I’ve never skipped school before. If you told me a few months ago that the first time I’d skip school was to bring my mom home from the hospital I would have laughed.
My mom is invincible. My mom is my rock. She will always be here for me. She will watch me get married and spoil my babies and make them cookies and teach them how to fold a fitted sheet, and teach them how to prepare a guest room, and how to prune the rosebushes.
My mom is not that frail woman in the wheelchair near the door to the hospital, holding my hand, patiently waiting for Brandon to bring the car around.
My mom doesn’t have cancer.
My mom is not dying.
My mom would never leave me.
If I kept repeating these things maybe they would be true.
Brandon pulled the car into the circular area set aside just for the purpose of dropping off and picking up patients.
My mom wasn’t going to be a patient at this hospital anymore because they were sending her home to die.
The nurse unlatched the brake on the wheelchair and pushed my mom toward the car where Brandon had come around to open the front passenger door. He helped her get settled as I climbed into the backseat and tried to keep my emotions in check.
I had learned over the past few days that crying was the opposite of helpful. It just made me exhausted, made my sinuses painful and stuffy, and my eyes red and puffy. So why did I keep crying at the least opportune time? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“How are you feeling?” Brandon asked once he’d gotten behind the wheel. “Do you need anything?”
“Yes, I would like a chocolate shake, please.” Mom smiled over at him, always in good spirits. “From McDonald’s.”
“Coming right up,” Brandon said, pulling into traffic. He glanced in the rearview mirror. “You want anything?”
“I’m not hungry.” My automatic response the past few days, although when someone placed food in front of me, I usually managed to eat.
“Fish sandwich and French fries it is, then.” He said it so definitively as if he just knew me well enough to assume that’s what I’d want. Just the thought of it made my mouth water. But in reality I was in training and greasy food would not help me win medals at my track meet the next day.
“Not on the approved list of fueling options, and you know it.” I tried to hide a smile. “My personal trainer would know what would not help me beat the twins in the 800 tomorrow afternoon.”
“Point well taken.” He rubbed his chin in mock consideration. “Southwest chicken salad without the disgusting lime glaze and the dressing on the side.”
“That’s more like it.” I nodded, and he winked at me through the rearview mirror. I wanted so badly for that wink to mean he liked me as more than a friend or a sister. I felt my cheeks grow warm and I fidgeted with the hem of my shirt.
He pulled into the McDonald’s drive through and ordered my salad, my mom’s shake, and a Big Mac with a large fry for himself. He handed my mom her shake and passed me the bag with all the food.
I knew he’d never approve of eating in his Mustang, but I snatched a fry and shoved one in his mouth, then reached over the seat and held one in front of his face like a worm over a baby bird. He didn’t even swerve when he leaned forward to grasp it with his teeth.
Life was easy and free for a few minutes of driving along the curve of the bay, the breeze blowing in the open windows and my mom sipping a chocolate shake with a content smile.
Brandon pulled up to the front door and parked so that Mom wouldn’t have to walk any further than she had to. She could get around just fine for now, but we were moving her to the formal bedroom on the main floor of the house. It was a room we usually saved for times when we were overbooked or when we had a request for handicapped accessibility or main floor accommodations. It was going to be booked solid for the next few months, longer if I could help it.
I carried the food in one hand and took Mom’s elbow with my other. Brandon was on her other side, almost holding her up. She clasped her chocolate shake in her hands like a little girl holding her sippy cup.
“Would you two quit fussing over me?” she asked. “I’m fine.” I noticed she didn’t shake off our assistance even as she protested. We got her up the stairs and into the main foyer with little difficulty and she didn’t really seem winded.
“Want to go see your new bedroom?” Brandon’s cheerful countenance wasn’t even fake. He actually was excited to show her how he’d moved almost everything from her upstairs bedroom down to the main level.
I’d helped organize everything in a way that Mom would find acceptable and would also be accessible. We wanted to keep her life as normal as possible for as long as possible. There would be no hospital beds moved in unless absolutely necessary.
A nurse was scheduled to come later in the afternoon to start the process of regular monitoring and we’d be hiring a housekeeping service for a few hours a day, and a cook to prepare breakfast each morning. Mom would be allowed to help in the kitchen for as long as she felt up to it, and the twins and I would be assisting with the housekeeping. We would make it work. We didn’t have a choice.
Running To You
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