| by Alison |
I hugged my mom today. While this may not seem notable or Facebook status worthy, it made headlines in my own personal history book. At almost 28 years old, I have no memories of hugging her before this day. For the past 23 years, she has been a stranger to me. When she was a new mom, she braided my hair and read me books at night. She sang me awake with songs of sunshine and let me lick the cookie dough off the beaters. She packed party favors for my birthday celebration and pulled a rusty nail out of my injured foot. But when I went to bed at night, she fought demons that only she could see and hear. No one could have saved her – not even me. For a long time, I was angry because I wasn’t enough. I couldn’t fight her demons. My love didn’t give her super powers, no matter how hard I tried – and boy, did I try. I tried with poems and stories, letters and songs. I bought her clothes to make her feel pretty and made food to fill her belly. But nothing worked, nor could it have. Demons just can’t be fought sometimes, and that’s really hard for a child to understand.
So I grew up without her. In her place was a destructive, manipulative, and selfish person. She stopped caring – or maybe she just couldn’t. I was left defenseless and vulnerable. I couldn’t fight back when her demons came around, so I watched. I experienced. I cried. And I waited to be old enough to get away.
And I did. I graduated and moved and found a therapist to work through my feelings. I properly grieved the death of the mother I barely remembered. My ears perked up anytime I heard about this imposter who was my mom. Those stories usually included evictions, homelessness, addictions, and overdoses that ended in hospital stays. I kept my distance and focused on being as different from her as I could possibly be. I put myself through college, bought a house, started a career, and pursued my passions. It was when I took myself to the other side of the world, backpacking solo through Southeast Asia, when I heard a story about her that caught my attention.
She was in the hospital because of a concussion after a fight with her boyfriend. That didn’t surprise me. But then the doctor said something else was wrong. She was sick. They ran more tests and found something that didn’t seem right. She had cancer – the really bad kind. Stage IV Thymoma. It wasn’t going away. It wasn’t curable. I accepted it and was saddened in the way normal people are saddened when they hear a stranger has cancer. I kept my distance and prayed for her from afar, as I waited for the numb feeling to pass. There was nothing I could do.
After a few weeks, she found me on Facebook and messaged me with a funny picture. When I first saw the message, all of that old anxiety and fear came up. I wanted to bolt from a room that held no real danger for me – it was just a simple notification. But I was terrified the way most people would be when they see a large spider dangling above them at night. I hesitatingly opened it, read it, and replied to it without getting bit. About a week later, I took the initiative to send my own funny picture to her, and she replied. We started communicating again, slowly. We didn’t say anything deep or serious, but we exchanged many words. I asked her to see a movie with me the next time I was in town. Nothing about that day was normal. Sitting in a movie theater with my mom seemed surreal. When I got back to Indy that weekend, she messaged and said she missed me. I cried. All of a sudden, I realized my mom was still alive. But she wouldn’t be for long.
We started messaging daily. She’d reply with a funny message or picture. Everything was light and sunny. I began to get more and more depressed as I saw what was happening. I had waited my entire childhood for this mom, but she never came. I grieved her death long ago and never hoped again. With her being back, I didn’t know what to feel. Do I let her in just to have her taken away again? Or do I keep her at a distance? After all, you can’t lose something you don’t already have.
One day, I opened up and said I felt alone and sad and isolated from everyone. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling, but it was unwelcomed to say the least. What she wrote back brought me to tears. She was so caring, raw, and honest and knew exactly where I was. She knew exactly what to say. For the first time in my life, someone understood how I felt. I went to my mom – MY MOM searching for solace, and in return she provided warmth, love, and understanding.
After a couple days I called her. It wasn’t very different from that anticipation felt as a teenager who tries to get the courage to call up that cute boy. I was nervous. I was hopeful. I was scared. The night, we had our first phone conversation, she made me feel better and helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. We realized we were both standing outside, a hundred miles away from each other but under the same stars. So we looked at the stars together and compared our views of the constellations. I’ll remember that night forever.
I know she isn’t going to be around for very long. I know cancer is going to take her eventually, but I know that cancer is what brought my mom back. She is still human and is still fighting her demons. I work hard to love the cancer mom and ignore the addict. I try to separate the two even though they are one in the same. I try to ignore her continued battles with anorexia/bulimia and the slurred words after she drinks – the high in her eyes after she takes a smoke. I try to have compassion for her when she lashes out. I try to understand her struggles with Bipolar Disorder and her addictions. I try to empathize with her anger toward her own mother. Nothing is perfect. She will never be the mom I begged God for as a child. She will never be able to go back in time and make things right. She isn’t going to become a magic Wonder Mom just because she has cancer. But she is my mom despite her demons; despite the loom of death. I guess, in the end, I’d rather have this mom for a little while than never having had one at all. After all, sometimes demons just can’t be fought. I understand that now.