“We have your test results.”
I sat on the visitor chair, frozen in my indecision whether or not I should go take my mom’s hand or stay where I was. The doctor glanced at me as she slid her rolling chair closer to the ER bed.
“It’s not good news.”
This was not what either my mom or I wanted to hear right now. We were set to start a trip to Morocco in two days. The trip was to be a celebration of my mom’s 70th birthday, my 40th birthday, and a time for three generations of women to explore another country.
Of all the potential options, the diagnosis that eased it’s way out of the doctor’s mouth was one I never considered. I’m not sure what most people do when they hear, whether rushing to their loved one was expected or not. I turned to stone. All sensation left my body as my face felt only the pull of gravity.
The doctor’s words and my mom’s questions came towards me through a telescopic lens while I looked between the two, expressionless. Once the doctor left, the chair released me from it’s hold and I lumbered toward my mom.
I set my hip up on the small bed, holding my mom’s hand that became twenty years more fragile in the space of ten minutes.
How am I going to tell Vivian we aren’t going to Morocco?
My mom and I sit and stare into each other’s eyes for forever in thirty seconds before either of us spoke. To anyone outside the curtain, our conversation might seem odd. Neither of us expressed tears or emotion. Instead, we talked about Morocco as we expressed our initial thoughts. Neither of us had emotion in our faces or our voices as we forced ourselves back from the edge of shock.
The other conversations would come as we left the ER, about phone calls and doctor visits, about what she wanted from me as her support, and what each of us was going to do the next day.
“Are we going?”
“I don’t know. I need to make some calls tomorrow.”
“Okay, I will call the company to find out cancellation policy and…”
“Oh, no. I assume you and Vivian are still going.”
For the second time in that witching hour, I turned to stone. I never considered taking this trip without my mom. And the thought of leaving her at home to deal with this by herself while I’m walking around Morocco was as foreign as trying to eat air. Which is what I was doing, swallowing nonstop as my mind moved at light speed.
“I want to go. Let me make my calls and decide.”
“Ok. Talk to you tomorrow. One step at a time, and no more than that.”
“One step at a time.”
Two days later, and we are stepping quickly through Denver International Airport as we grab fast food for Vivian and my mom and try to make our flight to Dulles. Neither my mom nor me really like being rushed to the gate, but today we all moved a little slower than usual.
Vivian is excited, asking a million questions in the space of a breath while I try to keep up. Part of my mind is focusing on measuring my mom, her energy, and how she’s feeling. I won’t tell her I’m doing it; my mom insists on being self-sufficient. But in the space of two days, everything has changed.
While we do not have an official diagnosis, nor do we know exactly what the future holds, both my mom and I feel the pressure of how important this trip is going to be.
The flight is on-time, and we are on our way. We planned a night over in Virginia to give Vivian time and space to stretch her legs, run out her energy, and orient herself before the longer flight across oceans and continents.
Airtime is usually uneventful, as each of us finds our comfort moments in between jostling our boundaries and hyper-awareness of the hundreds of other people in the contained space. Vivian sits in the window seat, and Mom always wants to aisle, so I am left in the middle by default.
I have one moment where my physical location is a metaphor for my role in life as of two days ago. Now I understand when sociologists talk about the sandwich generation, stuck in the middle of taking care of children and parents.
I’ve never had to think about taking care of my independent and self-sufficient mother.
Stepping off the train from the concourse, I am struck by the distinct difference between Dulles International and DIA. Similarities are they are both international airports and have train systems. And that’s where the similarities end.
While DIA is filled with colors and textures, exhibiting art and paintings on every flat surface and flooded with light, Dulles is all glass and cement. The airport is military and utilitarian, a bunker set into the countryside of Virginia.
At baggage I make a mistake. I grab my mom’s bag and start walking.
“I can grab it.”
“But why don’t I just do it if I am able?”
The moment is sidestepped by a 5 year old. Due to Vivian’s waning energy, I take her bag and Mom ends up with her suitcase.
We planned the trip to Morocco with a certain function in mind: celebrate keystone birthdays while exploring the world. I have a feeling this trip will have more significance to our relationship as my mom and I adapt and navigate through an inevitable yet unexpected life change.
One step, and one day, at a time.