August 9, 2014
This is how it happens. You are doing something ordinary. Maybe something you do every day. You just got out of the shower. Or maybe you’re vacuuming. Or you’re at work and answer your cell phone, not recognizing the number. I was at the grocery store, but not in the produce aisle where most things happen. I was at the deli counter and I was ordering cheddar cheese. I don’t often get cheese from the deli because I am not a good wrapper. None of us are good wrappers. We are careless, so within two days of buying deli cheese, it dries out and turns into hard pieces of plastic that break when you try to make a sandwich. We do better with Kraft singles. I know, it’s probably not even real cheese, but it lasts forever. So I was ordering cheese, trying to be a better mother, with plans for better wrapping when the phone rang. I had just asked for a half pound of cheddar when I got a call from my mother’s doctor and heard the news that would change everything. It was at that moment that I knew there would be too much sadness. More sadness than I thought I could bear, so I said what we say when we hear this kind of news. I said, “No,” as if that was going to stop what’s happening from happening and, of course, it doesn’t. I was alone at the deli, surrounded by people, and I was crying and trying to understand what the doctor was telling me and the man behind the counter said, “Would you like New York or Vermont cheddar?” and I looked at him with tears in my eyes and I said, “Vermont, please.” That was such an easy question with such an easy answer.
I don’t remember much after that. I walked around the store and wondered how I would get home. I did not go home. I went straight to my boyfriend’s home instead and when he opened the door, he found me crying, unable to speak, until I stumbled through words that made little sense because I could not say the truth. “I can’t say it. I can’t say it. I can’t tell her” because I knew I had to tell my sister but I also knew the words would not come out. And so my boyfriend did everything right. He listened and he held me and then he called my sister’s home and was able to talk to her husband who then would say the words that no one wants to say. I could only speak to my sister after she knew, because I could not say the words that would break our hearts.
Since then, I have learned to say them. Sometimes I can say them so casually that you would think I am telling you it might rain tomorrow. And sometimes the words get trapped in my throat and I start to cry and eventually I will whisper that my beloved mother has cancer.