We laughed for no reason. It’s like when twin siblings look at each other and they just know. We could never articulate what was so funny, but we laughed so hard that it would have been no surprise if we both peed our pants.
My mother and I experienced this occasionally on Monday nights on the way home from my piano lessons. We’d approach the corner, where we would soon we see the driveway, “Just go around the block, who cares,” I yelled as “Play That Funky Music White Boy” was blasting in the car with the windows down. These are silly, precious moments I miss, and so easily overlooked.
We’ve always had a tough relationship. At the time, I didn’t know my mother was working tirelessly, commuting an hour away to work at a high-stress job. I also had no idea that my dad was starting classes at police academy. My mom created distance while my dad showed affection, so my resentment toward her grew. But in retrospect, they were just doing the best they knew how.
It worsened when they divorced. I was 9-years-old and my brother Jared was four. The two of us became latch-key kids, or kids who often return home to an empty house. As time went on, Jared and I grew further apart and my mother and I grew distanced from each other.
I moved in with my dad. I was getting into teenage trouble: sneaking out, skipping class and not reaching my academic potential in school. Two years later, I moved back in with my mother and her husband, Lloyd. They had recently started a business and were entirely engulfed in their commitments. I realize now that’s what finally gave them both the ability to excel as entrepreneurs. But at the time, I felt neglected and a burden to them, but especially to Momma.
Before long, the two of us began to fight like old times. Never really about anything detrimental. Actually, all those fights amount to nothing now. Our words and choice of actions were so spiteful. She was only trying to keep me in line, and I was only trying to be heard.
That year, 2007, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was about the extent I knew. I had been kicked out of the house my senior year. My attitude got me into trouble, and as it wedged itself between Lloyd and Momma, it steered me away from home. I was living with “Uncle” John (a very dear friend of the family) when she was diagnosed. She kept it quiet, nonchalant almost, and when we began speaking again in early 2009, she told me she was in remission.
We were both overjoyed, and our relationship seemed to be on the mend. I was attending school a few hours away and drove back home to visit for Easter. Her church incorporated modern miracles within the service.
“Will you help me make a poster?” she asked. We got the poster board and I drew out the words: “CANCER-FREE.” She walked to the front of the church with her arms raised up high. As she held her sign with a smile as big as the ocean, she was so proud to announce she was in remission and had her family by her side.
That next year we were headed for a trip to Kentucky. My stepsister was married and had her first child. Jared, Lloyd, Momma and I all loaded up in the new Lexus to visit her.
After a few tense days and a few drinks, Lloyd was outraged with his daughter and as I defended her, everyone started yelling. As the disagreement rose, the next thing I knew, I saw the Lexus pulling out of the driveway as I stood by, my suitcase on the ground. In my stubborn ways, I had refused to get in the car since he’d been drinking. And in my mother’s stubborn ways, she refused to acknowledge the issue. Nearly three years went by without any of us speaking. Three Easters, three Christmas holidays, three years of her birthdays, all of which I missed out on.
Not long after our return from Kentucky, her battle with breast cancer was anew. This time, it spread to her hip bone. They gave her radiation and then chemo. Then the cancer spread to her jaw. She was put through the grueling process all over again. Her jaw never healed right and she got an infection that caused massive swelling, prohibiting proper cleaning. She hasn’t eaten well in years, and finally this past fall the doctors surgically inserted a feeding tube so she could survive. We were all so happy she decided to keep fighting.
Last week, Lloyd called me. Momma changed oncology doctors because she felt her long-time doctor and nurses were becoming complacent with her. Both the old and new doctor have found stomach tumors and a potential brain tumor. I was nearly speechless when he told me. All I could think about were the memories, the good memories we shared.
What I wouldn’t give to go back in time to the laughter we shared in the car. The times when every Friday morning on the way to school she would say, “Just one more day,” to which Jared and I would reply, “No Momma, today is the last day.”
It’s the little things like wearing the same size shoe and her scolding me for not asking to borrow her Sam & Libby sandals. Or those Saturday mornings when I would make coffee for her just the way she likes it.
What I wouldn’t give to go back to when she was first diagnosed. I would set aside my pride. I would have gotten in that Lexus in Kentucky. It was my fault for behaving in a way that had caused her grief. I should have saved time and apologized first.
But I don’t live in regret.
If I told this story just a few years ago, I would have told a one-sided account tinged with anger and blinded by resentment. But life is a strange thing: Time offers a healed perspective. We learn the importance of the little things, and learn how little the “important” things were at the time. When you see how quickly people can be taken away, you also learn how much you have always loved someone and how easily we take for granted the people in our lives — even our own mothers.
The two of us have maintained a healthy relationship since 2012. Now when I think of the times I heard, “Your relationship with your mother will get better with age and understanding,” I know those friends were exactly right.
I love my mother with all my heart. She gave me life and invaluable lessons that have made me strong, tenacious and ambitious. Her life could be taken away quickly without any notice. I remain selfish, hoping she is granted another miracle so that she may live long enough to see me graduate from college, get married and have children. She and Lloyd have always wanted to retire and move to Florida and I want to see her live out her dream.
It’s my turn to be strong for her. It’s my turn to proudly hold up a poster board to remind her of our little miracle: I LOVE YOU: RESENTMENT-FREE.