General Fiction posted July 20, 2014


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When Johnny Comes Marching Home

by Spiritual Echo

Battle against cancer Contest Winner 
"I don't want to fight anymore. I'm tired. Mommy, please don't make me do this."

My child has cancer. Here in Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto, the war continues daily--the oncology ward is full. Children fill the beds, immediately replaced by another when a bed comes free. It's a reason to celebrate--usually. When a little boy or girl is released, saved by the team of angels that fight for their lives, there's always another to take the place.

The hallways are full of parents and loved ones who live on hope. For months I have spent nights in the hospital room with Johnny. Sleeping is hardly what I'd call it. Intermittent moments of surrender to hollow dreams and night terrors separate my days from the subdued stillness of the night shift. It's been impossible to live a normal life since cancer came to live with our family.

People sometimes ask me how I cope, how I handle being the single mother of three and deal with Johnny's sickness. I'm not sure coping is the right word. Nothing, absolutely nothing is normal anymore; not for Johnny, not for Mary or Jacob, my other children, and definitely not for me.

The only person who seems to be going about his business as if everything is peachy keen is David, my husband, the children's father. He left us three months before the doctors found out what was wrong with my youngest. I thought the separation was responsible for Johnny's constant diarrhea. Johnny worshipped David and after he left, slamming the door on me and his responsibilities, Johnny took it hard, crying himself to sleep at night and being sent home from school every week after he vomited in class. I thought it was stress. God help me, after the doctor told me what it was, my first thought was that David did this to his son.

"Let me die, Mama," he'd said earlier today. How can I let my child die when there's still hope? I can't, and though my baby has begged me to stop the chemotherapy, I have made him suffer through three rounds of this insidious poison that is taking the good with the bad.

Watching Johnny sleep now as I sit by his side, I punish myself for what my kids are going through. Mary and Jacob have been spending time with their grandmother, David's mother. My own parents died before seeing their grandchildren born. Greta is not an unkind woman. "Of course I'll help out," she'd said when I asked if the kids could stay with her.

She blames me for David leaving and she's not shy about letting me know that she thinks everything is my fault.

"He wouldn't be womanizing if you gave him what he needs at home." Those were the only words she spoke when I told her David had run off. He didn't bother telling his own mother. He decided he didn't want to be married, and like everything else, he left me with the chore of explaining his absence.

Greta is almost eighty and has little patience for children. Jacob stays out of her way, a sullen boy who at thirteen sees everything and keeps it bottled up inside. Mary isn't so wise. She's almost twelve and along with her pubescent hormones, she has a mouth, never knowing when to shut up. She's always pushed my buttons, a feisty, independent girl who battled being the middle child by becoming Daddy's little girl. To him, she could do no wrong, but where is he now when she needs him most?

Greta did the unthinkable, she cut off Mary's hair. "She scalped me. The bitch took scissors and cut off my hair while I was sleeping." Mary screamed into the phone between sobs.

Mary's disgust with me matches that of Greta's and I suppose David's. She blames me for having to live in her grandmother's tiny apartment while I sit vigil in the hospital.

"Greta, why would you do such a thing?" I asked, barely containing my own tears, knowing how Mary's long hair was her source of vanity and identity. Feeble excuses, accusations about Mary's hygiene did nothing to appease me, but there was nothing I could do or say. I couldn't afford an argument with the only relative that could help me during this battle. I know Mary will never forgive me. She resents the time I spend in the hospital. She told me she wished Johnny would die. I slapped her face, then apologized. I'd never slapped any of my children before. What's wrong with me?

Johnny is moaning in his sleep. I wonder if he dreams anymore. Once upon a time he played first base in his baseball team and did wheelies in the skate park. He could run as fast as the wind and his laughter was contagious. The youngest, the prankster, the only child who is not afraid to hold his mother's hand--my hand--and now he clings to it when they change IV bags, and begs me to stop the treatments.

I wonder where David is tonight. I leave messages and beg him to visit the children. He took Mary out for pancakes last Sunday, but he won't come to the hospital. "Can't handle that shit," he'd said.

Jacob refused to go to Denny's with them. Am I to lose two sons--three children?

I don't even feel like a mother anymore. Jacob grunts in the phone, not saying or sharing anything when I call. Mary doesn't want to talk to me at all, but goes through the motions, spewing her daily list of complaints. And Johnny, there's hardly anything left of my child--a shrunken, wizened little man, skin and bones, barely creating a crease in the sheet that is draped over his tiny body as he sleeps.

Coping? No, I wouldn't call this 'coping.' I'm putting one foot in front of the other and just moving. All I have left is prayer.

Writing Prompt
Write about the fight against cancer

Battle against cancer
Contest Winner

Recognized


I have walked beside friends who battled cancer. All lost the war, but I was privileged to be a friend until the last breath. My book, Measuring Time, is being serialized on Page and Spine, and catalogues the relationships around a woman who has been diagnosed as terminal.

My experience with the emotional end of life stories is far too extensive and I hope anyone who is fighting this battle has a circle of love that helps make the journey lighter.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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