By Chaily Bitton
I am eighteen years old and I still call my mother “Mommy,” and I don’t think that will ever change. It’s partly because, at this point in my life, calling her anything other than that would be odd. I had tried out saying “Mom” a few times but it felt so strange—like I was calling out to a stranger. I quickly started calling her “Mommy” again, because that’s who she is; that’s who she’s always been.
I think what was so hard about seeing my mother getting sick was the fact that she had always been so strong. That she had always been there for everyone and anyone. My father was and still is constantly working, so when I was younger she was always the one who was there.
I remember when she took us sledding on top of a hill at Beaver Lake. We had one sled for my brother and I. It was scarlet red and had one long opening at the bottom that looked like a scar. The snow was thick and fresh, and it was everywhere. As you can imagine, sledding with a broken sled is futile—but still, this is my happiest memory.
She did everything. She was the chef, the sheriff, the entertainer, and the handyman all rolled into this one heavenly creature. And I never saw her as a human before, because to me she had always been a sort of Wonder Woman. Never ill, never tamed, and certainly indestructible.
She had been complaining of jaw pains for a while. She had just had gum surgery without any numbing drugs, out of fear of dependence. This wasn’t shocking to me. I had already been through this conversation.
“Your grandfather was a drug addict,” my mother said in the oral surgeon’s lobby. I was just about to get my wisdom teeth removed and the surgeon had prescribed me some Oxi. I was holding her pinky tightly in my hand. “Addiction runs in our family.” I nodded my head and suggested something less strong.
I had always been a nervous person; my palms were always sweating. It was so bad, my mother wouldn’t hold my hand; every time I’d reach for her, she’d make this weird “tut, tut” sound that she often did, shake her head, and offer me her pinky to latch on to.
So when I’d skipped first period to take her to the doctor’s, (because I’d taken her everywhere: to the dentist when we thought it was a cavity, to the pharmacy when she needed Tylenol, and to the MRI when reality hit) my head and my heart and my chest felt completely disconnected from one another, disunited because of this foreign feeling.
That night I spent hours begging anyone above to give me her pain. I held my hands to my ears to block the screams. I wanted to help but I couldn’t. I remember crying so much, I forgot how to breathe.
I woke the next morning with this pain in my chest. Pain so thick, so hollow—I thought for a second that my prayers had come. That this was her pain I was feeling. That I would go to her room and she would be fine. Wrapped under the protection of cotton sheets, her thumb in her mouth, and her dreams giving her peace.
But that’s not what I saw. And it was silly and naive and juvenile of me to believe this. It is so hard to see the one person you have the highest regard for being at their lowest. And there she was, her cries of “make it stop,” and her crushing of my pinky; as if our roles had been reversed, as if I was the one she needed. At that moment she wasn’t my mother, she wasn’t the chef, she wasn’t the sheriff, she wasn’t the entertainer, and she wasn’t the handyman; she was a human being.
She was a regular person just like me, who at times gets sad and self-conscious. A person who had a childhood, and experienced love and heartbreak. That veil of motherhood was long gone and what was left beneath me was a tortured and suffering girl. This broke my heart.
I was absolutely destroyed. I was all-consumed with thoughts of “who am I without my mother?”. Who am I without her guidance, without her unusual bursts of energy that sprung from the most uncommon times? Without her witty responses and her knowledge on just about everything? I could not fathom the possibility of living in a world where my mother did not exist.
I don’t know why, but for some reason, the one thing I couldn’t get out of my head was my wedding day, which is strange, because I don’t even know if I want to get married. But I couldn’t stop. All I could think about was her not being able to see the dress she had been going on and on about since I was eleven because she was on the floor crying in agony. That her sickness was so torturous, she wouldn’t be able to be happy, and I wouldn’t be able to relish in her joy.
And even now, when no episodes have come. There’s still dread. It’s like a cloud. Dark and looming and threatening. We didn’t talk out of fear of expressing it into existence.
We went to a funeral not too long ago for a mother of four. I tried so hard not to get emotional; I barely knew the woman. I felt guilty. Here I was, my seemingly perfectly healthy mother beside me, physically with me while these four orphans were broken. Even in adulthood, they were distraught without their mother.
Every one of the daughters had said the same: “I couldn’t explain it, but the urge to start calling her ‘Mommy’ again had been so strong. I think on some level I knew.”
I grabbed my mother’s arm onto my lap, my fingers wrapped tightly around her long pinky, as though I was still a child; still her little girl, with clammy, sweaty palms. I rested my head on her now-sturdier shoulders and whispered softly, “I will never stop calling you ‘Mommy’.”