Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I remember this day last year.

The day before I had been sitting in my haphazardly-filled dining room surrounded by shopping bags full of pretty new things for my pretty new apartment as my daddy told me I should come home. I gripped the placemat set alone on my makeshift table, my fingers running over the garish hot pink and red stripes as my mind seemingly imploded. "Mom's not doing well. When can you come home?" I had only spent one night in my new bed, and the brief reprieve I felt when I let my mind turn to school and friends and pink measuring cups from a summer of hospital visits and stroking swollen arms had come to a screeching halt.

That night I took the suitcase I had just emptied, and packed for an indefinite stay at home. My heart seemed almost cold with grief and shock when I realized I should pack a dress... Do I pack the black one? Or the white one? What about that blue silk one? Is it too big now? ...How do I decide what to pack for my momma's funeral? I threw them all in.

This day last year I drove the new route to school. I remember the morning was gray, and I ate half a peanut butter Clif bar as I made my way down Sunset Boulevard. Orientation. So many faces, all wonderfully, ruefully the same... Half the boys had beards from summers spent at Shakespeare companies along the coast, and all the girls had tans from hours basking in the sun-warmed sand. I was startled when I realized how long it had been since I was surrounded by people my own age, and how good it felt to be in their presence and talk about classes and clambakes and so-and-so's summer in Tuscany. I avoided talking about myself if at all possible. I mean, nobody wants to hear, "Well I was at the hospital a lot," after an enthusiastic, "So how was your summer?!" Never had shallow chit-chat been so refreshing or foreign. I had forgotten what it was like to be twenty, and it felt so good to be reminded.

But it couldn't last. I signed in with my counselor, and I had to ask about my new teachers-- where were they, and how could I talk to them? Because I had to explain one by one that, "Hi my name is Jessica. I'll be in your class this year, and I'm so excited, but unfortunately I think I'm going to miss the first week of class. Um. I'm flying home today because we have to take my mom off of life support." I tried so hard to be professional and calm and keep my voice on an even keel... There wasn't one I got through with a straight face.

I don't remember the drive to the airport or the flight home, but I can recall what it felt like to walk through the halls with my bright red suitcase praying that someone wouldn't ask me why I was going home. I remember the warm hug from a sweet friend before I boarded the plane. And I remember being giddily excited to be home again. For some reason, all I wanted in the whole world that night was a cheeseburger, so Daddy, James, and I drove to my now-favorite place and I ate the biggest, sloppiest burger I've ever laid lips on.

As I sat in that plastic booth, wiping dressing and bacon grease from my chin, the next day was a mystery to me; I didn't know what would happen when machines stopped breathing for my momma, I didn't know what to wear, what to read, what to say, what to think, what to pray... But I knew I was happy to be home. And I knew no matter what happened, that Jesus loved me. All I had was hope.

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