I quickly dragged a comb through my hair and threw an outfit together. Matthew was outside waiting for me. I walked past mom on the way to the door and told her I loved her and that I'd be home before dinner, as was our usual routine before any of us ever leaves the house.
"Sorry to keep you waiting out here," I apologized to Matthew as I locked the door. I slipped my house key in my bag and followed him out to his aunt's mini van.
"It's okay," he said. "I was busy looking at the colorful painted rocks laying on your porch."
"Oh, me and my sister decorated the porch a year ago for my mom before she came back home after her last chemotherapy session. It was like a celebration," I explained. It felt so weird to talk about that time, I simply had forgotten all about painting the rocks. I hadn't even noticed them all year until right then when Matthew brought them up.
"So, how's things been?" Matthew asked me as we got inside the van.
"I don't know honestly," I began. "Something really weird happened to me while I was watching TV with my mom this morning-"
"My mom reached for my hand and I was looking down at our hands together I suddenly felt like I had my mom again-before she got sick-and I wanted to cry. I had to run upstairs before I fell apart in front of her."
Matthew buckled his seatbelt and looked at me.
"Riley, it's okay to tell your mom how you feel," he said. "She probably feels like a burden, and you being honest with her would help her gain back some of that normalcy of being your mother."
"I don't know, Matthew," I said, shaking my head. "I miss my mom. Before she got sick, you know?"
"I do. But I think she would feel a lot better if she could still fulfill that role for you, even if it isn't exactly like how it was before-just to feel like your mom and not a burden," he said. "Does that make sense?"
I nodded and buckled up.
Thankfully Jana's house was not far from mine. At the last stop light I heard my phone's notification sound go off twice. I had a mini heart attack thinking it was Mom. Quick as lightening I pulled it out and saw it was just another text from Sam begging me to come to her party.
Matthew looked over at me.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It's Sam. Her silly party is tonight," I replied. I ignored Sam's texts and slid my phone back into the front pocket of my jeans.
"She's hellbent on me coming for some reason," I said. "I already told her "no" twice."
"Me and my aunt were talking about inviting you and your mom and sister over to our place for dinner, or we could bring it to you-I know we don't know each other well yet but we'd love to get to know all of you," Matthew said. "I'm sure it would help with your dad being gone."
"I'd really like that," I told him. "My mom wouldn't mind at all. She calls you a "very nice young man"."
"Goodness, I'm gonna blush now," he said with a chuckle. "Your mom is really sweet."
Me and Matthew arrived to the Bible study a bit late but we settled in fairly fast. Jana was holding it in her living room with chairs and couch cushions laid out all around. I sat on a cushion on the floor and Matthew sat on the couch next to me. Jana was very happy to see me and gave me one of those really drawn-out, Christian affectionate pep talks and a semi-awkward side hug to match. It didn't feel very sincere but I cut her some slack. It must be emotionally exhausting doing what she does every day.
The topic was about persevering through difficult times and Jana gave the group am opportunity to share their story of how God helped them. A short girl with frizzy hair stood up from one of the cushions on the floor and got up to speak. In the back of my mind, I expected some sort of bubblegum fluff story where the problem God helped her with was something insignificant like an letting go of an ex-boyfriend or deciding what college to go to.
"When I was eleven years old, my dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis," she began. She had her hands clasped behind her, fidgeting with one of the bracelets on one hand.
"At first, it was really hard adjusting to a new normal in our lives. He had to stop working and go on disability and we had to move to a different town because we couldn't afford our house anymore. I lost my school and all of my old friends," she went on.
I glanced over at Matthew and saw he was listening intently. I looked back at the girl. Suddenly I felt a lump in my throat, like I wanted to cry. I started feeling all the emotions I had earlier that morning in the living room with my mom. But I managed to hold it in and continued to listen as best as I could.
"It was scary watching my dad go from being okay to really disabled. When I was fifteen he had to be in a wheelchair-"
My heart skipped a beat. A repressed memory of when my mom had to hurry to the hospital after being diagnosed because she had to get a kidney biopsy came to mind. I remembered the look of fear in my dad's eyes before they left.
"My mom would have to help him walk around on good days so he could stay in shape. I had to step up and help more with the chores and taking care of my little brother. The worst part about it all was-"
I kept looking around at everyone in the room, then back at the girl. Soon it was almost as if my ears went totally underwater-everything the girl was saying sounded fuzzy. It all became like white noise. My hands were sweating. I wanted to puke and cry at the same time. I started shaking.
"I'll be right back," I whispered to Matthew. I got up and went outside as composed as I could without drawing any attention to myself. Once I got outside and shut the door, I quickly walked to Matthew's van and climbed in the passenger seat and started sobbing with my face buried in my hands.
"Oh, God!" I cried, slamming my hand on the dashboard in pain. "Please, God...please be real."
I lowered myself and hugged my legs so no one would see me crying in case anyone walked out looking for me. I didn't want to ruin the Bible Study and I certainly didn't want anyone feeling sorry for me. I never liked anyone seeing me cry.
It was like all of the repressed memories I had of my mom when she first got sick-all the scary memories and feelings I had successfully managed to forget up until that point-exploded everywhere on me. In full, living color. Playing back-to-back.
After I dried my tears with the bottom of my shirt I carefully looked up to see if anyone was outside. Thankfully there wasn't so I casually sucked it all up and went back inside, hoping no one would notice the redness in my eyes.
The girl was still speaking about her dad. I went back to my spot and sat down and tried to listen to the rest of her story, hopefully this time not having a mental breakdown.
"I know that God really is there even in the darkest times, even when it doesn't feel like He is. Sometimes I think hard times cause people to want to get closer to God, and that is what He did for me," she said. "I am glad I didn't give up or runaway like I wanted to. He really was there, even on the bad days."
Everyone in the room gave her a round of applause and Jana gave her a hug as she walked back to her seat. I sat there and thought about her last statements. If this girl could say God was with her even through all of what she had to experience-was I wrong to claim He didn't exist? I felt like when real crap happens to people it's proof He isn't real, but this made me re-think that sentiment.
"Thank you, Desi," Jana said to her. "I think we can all appreciate the bravery of Desi to come up here today and share her story about her dad with all of us."
Everyone nodded and gave another round of applause. Not long after that it was time to go home. I felt quite relieved. It was very hard hiding a panic attack in front of a room full of people you don't know. Somehow I made it. I just wanted to go home. But Desi's story stayed with me for the rest of the day.
As me and Matthew walked out to the van he asked me if I wanted to go get an ice-cream.
"I have a headache," I told him. In all honesty I kind of actually did have a headache from crying so hard earlier. As we buckled up he looked to me.
"Now, it's okay if you don't wanna tell me, but when you excused yourself earlier-was everything okay? I mean you walked out really fast."
I didn't know if telling him a lie would save face and skip another emotional breakdown or if I should just be honest and tell him what really happened. I decided to go with the truth.
"That girl's story about her dad reminded me too much of my mom. I came out here and cried," I said, plainly. I was still feeling a bit numb from the cry-fest.
"I started feeling really anxious and I just had to get out of there."
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, starting the van.
"Because I wasn't going to ruin it for everyone else," I replied. "Please just take me home. I need to take something for my head."
Matthew didn't say anything after that. I felt really bad for snapping at him but I was so overwhelmed with anxiety and thoughts of my mom that I couldn't think straight. It was like my mind was on fire.
When I got home my mom was back in her bed with the heating pad laid over her. She said the new pain medication took time to kick in. Delia was downstairs being bratty and complaining about how messy the kitchen was and that she couldn't have a friend over because mom said no. I almost broke down again and went to my room before I completely exploded. I needed to get out. I felt trapped.
I texted Sam back and told her I was coming to the party.