Different. Everything is going to be different.
Picking up my pillow, I make my way over to the chair that I hate so much and sit down. My mom’s hand is cold and clammy; she doesn’t acknowledge that I’m holding it.
“How do you know?” I ask the nurse.
“It’s her breathing. Her intakes of air are too far apart, and they’re hard.”
“Hard?” I question.
“Maybe hard isn’t the right word,” she says. “Her body is fighting for her last breath.”
Glancing at my mom, I see exactly what the nurse is talking about, and that’s when it hits me like a truck, square in my chest, and knocks the wind right out of me. I knew I’d cry, but the gut-wrenching sob that takes over my body is new and unexpected.
This is the last time I’m going to hold her hand, be able to see her, talk to her, and just be in the same space as her. All my life, she’s all I’ve known. She’s been my best friend, and even my enemy at times, but her love for me never wavered. I break the rules and crawl into bed with her, wrapping my arm around her as tightly as I can.
If the nurse has a problem with this, she doesn’t say anything. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has done this, and I won’t be the last.
“It’s okay, Mom. I’m going to be okay,” I tell her, letting her know she can go and I’ll be fine. I’ve never wanted to say those words. I wanted to be selfish and demand she fight and stay here with me because I don’t know how to do this thing called life without her. But I hate seeing her suffering. I hate that she’s hanging on because she’s afraid I’ll be alone. I won’t be. I’ll have Stella and boxes full of memories to occupy my mind.
I rest my head in the crook of her neck. She doesn’t smell like the mom I’m used to, but a mixture of soap and antiseptic. It’s not something I want to remember, but I want her to feel me holding her, like she’s held me so many times before.
“I love you, Momma.” I gasp when she turns her head toward me, and I know that’s her way of telling me, one last time, that she loves me, too.
* * *
It’s been two weeks since my mother passed, and today she’s finally being buried. I didn’t want to put her to rest until everything was set, and now that her plaque is finally ready, she and I are taking the journey together to the cemetery.
I stand off to the side while the undertaker places the box containing her ashes into the chamber. He moves to allow me to put in the things I wanted her to have with her at all times. There’s a letter from me, and one from Stella, a stuffed giraffe because, while they’re my favorite, they were also hers and she loved coming to the zoo to feed them, and the necklace that my grandmother had given her. I thought about keeping it, but it was my mom’s favorite and it should be with her. Once everything is inside, the chamber is sealed and her plaque set over the top. Her name shines brightly in brass with the words “Loving Mother” underneath them.
I arrange the flowers I brought and sit down next to her, taking a few moments for just her and me. These past few weeks have been difficult, harder than I thought they would be. I’ve hardly slept and barely eaten because I haven’t felt very well, and I know the tasks before me are going to be daunting. I have yet to go into her bedroom because I’m not sure I can cope with not seeing her there.
“The peonies are in full bloom, and I’ll bring you some every other day until I can’t find them anymore,” I tell her, running my fingers over her name. “I’m going to miss you so much, Mom. I don’t know how I’m going to do this. Even when I didn’t live at home, we spoke every day, and these past few weeks I’ve felt empty inside because you’re no longer a physical presence in my life.”
My biggest fear, one that she never knew about, is forgetting the littlest things about her. Her smell, her voice, and even the way she’d laugh or how she’d hold a book. It’s been a year or longer since I’ve seen her dance in the kitchen, and while I used to laugh, I’d give anything to see her do it one more time just so I don’t forget. Because right now, it’s hard to remember. It’s things like this that we take for granted and don’t realize it until it’s too late.
“Per your wishes, we didn’t have a funeral, and I spread a few of your ashes at the zoo so you’ll always be with me. Stella wrote you a letter. I didn’t read it because I wanted her words to be kept between the two of you.
“And I know somewhere in your room there’s a letter waiting for me, but I’m afraid to read it. I don’t know if it’s the fear that I’m going to hurt your feelings if I go looking for my father or my fear that he won’t accept me. I’m not sure how much hurt I can take, so I’m going to hold off for now.” A small gust of wind washes over me, and I know it’s her.
“I love you, Mom. I’m sorry I didn’t always show it the way you needed me to.” I’m not sure how long I sit next to her marker while the sexton waits for me to be at peace with myself. When I finally start to stand, he’s there to help me.
“I’ll make sure she’s fine before I leave.”
For whatever reason, his words give me peace, and that is what I need right now.
My career is finally starting to take shape. Aside from not starting every game, I’m playing, and I couldn’t be more thankful. After my rocky start, I thought for sure I was heading back to Pawtucket or, even worse, Double-A. But Diamond refused to listen to the naysayers and kept me on the bench.
We’re playing the pesky O’s today and are currently two games ahead of them in standings. I’m starting today and likely won’t play the entire game unless my bat is on fire. If that’s the case, Bainbridge will come in for Kidd or Meyers. Diamond has been messing around with our fielding spots to try to take advantage of the talent he has. Plus it allows the other guys to take a night off.
The Orioles are on the other side of the field, where Singleton is currently staring at them.
“Are you sizing up the competition?” I ask as I stand next to him. Singleton has about two inches on my six foot two frame and probably has me by ten or so pounds but can easily outrun me, and clocks the fastest base running in the league.
“Nah, just watching.”