I thoughtlessly ran out into the bitterly cold, winter night in my jeans and threadbare t-shirt. There was freshly frozen snow clinging to the ground as if reaffirming to the Midwest, this is what I do in January. Get used to it. I barely noticed the deep, haphazard tracks I left behind. Snow and winter and cold were the last things on my mind. I had just begun having an irrepressible meltdown in front of my sick mother who was experiencing the onslaught of a deep depression.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…” I repeated in a crescendo-like manner, in front of her, and I even threw in some vibrato with my uncontrollable sobbing. My arms flailed in the empty space and, then, I ran. I ran outside in the middle of winter after much of the snow had transitioned into ice. I couldn’t let my mother see me this weak and I certainly couldn’t justify taking the intensity of my emotions out on a woman whose prognosis was so dire, none of us had quite accepted the gruesome facts.
It had been about three, long weeks since doctors diagnosed my fifty-five year old mother with stage four metastatic lung cancer and multiple brain tumors. Up until the moment I broke down, her and I had been putting on a show for each other – the kind of show where one pretends that his/her environment is that of a dark comedy as opposed to an actual tragedy – Or “dumbing it down” as some might call it.
My mama spent the majority of my childhood and thereafter trying to protect me and we’d been communicating through music since I was in the womb. She sang Cat Stevens’ “Wild World,” to me, as an infant in my crib, which I still love to listen to from time to time just to imagine her doing so.
“You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do and it’s breakin’ my heart in two ‘cause I never wanna see you sad girl…” -Such poignant lyrics and so fitting of her true feelings.
At the age of eighteen, two months after graduating high school, another part of that song became relevant as I packed up all of my belongings and moved to Los Angeles from Kansas City. I can still envision her singing, “But if you wanna leave, take good care, I hope you make a lot of nice friends out there. But just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware.”
This particular evening, I found myself trying to protect her and feeling completely helpless in my meager efforts. I reluctantly watched my mother go through some horrific shit as I grew up but never once had I ever seen her succumb to a depression. This was beyond my twenty-six years. My mother was Superwoman with a capital “S,” I thought to myself – how could she let depression win?! That particular evening, though, I forgot for a moment that my mother was only human. I forgot that, sometimes, we must all fall no matter how strong we are.
To my dismay, my mother was right behind me in bathrobe and house slippers, standing in the snow, her weak arms wrapped around her torso, begging me to come back inside. Through my cries, I begged her to go back inside, as she shouldn’t be out here like that. Her tone became stern, “I’m not going back in unless you come with me – Come on, Linds!”
I feebly followed my mama back into the house after a couple more back and forths of each of us demanding the other to go inside. We both collapsed onto the hardwood floor of the cozy guest room and held each other and cried. No more pretending. No more dark comedy. This was the real, tragic shit – the kind that said, even without so many words, “I’m aware that you are dying and it fucks me up in the worst way possible.” It was the kind that said, “I’m angrier than Satan’s wrath because there is absolutely nothing I can do to control it.” And finally, it was the heartbreaking moment that said, with the sound of a sob and the squeeze through a hug, “I hate to see you hurting. It’s the worst feeling in the world and it breaks me in to pieces.”
That night was one of the only, if not the last time, I ever broke down in front of my mother like that. I saved those moments for the family members and friends I knew who could handle it. Not that my mother couldn’t handle it, as I often say, she was the strongest woman I know, but it was that I felt a vital need to protect her from that night on. After she passed away, eight months later, I often found myself regretting not showing my true emotions more often. I feared that maybe she didn’t know how much she meant to me. I now know, with all of my heart, she knew. She knew, as Cat Stevens sang, “I never wanna see you sad girl.”