Max texted me a grocery list, several years ago: “Caprisuns, sushi, bone of chicken, eyeball of frog, cyclops toe, potion vial, chicken strips, rice.” He called me the next day and said, “Mom, did you get ketchup at the store yesterday?” “No, but you’re not going to die without ketchup,” I said. He said, “I’ve got to go, Mom. Goodbye. I’m not going to make it.” I went back and double checked the grocery list from the day before. Cyclops toe. Chicken strips. Ketchup was not on there. There may have been a few things I didn’t pick up. I decided to get the damn ketchup and keep my mouth shut. I never want to call attention to my own shortcomings.
Cancer and cancer treatment affects your taste buds. I don’t know this personally. I know this because sometimes my mama barely eats. So we do just about anything to get her to eat. She’ll find something she likes, for a day, or a week. And we get it for her. McDonald’s French fries. Kern’s guava nectar. Shredded beef burritos. Rice Krispies. Potato chips. Yogurt. Scrambled eggs. Cinnamon rolls. My mother texts me what she wants to eat: “Lala, order Chinese. The orange chicken not sweet and sour. Veggie rice, broccoli beef, noodles, and what you want. Hahaha.”
In the mornings, I get ready for work and then I clatter downstairs to say goodbye to my mom. Sometimes she is dozing. Sometimes she’s on her tablet. Sometimes she is up and making scrambled eggs for the damn dogs. But every time, she says the same thing to me, “You look so pretty. I love you.”
I flash back. I am 13 years old, I am wearing bell bottoms and clogs, I am brushing my hair out of my face, I am running out of the door to make it to school on time. I am insecure as hell. I don’t believe in my own beauty. I just want to get an A in whatever fucking class I have that day. I am convinced that I am less than. But my mama believes in me so I’m going to try. And I say, “I love you mama! I’ll see you when I get home!” And she says, “I love you baby. I’ll see you when you get home.” All I can – and should – say is, “Thank you.”
Once we were at a restaurant and the NASCAR races were on television. Shane said “I don’t know why people watch that sport. I mean, how hard can that be? All you do is turn left about 10 times really fast.” My kid was right. It’s about turning into the curve. It’s about releasing the expectation of things being hard. It’s about seeing things as they are. Just turning until you get to where you are okay – or done.
Maybe it’s not as hard as your mind is making it. I hope you don’t wait to say good morning and goodbye to someone you love who has cancer. I hope you say the same to someone else who matters to you, no matter what. I hope you say thank you. Every day. Because it’s a blessing. I think my mom would appreciate that. Just say it. I love you. And don’t forget to pick up some ketchup.