Mom’s Place in the Peloton

I consider this story a fragment of me. You can change yourself by telling (changing?) your story, right? I’m not even sure if I got the dates or facts right, but this is how I remember it.

As a young boy in our kitchen in Massachusetts, I recall learning what a mastectomy was. Mom showed off the scar, with gruesome pride. This is what I would call leather jacket Jackie phase — she definitely came out of it tougher.

I remember mom teaching us about having a tighter budget now, too. Those surgeries couldn’t have been cheap.

As years went by, from time to time, I’d catch myself wondering what it would be like to not have one of my parents.

Hilton Head Island, 2003. The news was shared that mom’s cancer had come back, now spreading up her spine.

It eventually grew all the way to her brain, collapsing vertebrae and slowly corroding her mental function. My brother Paul came home from college and frequently took her to chemotherapy. He watched the train wreck unfold, frame by frame, for the next three years.

My dad, a physician, was powerless to stop cancer’s long march. The insurance companies refused to pay for the surgeries she needed for her back. Despite proceeding with unfunded aggressive treatments and reconstructive surgery, she became 6 inches shorter, obese, and diabetic.

She was at my high school graduation, but only with great assistance from my family. The last time I saw her, she was lying in bed. Her room reeked of disease. I tried to wake her, but she was too far gone to talk.

Standing next to the bed, I told her how much I loved her, I was going off to college, and that would make her so proud.

I hope she heard me.

I recall August 16, 2006 well. It was the day Jackie died, my first day of college. Dad called me at 7AM, as I was getting ready for school, and shared the news.

That day, it seemed very mechanical when I went up to the professors asking if it was going to be a problem to miss class to go home for a few days. I felt guilty, undeserving of this excuse. It was as if I was outside my brain, observing physical me going through the motions. Just now as I write this, I finally realize why it was so hard for me to skip those classes.

…I got a 4.0 in college, Mom. For you. I really think you’d be proud.

Damn. That just hit me like a sack of bricks. This is going to take a moment to process.

These days, I have photos of her in that leather jacket, and a little sign that hangs on my bathroom wall that reminds me “mom loves you” purchased on one her frequent trips to antique stores (Paul was an unfailing chauffeur) towards the end.

I’ve also saved a place for her in our Peloton.

I miss you, Mom. We’ll ride with you.

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