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“I wish she was dead,” I said quietly to my cousin as we stood in his living room watching our mothers talk one late fall day freshman year. My mom and Aunt Sharon spoke of nothing in particular, simply enjoying each other’s company. My mother often embarrassed me, and that day was no exception. I was embarrassed by how she dressed, with her dorky Christmas socks and shirt tucked in all the time. Then there was the way she acted; always so joyful, not realizing what it was like being seen with her. The things she said (and firmly believed) also bothered me, such as “Parents don’t expect enough of their children,” and “The day I say boys will be boys, you may as well just shoot me.”
This was not the first time I felt a strong dislike toward my mother; but it was one of the last. That evening I went home unaware of how much influence my mother had in my life. Nearly a week later I found out. My parents were disappointed with me and my older brother, Peter. They felt we were making typical teen mistakes: they didn’t like our choice of hang-outs, our clothing that didn’t fit and, sometimes, our friends. Most of all they hated our music with its loud banging and screaming.
One night I became so frustrated with my mother when she threw out my favorite CD that I punched a hole in my wall. I quickly rearranged the furniture, so no one noticed it. Pulling up to school the next morning I went through the usual routine. I tried to sit low in the seat of our old beat-up station wagon so no one would recognize me being dropped off by my mother.
I tried to get out as quickly as possible. As I gathered my things my mother said, “Good-bye.” I managed to utter “bye” as I slipped out of the car.
Not much stands out in my mind about that day in school. Just before the day was over, however, I do remember glancing out the window at an ambulance speeding down Main Street. It reminded me of my first-grade teacher, a scary, old woman, who always made us say a Hail Mary for the person the ambulance was rescuing.
Arriving home with my friend, I found my little brother, Greg, watching TV.
“Where’s Meta?” I asked, noticing my sister’s absence. “Out with all the rest of the big eighth graders?”
“She and Mom went shopping,” Peter replied.
I made myself a float and sat down to watch TV.
An hour later we heard the distinct crackle of stones in the driveway. Although I knew it would be my mother, my instinct led me to look outside.
“Andy, who is it?” Peter asked.
“It’s a cop. He’s just turning around.”
Then I realized the cop wasn’t backing up. The car door opened.
“He’s getting out!”
At first I worried I was in trouble. I went with Peter to the door to meet the officer. I remained as still as possible and hoped politeness would keep away trouble.
Seeing how slowly he approached, I relaxed a bit. As he reached the door he took off his hat.
“Is your father home?” he asked.
“No, he’s still at work.”
“When will he be back?”
“Not for a few hours.”
His questions came fast, and our responses were delayed as our minds worked hard to determine the reason for his presence.
“What are your names?”
We turned to each other to answer each simple question. We were too busy trying to put things together to be sure our answers were correct.
“Last name, Hammer?” his voice softened.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. Your mother and sister were involved in a serious car accident. Your sister was taken to Children’s Hospital. Your mother didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”
No one said anything for a second that seemed like hours. Even if words existed for all the emotions I felt, there would be too many to write.
Realizing it was my time for questions, I asked when it had happened.
“At about 3:20.”
I paused and asked where.
“On Main Street near Connection Drive.”
A few more questions followed. We then went to the phone to call my aunt.
“Aunt Sharon, I have somebody here who wants to talk to you,” I said, realizing I couldn’t tell her and handed the officer the phone.
Her shrill cry of “No, not Laura!” was heard by all. I can still hear it resounding in my head.
The officer left. We were alone. Greg was still watching TV in the living room; Peter took the job of informing him. I remember glancing in and seeing Peter kneeling in front of Greg’s chair, Greg’s face in his chest. Both were crying.
I never did cry that day, although I should have. As people flocked to the house I was continuously told I must not cry. I needed to be strong. A man I barely knew drove to my father’s workplace to tell him. No one in the family appreciated this.
The following days were bad. The three wakes, the mass of Christian burial, the funeral; each wore away at me. I was angry at the people who surrounded me during these events. They weren’t thinking. They said and did what came to their minds, which left me to decipher many mixed messages and unbelievable theories on my own. The worst included a woman who claimed she knew of my mother’s death months before it happened; a Catholic priest who told me my mother was in heaven, as if he had forgotten Catholics believe in purgatory; and overhearing a conversation of how seriously my mother had been injured.
I was supposed to deal with all this and remain strong in the process. Mom’s death was the worst experience of my life. It caused more family problems than any fight Mom and I ever could have had. It caused more pain than any embarrassing thing Mom ever could have done. It caused more frustration than any teenage mistake I could ever make. And, if I had known this ahead of time, I never would have wished for it.