Why RU the way you are?

You broke my heart in a way I didn’t think was possible.

This weekend, I hosted a brunch for Rutgers Day.  I made a delicious Mimosa Sangria and set up a Bloody Mary bar with my friends.  I spent the morning making chocolate chip pancakes, frying bacon and sausage, toasting bagels, slicing oranges, and grinding coffee beans.

I was trying to be the “hostess with the mostess.”

After the group ate and drank everything we could, we strolled through the park towards the Rutgers Day.  My friends and I watched a fraternity dance off, visited old hangouts around the campus, and began mapping out all of the booths we had to visit before the end of the day.  Before we could march onward, I received a message from Ryan and I felt my stomach drop.

“Hey Casey,” he wrote.  “Are you available to talk?”

I told a friend I needed to step away because I needed to call my brother.  Everyone immediately knew it couldn’t be good news because no one ever needs to talk in our family unless it’s bad news.

You collapsed at the bank and had a seizure.

What struck me the most was how different Ryan’s voice was.  I wasn’t sure I was even speaking to him at first.  I had never heard fear in his voice and I hadn’t heard him cry since we were kids, but on that call I heard both.

Ryan said he had to scream for someone to call an ambulance while you were foaming at the mouth.  The paramedics asked him if you had any sort of medical history and we shared a laugh over the phone because you don’t go to doctors.  You’ve smoked for decades, drank like a fish, and ate like a bird.  After Ed died, I felt it was only a matter of time until something major happened.

It’s as if you lost your last will to live.

After that call, I was numb.  There was nothing I could do in the moment besides carry on with my day almost as if nothing happened.  I was awkward in the way I often find myself when I am surrounded by “normal” people.

For most people, hearing that your mother collapsed and seized would mean you drop everything and rush to her side.  It would mean you put your life on hold until you know she’s back on her feet.  You become heavily involved in the future medical treatment planning process.  You have the most personal stake in her well-being.  It certainly wouldn’t mean you hop on a Rutgers bus towards the New Jersey Folk Festival for ice cream and waffles, but that’s exactly what I did.

I knew in the pit of my stomach that you didn’t want me there.

The Mimosa Sangria and Bloody Mary’s helped me take that punch to the chin a little softer.  A year ago, you didn’t reach out to me when you broke your hip.  When Ryan told me days after you were in the hospital, I called you immediately.  You actually told me you didn’t tell me because you didn’t want to “be a bother.”

I had Ryan give me the name of the hospital you were staying at and I promised I would come see you after I sobered up.  I wanted to ignore the pit in my stomach.  I wanted to ignore the past and be there for you.  I wanted to pretend for a moment that I was normal.

However when I got to the hospital, it turned out you were at a different campus and that location calculated to be an extra hour away.  My friend who I brought along for support said I should call ahead since it was getting late.  I pushed the nurse to hand you the phone because I didn’t know if you had your phone or if my number written down anywhere.

“Hi Mom,” I said.  “Ryan told me you were in the hospital and gave me your number.  How are you doing now?”

“I’m all right,” you said.  “How are you?  How’s everything with you?”  You sounded as though you were receiving a call from a stranger.  To be fair, I am a stranger.  To be unfair, you made me a stranger.

“Uhm,” I paused.  “Everything is fine with me, but I’m not calling to talk about me.  You’re in the hospital.  How are you really doing?  What exactly happened?”

“Oh, I had a spell.  I’m not sure what word the doctor called it…” You trailed off like you were trying to remember the word.

“A seizure?  You had a seizure.  At least that’s what Ryan told me.”

“Yes, yes.  A seizure.  That’s what the doctor said. ”

“Okay…  Are they running tests?  Do they have any idea of what caused the seizure?”

“I had a CAT scan, a… a MRI scan, they took some blood I think.  They said I have some bacteria in my stomach.”  I continued to ask you questions but you don’t seem to know much about anything.

“Is there anyone there with you right now?”

“No.  I’m all alone.  Ryan was here but he’s at a concert in A.C. right now.”

“Oh,” I paused.  “Did Ryan tell you that I was coming to see you tonight?  He gave me the name of the hospital but there were apparently two campuses.  I’m about 40 minutes away, but I wanted to come see you.”

“Oh, no.  You shouldn’t come.  I’m alone and it’s late.”

“I really don’t mind.  I wanted to come see you so you wouldn’t be alone.”

“You shouldn’t come,” you said.  “It’s been what, two years since we spoke?  This is a start, but really.  You just shouldn’t come.  This has been the worst time of my life, with what happened to Ed and now this.  I’m all alone.”

“I know, Mom.  I want to come be with you so that you’re not alone.”

“We don’t have a relationship,” you said.  “I was surprised you even called.”

Our conversation ended shortly after that and I had my friend drive us back to my apartment so I could cry in the passenger seat.  You devastated me.  When you could be on your death-bed, having to see to me is unspeakable.

The saving grace of the day: Rutgers Day brunch leftovers were excellent the next morning.

 

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