This was entered in a contest held in my school, and it won first place in the whole highschool, and 100 dollars to boot. I guess it was pretty good when it was presented to the judges, but its your call. Yea, the titles crappy, but the first one really sucked, so believe me when I tell you this is a definite improvement.
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All Wells Run Dry
She was gone. She had been so strong, right up until the very end. I would come to visit her everyday after school, forsaking all of my usual activities for an hour or two of alternating between basking in and dreading her presence. Every other day I would bring along my little sister to see her as well.
At five, Samantha was just starting out kindergarten, which was good for my father, who used to have to send her to day care. When my mother had first entered the hospital, Samantha was only one, and still not used to being away from her mama. I’m sure she viewed it as a punishment, and each morning, she put up a good fight, resisting the inevitable drop off that placed her in the care of strangers for a day. Sometimes, I would show up at the squat brown building the center operated from, and take her away early. When those infrequent early pickups rolled around, the daycare workers showered me with thanks. I am guessing she put up a fight there similar to the one she put up every morning in our little apartment.
Our apartment, decorated by my mother, always gave me a warm, secure feeling as soon as I walked in. It was a six room affair, not counting the bathroom, and it had a cozy, welcoming air to it. I’m sure when both my mother and father were working, we had been able to afford it with ease. But when my mother entered the hospital, the bills started to pile up, as did the stress on my father.
My father had a 9-5 job at a local lawyers firm, but as my mother’s stays in the hospital lengthened, he often stretched those prerequisite nine hours. Nine to five turned into eight to six… He would occasionally tack on another half-hour, sometimes coming home at six-thirty, sometimes at six. Those half-hour overtimes added up, as he started adding another half-hour regularly each month to his already cramped schedule…
Recently, he hadn’t been coming home until midnight. He would drag himself into our apartment, totally drained and bereft of energy, as a result from the exhausting days at the office. Even so, he always remembered to check in on me. I would invariably pretend I was asleep when he came into the bedroom. Something in me didn’t want to confront him this late at night. It wasn’t that he would be irritable or snappish; he is the easiest-going man I have ever known. I just simply didn’t want to see him, didn’t want to face the reality of his wan skin, the premature gray in his hair, the hopelessness I knew would be there deep in his eyes.
He would come into the room Samantha and I shared, and walk over to my bed first. He would look down at me, lean down to kiss my cheek, and brush the bangs off my forehead. He would do the same to my sister, asleep in her crib, which was slowly growing too small for her quickly growing one-year-old body.
I don’t think he ever went to see mama after that first terrifying visit. Mama had initially gone into the hospital when I was eight. I remember that day with such clarity it could have happened yesterday. My teacher had called me aside, and handing me some papers and my coat, sent me off to the office. I remember her exact words.
“Hurry now, your father is waiting for you.”
“No, no,” I had insisted, not understanding. “My papa is at work. He can’t be here. Are you sure it isn't my mama?” I had tried to give her back my things, but she pushed them towards my chest.
“He’s waiting for you! Go on now! Your papa is in the office!” she had told me. Giving her one last confused look, I had turned and run toward the office. I hadn’t been sure of what she was talking about, but if my papa was here, I had better hurry!
And so I ran, sprinting down the endlessly long and twisting hallways of my elementary school. They were so empty. It was different from the morning, or at lunch, or when the final buzzer sounded at 3:00. Then, there were always people in the halls, so many that you would have to physically push your way through the masses. But the chaos had never intimidated me – on the contrary, I felt safe and protected in the midst of the herd. But now… the hallways, devoid of people, were totally different. Flickering fluorescent lights seemed to glare down on me, asking, “Why are you here now? Get back to your classroom!” I flew faster and faster down those forbidding hallways as my heartbeat grew quick and my breathing labored. The walls seemed to push in at me, and my overactive imagination began to conjure up imaginary beasts at every corner.
And so I arrived at the office, disheveled and in disarray, eyes wide and frightened, face flushed as a result of my prolonged sprint. Glancing around the large, imposing room, I didn’t see my papa. A sudden fear gripped me. ‘He’s not here! He left without me! Someone took him away!’ As these paralyzing thoughts raced through my mind, I continued to scan the room, praying to see some familiar face.
A hand clamped down on my shoulder, and I’m sure I must’ve jumped three feet into the air at the sudden and unexpected contact. I turned, and looked up into the reassuring brown eyes of my papa.
“Papa!” I wrapped my arms around his waist, and he gave me a gentle hug in return. “Papa, what’s wrong? Why are you here? What happened?”
“Come along, sweetheart. We have to go see mama,” he replied quietly. Something in his tone told me to accept his answer and not ask any more questions. I placed my small hand in his and quietly followed.
As I climbed into the passenger seat, I saw my father pause outside his door and gaze up at the sky with a look of pleading, as if asking for something. That look, which contained so much helplessness and grief, mixed with blind love and impossible dreams, has stayed with me for the rest of my life.
We arrived at an imposing white building that I didn’t recognize. Over time, I would come to know that structure like the back of my hand. But at that moment, I didn’t realize we were here to see my mama. But still, I kept silent, not asking any more questions of my papa. Instead, I got out of the car and followed him through the large double doors that whisked open, permitting us entrance to the white and blue tiled hallway that seemed to go on for ages. I glanced up inquiringly at my papa as he paused at an intersection. He nodded and turned left, heading for a desk. He leaned on the counter and spoke with someone on the other side, but even as I strained to listen, I could not pick up what he was saying.
When he spun on his heel and headed off in a different direction, I scrambled to keep up with him as he took strides that were impossible for me to match. Slowly drawing ahead of me, I ran to try and keep up with him, pumping my short legs as fast as they would go. Too fast, I suppose, seeing as how I tripped and went flying face first into the unforgiving tiles. I must’ve cried out, because the next thing I knew, my father had scooped me up and was running down the hallway.
I held on tightly as we flew past rooms that I could only get glimpses of – but what I did see scared me. People lying still and inanimate, supposed loved ones leaning over their inert forms; machines in the corner, tubes everywhere; groups of nurses and doctors huddled around bedsides. I buried my face in my papas shoulder as I thought of my mother in one of those cold, unforgiving rooms, in the same desperate situation as those other people I had seen.
We stopped suddenly at yet another doorway, and turning, entered. Glancing at the door, I read the number 236, which I immediately forgot. I had the knowledge that there was a number on the door, but only the vaguest idea of what it was. All that would change, as that number soon became burned into my memory.
“Mama?” It was the first word I had uttered since entering the building, which I realized somewhere along our frantic race, was a hospital.
“Sweetie?” I heard a voice question at the far end of the room. I squirmed out of my papa’s grasp and ran to the bed. Peering over the railing, I saw her. Mama. She was lying on what looked like an uncomfortable cot, two tubes running into each arm. Clothed in a green hospital gown, she looked pale and fragile, triggering a memory of a bird I had found with a broken wing. I had brought it home, hoping I could somehow heal it, only to have my hopes dashed when told it would never fly again.
“Mama!” I cried out. To this day, I still don’t know how I got up onto that cot, but somehow I did, and I was on her lap in an instant. Hugging her, I buried my face in her hair, which smelled faintly of roses. I felt her arms latch tightly on to me, and as she whispered soothing words in my ears, I realized I was crying. My whole body shook with intense emotion, shaking me to my core. I clung tighter to her, and I remember wishing I was a small baby, safe in her arms once again.
Later on, after I had calmed down, doctors had come in and explained the situation to the three of us. Most of the big words had flown right over my head, and so their clarification of the circumstances was anything but clear. It was more along the lines of swimming through a muddy river, clouded with mud and debris.
Later on, I found out what it was the doctors had been talking about. Cancer.
She was always in and out of the hospital after that first visit, and finally the day came when it was decided that her stay would become permanant. By that time she had lost her hair as a result of the chemotherapy treatments, and she was always weak and ailing. She was always pale – her cheeks had lost their glow, her eyes, their sparkle. But I still loved her. Nothing could deter me from loving her - the one who, in my eyes, was still perfect in every way, still exquisitely beautiful, still pure, still happy, and most of all, still my mama.
By that time, Samantha was two, and still too young to grasp the concept. But on my fathers days off, which he seemed to have less and less of, we would bring her. For those few stolen hours, life would come back into my mother’s dull eyes, and a bit of color would creep across her cheeks. Samantha cradled on mama’s lap, would giggle and put her hand all over my mothers face, pulling on her nose and ears, gently caressing her cheekbones.
I became insanely jealous of my baby sister during those months. It seemed only she could make my mother smile again, and so only she had the right to be held in my mothers arms. I would look at my bald mother, holding my almost equally bald sister, whose hair was slow in growing in. Rage would build up inside of me, and it would get so bad I would want to scream. Sometimes, an urge gripped me to grab my sister, rip her off my mama’s lap, and strangle her with one of the long tubes laying about, which in my mind seemed to be sucking the life out of my mama.
But, of course, I didn’t. I simply held my peace and stood there, one hand resting on the metal bars on the side of my mama’s bed, the other hanging limply at my side. I would wish with all my heart that I was in my sister’s place, if only for one day.
But, of course, that never happened either. And so I continued my daily visitations. That tradition started when I was ten, those trips to that harsh, unforgiving room. I traversed those hallways more than I can count, and I’m sure if I had kept up those trips for another five years, I would have eventually worn a recognizable trail through those fading tiles.
However, I only had those first five years. And over those years, I kept up the visits, the few hours becoming what I would grow to dread at the end of the school day. When the whole ordeal started out, I used to look forward to going there. But as the years wore on, and my mother’s condition only deteriorated, I began to become apprehensive of those hours, every minute dragging on for what seemed like an eternity.
I tried talking to my mother sometimes, but the only coherent speech she could manage… well, she couldn’t manage. She slowly slipped into oblivion, and when the respirator became a frequent visitor at her bedside, I knew the end wasn’t far away. She would hallucinate, asking about nonexistent beings standing behind us. With a childlike smile, she would extend an emaciated arm to the long gone ghosts supposedly standing at the foot of her bed. When we told her that there was no one there, she would glance over in the general direction in which we were standing, and gently shake her head.
I knew she was gone. Not in body, but in soul, spirit, and mind. Her essence was long gone, and only the scent of roses remained.
It was exactly two weeks after my fifteenth birthday that the hospital called. I knew what was coming – I had been expecting the news for what seemed like decades. She was gone. Still, though I had tried to prepare myself for the eventual end, it still came as a shock. It was a heavy blow to know that she was finally departed this world. Only a shell of her former self was left, and the hospital wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible.
Arrangements were made for a funeral, set in five days, and burial at a nearby cemetery. The days went by in a blur – family I never knew I had dropped by, and long forgotten friends showed up. People that I had perhaps known from years ago – people that knew me as a baby, old teachers – it seemed the whole world wanted to comfort me. Everyone spoke in hushed whispers, and at the sight of my father or I, they suddenly pasted on happy smiles and spoke with forced cheerfulness. But they were all on my side. Each and every person there practically pledged that they would anything to help get us through this “hard and difficult time in our lives.” It really brought out a morbid sense of humor in me when I realized that I had grown men and women running about like obedient servants, complying with your every whim. Quite ironic, really, when you understand the fact that people only do this out of some misguided sense of responsibility and guilt…
I laugh, and yet, still question. Why does it seem tragedy, war, and fear are the only things that can bring men together for a common cause?