“She wants to see you,” his father told him two days ago.
“How did you get my telephone number?” He looked over at Keith, who could not meet his gaze.
“That’s not important. What matters is that she wants to see you one last time, son.” His father spoke softly and deliberately.
He considered how long it had been since he last heard one of his parents call him “son.”
“Dad, I appreciate your calling and letting me know. But I don’t think it would be a good idea.”
“Bring Keith with you. If you’d like.”
So that’s how his father got their telephone number. He should have known that Keith had interceded.
“We’ll discuss it and I’ll get back to you, Dad. Thanks again for calling.” He hung up without waiting for his father’s one-word response, spoken in a hoarse whisper: “Hurry.”
Navigating the icy roads, still unsure that he was doing the right thing, he reached for Keith’s hand — and reassurance — as he drove. He had always hated snow and, for that matter, anything associated with winter. As a small child, he became fascinated with the ocean and papered his room with posters and photos depicting beaches around the world that he dreamed of visiting. When it came time to select a college, the one thing he knew was that he would pick a campus as near the beach as possible where there would never be snow. That even before leaving home to commence his freshman year of study he declared his major to be Oceanography surprised no one.
After he went away to school, his visits back home became more and more infrequent. Finally, they stopped altogether as he took up residence on the Southern California coast and developed a successful career.
He had resolved to tell his mother first. When he returned home for Christmas his freshman year, he found an opportunity early one cold morning as they sat in the kitchen enjoying a cup of hot cocoa. He was shocked by his mother’s reaction. Although she had always been more religious than his father who, after all, had converted to her religion solely to be accepted by her family, he thought she would be the one who would understand, accept, and embrace him. He counted on the unconditional and nonjudgmental love with which she had supported him throughout his life.
Her first bout with cancer came when he was just a teenager. But he devotedly helped his father care for her, running directly home after school, foregoing football games, dances, and other social activities so that he could be with her, savoring their time together. He was sure she was going to die and, for awhile, so was she. The doctors held out little hope, offering a grim prognosis.
“Mom, if it gets too hard to fight, Dad and I will be all right,” he told her one Sunday morning as he helped her back to bed after she suffered a particularly violent and frightening reaction to the chemotherapy she had received two days earlier. “You can go.” He stroked her forehead before placing the cold washcloth on her brow.
“I’m going to be all right,” she whispered. “You’ll see.” She was unconvincing.
“I just don’t want you to feel that you have to keep fighting so that you can stick around for me. I’m almost a man and I’ll look after Dad . . . if it comes to that.”
“I know.” She reached up and gently stroked his cheek. “I’ll let you know if I feel that way. I promise.”
A few days later, her condition improved and within a few months, she regained nearly all of her strength. The doctors were amazed at the way she suddenly “turned the corner” and her cancer went into remission. So it had been especially difficult for him to leave her in pursuit of his career dreams and desire to be near the sea. But leave he did, intending to visit as often as possible. After that first Christmas, everything changed.
“How much further?” Keith asked.
“Probably close to an hour, considering how slippery this road is.”
As he approached the stop sign, his mind drifted back to the trip home that Christmas. As he navigated this same road, he had been so excited about seeing his parents and friends after being away at school for four months. He had never before been away from them for more than a few days, and he knew his parents were anxious to hear about his experiences. There were many details he would not be sharing with them, of course. But he had rehearsed and imagined the conversation he hoped to have with his mother for several years and knew that he could put it off no longer.
To be continued . . .