The Highway

March 20, 2010
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The world came into focus slowly, as though he were being pulled out of mud. Reality returned in pieces: the crickets chirping beyond the open window, the warm blue of the dawn sky, sweat soaking his sheets. Luc pulled himself to a sitting position, pushed his damp hair out of his eyes, and took a long shuddering breath.

It was almost morning. Morning makes the truth so much more real. Of course, some things are better hidden in the day.

Luc’s heart pounded in his ears … a hematological roller coaster ride. He had to see his mother right that moment. The image of her losing her mind – eyes going wide and glassy, mouth twisting into a grin – was still raw behind his eyes.

Luc tossed off the blankets and let the morning air cool his body. As he opened his bedroom door, listening for the sound of footsteps just in case, he felt a small but certain sense of shame. Should he not, as a near-adult of seventeen, be more dignified about the situation? Life happened; he knew that.

He knew his mother was still young enough to be the woman he knew. He knew the disease would not consume her until at least five years had passed. But he found himself wondering how much easier it would be to watch her lose herself a little more over time, rather than waking up one morning to face a different being.

Luc crept down the stairs, gripping the cold banister in his fist. He was quiet. The entire world mimicked him.

At the door to his mother’s bedroom, he lost his courage. How could he possibly turn the knob without waking her? He pressed his ear to the door, listening for the sound of her breath … and heard nothing. She might not have been there at all. Luc swallowed and reminded himself that she was sleeping peacefully.

Luc drew away from the door, and then, before he eve had a fighting chance, tears rolled down his cheeks. He pressed his hands over his face, trying to wrench it into a shape of reasonable composure. He filled his lungs with a long, slow breath of air through his fingers.

In his bedroom, he sat hunched over on his mattress, waiting for the turmoil to ease. But every time his mother’s face returned to his mind, he could not hold tight to any shred of reassurance. Right then, Luc wanted her more than he could remember ever wanting her in his life.

Where would he be when the last of her slipped away? It was time to lead his own life, time to enjoy the world independently. He did not want to stay here, but he could hardly imagine leaving his mother.

And he could hardly imagine losing her. But he would. Indeed, his mother was beginning to slip away: she had had to surrender her driver’s license. She couldn’t remember which highway led to her doctor’s appointments. Soon she would forget which road led to the neighborhood elementary school. She would forget how many cups of sugar she needed for her pineapple upside-down cake. She would forget what channel hosted her favorite television show.

What would happen to her favorite television show? Luc felt it would be … orphaned in some way.

The sky was turning a buttery gold now. The morning was coming. Soon he would hear the clink of his mother’s breakfast dishes in the kitchen.

Right then he realized he needed to sleep, that he was exhausted. The dream – or the aftermath – had drained him. He lay down and pressed his face into the pillow.

In his mind he saw his mother, standing on the blacktop after a day of grade school. He saw the two of them sitting on the couch on a Friday night, watching movies, his mother holding the telephone in her hand as they debated which toppings to get for their pizza. He saw a much smaller Luc teaching her a clapping game he had learned at summer camp (why oh why hadn’t he spent that summer with her?). For a moment, before he drifted back to sleep, he was in the kitchen, smelling fresh coffee, on a white snowy morning.

Downstairs, in her own bedroom, his mother saw the highway. She didn’t know where it led, but she followed it anyway.

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This article has 4 comments. Post your own now!

mehstar said...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 9:00 am
very good detail. saw the highway? does that mean that the mother died? a very sad story to.
BaiLiHua This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 10:18 am
No, but she has a long road ahead. Thanks!
Spacedlaw said...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 7:01 am
A very good account. At seventeen, his mother would be extremely young to develop Alzheimer.
BaiLiHua This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 7:34 am
I figured it was either early Alzheimer's or she'd had him later in life. Thanks for the comment, Nathalie.
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