The following is a snippet of a major chapter in my memoir that I have been working on for years. It is my life story(ies), but with a Wizard of Oz twist:
July 15th, 2009 is a date that will always have a heavy pull in my life. I will never forget that day. I was 16. In May of that year, Hickory (my little brother) and I left Blackshear to go stay the summer with our grandparents in Callahan, Fl. This was something we did every summer, but it was different this time. This time we went early and did not stay for the usual two to three weeks.
As I said before, we had no food at home and with no A/C, the heat seemed not to be a good fit for my brother and me. So my mom and granny decided it was best to send us to her house early.
My mom had lost her job earlier that year. She was a waitress at a restaurant in the town next to Blackshear. It is called Waycross, Georgia, and trust me, nothing much is there. One night I was out with a friend from Drama Club. We got tickets to see a scary movie and wanted to grab food beforehand. It must have been about 8 at night and it was dark. A car, with its headlights off, hit us on my side. It shook me up, but I seemed to be okay. My mom was minutes away at her job. They called her and she freaked out. She told her boss that she needed to go check on me and would be back. I told her I was fine, but that the medics told me since I was underage I needed an adult to decline me to go in the ambulance. I knew we could not have afforded that.
My mother was told that she could not leave. She was given the choice to stay and keep her job or to go to me and not come back. She came to my aid. She was so upset, but yet happy to see I was in one piece. She told me later that night that she lost her job and I felt like it was my fault.
The few months after that were the toughest on us. She looked for another job, but it all seemed to be getting to her. She started to get sick again. The cancer was back and stronger than before. It is hard to remember a time in my life that my mother did not have cancer. I recall her telling me how she used to spend hours out in the sun when she was young. She had countless skin cancer removals.
A rough patch happened when I was in 3rd grade. Mom was going through chemotherapy. She was very sick and was losing her hair. I remember her getting a wig and how she had a look of defeat in her eyes. She would put the wig on and ask us how it looked. I could tell she did not want to wear it.
She had a pump hooked up to her that she had to carry around. It kind of looked like a fanny pack. I remember wanting to go with her to her appointments, but she said I was too young. It was hard for us. My sisters would go with her, so I'm glad she wasn't alone.
We had a book fair at school and the teachers told us to circle what books we wanted. They then took us to look at them. I was such a big reader and had about three or four books I wanted. I know that there was no way I would get them. We never had the money for that type of stuff. So I folded the flyer away and never gave it another thought. That week, my mom found the flyer and asked what it was. I told her and she asked if I found any books I wanted. I lied, "No, they don't have good ones out right now". She must have seen right through me. I forgot that I had circled some books.
The next day, there was a knock on my classroom door. There stood my mom with the books in hand. I was so happy as I ran to her and she said, "SURPRISE! Are these the ones you wanted?" I shook my head and said, "Yes!" I knew she had an appointment that day. I was quick to question how she got money to get the books, but she told me not to worry about it.
I felt on top of the world. In my mind, it was cool to have your mom stop class to give you books she bought for you. Sadly, that feeling faded as I sat back down. Kids started to ask, "What is wrong with your mom?" It had not registered with me that I was used to seeing my mom this way. She had little hair and had her "fanny pack" on. She moved slowly and looked sick is all, but the other kids had so many questions. I started to cry and just told them she was sick. The teacher was quick to change the subject.
That night when my mom asked me if I was happy with the books, I told her what happened. She brushed it off. She told me she was used to it. "They just don't understand", she told me. I just kept telling her how mean kids can be. "They call me gay and ugly", I told her. She snapped back with, "I don't make ugly babies. Besides, who cares what people say. Look, people are going to talk crap about you your whole life, but it's up to you to believe them or not. If they call you ugly, but you know you're not then screw them."
I took that to heart. It is something that I have to remind myself of. So what if people want to talk about me. It is up to me to believe what they are saying.
In the months leading up to July 15th, 2009, my mom had been getting sick. She was told the cancer was back after years of being gone. It was spreading. It was like it was out of a Lifetime movie. The cancer went to her breast and colon. She was told they most likely would have to have her breast removed. This upset her very much. No job, no money, and cancer was not a great combination.
Nevertheless, my mother was a fighter. She would always tell us that she is not going down without a fight. Things seemed to be getting better. However, the doctors said her heart was giving her issues. I hoped that a wizard would come along with a bag full of everything we needed to heal my mother. Silly Steven, life doesn't work that way. She was on the schedule to take a stress test and was told to try to take it easy. She would laugh and say that was impossible. Mama had us four kids and seven grandchildren looking to her for everything. It was only Hickory and I living with her, but my sisters always would call or ask for help.
On that hot summer day of July 15th, 2009, my grandparents and I spent all day cleaning out my grandpa's workshop. By late afternoon we were all sweaty and gross. Granny told me to get cleaned up and that we will get dinner afterward. I remember thinking about what we could be doing for dinner and hoping they were too tired and wanted to go out to eat. When I got out of the shower I put on my pajamas. I went into the living room/kitchen area and noticed that granny was not cooking yet. I looked back into their bedroom and saw them getting dressed. Not in their pajamas, but in "we are going out to eat" clothes. I was so happy. Then I saw the look of sorrow on my granny's face. She came down the hall and told me, "Stevie Boy (yes they called me this nickname), go get changed. We need to go to Blackshear. Your mama is very very sick." I thought to myself that this should not be big news. Mom was sick a lot and that the cancer is no match for her.
I got changed and waited for further instructions. My grandparents came out and told me to sit down. My grandpa started, "I know how hard it is to lose your mom and I'm so sorry." I froze and asked what he meant. They told me my mom was sick in the hospital and would most likely not make it this time. I started to cry. I was not hungry anymore, my head was spinning in confusion.
It is about an hour and a half from my grandparents' house to where we lived in Blackshear. I spoke not a word. I just prayed the whole time and pleaded with God. "Please God, let her be okay. I begged, "I will do anything. I will stop cursing, I will go to church more, I will do ANYTHING." I just kept telling myself that this is all going to blow over and that everything was going to be okay. I felt sad. I felt guilty. I knew the last time I saw my mom was in May and I was mad at her. I just kept hoping and praying that everything was going to be okay. We turned down the street where we lived. We got to our driveway and as we pulled up, a hearse was leaving.
I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into my life. It would mean so much if you subscribe to my Vocal Media profile. You can also follow my journey on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter. You can find me on Clubhouse with the username @sirstevenrice. AND check out my podcasts and blog on my website. Again, thank you so much, stay safe!