I don’t know how old I was, but I think Joe was like 7, so I was probably 3, and Jos was a baby, and quite frankly, I viewed her as a cute, but boring doll at that point, which is why she’s not even a part of the memory.
Daddy had just stormed out of the house, after a huge, loud, scary argument with Mommy. It really just seemed like his thundering voice, though. I couldn’t run upstairs to escape the noise because that would’ve demanded my walking through the kitchen to the steps, and he was standing at the kitchen table. I ran to one of my favorite hiding spots, the living room closet, shut the door, and sat next to a pair of Mommy’s boots. I loved them. They were chocolate-colored with a thick sole and heel, and a zipper on the side. When she slid them on, leathery brown up to her knees, she was suddenly taller. I imagined her as a superhero like Wonder Woman.
The door slammed shut with such force half the house shook. My heart raced. I hated when Daddy did that. I feared that one day the walls holding up that door, which was white with two rectangular glass windows set in the top half, would crack into pieces and the door would fall right off onto the driveway. Then any old scary thing could come strolling in- Mr. Robinson’s giant orange dog or the mean squirrels that lived in the tree in front of his house. Why would Daddy want to break the house anyway? I chose to stay in the closet until I heard the minivan back out the driveway and pull away.
I slowly turned the shiny golden knob and pushed the medium brown, wooden door open. I looked around the living room- so much green; light green walls, hunter green wall to wall carpet under my feet. I liked it. Combined with the green leaves of the trailing plants that seemed to dot most of the bookshelves and stood in woven planters in some of the corners, it was a room that reflected nature, at least in my preschool mind.
Where was Mommy? She wasn’t in the little yellow kitchen anymore. I could hear her… crying. I hated when she cried. The door was still standing, but something scary must have gotten in anyway. I followed the sound of soft weeping. In the hall, I peeked into the pink tiled and wallpapered bathroom: no Mommy. I then headed into the white guest room, with the green velvet bedspread and that same continuing thick green carpet. In the corner, diagonal from where I stood, sat Mommy in the mustard yellow velvet recliner. She had turned the chair towards the two corner windows, so the back of the chair faced me.
Standing next to her, like a sentinel, was Joe. Pigeon-toed, long feet, encased in untied sneakers; skinny, light brown, skinned knees; dark blue cotton shorts with white stripes on the sides; round, milk belly covered in a stained Hulk t-shirt; slanted, almond eyes focused intently on Mommy’s face.
His hand, with the bumpy thumb, a result of his life long thumb sucking habit, rested on her shoulder. The sobs stopped. She looked into his small face.
“It’s okay, Mommy. Don’t cry. I’ll protect you,” he said, with seriousness and solemnity. She leaned over and hugged him, the two locked in an understanding embrace.
I watched in silence, the bright, warm, golden rays of the sun pouring over them. I didn’t really understand what I was seeing, but I knew Mommy was calm now, and Joe was okay, so then, I would be, too.
“My mother was the making of me.”
When we learned in early 2021 that our mom’s breast cancer had returned, Joe had faith. I did not. After undergoing a mastectomy in September of 2019, and being declared in remission for the following 6 months, things were looking up for Mommy. Then the Covid19 pandemic came through in March 2020, and as lockdowns commenced, routine scans were cancelled. Mommy lived in an assisted living facility, and many residents and staff members became infected. A number died. We weren’t permitted in the building, and instead utilized FaceTime and the phone for visits. When the weather permitted, some visits were arranged outdoors- through a chain link fence.
Over time, I slipped into an anxiety-filled depression. As an immunocompromised person, nearly all social activities stopped- except doctor’s appointments (and most of those were tele-med appointments). I missed working out at the Y, lunches with Joe, getting my nails done, but most of all, my mom. I just wanted to hug my mom.
Then came that CT scan in early 2021, and I just cracked. The damn pandemic had hooked its claws into my mother, and she never even caught Covid. When I finally was allowed in to see her in Spring 2021, I tried to get any tears out beforehand. But as soon as I walked in, I cried anyway, not from sadness, but joy of just being able to wrap my arms around her.
But I was not optimistic. Her oncologist gave her months. She’d be lucky if she made it to her birthday in September. She wasn’t worried about it, one way or the other. If she went, she’d be with Jos again, and if she stayed, she would see me, Zoe (yay), Jenny (yay), but especially, her JoJo.
As months passed, Joe kept the faith, maintaining mom still had some life to live. He worked with her occupational therapist and nutritionist to help her put some much needed weight on. He consulted with the physical therapist and pain management doctor to lessen her pain and discomfort. He played some of her favorite gospel songs and sang along with her. Other times he’d just sit by her bedside as she fell asleep while watching TV Land. He’d stroke her silver and white hair and hold her hand.
There is a quote by Thomas Edison, that his mother was the making of him. I believe our mom- for better and worse- made so much of Joe. He, as just a small boy, stepped up to calm and protect her. He put his little arm around her shoulders and gave her reassurance and encouragement. He continued to do so throughout his teen years, especially when my dad moved out and they eventually divorced. She found a new sense of purpose when he made her a grandmother when he had his own little Joe.
And over 20 years later, when many of the doctors and nursing home staff wrote her off as already gone in the summer of 2021, he protected her from such negativity, surrounding her with music, laughter, food, love, and life. She celebrated 2 more birthdays.
She gave him life. He was an answer to her prayers to God for a child after years of infertility. She gave him strength. He gave her purpose. She gave him courage. He gave her a calm, protected death.
Mommy can rest in peace now. Joe can rest, and I can, too.