I remember walking into my mom’s new apartment located at 9151 W Hawthorne Ave with absolute excitement, so much pride, and a little envy…. It was the perfect one-bedroom apartment for her for a million and one reasons.
The neighborhood was ideal! It was close to the highway, so getting anywhere was a breeze; it had parking in the back so her beloved Jetta (which she actually hated for good reason) was safe from the narrow street which for many proved to be hard to drive down and park on; the interior had been completely redone so it was brand new but kept so much of its original charm, making it the perfect balance of restored and revived; and it was a fresh new start for her, away from her previous place that harbored so many sad, difficult, and scary memories.
THIS WAS IT! This was her new start as a cancer-free woman!
Or so I hoped.
I remember the day she got her keys. I, lying on the living room floor, was laughing very LOUDLY (per usual) with her and my Aunt Sandy, thinking, “SHE BEAT IT! SHE DID IT! THIS IS IT! Look at her new place that has so much beautiful space to create new, healthy, happy memories!” as it had been 9 months since her double mastectomy and lymphadenectomy; and as far as we knew, all was well. She had been back to work, it was a new year, a new place, her hair was back and growing like wildflowers, and it was a brand-new start for her. 9151 W Hawthorne Ave was just another physical representation of the rebirth of the amazing woman I am lucky enough to call my mom! And it was time to decorate it!
And she did. So beautifully. So thoughtfully. Every single thing she chose to adorn her most perfect space with was thoughtful and calculated, and all of it had its place; And for all that didn’t, she returned. She actually returned more than she kept, I believe 😊. My sister and I would actually tease her about how we believed she just bought shit so she could return it.
But her place was outfitted perfectly in her favorite colors – the variants of purple, pink, green and gold – were so beautifully inviting; the multitude of textures – from feathers and velvet to sequins and fur – were awe-inspiring; and her sweet, intricate pieces – be it a wooden bird figure or a beautifully weathered-looking chest – showcased her stunning taste and brilliant interior design abilities. Her place always smelled delicious and warm; the perfect candles were always lit. Her home always smelled, looked, and felt like home. Not just for her, but for me as well.
And as she moved along in this new space in her life and her heart and her mind, things shifted, drastically. Five months after her “Brand New Start” she received the shocking and terrible news that her cancer was back. With a vengeance. It had metastasized into her spine, her rib, and her lung. And it was terminal.
And with that, Every. Single. Thing. Changed. That Christmas we cried with her in her kitchen, as she was terrified it was going to be her last. Many times were spent on her couch, talking and gazing out the living room window, looking onto a world that seemed so far away. And a few months later, she became so ill and in so much pain, she couldn’t work and her home seemed to transform from a sanctuary to a cell.
The last year and a half of her life was so fucking unfair. I mean, ALL of her cancer journey was. BUT COME ON, MAN! The things she endured – not only at her doctor’s appointments and her surgeries, and her ER visits, and her failed chemo, and her rapidly spreading cancer – but the bullshit, fear, helplessness and doom she endured because of her completely inept landlord and very unsavory neighbors was beyond unacceptable.
We begged her to leave, we offered her new places inside our own homes to reside. But she refused. Understandably. She already felt so not in control of her awful disease and every other facet of her life, that she needed to, at the very least, have some footing over something. And that was her home. Her new beginning. One that I had thought and hoped and dreamed would be so much different for her; so much better, so much brighter, full of so much promise. And I know she thought and hoped for that too. That’s probably one of the reasons she held on to it for so long until her disease mandated she couldn’t anymore.
So many things were blurred for me in between the 1.5 years we had left with her after her 10/16 diagnosis. And for many reasons. But, memories as we know, flood in often when we don’t expect them to. And a memory of her sucker punched me on my couch the other night, so hard, I had to fight it because I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t stop crying. And I fought it for about 48 hours until it tackled me to the ground tonight. As I was cleaning up at work. That was 4 hours ago and I haven’t stopped sobbing since.
You see, the amazing couch I am blessed to call my couch was her couch. I am the very lucky recipient of this stunning velvet seating, amongst many other pieces of her fine furniture. And as I was on said couch this past Tuesday night, I was eating. Something I do and something that was relatively forbade by her. But since it’s mine now (and my dining room table is my desk and my background for stellar food pics), I sometimes eat on it. And at times – more often than I care to admit – I fall asleep on it. And I spent the first two weeks of quarantine sick as fuck on it…
But I digress; as I was eating on it this past Tuesday, I thought a part of my taco had fallen on it and I immediately thought, “Oh my God, she would kill me! We weren’t even barely allowed to sit on this couch, let alone eat and drop birria on it!” and that funny and quirky thought quickly flung me into a memory of her sleeping on her couch, for months and months; the months we didn’t know that were leading into the last few months of her life.
And when I say that memory had me so shook and so sick that I couldn’t breathe, it’s actually an understatement. I shook my head as tears started to well up in my eyes, so I blinked wildly to avoid them running down my cheeks, and I stared off at the TV, completely disconnected. My partner assumed I was about to fall asleep, as I notoriously do, and he playfully made fun of my inability to stay awake. And I played along with it. Not because I can’t be honest with him, or cry in front of him, or be real and raw and vulnerable or grieve so hard I can’t breathe in front of him – I have, many times, and will continue to do all of it and so much more – but it’s the fact that I merely couldn’t bring myself to endure the pain that was creeping up because I knew if I did, it would boil over and drown me.
So, I swallowed hard and smiled and shook my head, “yes,” in response to me being tired and then I ultimately fell asleep, only to wake up the next morning with the thought of my sweet mama sleeping on her couch. Her big, beautiful, green velvet couch in what was supposed to be her big, beautiful new beginning.
I wanted that new beginning for her so intensely, I could taste it. I wanted her to have many new beginnings in what I hoped was going to be a long, healthy life for her. And I know she wanted it too. And I still want it for her, and for me too.
Because as I sit here, typing and sobbing, recalling so much of that apartment and the last 1.5 years of her life, I find myself still sucker punched by the fact that she’s gone; angry that she’s not here; and still so desperately wishing she had a million and one new beginnings. To do the things she always wanted and to go to all of the places she had on her list. To laugh more and dance more and build more…
But then, as I wipe the tears away on my already salt water-soaked sleeve, I think about the infinite new beginnings she now has as a soul free of sadness, pain, disease, disappointment, fear, and helplessness. And even though the physical absence of her hurts deeply in my heart and my soul and my bones, knowing she is alive and well in me and all around me brings me great solitude. And it is with that I find my new beginning in this journey of grief.
To new beginnings, Mama.