Thursday, September 24. With two cakes, family members and family friends, we celebrated my mom’s 50th birthday.
September 25, 2009. I may not have known it then, how everything felt wrong. I was nine, sitting in the back seat of my mother’s car. It was a day like any other I used to spend with her. I think back now and realize small details you don’t notice as a naïve child. The subtle glances thrown through the rear view mirror. Her nearly nonexistent smile. She had picked me up from school, unusual since I took the bus to my aunt’s house every day. I didn’t question it. I was simply ecstatic to be with her and justified the rare occasion as a belated celebration of her birthday.
That Friday night, my dad brought home a chocolate cake with pink frosting roses adorning the top and sides. My half-sister and I raced to stick our fingers in the beautiful detailing, not wondering why my mom turned down a piece and opted for water instead of the usual Sprite, her favorite carbonated drink. The next few celebrations and holidays proceeded in the same fashion. She would graciously turn down certain sweets and beverages. As more months passed, pork and beef were gradually eliminated from her daily diet. Meanwhile, my dad and I continued to enjoy the delectable meats. We never noticed her strange new behavior, it never seemed to bother her.
Of course, it had been almost a year now. I was ten and realizing we stopped sharing our favorite foods altogether. On a Sunday in August I decided to find out why. I walked to her room, knowing she was folding clothes. I called her from the door of the master bedroom.
She turned slowly, her eyes puffy and red. Immediately I ran to embrace her. I didn’t need to ask her what was wrong, she had spilled her secret right then and there. Through tears and cracked voices, I learned why she picked me up that autumn afternoon and how it drastically changed her life. She had a liver disease. Her liver didn’t work as it was supposed to. She told me it was hereditary. I knew she was lying when she told me she was okay. I remember the worry and stress on her face, clearly suggesting she wasn’t sure if she could live with it. It was impossible for me to fully understand back then what it all meant. I promised her I’d help her through it, sacrificing my favorite foods for her well-being.
It’s been six years since she found out, five years since I heard the news, and three since the year her liver was predicted to stop working all together. Through my mother, I’ve learned self-control and strong will, as well as weakness. Even the strongest, happiest people have weaknesses. Some just happen to be bigger than others.