It is March of nineteen seventy-eight, a time of immense loss. I recall it as being a premature spring. Our intimate community of Nicosia, Illinois, was slowly awakening in the remnants of the muddy snow. Drifts of purple crocus and brilliant yellow daffodil lay in careful scheme among infinite fields; adeptly they reach from beneath the massive dormant oaks. Fragrant aromas of spring flourished in the air.
As an eternally curious seven year old, you would find me, “Belle,” skipping among the possibilities of the coming day. I had long blonde disheveled pony tails, quite frequently sloppily dressed in knickers and worn out T-shirts, which characterized me as a Tomboy. Always navigating close behind was my menacing three-year-old brother, Markus and six-year-old sister Nicole.
In this spring of so long ago, we had no idea how the coming events would unfold, disrupting the courses of our childhood.
Dad often reminds me that Ellie, my mother, was a woman of great substance; she led a prolific life, exhibiting traits of a loving mother and devoted wife. She directed a local ministry where she frequented jails to bear witness to Gods’ greatness. In addition, she volunteered at a shelter for battered women, and found time to work on occasion at the local ice cream parlor, where we enjoyed an abundance of delicious free turtle sundaes. The only burden in her life was obesity. This troubled her immensely and ultimately defined her decision to get an experimental “intestinal bypass surgery.”
I remember clearly Mom’s twenty-eighth birthday. It fell on October twentieth , nineteen seventy-eight. Dad was eager to surprise her with news that his insurance would pay for her procedure. That year, in her eyes, she received the ultimate gift of weight reduction surgery.
We were able to see less of her immediately. Within 12 months, she has lost an astounding one hundred four pounds. It was like reincarnation into a thin body. I remember her changing in attitude. There was a contagious aura of cheerfulness surrounding her every day. One irreversible thing, however, was her devotion to the family and her love of life. Now as a grown woman I remember how she always seemed ill, in and out of the emergency room. At that time the three of us children lacked the understanding and significance of her repeated hospital stays. We were simply too young to grasp or quintessentially see her complete illness. After all, what was wrong with mom? She was delightfully thin and happy, we thought.
In early autumn of the following year, I woke to muffled cries. Sluggishly I wandered down the dark narrow hallway. I found mom cuddled up in a red-checked wool blanket. She was sitting down knees pulled up tight under her chin., her head lying warily in her palms. She was gently rocking back and forth quietly crying. I said, “Mama, what’s wrong?” Startled she looked up at me through tears and whispered, “Mama doesn’t feel good. I am very cold Belle.” I did not understand; wrapped in a wool blanket sitting in front of our wood stove, how could she possibly be cold?” I whispered, “Should I wake up daddy?” In a soft-spoken voice, she quickly answered, “No, I’ll be fine, go back to bed honey.” Without worry, I scurried back down the hall, tattered baby doll in tow, climbed in bed, and fell fast asleep.
Late the following morning the sun leisurely crept across my pillow until its warmth radiated upon my cheek, and woke me. I felt rested, but had an uneasy feeling inside. I wandered into the kitchen, where I immediately noticed Mom and Dad were not engaged in the typical pre-church conversations, but rather our neighbor Melanie, was preparing farm fresh scrambled eggs. Did she not realize how horridly it stunk, as the dripping yolk burned off the electric coils of the stove? This was definitely not a normal Sunday morning in the Mercado house. In a confused state, I questioned Melanie. “Where are my mom and dad?” “Did they leave for church without us?” “No, Belle they went into the emergency room early this morning. “ “Don’t worry,” said Melanie, “Everything’s going to be okay.” So then, as a trio of siblings, we went about our Sunday afternoon in curiosity and play.
Just before dinner, dad arrived home. Immediately he called a family meeting, at which he explained that mommy was very sick and might not be coming home. I do not recall feeling upset by his words, or even crying. I along with my brother and sister were very naïve. We did not fully comprehend the idea that mom would not be coming home or what that really meant.
My twenty-eight year old mom lay in a lifeless state of coma for twelve days, after which dad finally decided, it was time for us to go and see her. His selfish parental instinct to protect his young family forced him to keep secret that mom was dying.
We headed straight to the hospital. Finally reaching the third floor, we exited the elevators where a nurse addressed us immediately. “Children under the age of ten are not allowed in the intensive care unit,” she said. I remember unmistakably the anger on my dad’s face as he sternly bellowed, “That’s ridiculous! I don’t care about your hospital rules, I am taking my children to be with their mother, like it or not!” He then offered his left hand out to me, which I grasped as firm as an eight year old could. On his right hip drowsy little Markus clung like a baby monkey. Nicole, my defiant six-year-old sister marched along close behind propelling her long ponytail in an act of boldness towards the nurse.
The four of us then entered room 302B. There was a raw stench exuding into the air of that room. It was nauseatingly familiar to me, like that of Markus, in a soiled diaper. The floor was cold beneath my wary feet. There in the dim cast of lamp light, lay a shell of a woman; certainly it could not be our mother. This woman had pale yellow skin, frayed brunette curls’ carelessly strewn across a white pillowcase; her body was a maze of opalescent careening wires. The room was in a peculiar state of human silence; the only sound was the recurrent patterns of electricity emitting from the life support machine.
Dad proceeded with caution and carefully set Markus on the indigo chair next to mom’s bed. Curiously, he began twisting cords from the nearby phone. It was a very quiet pause in time. Then unexpectedly the sweet innocence of Markus’s voice radiated through the silent room. “Daddy, can mommy please read me a bedtime story?” Without giving him time to answer, both Nicole and I began to bury him in more questions: Daddy, why is she hooked to that machine? What are all those tubes for? Why is she sleeping? Why is she so yellow daddy? Here stood a thirty-one year old, emotional exhausted factory worker in the midst of his three young children. He was struggling internally, searching for the childlike terms to explain what was wrong with mom. Tears began to stream down his somber cheek. In a shaken tone, he said. “Markus, Mommy can’t read to you right now, she is sleeping.” His dreary eyes gazed off to mom. Where he stayed fixated for the next several moments. It was as if he were trying to summon her to sit up and help him in this time of need. Abruptly a red light began to flash, it continued simultaneously, with loud piercing tones, ravening the once silent room. Instantly a tall lanky nurse came rushing through the door, swiftly she hurried us out to the hall. Her impertinent grimace and stern words echoed in my brain, like a freight train. “Stay here, DO NOT go back in that room!”
Sadly, that was the last time I ever saw my mother alive.
Three days had passed and a light snow had fallen, covering the concrete steps up to the funeral home entrance. I remember feeling such sadness, yet I had to see my mother one last time to say good-bye. Upon entering the colossal room, my eyes drifted to a shiny brass stand that stood solitary in the middle of the room, bearing upon it a burgundy, silk lined casket in which my mother laid. Dad had made sure she was dressed in her finest polyester pink and purple dress; she seemed at peace, in this final state of forever rest. Reluctant to touch her, I stood in silence peering at her wire-rimmed glasses. The longer I looked, the more unfamiliar she seemed. I clenched my teeth, closed my eyes tightly leaned over and kissed her forehead. Then in tears, I quickly ran through that crowed room finally coming to rest on a stoop outside the rear door. I sat there alone wishing she would appear so I could bury my sadness in her sweet smelling lavender apron, drying my eyes. The unfairness was surreal! At that moment in time, I had not completely grasped the meaning of losing her. Soon it was revealed, strand-by-strand. In a sense, I felt I had acquired the weight she lost simply converted from pounds into cloistered emotion and substantial responsibilities an eight year old should never have to endure.
That crucial event changed my life profoundly!
After her burial, my childhood met an early demise, diminished by mothering responsibilities to Markus and Nicole. Years would unfold with new challenges for me, and sadly, I lacked the skills I needed. I felt orphaned in a sense by my dad. Time after time, I had to forfeit bicycle rides with my best friend Jane, or sleep over parties at Diane’s, to cook and clean, bathe and read, bandage and coddle, Markus and Nicole. I gradually evolved into a despondent, bitter fifteen year old. I was in great disgust that mom would volunteer for a surgery where the wager was death. What was she thinking? How could she be so selfish? Finally, I ran away, never looking back.
Twenty-five years in passing, arranged memories begin to fade, morsel by morsel, tear shaped resentments, slowly drip, spilling over the characterized edge of my being, eventually terminating in a pool of forgiveness. It all lay complacent in a puddled up reflection of my childhood. I stood tall, undisturbed on the edge, where a kaleidoscope of emotions colonize, an erecting wind of change gently stirred, creating petite shimmering ripples, that inhabit confused memories stretching from shore to shore, finally ceasing at my feet. I glance down to the settling surface and a mirrored image of her appears. Open arms reaching, offering forgiveness, as the last salty tear of doubt forms; I falter, in its setteling wake and harness all the raw emotion, then whisper, “I have a clear understanding in what you did mom; I now know it was not a selfish act to be thin but rather a selfless act to become a better mother.” You longed to keep up on our nature walks, you longed to fit on the carnival rides to comfort our fears, you longed to be thin to benefit us.” Now as a mother myself, I understand. “Mom, I forgive you!” Pausing, I reach down to my now tattered lavender apron and wipe my eyes dry.
Although my mom remains, absent in body, her unseen guidance taught me to forge deep within for the courage to traverse through all the various facets of parenting. Sheer will hinged on my wiliness to succeed has moved me beyond immense failures. It has allowed me to sail through turbulent stages without hesitation. It also taught me that it is ok to elate in parental triumphs.
When I find myself kneeling at the sacrificial parental alters; often I have felt the intangible essence of her spirit take my hand and lead me. Lift me up feet firm on the ground, realizing I can achieve the goal at hand in effortless manner. I have also learned to savor the infinite riches of childish innocence, and unconditional love, which is far more valuable to me then the quantity displayed on any scale. The frail nature of time is all we have; digest it bit by tiny bit. Take pleasure in every solitary moment we have to nurture, and fully enjoy our children,
For we never know if we will be granted another tomorrow.
Belinda Ann Mercado original written in fall of 2011
Dedicated to my mother Donna Mae and Lil brother Rino Mark, love you both always!!! ~ BAM
Copyright by Belinda Mercado 2016
**Yes this means u,including family, do not use or reproduce without prior consent! Thanks!