False Start

I turned away from the wall squinting at the hallway light coming from the doorway. I felt trapped, imprisoned in my own bed, too incapacitated to feel anything else but misery. The noise was suffocating. Screams, shouts, and laughter of all that I was missing out on, all that I hadn’t really become a part of yet.

I pulled the covers closer and contemplated my phone. The easy way out wasn’t going to be easy at all. I was going to admit defeat and resign control to a higher power. I had no choice; I couldn’t do this on my own.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Twenty five hundred miles away in the blackness of 3 am, I heard the phone come off its hook. A sleepy familiar voice pushed out “hello?” And I spoke in a voice that was instantly brimming with tears;

Hi Mom… can you come out here?

It was two days after I noticed a swelling in my neck, and seven days after I had started college, that I missed my first day of class. I missed the entire second week of school, unable to get out of bed.

Residents of my floor stopped by, kids I’d never really know dropped off vitamin C bottles or cards telling me to feel better. Kind gestures that sat on my nightstand like unopened letters.

At some point after my urine turned brown I went to the school physician. I told him I thought I had mono. He kind of smirked saying they’d test and see. He wasn’t smirking when he told me I was right.

After a week of lonely, fitful nights, unable to make myself feel better I sought the only thing that had always been the cure for what ailed me; Mom.

Three weeks after sending me off to start my new life at college, she had to follow me out there to take care of me. Seven days down into this hole of sickness every part of me hurt. Any hope and energy she had sent me off with had since disappeared.

Walking into the dorm lobby the broken boy she saw before her was a far cry from the aspiring man she had just said goodbye to, and sent to the other side of the country on a scholarship to thrive.

What stood before her was a disheveled, pajamaed, 18 year old with bleached blonde hair she never liked, and a hopeless look on his face. She took me to the doctor on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Worried that I would get worse before I got better they admitted me to the hospital where I got worse before I got better.

Standing felt like falling, and eating felt like torture. Immediately after being admitted I was scheduled for a battery of tests but threw up before they could even begin the first one. I remember looking at the standard issue hospital pants I was wearing and speculating how many people before me had worn them. What other illnesses were woven into the fabric and now intermixed with mine?

I stayed in the hospital for a week, the whole time my mother sitting by my bedside. I wonder what must have been going through her head. How for 18 years she had put everything she had into trying to raise an independent man, and the minute she released him into the universe… this. This utter collapse of all ability to self sustain.

All I could do was lay in bed watching Annette Funicello movies, gaggles of beachy looking teenagers shaking and gyrating in the sand, when I could barely reach over to grab my juice. I wanted desperately to be out amongst my peers creating those memories we would reference for the rest of our lives. But after bursting into view as the loud, jokey, kid, I had suddenly become the quarantined, jaundiced, pathetic lump in the local hospital.

My mom sat by my bedside during the day and when visiting hours ended she was off getting lost in the black Arizona night, looking for her hotel, calling Dad from the car, asking him to look up directions online. She waited an hour for a pizza from a place that had probably never had a pick up only because she didn’t know where else to eat. She contacted Housing and arranged for me to be moved into the only single room left on campus… a handicapped dorm.

It was a week before I was finally deemed well enough to be released.

By the time I left the hospital and moved into my room with the special toilet and automatic door, I shouldn’t have been surprised that she was extremely eager to help me set it up. We spent a week in a hotel while we prepared my new living space.

She took me to Wal-Mart and bought me a TV that I thought was too expensive for me to have. To this day I am still amazed. Though I probably shouldn’t be, as she would have spent any amount of money to make sure I would enjoy this second crack at my new life.

She helped me write emails to my teachers, told me what to say, took me to run errands I hadn’t yet gotten the chance to run. Everything she thought she’d never have to do again, she had to spend even more time doing.

Four weeks into my freshman year, the only person taking care of me and helping me to get by was also my roommate in a hotel off campus, my Mom.

But even though I look back in disbelief on everything she did for me in those two weeks she was out there, I probably shouldn’t. She spent 18 years making sure I was ready for when she’d have to watch me leave. And then she spent 2 more weeks doing everything she could to make sure I was ready for when she had to.