The Best Thing
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The Best Thing
In the year 1988, when I was only four years old, my parents were divorced. Although I was too young to remember this, I do remember growing up without a father. The court granted my parents shared custody but my dad was always too busy to take me and my younger brother, Cris, on his days. My dad got remarried on July 15, 1990, to a woman named Lou Ann. She had a son, Zach, who is about three years older than I am. My older brother, Mike, lived in Lodi with my dad and his new family. The four of them lived in a two-bedroom house which did not leave any room for Cris and me. In July of 1997 my dad received a huge promotion, which meant he would be moving to the corporate office of AmeriGas. He was so excited. The only catch was that he had to move to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Mike and our dad were moving three-thousand miles away from us, but we knew that it did not matter. At least this way we had a reason for never seeing them. I was confident that our lives would only get better from then on. We were living in California with our mom, all of our family and friends, and each other; what could be better than that?
Approximately two months after my dad and his family moved I began eighth grade at Waterloo Middle School. Cris was in seventh grade and attended Glenwood Elementary School. One day we both came home from school around 3:00 in the afternoon and my mom was there. That wasn't normal; she never came home from work before 5:30 in the evening. As it turned out she had had a doctor's appointment for her annual check up. It was great. That meant that we could spend some extra time together as a family.
After a week or so our whole lives turned upside down. My mom was called back in to see the doctor so that she could get the results from her check up. Apparently my mom was not as healthy as she appeared to be. She had been diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer. My mom was wonderful; she reassured us that everything was going to be just fine. She came to us and said, "You don't need to worry, we have been through this before and everything turned out great. And it will again." She would make us smile and laugh until we forgot all of our worries. Of course this meant that things would change over the next few months, but my mom tried the best she could to keep things the same for us. I still don't understand how she could do it, but she battled the cancer for fourteen long months and constantly had a positive attitude.
As a little girl I remember thinking about how my mom was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was tall and petite with long, wavy, golden brown hair. After months of extensive radiation and chemotherapy that all changed. All of her hair fell out in chunks, and she was eventually forced to get a wig. It was made of short, pale blonde hair -- kind of like the color of the moon. Her wig was also very straight. She later became very fragile and she couldn't even manage to stand up straight, if at all. Throughout her illness she lost lots of weight and at one point weighed only a hundred pounds. She no longer looked like the same person. That wasn't the only thing to change; our home was like a hospital. Our living room had a television, a couch, and a hospital bed in it. Right next to the bed you could always find a table covered in prescription bottles and syringes. The dining room had a table and chairs, a china hutch, a wheel chair, and a walker. Eventually we also had to put a morphine drip machine in the living room. We also constantly had a Hospice aid coming in and out of the house to help out. Sometimes I could take that first step into the house and just get the whiff of a hospital.
No matter how much pain she was in she always tried to be the best mother she could; and she was. She was the manager of Cris' Pee-Wee football team and tried to attend every game in her wheel chair. As the school year was coming to an end, my eighth grade graduation was rapidly approaching. I had continually told my mom that I did not want to go, but then one day she had had enough. She smiled and simply said, "Oh yes you are. After everything you have done for me, you deserve to graduate with your friends. And believe me I will be right there in the stands to cheer you on." My mom had put her foot down and I had no choice but to attend my graduation. After the ceremony my mom threw me my first ever surprise party; all of my friends and family attended. Even though I knew that she probably felt like an elephant had ran her over, she never once stopped smiling.
As our mom continually got worse, Cris and I used our friends as a way to kind of skip right over reality for a while. Our friends were great; they were always there for us in every way imaginable, even if it was just to get us out of the house for a few hours. Even my mom's friends would come and take us out to lunch occasionally just to let us know that they would always be there for us. When we were at home, Cris would hibernate in his room for hours upon hours. I would keep my mom company while I kept the house clean and did all of the cooking. When Cris and I could not be there for our mom, either our grandparents or our aunt and uncle would come to just sit with her for a couple of hours. We really did have a great support system.
When the summer ended and we had to go back to school, our grandparents moved in with us to take over some of our responsibilities. My grandpa began giving her the shots, morphine, and other medications, while my grandma helped Cris and me with the cooking and cleaning. This not only helped us to find time for our homework, but it also gave us more time to spend with our friends. The only thing we had to do was make sure we carried the cellular phone that grandpa bought for us in case of an emergency.
We were standing in line for Linden High School's homecoming dance on October 23, 1998, when our cell phone began to ring. My heart was racing a mile a minute and I didn't know what to do; I didn't want to hear what was on the other end of that phone. After it rang a couple of times, Cris grabbed the phone away from me and answered it to hear Grandma's voice on the other end. I could faintly hear her but not quite to the point where I could make out what she was saying. When Cris hung up the phone, he turned to me with tears in his eyes. His crackled voice said, "We need to go home, now. Doctor Wilkins believes it is time." We took off running and when we arrived at home our mom was having difficulty breathing. We stayed up with her all night and she was doing much better the next morning.
On October 24th we went to bed once again afraid of what the outcome might be in the morning. I got up around 5:30 on the morning of October 25, 1998, and as I approached my mom to tell her good morning, I was stopped. I turned around to see my grandma standing there with tears streaming down her face. It had happened. She had died. My grandma said, "She's gone. It happened around 2:10 this morning. She was holding my hand and next thing I knew her grip was gone; she was gone. There was nothing I could do." I just stood there. I could not believe that my mom could be dead. I turned back around and headed for the living room where I saw her cold, dead body and knew it was true. My grandpa's voice then came into the room, "Michael and your father will be on the next flight and they will see you and Cristopher in the morning."
Mike and my dad picked me and Cris up around 9:00 in the morning. We went over to our grandmother's house where we could talk privately. My dad then asked us, "I need to know, would you rather finish out the school year here or come to Pennsylvania with your brother and me now?" Cris and I knew exactly what we wanted to do. We needed to be in California where we would be surrounded by people to help us get through this difficult time. As we explained this to our dad, he just sat there and shook his head. He then informed us, "I know you think it is best for you to stay here, and I don't entirely disagree with that, but you will be coming to Pennsylvania with Michael and me first thing Sunday morning." We were devastated. He wouldn't even listen to what we had to say. He then took us back home to be with our grandparents and explained to them what was to happen. They begged him not to do it, but he still would not listen to reason. As he was leaving he simply said, "I suggest you begin packing, I will be back to get the three of you Saturday afternoon and I expect you to be ready to go."
Our mom passed away on October 25, 1998, and exactly one week later we were on a plane to Pennsylvania. We didn't want to go but according to our so-called father, it was the best thing for us. I started at a new school, Spring-Ford Area High School, and took my straight A's and turned them into almost all F's. In California I had friends and family to help me get through that difficult time, but I was forced to move to Pennsylvania where I knew absolutely nobody. I had to live in a house with people I barely knew, where we couldn't even mention my mom. My step-mom and I despised each other; one day I finally found out why she was always ragging on me. She got really heated one day for no reason at all and let it slip, "I hate how you constantly remind your father of your mother. Why can't you just leave us alone? He loves me now, not her." She really ticked me off by saying that, and it was definitely the last straw. Neither one of us wanted me to be there, so as soon as I graduated from high school I was forced to move out. In the middle of my first semester at Montgomery County Community College I dropped out. I didn't want to, but I just could not handle paying for my rent, bills, insurance, and tuition.
After about a year of living on my own and not being able to afford college, I began to remember more and more what my mom wanted me to get out of life. She always wanted me to finish college because she didn't get the opportunity to with her first encounter with cancer. I thought long and hard about how I might be able to achieve this. I finally called my grandparents. I asked them if they would pay for me to move back to California and also let me live with them while I attended college. They graciously agreed so I am now in California and have absolutely no contact with my dad. When I told him I was moving back to California to go to college, he said, "If you leave, I don't ever want to hear from you again." I thought about it and decided that I would rather get a college degree and be surrounded by people who love and care about me than be stuck in a state I hated with a family who tossed me out the first chance they got.