I think I have been putting this one off because I know that as I write it I will be crying. And I have already started.
November 14th at 6:45pm I was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There was no crying. No screaming. Just numb acceptance. This was the official results day of the PET scan. My doctor and I had pretty much known before that this was the direction everything was going in, but official results are official results. At 8:15pm I called my mother and told her I have cancer and was starting treatment on November 29th. At 8:16pm she told me she was coming to Uruguay. Not even an hour later, she had a plane ticket from New York (she was seeing my brother for Thanksgiving and was flying directly afterwards). There was no stopover back home for a change of clothes. No breathing room from celebration to obligation. With one hundred pounds of clothes and items I had asked for, Mom got on a plane and made her way to Uruguay, landing two days before her only daughter started chemotherapy.
For six months (minus only 10 days of recharging and re-clothing in the states) my mother cooked every meal, cleaned every inch of the house (sometimes twice a day), went to every appointment, kept every record, wiped every tear, heard every complaint, made every guest pray before a meal, walked every inch of the Rambla by my house. For six months she became a daily face at the supermarket a welcomed costumer at the Tuesday and Saturday feria, a frequent bus rider, a friendly face for my porteros, a student of Spanish. She got to know the local bakery, hardware store, paper store, and pharmacy. For six months she put her life on hold for mine.
I was so nervous to have her arrive. How much would my life and independence change? Then I was more nervous to have her go. How was I going to do this without my mommy? But the day did come.
May 10th, I left school early. Mom honestly thought I was going to stick her in an Uber. I left school to surprise her and headed home for our final hours. We ate some lunch and burned some colored numbers. The count-down numbers that mom had made to signify how long until my last chemo were placed in a can on my balcony and burned. Just as the final number smoldered, a rainbow appeared on the river. I am sure to my mom it was a sign from God. A final promise to never flood her life with this mess again. While I didn’t see it as divine, it was a beautiful and rare moment nonetheless.
At 2:45pm, we hoisted Mom’s three heavy suitcases laden with souvenirs and bottles of wine and notes of love from her “semester abroad,” as my dad calls it, into my car. Mom gave one last hug to my portero. Then we were off on the Rambla – one last time for Mom to see the Montevideo sign.
“Just drop me off,” Mom said to me. Yeah, right! I parked and we fumbled the suitcases into the tiny Carrasco airport, up the escalators, and to the Latam counter. The airport is super small and rarely crowded, so we got through the line in minutes.
Nico was meeting us at the airport because he is sweet and awesome and probably more attached to my mom’s cooking than to me. Waiting for him to park, I got myself a latte from Starbucks. I needed something warm and told myself if I just kept swallowing, the lump in my throat would go away. When Nico arrived, we did the small talk thing for a bit. Mom asked about his work that day and how he felt he did on his test the previous day. Then she told him all about the things he was going to do when he came to Texas. I was pretty quiet. I just needed a moment to get myself together.
Finally, Mom said, “enough of this. I’m going through security, you two get back to what you need to do and I will see you in a few months.” But as soon as she hugged me, I lost it. I just started silently crying. How do you say thank you? How do you let go? Six months. Six months she was my everything, my normal and in seconds she was through a door on her way back to her new normal. A scan of a ticket…ok, lots of scanning of a ticket and some help from the super hot airport security man because Mom was being challenged. You would think she had never flown before. Finally, a real scan of a ticket, a showing of a passport, and that was that. My mom was gone.
Nico and I made our way back down the escalator, paid for our parking, and headed out the doors. As soon as we got back to my car, he held me in a tight hug for a little bit longer. I realized in that moment it was the first time I had cried in front of him. We kissed, said goodbye, and then he made his way back to work and I made a tearful journey home.
When I was little, my mom read the infamous “I’ll Love You Forever” book to me and my brother. The mother crawls across the floors, peeks over the crib, and if he was really asleep she would pick up her baby and rock him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be. Then he gets older and moves to his own place. So the mom drives across the town, crawls into the window, peeks over the bed, and only if he was really asleep she would pick up that grown man and rock him bath and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be. My mom flew across the world, climbed into a scary situation, looked over my life and only when she knew I was really okay she gave me a hug, rocked me back and forth, back and forth. And all I could think was I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be.