(just a warning this is probably a tear-jerker)
I walked back into my apartment, after one of those pivotal therapy sessions that alters your mindset irrevocably. I had come to terms with, as best I could, that my mother was not much longer for this earth. Her systems were shutting down one by one, and her oncologist kept changing her estimates of how much longer she might have: first six months, then three months.
Terrified doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, but after my therapist asked me if there was anything I truly regretted about our relationship, I realized there wasn’t.
“I don’t know, being an asshole to her as a teenager?”
“Everyone’s an asshole as a teenager, there’s no way she’s harboring a grudge over that.”
“Is there anything you wish you’d said?”
“I wish I told her more how much I love her.”
And though this conversation drove daggers through my heart, facing the reality of what lied ahead, it left me with a deep peace, knowing that, no matter what, she was aware of how deeply I loved her and she harbored no major grudges against me, her only daughter.
I arrived home to a CD from an ex-boyfriend. Simon and Garfunkel, The Concert in Central Park, 1981. “This album helped me through tough times, I hope it can do the same for you.”
I loaded the album on my Spotify (because 2017, so no Walkman, sadly) and headed up to my roof to see the rainbow everyone was posting on Instagram that night. As darkness fell, so did a light rainfall, washing over my bare shoulders on that muggy evening. My tears mixed with the rain as I listened to that album over and over and over again.
Staring downtown at the Freedom Tower, I contemplated my own freedom, my own life, thinking about what it might be like in the absence of my guiding light. It would fucking suck, no doubt, but it would have to be OK. At some point. Right? Throughout her illness, I fought — because she wanted me to — tooth and nail to believe that this wasn’t happening. That she was stronger than a few asshole cancer cells. It doesn’t matter if you’re strong. It matters how fast the cells multiply.
As I thought about her impending mortality, I became angry once again that this disease had ravaged my mother so. That it was going to take this woman with so much life to the other side. As this fitness nut is wont to do, I thought about what workout I should do the next morning. How best I could work out my feelings.
Box + Flow immediately popped into my head. It’s yin, it’s yang. It’s fight, it’s flow. I could channel my anger for fucking cancer and punch the shit out of things, and then I could flow, and release that energy in a different way. I feared I might cry in child’s pose but opened myself up for that possibility, though the tears didn’t come…then.
It was early, and I knew nobody, which is exactly the anonymity I wanted as I worked through these deepest of feelings. I punched the shit out of things (sorry to random girl next me?), and then I melted into that savasana in a way I never have, before or since. That fight and flow reminded me of my relationship with my mom even. She was the flight, I was the generally easygoing flow. It’s how we were able to get along so well.
Bright, bright white sunlight as I stepped out onto Bond Street to make my way back to the F train. I remember thinking “everything is going to be OK” and being happy for a moment — no matter how fleeting.
Her condition had deteriorated so so quickly, and I was so afraid of getting “that” call, that I called my dad obsessively for updates on her condition and any tiny shifts threw me into a state of anxiety. She’d stopped answering the phone when I called in April, I think to spare me from her immense pain as best she could.
But I called my dad that morning and he said “your mother wants to talk to you.” I was more excited to talk to my mom than I had ever been in those 34 years, four months and nine days.
Trying to put on the cheerful front for her she and my dad had both asked me to do, I bubbled excitedly about my workout, “Mom! I just had such a great workout. I punched the shit out of cancer for you. Mom, I did it for you. I love you. And then there was yoga, and now I’m walking towards the train. Mom, it’s so nice outside, have Dad take you onto the patio to sit in the sun for a bit. Mom, did you eat yet? What did you have for breakfast?”
She told me about the eggs and toast her caretaker had made for her, and that they were good, and she ate a whole piece of toast. (Her last six weeks or so, she had difficulty eating because the cancer was just everywhere.)
We probably talked for no more than a minute or two before she handed the phone back to my dad, and I lost count of how many times I told her I loved her, just in case one of those was the last.
As the universe would have it, the F train had major delays, and it was faster for me to walk home that morning. As I walked up Broadway, I distinctly remember the enormity of that conversation hitting me. That it was very possible that was the last time I had a conversation with my mom. I was slightly buoyed by the fact that we had been able to talk just a little bit like normal, and struck by the pain of how much I had already missed those conversations, and how I would miss those conversations for the rest of my life.
Because it’s those small moments that make a life. That knowing there’s someone there who cares about your day, no matter how banal it is.