Heat All Around

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

MOM WHEN I LEFT

MOM WHEN I LEFT...a short story by L.J. Holmes


MOM WHEN I LEFT
By
L.J. Holmes
March 5, 2000
1,864 words

Her hands shook the entire way home. It was all Alexandra Matheson could do to steer the car, so violently was she trembling. Her silent orders, to herself to calm down were, totally ignored. Calming down was proving to be an exercise in futility despite what the doctor had commanded.

With unsteady fingers, she engaged the left turn signal. She couldn’t go home. Not yet. If she went home in the condition she was in right now her husband would take one look at her and know something was wrong. Seriously wrong. But where could she go?

She didn’t know this area too well, having only moved here three months ago when her husband’s company transferred them here as part of his promotion. She barely knew the way from her home to her doctor’s office, let alone where she could go to calm down.

Think! Yeah Right! Great advice if she were in control of herself to begin with!

She had to find somewhere to pull off, stop the car and get out so she could walk herself into a state of pseudo-calmness, but where?

The loud blare of a truck’s horn called her back to where she was. She was a menace. If she didn’t get off the road soon she was going to kill someone, and with her luck, it would be someone else who suffered.

At that moment she noticed a billboard for the next exit. A small inn with an old paddle wheel gristmill sitting among the rolling hills in a rustic, country setting beckoned. Imagine, she thought as she signaled her intentions and eased her way over to the exit ramp. She hadn’t known there was any rustic area this close to her new home. Maybe, in some strange way, today was going to prove a blessing. Yeah Right! And pigs really do fly.

The mill was less than ten miles from the Interstate. Under normal circumstances a ten-minute drive would have lulled her into a state of peace, but not today.

She parked her car in the gravel visitor’s lot beneath a spreading maple. Although it wasn’t a scorcher of a day, with the sun pouring down from the cloudless sky, the car would feel like an oven when she returned.

Stepping from the car’s interior, she stood for a moment and inhaled the sweet scents of Country. She’d grown up in rural Pennsylvania. By the time she’d been twelve, she’d milked cows, collected eggs, and sold fresh produce from her brother in-law’s roadside stand. She’d also found an innate love for the scent of honeysuckle. Something she’d missed sorely since moving away over twenty years ago.

Squinting at the directional signs, her eyesight had long ago decided to prove imperfect; she headed off towards the mill. The distant sound of water slapping against wood was her guide.

Blending with the sounds of the water and paddle, she could hear the distinct grating sound of stone abrading grain. This was not just a tourist attraction, she realized, but a working mill. That surprised her. So much of ancient America had disappeared in the past twenty years. Technology had advanced so quickly it seemed as if nothing was done the old fashioned way any more.

She stepped on a cobbled walkway. The stones had been hand placed and each one was so irregular she knew they had not been mechanically made. In the development where she and her husband had bought a condo, the community was designed to imitate rustic simplicity, but all the cobbled stones on her walkway were the same size, the same shape, and the same color. Oh and made of some sort of high quality, weather resistant plastic.

The trees that edged the walkway created a natural arch above her. Squirrels were busy chattering and scampering along the branches spanning the width of the trees. As she walked on, every now and then a nut bounced, like a pinball, from the clumsy jaw of some squirrel off of those branches to land in little pings against the gnarled roots on the ground. The sound truly made her homesick.

The wheel was huge and weathered. This was not something just erected. It showed the wear and tear of generations gone by, but it also showed the solidity of its craftsmanship. The steady slap-plop of the water and the wheel drew her to the edge of the river’s bank. Lowering herself to the grass, she pulled her knees up, wrapped her arms around her legs, rested her head on her knees and stared at the slow but steady rotation of the giant wheel.

Steady and consistent, she thought, watching the wheel make its revolutions. Its unhurried pace was something she craved for in her own life. But there could be no slow going. It was too late for that.

For the first time since leaving the doctor’s office she admitted she was scared. Before moving here, her doctor back home had hinted that there might be a problem developing and that she really needed to start taking better care of herself. She’d felt fine, so had scoffed at her doctor’s warnings. She had no symptoms.

But that was then. Still maybe they were wrong. Maybe what happened last week was nothing more than an early sign of menopause. It was possible after all! Hot flashes, dizziness, tightness in the chest, nausea, were all possible symptoms of menopause. Not some silent heart attack!

She snarled at her thoughts. Heart attacks cause pain; lots of pain. She’d had nothing more than a little bit of breathlessness and a touch of nausea. The flu! That had to be it! She was just coming down with a bout of flu. She should have gotten her flu shot earlier. Waiting until the end of October was idiotic on her part, and obviously she was going to pay for it.

So how come the doctor didn’t say that? How come she had you lie there very still while the nurse placed those electrodes on your legs, arms and chest? How come when your doctor saw the little squiggles that came out of that tiny printer, she’d said heart attack?

How could I have had a heart attack and not known it? What kind of foolishness is this thing called a silent heart attack? If it’s silent, how can anyone be sure it really happened?

By the irregular squiggles on that little printout that’s how!

Indigestion! That runs in the family. My father is a virtual indigestion factory. All my life he’s been popping antacids like they are candy. Now if she said I had an ulcer, well that would make sense, given my family’s medical history. Not some sneaky little heart attack that doesn’t even cause an ache in my heart.

Okay. My blood pressure is high. But then again, what is high? One person’s high, is just comfortable for someone else. Right?

“We have to get your blood pressure down and your stress levels under control,” the doctor had said solemnly.

Yeah Right! And I’m suddenly going to find myself back in Pennsylvania lying on my back in a field of soft hay looking up as the clouds go drifting past me!

“The next one may not be silent, and even if it is silent, it may not be one you live through.” the doctor had added sternly. “You don’t have a choice. Either you change the way you are doing things, or you will die!”

We’re all going to die!

'How in the hell am I going to change my life?' she thought as tears swelled in her eyes.

She didn’t want to cry. There was no time in her life to cry: Especially not for herself. Too many people depended on her to be strong for them. She couldn’t afford to be weak now. Maybe next year, or the year after that she could take the time to be ill, but not now.

The tears built and the pressure made her eyes burn. Damn it all, she would not cry! No sooner had she come to that determination, the tears overflowed and a dam broke.

Her sobs shook her small body. She was one total scream of pain. What was she to do? She couldn’t tell her family. She doubted any of them could handle this. Her son was still recovering from his near suicide of just six weeks ago. His emotional situation was far too fragile to be hit with this. He depended on his mother to hold him together. How could he be expected to find the strength to be his mother’s stanchion? Her daughter, although an adult, was not much better. At twenty-one, she still lived with Mom and had a lot of trouble keeping a job.

And then there was her husband. She’d met and married Jared a little over a year ago. A corporate attorney with one of the Fortune 500 companies, he was the lover, the mate, the strong male role-model that she and her children had been longing for since her first marriage had ended in divorce nearly twenty years ago. Jared had given her heaven. He had been so wonderful to her and her children, but shortly after moving here, Jared was diagnosed with skin cancer.

Having grown up in Florida, Jared had spent much of his life on the beach absorbing the intense Florida rays. Now he was paying for it. Chemotherapy was taking its toll. Much of the time, Jared was weak and ill. He was in no shape to have a wife with a heart condition. He needed her to be his tower, and she was determined to be just that!

Okay God, I’m going to have to leave this between you and me. There is no way I can tell my family what the doctor had to say, so where do we go from here? What should I do now?

She lifted her red, puffy eyes to the sky and waited. No bolt of lightning, no burning bush, no tablets etched by God’s hands fell before her. The squirrels still chattered and scampered. The mill-wheel’s paddle still flapped against the water. The sound of stone pulverizing grain added harmony, but no words of wisdom filled her.

‘That’s okay. God, I know the routine.’ She rose to her feet, took a deep, slow breath in and let it go out. There was nothing for it. She would go home, and she would do what she knew she had to do.

She walked back to her car, inserted her key in the lock, opened the door, slipped inside, turned the key, flipped on the air conditioner, and headed back to the interstate.

Her hands were steadier on the wheel. Her emotions were beyond calm. She was deadly calm. All fear was gone, all anguish, all doubts. She had been Mom when she left the house this morning: She would be Mom again when she arrived home, for that is who her family needed and who she intended to always be, and how she would deal with whatever the future held.

5 comments:


Ginger Simpson said...
What a moving story. It dredged up how scared I felt in the emergency room when I had my first bout of Atrial Fibrillation, and how I worried that I might fall victim to the very same ailment that killed everyone on my Dad's side of the family. But, I take meds and see my doctor yearly, hoping that will buy me time they didn't have. heard yesterday that a good "cyber" friend had suffered a heart attack and was undergoing emergency surgery. I prayed for her because I know how frightened she must feel. So, thank you for reminding me how precious life is and how thin the line that divides us from the other side.
Lin said...
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I had a silent heart attack in 2008. Never realized when I wrote this back then, that I would face this in the future...and actually, I forgot I ahd written it until a few days ago when I opened the file with it inside. It was one of those OMG WOW moments.
Karen McGrath said...
Lin, you do an excellent job of portraying the mc. Really great! Good story and sort of a flag to people that it's not unheard of. And does she ever have stress - husband battling cancer and son battling suicide - it doesn't get any worse than that.
Larion aka Larriane Wills said...
strong message. you don't quit.
M. L. Archer said...
Mom's don't quit, do they? No matter what, when it's all over, we just keep going....It's got to be in the job description. Fantastic story!

1 comment:

zxcvbnm said...

I guess it's the same as a TIA? And as soon as it'sover, yes,you are so right Lin, we go back to being Mums. Been there.
Tanja