I’ve been scanning Mom’s photos, each one sending me into a reverie. I load the scan tray, then hit the button. A buzz, a hum, and the whir of a feed tray. Photos of family vacations, birthday parties, now available anytime.
I note that there’s a progression in the photos. In her younger years, she’s laughing, young and free. As the years go on and the family grows, she seems more muted, often smiling demurely in the background. I wonder if it’s because she was in such a mode of giving; her time, her energy. We are loud, rambunctious, silly kids.
One night, talking with Yomi about his grandma, I choke up. I think back to a memory I had of Mom, riding with us in the back seat of the car on a road trip in Canada. The thrum of the car lulls us to sleep. The sky is clear above us and mountains, silhouetted neatly against an iridescent gleaming moon, pass by silently.
In the present, I gasp, and feel something twist in my stomach, and I realize that I can never recover this memory with her again. Like looking at this memory through museum glass.
Again, I’m looking at the photos of her last days. Replaying her final hours and moments. If I had known - if I really had known - would I have stayed by her side longer? We had thought that we had more time with her. A few days or a few hours more. The closest thing I have of her now are these memories again of the last minutes of her life before she slipped away.
The feeling repeats itself for weeks on end. Out of the blue, I realize - I’ll never have those moments with her again. I get choked up, and find it hard to breathe.
The moments at the end are the last ones I have of her, and the ones most colored with pain. The times at the end when I could barely hear her labored breathing over the hissing of her respirator, trying hard to make out her last words. It’s the afternoon of her last day, and I’m back at home taking a nap. My sister, taking over the shift with Mom in her hospital room, texts us frantically, Come back, hurry. Mom’s slipping away, and she’s mouthing words that she can’t make out. The tragedy is that we never find out what she’s trying to tell my sister. She’s lost her voice; the respirator is making her mouth dry. Mom mouths - I love you. And that’s the last thing she says to us.
The night before Mom passes, I have a dream. She and I are in two paddle boats on a lake. It’s nighttime, and the moon is bright over the water. But something is horribly wrong. She’s drifting away from me, and calling out my name. I’m paralyzed - I can’t move. And in this dream, I watch her slowly fade away from me into the mist. I wake suddenly, feeling a deep sadness.
It’s only 5AM, but I get out to ride my bike in the San Diego hills. I’ve recently swapped out my slick tires with grippier versions better suited for sandy Southern California terrain. I’m on a new route that I’ve plotted, which starts at a high point on a local mountain and descends down the side of the mountain. The trail is rockier and more technical than I had expected, and I’m riding fearfully, my brakes locking up and my feet frozen to the pedals. I clip a rock with my pedal and down I go in slow motion, landing with an oomph on my side. Thankfully, I’m OK, save for a large bruise on my knee that’s started to bleed a brilliant red.
Back at home, I’m bandaging up my bruise when I get the fateful phone call from my sister. That’s the morning when it all starts to go downhill. Mom’s collapsed in her bed; the paramedics have arrived. And the day plays out in slow motion.
The night of Mom’s passing, I sit with four-year old Yomi in bed as he asks about her death and I can’t help but think about our road trips with her and get choked up. It’s too late, she’s drifting away. I can’t hear her anymore.
I can’t breathe, because she’s right there with us, just behind me in the back seat of the car. I’m twelve then, and I feel twelve now. She’s there, then she’s not, and she’s back there in the boat, fading away and I’m left abandoned. It suddenly becomes hard to breathe. She’s stuck behind museum glass, lost to the mist and dreadful cancer and words that I cannot make out behind the hissing of the damned respirator.