THURSDAY: She sat in the doctor’s office listening as he told her mother she had an abdominal cavity filled with malignant tumors and her “cancer count” was over 4000. Holy crap.
Her mother’s options for treatment were chemo in Longview/Dallas or MD Anderson in Houston. Since her younger sister lives just outside of Houston, and has a large comfortable home with plenty of room, her mother chose MD Anderson, where she could be cared for by her daughter during treatment. OK, then. Let’s do this.
SUNDAY: She drove to her son’s house early that morning. She left her car there, and together she and her son drove in his car because it is more comfortable, to pick up her mother and the three of them drove four more hours to Houston. They unloaded her belongings and left her there to begin this next, very scary chapter of her life.
MONDAY: She drove to the small, beautiful patch of land out in the country where her mother had lived with her husband for 39 years. Someone needed to check on her mother’s husband, but did it really need to be her…? Yes, it needed to be her.
Ever since she was a teenager, she had referred to her mother’s husband by his last name because calling him anything else felt too familiar, too casual, too friendly. She just couldn’t call him anything “fatherly” or even refer to him as her step-father. It had been her perception from the start that he didn’t care for her, and she felt unwanted at his house. She felt she was in the way and was often told not to “rock the boat,” which she took as meaning she was already an unwelcomed guest in the house, and anything she did to call attention to that was awkward, even harmful, at best.
When she was sixteen, her mother handed her fifty dollars cash and said, “Take care of your sister. I’ll be back on Monday.” She asked, “Are you going to marry him?” Her mother looked at her with all of the strength she could muster, hoping she was doing the right thing for her girls and said, “Yes, I am.” It felt like a business decision really, and soon she would come to realize she had not been included in the deal. He had agreed to focus on the woman he loved and her youngest daughter, but the oldest one would graduate from high school and be gone soon, so he would just wait that out. Again, this was her perception and it was brutal. It was painful. It was confusing. But she persevered.
She would come home from high school most Fridays to find a note saying, “Gone to Yellowdog” which meant they had gone camping, as a family, down to the river for the weekend without her. There were many other verbally abusive altercations over the years, but still her mother would insist on her sending father’s day cards and making birthday phone calls, only to have him ridicule her for either calling too late or sending a gift that didn’t measure up. But she kept trying throughout the 39 years, hoping to be loved and accepted as part of the family. It never happened.
When she arrived at his house on Monday after taking her mother to Houston, she found him sitting alone in the kitchen across from the pool table, which took up the entire living area upon entry. This pool table was another representation of hurtful memories between herself and this man she was supposed to call “Dad” but never could. She silently walked over to him and leaned against the pool table. He looked at her with tears streaming down his face. This strong, tough, “Texas proud” man sat on a barstool in front of the girl he’d been so mean to over the years, and cried. He asked how her mother was and she told him she was doing well. She gently and kindly explained what little she knew about the next steps, and promised to keep him informed. Her heart broke for him as she saw that the life had left his eyes. He was clearly scared to lose his wife. She knew he could not live without her, and together at that very moment, they silently acknowledged that.
And this girl looked at him with compassion. This girl didn’t mention the tears. This girl simply looked through the paperwork and bills that needed to be paid, and together they took care of business. She stood there, patiently handing him checks, one by one, to sign. His massive hands were curled and cramped into claws by arthritis and he could barely hold a pen, but she stood there and waited patiently as it took him at least 5-10 minutes to sign his name on each check. She would then write the information in the check register for him, seal the payment in the envelope, carefully put a stamp on the top right hand corner and put the correspondence in a stack to be mailed. Each step was important to him, and with a loving heart she did exactly as she was told.
…and there she was, on a cold December day, standing for hours in silence, the abused helping the abuser.
All was forgiven.