Seven. I was only seven years old. The future was so far away and because it was October, my most distant plan was my birthday party at the end of November. We were at grandma’s house. At our house we didn't have a piano, so at grandma's house, that's where I stayed. I sat in front of the black and white keys: the combination of notes were endless but I focused on Fur Elise; E, D#, E, D#. The vibrations from the simple sound made the blue flowers on the vase atop the piano dance, reminding me to play softer. The smell of pot roast was coming in from the kitchen. That was mom's comfort food. My legs hung from the piano bench, my toes barely brushing the soft, cream carpet. I was comfortable.
Footsteps from down the hall grew louder. The grandfather clock in the foyer rattled with each step. Grandma’s delicate, manicured hand fell to my shoulder.
“Will you join your mother and me in the living room?” she asked. “We would like to talk to you.”
My heart dropped. I had no way of preparing myself for bad news. It was the voice an officer would use to tell you someone had died. My innocent mind raced, trying to figure what the worst thing they could say was. At the time, it would've been my birthday party being cancelled.
I walked with her to the couch. I sat in between mom and grandma. Mom had been crying, her red eyes gave it away. She held my hand in both of hers.
“I took mommy to the doctor,” she began. “She had a bump on her breast. The doctor told us she had cancer.”
Tears swelled up in her eyes. Her mouth opened but no words came out because she knew if she tried, it would only come out as sobbing. Her lip quivered so she bit down on it, distracting herself from pain with pain.
“Mommy will be very sick for awhile. We will do everything we can to make her better.” she said with her strong voice.
“Everything?” I asked.
“Everything. I will spend all of the money in the world if that what it takes.”
All of the money in the world. I thought to myself. For all of the almost eight years I had spent of the earth, there was no pain that money couldn't fix.
We sat there for a moment as mom wept and grandma attempted not to.
The word “cancer” was not very familiar to me. Sure, I’d seen it in movies. But movies never show funerals or motherless children. They show what people want to see; miracles.
“So, you're going to die?” I asked, confused and unable to wrap my head around the future.
Grandma was crying now. Small rivers of tinted tears navigated down her face. I turned back to mom.
“Not today baby, not today.” She responded in her exhales, for her inhales had the sole purpose of flooding her lungs with oxygen.
Not sure what to say next, I got up and went back to the piano. Mom followed me.
“I am going to try my hardest to make it to your high school graduation.”
I did the math in my head. 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grade. That was only ten school years away. Nine and a half to be exact.
Suddenly, the future was a short ten years. It would be a twisted countdown. Ten years to be the best daughter, to make mommy proud, and to take care of her. Ten years to grow up. Ten years to learn how to be a good woman. Ten years that would expose the pain and heartbreak of the world before I was ready. Ten years left with my first love.
As I entered my junior year in high school, my idea of the future became the SAT and and college visits. The world grew closer and louder but three days before the first day of school, that all came crumbling down. The walls caved in around me. It wasn't her time yet. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, not that day. I was angry. I felt so unprepared for everything I’d been preparing for. Mommy left too soon but in the moments I’m alone, surrounded by the ruin and defeat of the walls that I spent a lifetime building, so tired from the pain, I remind myself of all of the days she did come home from the hospital. All of the days she didn't give up. “Not today”, she’d say. Today will not be the day.