I played as if no one was watching. My body swayed as my fingers did the work. My eyes were closed, and I was in my own world. My foot hit the pedal with soft force, making the notes ring. It felt amazing to play the piano again. It felt good to be me.
When cancer took over my family, practicing the piano was no longer important. It was my job to make sure Mom was okay, the dishes were done, and the house was clean. I guess you could say that was a lot for a 14-year-old, but when you’re doing it for someone you love, these things aren’t complicated. It was hard to focus at school. I worried about her constantly. Everyone at my school knew she had cancer, but when she came in to volunteer, it was still a shock to see someone as beautiful as her without hair.
I knew she was dying, but I never really accepted it. When we went out in public people would stare, and that hurt. My mom got used to it, but I never did. It made me angry. Mom would always talk about how she wanted her hair back. No matter how many times I told her she was beautiful, she didn’t believe me, and it hurt me to see her hurting.
Mom would get chemo treatment once a week. I hated chemo days. With every treatment my mom came home looking less like herself. Her skin would be pale with a thick layer of purple beneath her eyes. Her body was becoming skin and bones. Cancer was changing her. She was slowly being eroded.
The chemo went on for months. I hated it. The nights were scary because she would throw up and retch. I’d wake up thinking, Please, Mom, still be here. Sure enough, she’d walk out on her twiglike legs, wearing her pink bathrobe, and flash me a faint smile – all she could manage.
I missed the mornings when she’d come into my room singing loudly, give me a kiss, and then make breakfast. I missed hearing her banging the pans, humming her tunes, and smelling the pancakes cooking.
I knew the days I had left with my mom were dwindling. Every moment I had with her I cherished. I tried to notice her laugh, her voice, her faint little smile, every small detail. I vowed that I would never forget anything about her once she was gone.
I couldn’t focus in school. The words the teachers said were a blur. Even their faces were blurry at times because my eyes would fill with uncontrollable tears. I’d be taking a test and then suddenly I’d start shaking and not know what to do. I couldn’t live without my mom.
Then it was that night. That night that I never wanted to come. The night the doctor said she couldn’t hold on much longer, I went into her room and lay by her for a long time crying. No words, no sounds, just tears. There was so much I wanted to say, but little came out. How could I live without her? My mom. My best friend. This couldn’t happen.
Her last night in the house was a Thursday. We sat in the living room around the coffee table. Her eyes were closed because she had no strength to keep them open. My family talked about memories and giggled at the stupid things we had done when we were young. This night wasn’t meant to be sad. We had to be upbeat for Mom. We knew it was what she wanted.
After lots of laughter, stories, and tears, my dad touched my mom gently and asked, “Is there anything you want?”
I heard her whisper, “Stella … piano.”
I hadn’t played in months, but I couldn’t say no.
My dad picked my mom up and carried her to the piano room. I sat on the bench and closed my eyes. I started out in a soft hum. Then the notes came, slowly at first, then faster. My fingers danced across the keys. For my mom.
Now my fingers were flying. My eyes were closed, and I was giving it everything. All the emotion I’d held in for these last few months poured violently onto the keys. After the piece I just sat there for a long time not even realizing my fingers had stopped. Not even realizing I was sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. And that was it. That performance was the best I had ever given.
The next day I woke up to my dad looking down at me with tears in his eyes, and I knew she was gone. I let out an awful sob, and I felt like my life was over just like hers. I got out of bed, the pain feeling too much to handle, went to the piano, and began to play. For my mom.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.