I have watched her die every day for 6 months. I love her more because we are losing her yet hate her for leaving us. I despise myself for feeling angry as I pass my parents’ bedroom door and hear her moaning from a drug-induced sleep. I turn my head to avoid seeing the metal hospital bed crammed into the space between my parents’ bed and their dresser-afraid of seeing the frail stranger lying in it. Just as I reach the safety of my room, she calls out. Her voice is so soft I could almost pretend it wasn’t her, but I hear it again, a little louder this time.
I pause at my door and wait, hoping Mama will realize that it’s me she hears. It has been three days since I heard her utter my name. She is silent again, but I still turn back toward her room. It’s dark but for a thin ray of light that slips through a small opening in the bathroom door and falls across the sharp angles of her face, cancer having robbed it of the soft curves. Her eyes are closed. I trace the light as it slips from her body and falls upon faded Holly Hobby sheets, the only ones we have that are small enough to fit the hospital bed that enables Mama to remain at home-with us. The light outlines a splash of red, the ink still as bright as the night my twin sister used a permanent marker to color one of the tiny dolls. The only Holly Hobby with a red dress appears three dimensional among the others-a constant reminder that not all things are permanent.
I lean over the bed, cringing as the cold, metal rail presses against my chest. She is so quiet. So still. I close my eyes and lay my hand across her chest. It rises and falls.
“Mama,” I whisper. She doesn’t answer, but it is enough to know she is here.
A faint trace of her scent, Skin-So-Soft lotion mixed with hairspray, still lingers in the room. It doesn’t smell right mixed with Bengay and sickness. I have to work harder to smell it every day-terrified of the day that it is no longer here. I have convinced myself that, no matter how faint it becomes, it will never be gone.
As I stand to leave, her eyes flicker behind thin lids, and I wonder who she is in her dreams. Is she the Mama who lived in my past, or has cancer reached her even there? I wake up every morning in fear that it will have taken what is left of her from us yet wonder how even that could feel any worse than watching her slip away. I push the thought away as I slip quietly from her room.
Sleep comes to me slowly tonight, but when it does, I am dragged into a deep, dark place. I am chasing something that I’m running from, catching up to it just as I escape, screaming for it to leave me alone yet begging and pleading for it to stay. A cold hand grabs my bare arm and pulls me from the nightmare. I hear myself scream but do not feel it. In the heavy silence that follows, I hear Daddy whisper.
Another scream, coming from my sister’s bedroom, rips through the silence, and I wonder why it isn’t coming from me. I cover my ears and take a deep breath, holding it for as long as I can while waiting for the faint, familiar scent that doesn’t come. The next scream explodes through the silence, and this time I feel it.
Sherri Ellerman is an Occupational Therapist who has put her career on hold to homeschool her children. In her free time, Sherri enjoys writing, mostly creative non-fiction and short fiction.