I am sitting in the white van with the red stripe. I am apprehensive and a little confused. I do not know what is going on, only that for weeks there has been a nervousness to my father that came with anxious phone calls and whispered unknowns.
The twenty-minute drive in the gloomy Ohio spring stretches over time and space itself.
Usually, I am secretly excited to see airplanes take off and land. It means there is to be a goodbye or a hello, but this time I sense that something is not right.
Wheelchairs do not come through the gate until after the other passengers have disembarked. She always uses that service, I used to think for the fun of it, and I spot her white bob rolling our way soon enough.
We lean in for hugs, trying to avoid the smell of mucus oozing out of her trek. The little ones are afraid. We overcompensate for their hesitance and I know that she notices. My father takes the handles of her chair, gripping the rubber tight, and I am overcome with the thought of her life in his hand.
We wait outside for the van, my fingers enclosed in hers. I am wondering at the strength in her hands when my father pulls up. He comes to her, smiling, and offers her his arm. She rises slowly and the blood drains from my father’s face.
I look at her bloated stomach and I know, something is not right.
At home, we show her to her room. We have changed things around so that she can sleep downstairs. This year, my mother has also switched the living room and dining room so that the seder will be held in the front room. There seems to be so much space now.
It is almost Shabbos. We need to teach the three-year-old how to turn on the machine to clean the trek. She is not afraid. She never knew her any other way.
* * *
We sit over the plastic tablecloth, eating our last bits of bread carefully. The three-year-old breathlessly arrives at my father’s side to inform him that she’s taking his medicine. We laugh at how adorable it is. Medicine is medicine to a three-year-old. I don’t think it’s so funny. I don’t think anything is that funny these days, but this strikes me as horribly morbid. My father wants to ease the child’s anxiety. He goes into the kitchen to show how there are two people in the house taking a lot of medicine.
I hear his voice change and the panic set in.
She is taking his medicine. He corrects her. She apologizes. She said she got mixed up and laughs. There is fear in that laugh.
* * *
It is Seder night. We all know what to expect. It is the same thing every year. My father tries to lead and she steals the show.
We get to the part where we must be silent. My father explains everything that will happen. We begin going at the Matzah, smiling with every crunch. On to Marror where silent protests over too much horseradish and not enough lettuce passes the time. It’s Hillelwich time, and we turn to her in anticipation. She will open her mouth and speak, as she does every year, to tell the joke about the sandwich.
She does open her mouth, but it is to spill blood over her lips and onto the white, white tablecloth.
My father flies back with her after Pesach. He has had enough of her denying anything is wrong. We spend the week waiting.
* * *
I am fourteen and very angry. I pretend to care about nothing, although I sob into my pillow every night over the injustices of the world. I am a tortured soul, stuck in the confines of teenage misery.
There is a sleepover party planned. I want to go. I demand to go. I scream to go. I am not allowed to go. I reach into the ugliest place I find within me and let loose an anger so vast, deep and frightening. My father returns home just as I have gone beyond my senses.
He looks at me with disgust, and I can feel his disappointment from across the room.
“YOU are going crazy over a SLEEPOVER while my MOTHER has unstoppable CANCER running through her body? How DARE you!”
I run upstairs and cry and cry and cry. I am crying over the sleepover. I will always cry over the sleepover. It is easier to cry for something I want than for something I don’t.
But…how dare I…how dare I.