It is morning, and she is making coffee in the kitchen. You are rushing. You are moving. You are going into your last year of high school. Most people must think this of their mothers, but you swear she hides the sun and moon behind her eyelids.
Your mom is sick. She has lupus, an autoimmune disease, and arthritis. It is April of 2015 when it gets worse. You/she/Dad did not realize the implications of one tiny accident, but you guess that’s what the word “accident” is for: the unforeseen, something that shouldn’t have happened but did take place.
You go through the stages of grief without knowing it. No one ever warned you that having a sick family member can be like losing someone who is still standing next to you.
When you have graduated and gotten over the post high school haze, you realize something has changed. You are making coffee. She likes enough cream to turn the liquid chestnut brown, and two heaping spoons of brown sugar. You knew this before, but now you are physically bringing it into her bedroom; she cannot stand up to get it herself.
You make breakfast every morning to the sound of creaking floorboards. Dad is already off to work. Sometimes it’s biscuits, eggs, and bacon. Other days it’s pancakes with just the right amount of cinnamon. She likes it that way. At first, this is with excitement, the good feeling one gets when helping someone they love. In fact, it’s not something you even think about. It has to be done.
She loves watching decorating shows, and soon you do, too. HGTV is now the main event of your breakfast meals. You bring her food, grab your own, and sit in front of the bedroom television. When watching men and women travel the world and move to exotic countries, you think that could be you someday. You dream.
Weeks turn into a month. A month turns into months. You make breakfast every morning to the sound of creaking floorboards. Dad is already off to work. Sometimes you’re not sure if he understands. The coffee is brewing. You are tired, so tired. You bring her food. You try to smile, but cannot bring yourself to. You know it makes her sad, and you don’t want to cause her anymore pain, but for some reason the words “I am sorry” don’t leave your tongue.
Despite this, you grab the remote and turn on the TV. Another couple is complaining about not getting their granite kitchen countertops. You both laugh. Everything is silently forgiven. You pretend not to notice her catching her breath while she’s moving in the bed afterward.
One day, you are out of coffee somehow, so you make tea. Black tea bags in white coffee mugs. Boiling water. You are 17, but you don’t have your license yet. You don’t feel like watching TV. An irrational anger has been feeding at you. You don’t like it, but it won’t go away.
You start getting up at 6 AM, so that you have a few hours before she wakes up. You don’t want to make breakfast. You say goodbye to Dad, who is going off to work. You slam the white cupboards a little harder than necessary when getting plates. It doesn’t make you feel better. After breakfast, you find yourself crying and yelling in the basement/your bedroom/outside/in the bathroom, so she can’t hear you. It’s the end of the summer.
Your mom is your best friend. She loves you, and you love her so much that it hurts. College begins, and you catch rides with friends to classes. You worry about her constantly. Family friends ask questions: “How is your mom doing?” “Tell her that we’re thinking about her.” “And your dad?” At times, the selfish part of you wishes that they would ask about you, too.
Mom is alive, but she is different. It is in the way she moves—slowly, deliberately. Outings used to consist of going to the mall and having lunch. Now it is driving to doctor’s visits, and making sure she makes it inside safely. No amount of time in waiting rooms can make them feel like home.
Everything you do and everything you plan is now without her in it. It is unbearable. Sometimes you get angry all over again, but while you wait outside of the bathroom door in the hallway to help her back into her room—you hear her crying her heart out. It would be best to say nothing. You are crying, too. It is a new year: 2016.
You are selfish to feel like this. You must be. Stop it.
HGTV soon turns into watching TV all day. You have your favorite shows and characters. Mom is smiling. That is all you care about. Morning coffee also turns into morning-and-then-more-in-the-afternoon coffee. Mom is your best friend. You start to remember that again.
You wish you could take the pain away and give her a miracle. You wish you could show her how much you truly understood. How different she must feel about herself. How much dignity she tried to keep. How it must feel to cry in front of your child. How it must feel to not be able to do anything you used to without deliberation and too much effort.
It is almost a new year again now. Mom is better. She is walking. Smiling. It isn’t perfect, but it’s enough. You wake up to the sound of creaking floorboards, wash your face, and start making coffee. This is the constant. It has always been the constant in the chaos.
You like to think that, like the cliche, you’ve been made stronger. You’ve seen firsthand what real love is. It’s more than an obligation, but a necessary force. You/Dad/Mom are still here. She still likes her coffee chestnut brown with two heaping spoons of brown sugar. You still like house hunting shows and dreaming.
You isn’t a you, but an I. I am making coffee for my mother. I can talk to her with a full heart now. I hand her the steaming cup and plop down beside her, grabbing her free hand, and squeezing it. We are still here. All of this over coffee. ♦