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I wasn’t concerned as I strolled into my kitchen, backpack slung carelessly over my shoulder. I wasn’t concerned as I flung my purse across the table, where it landed with a thump. I wasn’t concerned as I ripped the refrigerator door open, racking the shelves for something to eat. It was a normal day at school; I was tired and certainly not concerned.
“Mom,” I called loudly as I pulled a container of fresh strawberries off the middle shelf. Usually she was there to greet me at the door, smile plastered genuinely across her face. Always asking me to do a puzzle with her or watch a movie with her.
I turned, kicking the refrigerator door shut as I spun, and pulled out a kitchen table chair to sit down. I placed the strawberries on the table and removed their lid, inhaling their sweet smell. I put my hand in and pulled one out, aware of the red dye that stained my fingers. It wasn’t until strawberry number four that I decided to search for my mom.
I got up, not bothering to push in the chair, and headed down the hallway. The dining room was empty. The living room was empty. I was taking my time, putting one foot joyfully before the other, when I rounded the corner into her room. I took in her body crumpled on the floor. I took in her hair splayed out around her face, a brunette crown framing her hideously pale face. I rushed to her side, my hand flying instantly to her neck. She was alive, her pulse fluttering uncertainly beneath my hand, but I was still concerned.
I trembled as I dialed 9-1-1. It took my multiple tries to hit the correct numbers. Since when were the buttons so small? The operator asked me my name. I couldn’t answer her, I kept repeating, “Help me. My mom, she’s not moving.” The operator told me to calm down, that help was on the way. How could I be calm? My mother wasn’t moving. How could I be calm?
I rode in the back of the ambulance, clutching my mother’s hand to my chest, tears streaming down my face. I was oblivious to the sirens blaring loudly above my head. What if this was it? I took everything she did for granted. I didn’t appreciate her smile. It had been hours since I’d seen her smile and I struggled to remember her face lit up with happiness. I struggled to remember her tinkling laugh.
What if this is it? The next time I see her will she be in a satin-lined casket? Would there be distant relatives milling around me, telling me how sorry they were? They wouldn’t really understand. They would tell me it would all be alright, that I’d move in with my aunt and I’d heal. But it wouldn’t be alright. There would be no escaping her lack of breath; her lack of presence.
The back doors of the ambulance broke open and there were medics rushing her stretcher out the back. I ran frantically beside the stretcher, trying hard to keep her hand safely enveloped in mine. They turned to corner, obviously heading for the emergency room, and I fought with all my might to keep a hold on her. I needed to see her through this. I didn’t want this to be my last sight of her with a beating heart.
A doctor reached out and restrained me, my tears flowing faster now.
“Stay here,” he said, a sad smile on his face, “I’ll let you know as soon as we figure anything out.”
No they wouldn’t. They’d leave me here, in the waiting room, neck curved uncomfortably around the chair. I’d die here, where my mother did. A nurse came over and rubbed circles into my shoulder. It was meant to be soothing, instead it ripped me apart. Would my mother’s warm hand every touch me again? I had to assume the worst. The nurse didn’t leave. I didn’t have the energy to tell her to.
The doctor came out to me, squatting so he was eye level with mine. He smiled and placed a hand reassuringly over my arm.
“She had a heart attack. She’ll be okay.” And that was all I heard.
I leaned forward, burying my face in his chest and gave out multiple, body-shaking, sobs. She was alright. That’s what mattered. Relief spread through my body, so sweet that it hurt. The doctor gingerly encircled me in his arms and sighed. He must get this a lot.
“You can see her now,” he said.
I got up and followed him through a maze of hallways, turning left then right. He stopped outside of room 605 and I entered timidly. She was awake and weakly smiled at me. I smiled back. She was in a paper hospital gown, her hair plastered to her face. Her eyes seemed sunken in, lackluster. Seeing her like this, even though she was scared and not okay, made me smile wider.
When she got home, when we got home, I would memorize her laugh. Maybe I would do a puzzle with her. Maybe we’d even watch a movie.