The story so far:
I don’t know why my mother had to do it. When I see her now, she is the loveliest of angels in my dreams, though in her heart lurked a darkness that no one but my father ever saw. Her final acts in life were acts of desperation that would not disperse with her passing.
My mother was dying. I did not know it then. I was puzzled by this man she made me go to see every Sunday, insisting I call him “father”. When I pouted and insisted that I already had a father, she smiled gently and said, “Your blood knows the truth” and gently tousled my hair. I hated her then. I hated her with her glowing face, her gentle smile, and the loving creases around her eyes. Suddenly she seemed like a stranger. I did not like the way “Father/Doctor” looked at my mother with such worry and quickly reached to steady her once when she grew pale, her hands started shaking, and she dropped her rosary with such a loud clatter that the congregation was startled.
My mother had a penance to pay before the cancer claimed her.
After the Sunday services were over, Father/Doctor would take us back to his house where he would examine my mother and from the other room I could hear them arguing.
“It's getting worse. You're not even going to be well enough to leave the house after a while. You know this. When are you going to tell him?”
“I can’t, Jim…You don’t understand. He has this temper…and I am not strong enough to take it right now. Other than that, he has been good to me. He’s been wonderful to me. How do I drop two bombs on him like this?”
“The same way you dropped them on me?”
There was silence then…and my mother sniffling. I knew she was crying. I would kick at the worn carpeting at the edge of the chair. It was ugly carpeting. Brown, peach, blue…interweaving threads that clashed. It was the kind of carpeting they used in funeral parlors or offices, not somebody’s house.
“I could have given you and that boy everything you ever wanted, you know.”
“I’m sorry…Jim, I’m trying to make right. You have to believe me. I know what I did was wrong, but I want you to know your son. He’s smart, like you. I bring him books all the time. All kinds of books…and only you could give him the kind of life he deserves to lead. My husband can’t do that.”
I wouldn’t realize until years later that my mother was sacrificing dying in peace to try to pay for my education and forge a pathway to a better life for me. My father was a good man, but a common man, who had somehow managed to ensnare the heart of such a delicate beauty like my mother, who seemed primed from the womb for the finest of things. Little did my father and I know that she was also capable of keeping the secret that she had been pregnant with me when she married him almost ten years prior. All along, my father thought I was his and loved me as if I were his own when I was really the son of this doctor whose face was so careworn he had permanent worry creases across his forehead.
We went there every Sunday, to church and then on to his house so she could get prescription pain pills to take away some of her discomfort and we would do this for months until she was not well enough to go anymore.
When we left Father/Doctor’s house, she would take me for ice cream with a gleam in her eye while she stuck out her pinkie finger for our ritualistic pinkie swear.
“Promises, promises, pudding and pie…I will keep this secret and eat ice cream ‘til the day that I die…” we’d say to each other. It made me giggle. Then she would reach over in the car’s console for her simple wedding band which she’d slip on her finger. I’d asked her once why she took it off and she said, “I can’t do this…I feel like he’s staring at me. I don’t want him to know I’m sick, honey, remember? Your father can barely take care of himself without me unloading all this on him, understand? Anyway, isn't it marvelous that I can eat ice cream with you? Pity those people on chemotherapy that are too heat/cold sensitive to eat ice cream...Their loss.”
And there I was, breaking that pinkie swear that I’d kept with my mother as I felt my father’s arms tighten around me and his tears wetting my hair.