By Traci Arbios, herdingsquirrels.com
The blood pulsed through my head like a bullet train.
I was sitting on the floor in the bathroom, staring at my wall but not really seeing it. The little plastic stick sat feather-like in my hand, the blue plus sign at its tip weighing a thousand tons. My vision was swirling as my world capsized: I was too young. I had nothing. I wasn’t ready. My largest dream come true stared at me, all I ever wanted poised, ready for the larger embrace — the most perfect and frightening thing in the world — and still my brain screamed WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
I was 22. I’d just graduated from college as a drama major. I had a part-time job at a bank, I was living in Los Angeles, taking acting classes and attempting half-heartedly to get an agent.
Those dreams were gone with the wave of a wand (albeit through a stream of urine). I rose from the floor and splashed off my face. My eyes were huge and dilated with shock. “Goodbye,” I whispered, and walked out the bathroom door and into my new life.
It’s 1987. My sister has just burst into my bedroom and woken me from a light sleep; she squeals with delight and shoves her left hand in my face. The giant rock illuminates the darkness as she announces the news that she is planning a fall wedding.
And then we’re in the kitchen toasting the happy couple My father calls him “son.” We order a pizza and laugh over the proposal story and I watch my sister as she walks on air. Her dream has come true, she is marrying her prince.
My parents are elated for my sister’s happiness; their smiles are rich and genuine. We say our goodbyes as the couple drives off into the night, my sister high as a kite, and my parents now strangely silent.
Her eyes are large and teary. She lays on the gurney waiting for the orthopedic surgeon to come in and deliver the news which she knows can’t be good. Her largest fear, her darkest nightmare has come to pass and though she tries her best to lay still, the muscle spasms increase her pangs of anxiety.
Blind and permanently on oxygen, my 91 year-old grandma lays fearfully as the world speeds by. Her day began with the anticipation of church and lunch with my mother, and was interrupted by a fall and a trip to the emergency room.
Her fragility amazes and frustrates her all at the same time. And when the surgeon announces that she has broken her hip, not in one but in a few places, her heart monitor begins to beep rapidly. He gives her options: Do nothing, remain in pain and never walk again; or, attempt surgery with her enlarged heart and poor circulation. Yes, she could die; in fact, that is a distinct possibility. But there is a stronger possibility that she will live, and walk again, and be pain free.
A spasm hits.
She opts for the surgery.
Within an hour she is wheeled into pre-op; my mother and I sit with her as the nurse is somehow able to remove her wedding ring from her gnarled, arthritic hand. Unseeing, she begins to cry. She has never taken the ring off, and some part of her fears that it is an omen.
My mother and I, the eternal Pollyannas, tell her how much we love her and how we’ll bring her some dinner back from the cafe and of the plans we’ve made for her post-surgical therapy and oh, how she has the nicest nurse and goodness, aren’t we all lucky she was able to get into surgery so quickly and … anything else our fretting minds can conjure up behind our calm faces.
And when the man in the flouncy teal hat and matching scrubs begins to wheel her away, we reassure her of our love and her safety. She acquiesces, and says she will see us after surgery. But her eyes are wide and fearful when she says, “Goodbye.”
Tiny hands clutch my pant legs, tiny beet-red face presses into my thigh. “Please, mommy! Nooooo!!” my third child wails. The entire car ride was filled with the pronouncement, “I don’t want to go to school,” which turned into ear-piercing wailing and crocodile tears. I’ve seen this dozens of times in the faces of her older brothers, depending on the day, the angle of the sun, and how much breakfast was — or wasn’t — consumed that morning.
The beautiful spring day tugging at my desire wasn’t helping any; it was almost as strong as the crying face that deflated my spirit.
What kind of horrible mother was I? Look at this crying mess of a child! Couldn’t I just call in, perhaps, take a last-minute vacation day? We could go to the park and feed the ducks … except that I have three can’t-miss meetings this day. And deadlines. And we’ve been here before. I need to go to work. She needs to be at preschool. I need to get PAID. Being around other small people and coloring and learning the alphabet is not a bad thing for her.
I bend down to hug her, one final kiss before I head to work lugging my heart of stone. Her face is small and hot, and her runny-nosed kiss makes me want to die. “I love you baby,” I whisper, and the teacher’s overly enthusiastic voice suggests Syd wave to me from the window.
“Bye-bye,” I say as I wave at my small, frowny girl with tiny hands pressed against the glass. But my mind is saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
I hide. I watch. Almost instantly my little actress is smiling and laughing with some other girls, wiping the wet from her face. “Bye-bye,” I sigh.
Traci Arbios is a mom, stepmom and working mom. She lives with and writes about her blended family of seven kids, five pets and one amazingly patient husband at www.herdingsquirrels.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at Twitter.com/herdnsquirrels.