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Taken by the wind
Drawings left behind
Grief hit me in waves. There was the stage right after: the tears and torment, anger and questions. After that came the stage of prayers, the time I focused on what I had lost. And now I feel the deep rooted regret, the way my heart aches as I remember all the words that will never be said between us, all of the memories she cannot bear witness to, all of the times that I will need her.
When I was seven I saw tragedy firsthand. I felt the pain of losing a loved one, of losing a parent, of losing a mother. I saw her wither and die before my eyes, a virtual skeleton that I will never see again. I don’t regret much in my life. In fact, I would say that despite all the suffering, I’ve been well off. But I do regret my last words. I regret my fading memory of jumbled pieces that I have yet to make sense of.
At the age of seven, what is most important to you may be a newly acquired toy. It may be whom you sit with at the lunch table or your brand new Sunday dress. For me, everything was my mother. And losing her changed me forever, shaping me in ways that I hope no one ever has to be changed. I’ve never been able to forgive, and I will never be able to forget.
Cancer, they told me, the looming figures of doctors, relatives and hospital staff, was a bad sickness. No, it couldn’t be cured with cherry flavored cough syrup. Yes, she did have
to stay in the hospital. I didn’t understand, but then again no one bothered to try and explain it to me.
At first, it was only a few visits to the clinic. My mother would be lying on a bed, her arm extended so that I could see the pulsing blue of her veins beneath her papery skin. She would laugh when I held my small arm next to hers, asking if we could trade and tracing a light finger over the spidery blue webs mapped beneath our skin.
So much is a blur; a constant stream of relatives coming in, my aunts all loud and scattered and wild haired. We would laugh and sing and cook, music turned up loud as the bare pads of our feet slapped against the green tiled floor. My mother would sit on the couch, laughing, as we danced and did plays for her. Everyday after school I would come home to find someone ready to drive me to the clinic.
But after a while, we stopped going to the clinic whose lobby had squishy chairs that I could actually reach. Instead, we frequented the hospital, whose walls were bare and clean, whose lobby was a massive three-story archway. I became horribly accustomed to seeing my mother sick. Her dark and curly hair fell out in chunks until she wore a headscarf in its place. Her skin turned shallow and pasty, her legs began to work against her.
At night, as we sat in my bed, peering through the skylight, we would read a story. Often, my mother made one up and I lolled to sleep as her voice smoothed over me like a dream. But it always ended the same, words that I will never forget, conversations worth more than millions.
“I love you,” she would whisper sweetly in my ear.
“I know,” I’d reply, already beginning to nestle into the comforters.
“How much?” she’d ask.
“More than there are stars in the sky. A bazgillion,” I’d say. She’d kiss my cheek, getting up slowly and quietly. Her voice would ring in my ears then as it does now. Out of everything, I can still hear her whispering me a goodnight, even years after she’s been gone.
On July 3, 2001 I sat in the hospital waiting room at the end of the hall. My grandmother sat beside me, sketching tiny pictures of what she thought I’d grow up to look like. My aunts sat clustered around me, doing word puzzles and chatting. My father sent a nurse to come get me and I left the room, clutching the pictures my grandma had drawn of me.
The hallway was empty and white; bright sunlight seeping in from the window on the left. I trailed one hand absentmindedly on the wall, well below the railing, as I made my way to the corner room. The corner room had become a place I dreaded. I hated to visit my mother in the stark white of the hospital, her hands and body punctured and hooked to machines that groaned like death. It always took me several times to make it onto the bed, my tiny legs barely able to reach.
That day I entered the room and everyone left but my father. He stayed on the other side of the bed as I greeted my mother, plopping the sketches on the table near the door. I
stood next to her bed. She reached with one thin and frail arm, stroking the side of my face gently. We talked for a minute, about what I don’t remember, before I said goodbye. I hugged her and turned to go. Then I said I love you.
I picked up the sketches and left the room, never knowing that this would be the last time I ever saw my mother.
The hallway was different. Yes, I had just been there a few minutes before. But when I was walking away from the corner room, as the machines started to beep faster and louder, as footsteps pounded the ground, the sun shone so bright that I couldn’t see. Instead, I reached out my fingers to the wall and closed my eyes, leaving everything else behind.
Later that day, as I stood in the courtyard of the hospital and my father told me my mother was in Heaven, I remembered heaven, right?, I cried. The tears came faster and faster and it was then that I forgot everything. I forgot what I said to her in the end, I forgot the smell of her hair and soft touch of her fingertips.
So when my father gave me time alone, I cried again. But this time, I balled up the drawings in my hands. They were the portraits my grandmother had drawn of me. They were futuristic pictures of me in five, ten years. Then I began to rip them to shred, tears so sharp that I even tore my own skin. But it didn’t hurt. Not as bad as knowing that my mother would never see me like I was in those sketches.
Before I went inside, I dropped the torn paper to the ground. The wind picked them up and took them away, just as it did had mother.