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Questioning Sacrifice This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.


I sat in the motionless waiting room like a water strider on a perfectly placid pond, afraid to break the tension of the water and fill the void of sound currently present within the waiting room. I sat in the waiting area feigning conversational interest to my mother’s caretaker, who broke the unsaid contract of silence and rattled on about how she could foresee the death of her patients in their eyes. Her high pitched voice rose to a disharmonious musical crescendo of crashing cymbals and fell with accompanied floor thumps from her foot with every description of her time spent with wizened old men and women. She said she enjoyed watching the faces of her patients morph into their younger selves as they lay dying on their death bed. I fidgeted, constantly snapping the magnetic closure on my mother’s purse open and shut, finding only a wallet and phone within. I could not escape my mother’s caretaker in the rectangular Parnassus Heights waiting room, a strange Panopticon where the doctors and their offices replaced ever vigilant prison guards. I sat and waited for my mother, turning my head from side to side and watching the patients fulfill their appointments with their doctors; my way of tracking time. Surrounded by sickness, I struggled to define “healthy”.

I frequently accompanied my mother on errands around the Bay Area as the designated purse carrier. I would be asked to wade through the purse and the multitude of documents, pens, asthma inhalers, a cell phone, wallets, car keys, DMV papers, clear plastic purse separators, tissues, used tissues, manila folders, rulers, calculators, and loose change that resided within in order to procure a specific paper or set of papers needed for the job. She was healthy then, swimming at the local YMCA on a near-nightly basis and braving the weekend traffic in order for us to spend time with our relatives. When I still owned my audacity to start a yelling match, she would equal my foot-stomping intensity with parental endurance, refusing to crack under my bratty pressures. However, on days with perfect harmony in which we shared snippets of our daily lives with one another, I always wondered why my brothers weren’t there to join the conversation; I didn’t quite yet understand the concept of boarding school.

I was the atheist exception to my devout Catholic family, but even I questioned God about why my mother had to sacrifice so much just to live. A renascent illness, her previous single mastectomy of the left breast and months of radiation and chemotherapy seemingly eradicated the problem before I came out of the womb. A ridge of varying bumps now grow alongside her diagonal scar and chemical port, mocking the failure of the near-dozen chemotherapies. I now spend more time sitting at the table instead of hurriedly running back to my room; I observe the niche details of my mother’s face and her occasional mannerisms that solicit a laugh from me, and try my best to relish our moments together. But the fear of her death means that I occasionally retreat back into my room instead of perching bedside beside her as she rests, afraid to commit time and effort into my own mother. I hope that she lives; but I cannot shake the unescapable thoughts that torment me with her death.

An opening door caused me to look up and see the face of my mother, her return from her doctor’s appointment the signal for our departure. She was my savior from her caretaker, although she did not look like it. Her return from laser therapy meant to eradicate the tumors in her eye demanded that clothing adorn every square inch of bare skin lest she face severe sunburn; my mother wore a clashing conglomerate of woolen pants, a woman’s red and white checkered dress shirt, a sombrero, scarves, fleece gloves. An accompanying nurse then announced our next destination: a speedy journey to the fourth floor in order to flush the current chemicals residing in her medical port. I scanned the floor for her leather purse and picked it up, making note that the purse barely registered the handful of items within by only slightly sagging into a teardrop form. Older and more mature, my brothers and I shared cycles in which we would care for my mother; most of the time, we set aside our differences and rallied around our mutual source of life.

I try to forget life before my brothers attended boarding school. Memories of family vacations clash with participated and witnessed acts of physical violence amongst family members. I remember trips down winding roads and gently sloping hills giving way to glimpses of ocean as my brothers, myself and our mother journeyed to locations in Southern California. I only caught small glimpses of roaring laughter emanating from my brothers’ vocal chords and we entertained each other with video games and childish jokes. My mother didn’t have to pull the car over in order to settle a dispute over a handheld game. These memories are mostly forgotten as they lead to recollections of physical altercations that started when my middle brother ruled out I must be adopted, and verbal confrontations birthed from parental consequences aimed at my brothers ended with shattered glassware and sleepless nights as my brothers’ angry voices reverberated throughout the household as they attempted to disqualify my mother’s reasoning. Sometimes I would wake up to find my mother’s cloth purse thrown on the floor, its numerous documents, wallets, phones and checkbooks splayed about onto the floor like blood from a severed artery. I learned to find solace in the computer, alone, where sounds of virtual gunfight drowned out verbal firefights.

Presently I attempt my best efforts to call my mother multiple times a week, seeking to find comfort within my mother’s words and actions instead of turning to acts of solitude. I cling onto my mother like I do her purse, because I know that even though her physical appearance changes as frequently as her purses, the content within each bag essentially remains unchanged, even if she lugs around many fewer things in her purse. I find estrangement within my own family, but in the sickness of my own mother I also find the want to set aside differences and entertain the idea of peaceable relations with my own kin. Maybe I might discover that my kin remains as my mother, essentially unchanged from the days of my youth.



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