I really don’t know where to start. The cancer I guess. I’ll just kind of glaze over what killed my mom and then maybe we can get on with it. But first I should say that I’ve never known my father, so don’t waste your time trying to analyze or whatever how his absence played a part in all this, because it didn’t. Then again, if it’s a good excuse, by all means, don’t let me stop you.
The lump. About a year ago my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll never forget the day she made the discovery, or at least let me know about it. She was in her room and it was getting late. We had to be over at Dunham that evening for this teacher thing. It was completely unnecessary, Dunham is a boarding school and only about a third of the kids are day students like me. Most of them shipped down from New England or Canada or abroad from Spain, Africa, Vietnam, and so on.
Only a handful of parents ever actually showed up for these insufferable gatherings, but we never missed them so I thought Mom was messing around when she called me back into her room. We were already five minutes late, not that I cared, but Mom was an admin assistant at Dunham, so she wouldn’t just let me skip. Something was up. I stopped at the door way because she looked like she’d just found a lump on her breast. Which come to find out she had—months ago—and she’d declined to tell me.
Now she wanted me to feel it. Wanted me to feel it. That should tell you how freaked out she was about it. I peeled myself off the doorway and tipped over towards her. God, I can still remember that tingling down my neck and arms as I sat down beside her on the bed. She took my hand and pressed my fingers into the flesh of her left breast. It was hard, like a marble in there, I jerked my hand away and shivered, waited for Mom to say it was nothing but her face was gray, like skim milk in a dirty ash tray. She was trying to hide the fear but crippled by the horror. And it was like right then everything switched. I was angry that she hadn’t told me. About the biopsy. About results. Bad results. About aggressive cancer cells and stages and lymph nodes.
I sat there numb, gaping, my mouth open, catching runaway tears because this was not really happening. She had another appointment on Thursday. Blood tests and tissue samples and whatever. This was on a Monday, because of course we’d have some teacher thing on a Monday.
That week was the worst. Mom and I trying our best to act normal, but instead acting like strange versions of ourselves. I’d stare at her breast, the left one, wondering if whatever was in her was killing her. Shouldn’t we do something besides waiting around? I mean, if it were me I’d grab a knife and tear in after it. Morbid I know, but just knowing that lump was eating her inside out was enough to make me crazy.
It was all I thought about. At school or on the way to school, it was always on my mind. The lump. The ball. The mass. Whatever I called it, it was still in there. On Wednesday night I finally spoke up. It was Olive Garden night, at least that’s what we called it. Mom made minestrone soup and salad and we heated up bread sticks. It used to be fun but on that Wednesday it was all just chewing and staring. She could have made cardboard sandwiches and I honestly wouldn’t have known the difference.
“I want to go with you tomorrow.”
“Chloe, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“I still want to go. I need to go, Mom.”
She held firm, and I spent the next day at school frantically checking my messages, waiting for the verdict. The only person I’d told about it was Vienna Summerset—my best friend despite her ridiculous name. But there was little she could do to comfort me. Only Mom could comfort me, and she was dying.
Secretly, in the walls of my brain, I held out hope for a miracle. That Mom would have lefty removed, some reconstruction, and she’d have come back and beat this thing. We’d have a story to tell and celebrate her life as a survivor. We’d have a big party at the awareness garden, where we’d eat cake and make jolly. Maybe she’d let me sip some champagne because damn it all, she was alive.
Mom was beautiful. In a blonde, Nordic sort of way. I’d always loved being told that I look like her, which, I think I do. She had blonde hair and blue eyes and nice skin. Skin that went flakey and dry when the chemo gave her painful sores, but that wasn’t her fault now was it.
I shouldn’t have been at school. I felt like a rubber band, stretched thin and white, cracking with each passing minute. Mom’s appointment was that day and I felt like I was going to leap out of the window. I figured she would have sent a smiley message if there was any miracle news to be told.
Class ended and I hurried out, phone in hand, down the hall where I hipped the door and walked through the campus and into trails through the woods, all the way to our tiny little house on Dorchester Street where I saw Mom’s car and it was like someone squeezed every single bit of air out of my lungs.
The shades were flipped up so that it was dark. A whimper in the other room. Not exactly smiley-face behavior. I dropped my bag and barreled into the other room, where I found her on the bed—a clump of nothing. Tears and slobber and incoherent babble.
Snap went the rubber band. My mom was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it.