Z and one of the butterflies.
Before seven this morning, I sat down on my couch, flipped open my laptop and read.
I heard the tiny fluttering wings of the butterflies I ordered for Zoe as a science project. There were five of them in an enclosed habitat, and at my movement, they started up, zig zagging against the white net that held them together.
“Well, good morning,” I said aloud, amused at how ungraceful the little painted ladies were. They crashed into each other like kids in a 90s era mosh pit.
I went back to reading, from laptop to iPad and back.
Time passed. Zoe was up and K was gone to work.
A text from my stepmom snapped me back from the morning timelessness I sometimes stumble into unwittingly. It seems, one moment, it’s seven thirty and I’m getting Z some cereal, only for the next to be a quarter to 12. It’s disorienting, trying to figure out how I spent four hours and only accomplished three, maybe four tasks, like dishes and scrubbing the tub.
I quickly checked the time before unlocking my phone to read the full text. It was only eight thirty-three. A text before nine from Kathy? It was a group text to other family members including Joe and his wife. I sat up. Scared.
“Fam… My mom had a heart attack during the night and Doctors are saying…”
“Lord have mercy,” I said aloud. Z looked confused. The butterflies were quiet.
Kathy had taken the first flight out to Milwaukee to be by her 85 year old mother’s side. It didn’t look good. She ended her text with “Pray” followed by a lot of exclamation points.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” God bless my sensitive child, who knows my overly-expressive looks. I explained that Grandma Kathy’s mommy was in the hospital sick.
I switched on Pandora, my Ella Fitzgerald station. Sometimes I loathe silence. Like just then.
Z played a Curious George game on the laptop. I pray-argued with God in my head. “Are you just messing with us? She just lost Daddy, she does not need to lose her mom! This is ridiculous!”
My angry conversation faded out to thoughts of my visit with my own mom at her nursing home on Friday. Her dementia is far more pronounced now. She refered to my nephews as my cousins, and repeatedly talked about her fears and worries for Joe… from when he was a baby.
Mom and Z last Friday.
“I never wanted him to be drafted. Not my Jo Jo. I never wanted to lose him like that.” I tried to assure her there would be no draft and he was safe, maybe just a little stressed, at his office job. My words would only calm her for ten to fifteen minutes before she’d began to talk of her Jo Jo again.
He happened to call and I let him know I was there and had spoken to the nurse-practitioner caring for her about the biopsy she had done on a lump in one of her breasts two days before. The results weren’t back yet. She demanded to speak to him, her Jo Jo. I handed her my cell which I put on speaker. The convo was short. He had to get back to work.
My mother hates silence, too, has hated it for years now. I think it set in as an enemy when all three of us kids moved out within a couple of years of each other. She began keeping a TV on nearly 24/7. This habit did not change when she took up residence in the nursing home, much to a couple of roomates’ chagrin. I realized the Funeral Mass for the young NYPD officer Brian Moore was playing. A man was singing the hymn “How Great Thou Art”. He was only 25. Mom began to sing along. I wondered how long it would be before she began talk again of fearing the loss of her son to sacrifice.
“Mommy, why are you sad? Cause of Grandma Kathy?” Z was still worried. I looked over at the TV stand and my Mother’s Day cards propped up on it, gifts from K and Z. On the TV itself, song information for the tune playing: Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”. My heart hurt. I grabbed Z and kissed her soft cheeks and then hugged her a little too tight.
Just after noon, I took Z and the butterflies to the park. We ate tuna fish on wheat and some Bugles. I sipped a bottled Starbucks frap. It was the S’mores flavor, but I couldn’t taste marshmellow. It was the second time I had drank it and on the first go-round, I totally tasted it. Z ran around with another little girl who only spoke Spanish. But play is universal.
Some time before two, I helped Z unzip the top of the habitat and watched as one by one the painted ladies took off and away. Weeks of watching them eat, grow and build hanging cocoons, and finally emerge as winged things. And just like that, they were gone.
I folded up the habitat and stuck it away in the bottom of the stroller. The other little girl had left with her daddy a few minutes earlier, and the park suddenly seemed quiet.
Z, surveying the empty jungle gym, asked me, “What’s next?”. We headed towards home.
At six twenty-eight, Joe called me. Mom has Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast Cancer. He’s going over to the nursing home tomorrow to begin the next steps, of visits with oncologists and more tests. At six forty-three, he said “I love you, Dita,” and hit “End”.
In less than 12 hours, and to quote Joe, “Everything’s changed”. Just like that.