The bug

May 10, 2011
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I can always see her face. Any time of the day. There she is. Next to me in the car, at school, before I go to sleep. But it isn’t the “her” I last saw. That last “her” wasn’t her at all. I was next to her while she lay in the hospital bed, her glasses sitting at the middle of her nose. They weren’t doing her sleepy, drooping eyes any good. The treatment was tough, but so was she. Her swollen head and face lay deeply into her pillows as her hair slipped farther and farther from her forehead. She was tired but she assured my dad and me that she felt much better.
Only two months before, at Christmas, I saw that wig for the first time. It looked great. It was really obvious that it wasn’t her real hair, it was much lighter and longer then her own. However it fooled her 93 year-old mother, which was all it needed to do. The poor fragile woman didn’t need more to worry about; we were trying to get her out of the nursing home and back to where she belonged. The whole family was under one roof for one last time. Her, with her wig, on the couch. I can see it perfectly. She had everyone fooled. But at least I knew she was sick whereas it took her mother by full surprise. Hearing her mother say repeatedly, “It should have been me” grabbed all feeling I had and wrenched it out of my body; the pain in her voice took my last emotion hard, quick, and painfully. There really is such a thing as painfully numb. I couldn’t feel emotion anymore, I was sure I was no longer human. The big black bug had captured her, but it didn’t affect who she was. This isn’t the face I see either.
Months before Christmas, she was as she normally was. She managed to stay clear from hospitals for almost a year. Her dishwater blonde, boy-cut hair, bright smile, coarse laugh, and bright loving eyes are what I remember. That’s who she was. That’s who I see.
At Christmas she took care of everyone, making sure her kids and grandkids (including me) got just what they wanted. That’s who she was. That’s who she made my dad into. She was a great mother. It was near intolerable to see her like this, weak and helpless but still eager to try. I didn’t know how my dad did it. He’s so strong on the outside, and I guess he must be inside as well. I could see the walls he had up to protect him from being discovered. He hid well, I just read better. Dad knew all along he was going to lose his mother, maybe that’s something you can feel better than others, maybe it’s just him. I sat in my room after talking to him on the phone and imagined the fluctuating pain he had to go through; hearing the same stories resonate through his head. The responsibility and strength he took on, I think that’s what broke him. He had to keep so many updated. Telling his own daughters, knowing it was going to hurt us, and also knowing he knows it isn’t his fault. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever seen my father do.
It was like watching Animal Planet and seeing an animal lose a fight. His usually big-chested, bulky armed, over all fierce figure now hung limp and powerless. This bug got my dad too, but only his thoughts. Parts of it are still in my head to this day. This thing takes over the minds of the families of the ones it eats away at. You can’t get it out of your mind because it changes your life so much, and very few times does the victim live.
This bug feasts on living creatures. For some, it takes organs and life, it’s main course; for others, it just inhabits your brain with it’s memory, just a little something to feed on. It takes over, and it’s all you can think about for months. That nasty bug lurked in her body, slinking its way around the lungs and into the brain. The bug makes you hate it, makes you wish you had never met it; and that’s all you can do, wish you hadn’t.
While I sat with my father next to her, excited to get her home from the hospital, she told me I was beautiful. She told me she was proud of me, gave me advice on college, and she really wanted me to be sure to get a graduation announcement to her so she wouldn’t forget. She was going home, ready to see her animals and other family. That was Saturday. Maybe she knew. We can’t ever be for sure can we? That wasn’t her in that coffin, just her body. But how? She was just with me not even a week ago.
I can still hear my dad’s shaking voice in my ear over the phone. He had to be the one to tell me she passed. I remember the ground meeting with my body. Embarrassing thing to do at work, but my boss was sympathetic. She made sure I would be all right and sent me home. I didn’t drive, couldn’t. My body was ridded of will, strength, and my mind of understanding. She was better, I thought. That’s when her face began showing up. There she was.
I can hear my dad in the other room through the paper walls. “Of course she’s worried about you, she loves you.” The warnings were there. This stupid black bug took my dad’s mother, my grandma, and my great grandmother’s only child. The pain of it all made us have to hold together to be strong, because individually, we were only pieces. Not broken pieces, it was more like a puzzle. We needed each other to pick up our pieces and put them where they go to make the picture come back together. Like young children, we couldn’t do a thousand piece puzzle without help.
My grandma didn’t lose because she didn’t quit. The only losers that exist are quitters. She was a fighter. We tried to crush the bug, but there was no more we could do. She didn’t want us to worry and mourn; she wanted us to go on as she would. I stare at the casket, stuck in place as if all the gravity of the earth was concentrated on me. Suddenly I feel an arm around me and my shoulder and face go instantly wet. It’s my dad. We hold each other on our shoulders and the tears soak into our shirts. I knew then I would do anything to kill the bug and get her back, and I squeezed my dad tight and let him cry.

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