Memories of a Picture

There will never be a picture I write about more or that takes me down like this one.  I know it is going to pop up in my memories on Facebook every October and I know it will gut me.  Today was the day.  It is my favorite and my most traumatizing picture ever.  Whenever I see it, I am transported right back to that moment in time, it is visceral and raw.  It is a moment in time I will never forget.  I have written essays and poems already about this picture.  I doubt it will ever stop taking my breath away.

The picture itself is sweet and innocent.  It is my son at a pumpkin patch, at the top of a huge dirt pile.  He climbed to the top and threw his arms in the air, victorious.  It is a cool shot in and of itself with the sun beaming on the silhouette of him. It was taken on the day I realized I might die soon.

About two weeks prior, I was in the hospital, just having been diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer.  I started chemo and was trying to figure out what life was going to look like in treatment.  I had been home resting all day, my son was at school.  He had been through it all alongside me.  Hospital visits, bad news, sick mom, a port poking out of my chest.  It was a lot of scary and sad stuff.  I just wanted to provide him some joy.  I wanted to see him laugh.

I was weak and tired, slightly nauseous but I went and picked him up early from school.  He was ecstatic to walk down the halls and leave while his friends were still in math class.  He giggled and kept asking where we were going.  He finally guessed the pumpkin patch as we pulled into the drive. 

I didn’t have a lot of money and the medical bills were piling up on me so this was a big splurge.  Those places nickel and dime the hell out of you.  I was determined to make sure he had a day full of joy so I whipped out the credit card and bought everything his little heart desired.  The tiny plastic apple full of cider, apple cider donuts, funnel cake, pony rides, petting zoo, everything.  He deserved it.

It quickly became overwhelming for me.  I had to sit down.  I tired easily and my body was weak from the chemo.  I found a chair next to the dirt pile and sent him on to play.  I sat and watched my sweet boy and cried behind my sunglasses.  The feeling still comes over me when I see the picture.  This was the exact moment that the severity of my diagnosis sunk in.  It was when I understood what Stage IV meant.  I might die.  I might leave this happy kid motherless.  I may never see him grow up.  As he climbed that hill, I sat alone and cried.  I painted a smile on my face as best I could.  I was unable to move for quite some time.  He got to the top and yelled for me to take his picture.  I did. 

He kept playing in the dirt and I started praying.  Well, more like bargaining.  Begging the universe to let me see him graduate high school.  Let me get him to adulthood.  Don’t take me from him yet.  The place was swarming with kids and families but I could only see him.  I was grateful for the sunglasses to hide my tears.  I watched him laugh and climb.  This wouldn’t be it.  It couldn’t be the last time I take him to the pumpkin patch.  This couldn’t be our last Halloween.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be.  He needed me.  My heart hurt, I felt like it was going to explode out of my chest.  He soon came off the hill to have a sip of his apple cider and move on to the petting zoo.  I pulled myself together. 

I can’t see that picture without feeling those feelings all over again.  No matter how far away from that day we get.  I type this and my heart feels like a weight in my chest.  I hear him in his room and I want to bust in and hug him and hold him.  This year the feeling is particularly powerful because he is a senior in high school and while I am currently No Evidence of Disease, I am never in the clear.  He is about to graduate and I begged the universe to let me see it.  What if the universe is about to collect?  I only bargained for his graduation.  I feel fine and have no reason to think my time is coming but my time has felt borrowed since that day. I am praying I am gifted many more years to see him become the man he is meant to be.  I am guessing my sunglasses will also come in handy graduation day as well.