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Refrain- from the morning of June 3, 2009
I woke up that morning with a jolt. I was lying in a cold sweat, and hot tears were rushing down my cheeks. I sat up quickly, looking around my room. My blankets were on the floor and the spot where my cheek had lain was soaked through.
Suddenly a wave of nausea passed through me. I leaped off the bed and ran to the kitchen, knowing I wouldn’t have time to make it to the bathroom. I sank down to the tiled floor afterward. I sat there for awhile, feeling tears ascend.
In three very short hours I would be at my last mass with the Choir Crew, Mrs. Hayes, and Mr. Armstrong. I was supposed to cantor with Lizzie. I couldn’t cantor like this. My eyes were as red as tomatoes. My skin was flushed with a ghostly presence. I looked like a bad dream. I still felt guilty about cantoring in place of Ms. Greene anyway. I had no right to ask her. She even chose “This Is the Day”, because it’s her favorite psalm. Plus, it wasn’t just my last mass, but Ms. Greene’s as well. I just couldn’t get her out of my head.
I ran back to the sink as I felt something arising in the back of my throat. I knew all I had to do was get myself to the school. Once I got there, I knew, I’d be taken care of. So, I got dressed as quickly as possible, pulling on my navy skirt and ballet flats, though I knew they weren’t required this time of year. I wanted to look as good as I could manage through my breakdowns.
I was still crying and throwing up when I finally looked at the clock. We had to leave in fifteen minutes! I ran to my parents’ room, flicking on lights as I went and busted into the bathroom to conquer my hair. I ended up pulling it back in one of my signature headbands. As I went back into the bedroom, I saw that Mom was still in bed.
“Mom,” I groaned. “we should’ve left already! It’s Wednesday! I can’t... be... late for-.” I was interrupted by another spell of nausea. I looked at the clock and moaned. My hands went to my stomach and I tried to concentrate on my breathing.
“Ana, why are you crying?” my mother asked as she walked up behind me, who was clutching the counter for support.
On cue, I started sobbing. One hand instinctively flew to my mouth. My whole body was trembling.
“Ana, you’re not going to school like this,” she said calmly.
What was she talking about? Of course I was going to school. Did she not know what day it was and what I was about to do?
“I’m going to school, Mom,” I said in my weak defense.
“Ana, they won’t let you in if you’re throwing up like this.” I could tell she was trying to make her voice sound soothing.
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” I said as casually as I could and leaned off of the countertop as to prove my point. She raised her eyebrows.
“Okay, I’ll be fine once I get to the church. You can take me home right after mass if I’m still feeling sick.”
“Ana, honey, they won’t let you in if you’re sick.”
“I won’t be sick once they let me in. And they can’t tell me I’m not allowed in the church!”
Well, I won’t let you go either,” she said. “You need to go back to bed.” She was trying to sound firm, but I could feel the odds wavering in my favor.
“I’m really not sick.”
“Then why are you throwing up?” she challenged.
“Ugh!” Why was I explaining this to her? “Because I’m supposed to be with Ms. Greene right now? Because I have to lead the congregation in the last school mass I’ll ever be a part of, and I don’t know how to do it? Because in twenty-four hours this will all be over! My family will be gone!” I threw at her. I was sobbing again.
“Look, Mom,” I continued, “I’m not nauseas anymore. I don’t think I’ll throw up again. And I can stop crying before I have to sing. Just please. Take me to Church.”
She sighed heavily. “Alright. But if you throw up once on the way, we’re turning around. I mean it. Go get ready.”
Now it was my turn to sigh. “I’ve been ready this whole time. Get Nora so we can leave.”
And then... she walked away. That I remember perfectly. She turned and walked, as if she had never stopped. No hug or a comforting “It’ll be okay. I’m here for you, blah, blah, blah.” I could feel the anger rising. I wanted to cry, but I seemed to have run out of tears for the moment. I stood there waiting for what felt like hours. I was angry and scared and impatient, and that seemed to bring on a whole new round of hysteria. I had no tears, but somehow the sobs kept breaking out again and again. I grabbed my bad and stumbled out the door to the car to wait there. Oddly enough, they followed soon after.
I didn’t notice Mom buckling Nora into her car seat or the cry of the engine or slowly pulling out of the driveway. I sat as straight as possible with my hands clenched on the seat beside me. I stared straight ahead, not seeing anything.
I was finally able to tear my eyes off the seat in front of me to glance out the window. I saw the river and the sailboats and the sunrise. It was beautiful. I blocked my throat from the rising nausea. Mrs. Hayes loved the sunrise. One like this would have made her take out her camera. In fact I found myself wishing I had mine. I wanted to document that moment, prove I had been there and it was all for real.
They flashed through my mind- Ms. Greene, “This Is the Day”, last mass. I gasped, and the nausea came out.
“Dang it!” I yelled.
“I’m turning around,” Mom said, and the annoying sound of the car’s blinker pounded into my head.
“No!” I groaned. I started yelling and screaming uncontrollably until my stomach muscles hurt from having no breath. “Mom! Go back!”
“No, Ana. I can’t.”
“Mrs. Cohen,” I managed to breathe out. I felt the car slow.
“What?” my mom whispered.
“Mrs. Cohen,” I repeated more firmly. “Take me to see Mrs. Cohen,”
“Okay,” she agreed. “But I’m going to discuss this with her first, Ana, while you wait in the car with Nora. If she says I should bring you home, I’m bringing you home.” She made her voice sound confident, but we both knew Mrs. Cohen wouldn’t tell me I’m not allowed inside the school.
I wondered briefly why Mom had agreed so quickly, but decided not to worry about it. I felt an out-of-place feeling of relief. Nora told me repeatedly to stop crying.
“I’m sorry!” I told my sister.
I saw the church’s cross break the sky and exhaled. We pulled in, and I saw Ms. Greene’s blue, “Got Music?” stickered car. Even that seemed to be comforting, just knowing she was there.
Mom parked and got out without a word. I pictured the art room while some-what patiently waiting. There are six tables, all covered in paint and glue. I could remember the smell. It is of paint, not in the Home Depot kind of way though. If creativity itself had a scent, it would be the art room at HNJ, I think. There is a wall separating art from music, where there was a rocking chair in the middle and in the far corner was a piano.
I smiled through the ever present tears. I love them so much, I thought. As if speaking aloud, Mrs. Cohen ran out her door toward my car in a panic. I flew open my door and was instantly in her arms. I buried my face in her shoulder. A little sob broke through my lips. She kissed the top of my head and whispered, “We’ll always be in each other’s hearts.”
I pulled back and looked at her. She smiled and then laughed at my attempt to smile back. “Go on and say goodbye to your mom,” she said. “We need to get you to the church!”
I hugged my mom briefly. “Bye, Mom.”
“Bye, sweetheart. I love you.”
Mrs. Cohen took my hand and pulled me across the pavilion. “Are you gonna sit with the girls?” she asked without looking at me.
“I want to,” I replied cautiously. “But...”
“I think you’ll regret it if you don’t.”
“I know,” I said. There was no way I wasn’t going to sit with the choir and we both knew it.
She continued to grasp my hand as we made our way to the church, for which I was grateful. My pace slowed as we entered the building. My heartache started to climb.
I could see Ms. Greene talking to Mrs. Hayes and Lizzie, sitting with her legs crossed, biting her nails. She was freaking out.
I couldn’t help myself and flew down the aisle to Ms. Greene and pulled her into a big hug.
She laughed. “Ah! My cantor finally decided to show up!” she said sarcastically. I blushed.
Mrs. Cohen pulled her to the side, so I couldn’t hear her explain my morning to Ms. Greene. “She just wouldn’t let her mom take her home,” I caught her say.
I looked over at Lizzie, who rolled her eyes at me, making us grin. I heard Ms. Greene exclaim and she gave me another hug. “I’m so sorry!” she said.
“’S’okay,” I mumbled. “It’s not your fault- I’m just melodramatic,” I added to ease the tension. She laughed.
Mrs. Cohen looked at me. “I have to go, but it’s going to be okay. I promise.” She hugged me once more and then turned to Ms. Greene. “I’m going to miss you so much, Michele.” I was then reminded that this was Ms. Greene’s last mass here. My own tears arose and she saw it on my face.
She said gently, “It’ll be alright, honey.”
I took my seat next to Lizzie. “Do you want to do opening or closing?”
Oh, I realized, she was talking about songs. If I did the opening, I’d be able to prepare myself for the psalm. But then again, the sooner I sang, the more likely I’d...
“Closing,” I answered maybe too quickly. “Do you mind?”
“No, of course not.” She took my hand and smiled.
Ms. Greene came over and looked at us. I thought she was going to fall over right then and start sobbing. Mrs. Hayes stood up and put her arm around Ms. Greene, but looked at me.
“Alright, no tears until tomorrow at noon for all of us, okay? Promise?”
I nodded, forcing a smile. A single teardrop fell down my cheek. I turned my head so she wouldn’t see it.
“It’s almost time,” Mr. Armstrong said as he slung his guitar strap over his shoulder. I smiled genuinely up at him. He was always able to make everything brighter.
The introduction was read and everyone stood. “Oh, my gosh,” I breathed. Lizzie winked and then stepped up to the cantor’s mike. The opening was “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship”. That meant that Ms. Greene would be playing her drum. I couldn’t help but smile at the sound.
My stomach felt like I swallowed a meatball sandwich whole. Father Page said the blessing and then a third grader read the first reading. Before I knew it, Ms. Greene was motioning for us to go to the altar. I was so grateful Lizzie was there or I would’ve passed out.
I followed Lizzie up the steps like a zombie and let her adjust the ambo. Mrs. Bartos began to play. I came in half a beat too late and rushed a measure to catch up. I felt Lizzie slow for me, which didn’t help my confidence. But then, magically, I started to relax as the words registered in my brain.
“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”
My whole body began to rise and fall with the music. I opened my throat and reminded myself to use my stomach. We had gone through the refrain twice and now it was my turn. I felt my voice lift over the piano chords. I grinned and tasted the saltiness of my tears. “Will I ever stop crying?” I thought.
I looked across the church to the choir as I sang the last line of my verse. Mrs. Hayes grinned, though I think I saw a tear in her eye. (Now we both had broken the promise!) Ms. Greene had her hands folded and her eyes closed like in prayer.
I turned to Lizzie to see her smiling back at me. We went through the refrain again and then it was over. I floated back over to the choir. Ms. Greene gave me a quick side-hug and whispered, “Now kick it up with the Alle!”
I looked up at the heavens as we sang Alleluia, smiling at Mrs. Hayes’s perfect descant. The mass went way too quickly. Before I could realize what was happening, it was past communion and Ms. Greene and I were closing the mass with “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High.”
During the awards, I received best for art. I flashed Mrs. Cohen a thumbs-up before returning to my seat. I glanced around the crowded church. In every direction was someone I would miss desperately. But then, as my gaze flew by the crucifix, I reminded myself that we will always be connected by His Love for us.
Lizzie and I linked arms and marched out of that Church, ready to conquer the world.