behavior. Disappointing him was far worse than any hollering or punishment from Mom. I waited in the choir room. Dad pulled into the parking lot and I saw him from the window. I said my goodbye's to our choir teacher and limped out to the car. I walked past my track friends who were warming up. We exchanged some kind words and laughter - they knew what happened earlier, and there was no sense in being upset about it, and if I was laughing, they felt fine in joining me.
Dad smiled and greeted me warmly. He reminded me to buckle my seatbelt and we headed out. Before we were off school grounds, he quietly said that he would be taking me to the hospital instead of the clinic. I was a bit surprised and waited for him to finish the explanation. He was having a hard time with it, but I knew interrupting him would make it more difficult. Dad had a chronic lung problem and would cough a lot. It was hard for him to breathe. When he was upset, it was worse. I tried my best to make things easier for him, so I remember sitting quietly while the oldies played in the background from the car radio.
"Your mom has been in another car accident."
"This time it's pretty serious."
"She's at Holy Family."
"So - we can go there and they can look at your ankle while I check on her."
I was trying to process everything. I assumed mom was a terrible driver. This was her 2nd accident in a matter of a few months. Both accidents were with company vehicles and the company was owned by Dad's friends. I was embarrassed and concerned.
I also remembered Mom's last surgery and the hospital wouldn't let me see her, because I was a child and they had rules. It had been a different hospital, but that had stuck with me. So I asked Dad "will they let me see her?"
He assured me they would. We pulled into the hospital parking lot. He wanted to look at my ankle for himself, and said he had something else to tell me before we went in.
Dad began, "You know I had those tests done last week, right?"
"Yup" I said quickly as I pulled up my pants leg and moved the ice so he could see my swollen foot.
"They called with the results yesterday."
"I didn't want to tell you yet."
"You know about cancer, like David had in his leg, right?"
...silence...as the tears streamed down my cheeks...I painfully nodded my head
"I have cancer. They said it's colon cancer."
I tried to blink back my tears as I asked "But you'll be okay, right? they can fix you?"
...silence...as his eyes filled with tears too...
"I'll be here as long as you need me, but I waited too long. They aren't sure what they can do."
"I'm telling you this now because they can't get your mom to wake up, and you deserve to know what's going on. I just wish all this hadn't happened when you were so young. I'm sorry."
I remember wiping the tears from my eyes, straightening out my hair and promising Daddy that I would be strong and that everything would be alright. I never did get my ankle looked at that night. I put an old splint on it when I got home and when I got to school the next day I quit track, band, and swimming.
After school on the second day, I went up to see Mom. I think I took the bus. I remember being there without Dad. I was stroking Mom's hair and I remember talking to her through a speaker while they put her in a machine for tests. After the test, she woke up. I was so proud of myself for being there with her, talking to the Doctors, and soothing her. I felt really grown up and I knew my parents would be proud of me. I vowed to never cry in front of Dad again. He was sad enough, and I wanted him to know I was brave and strong.
Mom came out of the machine and was wheeled back to a room for observation.
"Who is this girl?" she asked the nurse - she was pointing to me...
It was a very confusing day, and the Doctors weren't sure why, but Mom didn't know me. She thought she was 17 years old, living somewhere in Michigan. She kept asking for directions to stores and places I had never heard of. She didn't know she had a husband or a daughter. After a few days, they released her to come home - the hope was that familiar settings would bring back her memories.
She was a handfull. She thought she was a child, so taking care of a child was the farthest from her mind. Dad kept working and I kept going to school. We had neighbors, friends, and family come check on Mom. I would take care of the grocery shopping, cleaning, and laundry when I got home. I tried telling her about my day, but she didn't really care. In her mind, we were the same age. She had no idea who my dad was, much less that he was dying. Therefore, she had no idea what I might be going through as a child who just found out that her daddy was dying.
I was called to the school office. The note said my Uncle would be picking me up and taking me to the hospital. Mom had been admitted again. This time she was in a place called 2East. They took her there because she said she was going to burn down our house. She was frustrated with her memory and told a neighbor that she was having thoughts about running away or burning down the house.
While I waited for my uncle, I wrote a poem about "WHAT IF..." and it pretty much said in teenager drama language -
What if Daddy is dead and Mommy doesn't know me...will I really exist at all? will I matter? etc...
The next few days were difficult. 2East was filled with people wearing slippers and bathrobes int he middle of the day. They were smoking cigarettes, drinking Diet Cokes, and playing checkers. It wasn't like anything I had ever seen. Mom didn't like it there either, but we didn't want her burning our house down.
I didn't talk to anyone about how I was feeling. I prayed to God to make this all a big lie...
After a few days, Mom's memory came back. She knew who she was, who I was, and she remembered that Dad was sick. She didn't ask how that made me feel, how I was dealing with it, and she never apologized for what I had gone through during those hellish days without a mother. Of course, I shouldn't have expected an apology - she had no idea what had gone on. She never asked, and I never really told her. We just didn't have that sort of relationship. We just moved forward - although part of me was longing for approval from her. Some sort of 'thank you' or 'I'm proud of how you handled yourself', etc...
We moved on - the lesson I learned from the experience was that of self. I take responsibility for myself because I know that I make my own decision and am accountable. I am strong. I define myself and do not need others to do it for me. I am independent and accountable. The answer to the poem I wrote is simple - it doesn't matter. I am not a victim - what happens around me doesn't define me. I am grateful for this experience because it formed me as the woman I am today.
May your paths be abundantly filled with lemons, sugar, sunshine, and confident independence!