"Jillian, it's me. I have cancer," The raspy tired voice floated through the receiving end of my phone.
A light ringing tone started after the words fell as I was still rubbing my eyes awake the morning of Valentine's Day 2017. I looked over and watched as my most recent love lay tangled in my sheets, trying to reposition into sleep after the electric trill cut the early morning glory earlier than expected. Unexpected is one word I could use to describe the call I got that day. Not only with the information that it contained but also because of who was on the other side. My mother, who I had now not talked to in 45 days after she had beaten me with words of ineptitude and worthlessness as her daughter after coming out to her for the now third time of my adult life. No, she's not just a friend; no, I don't want to date guys; yes, I want to fuck women. But for some reason, it's like some people only hear what they want to believe, only see what their mind allows them to. I could still hear her words echoing in the background, my new name tags hanging from safety pins in my skin. Words can hurt- like knives. Bleeding tears, I sped from her driveway in Phoenix with a vow that we were done, she had made it clear, she was not my mother any longer and that I was a blemish to her name. She wanted nothing to do with me and my "trash girlfriend". Fine. By. Me.
And here she was- after radio silence, calling me to tell me she was dying. That's what cancer usually means right? Whether it's slowly or quickly- cells are dying, someone is dying. This time, it just happened to be my mother. To be honest, I don't even remember speaking words back. I don't remember replying. I remember getting in my car and driving. Not even 2 hours later- I was by her bedside in a Scottsdale hospital where someone in white was explaining Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia to me. The ringing in my ears continued.
There was never a question as to whether I was going to be there or not, family should be there- no matter what. In the good times, in the bad. She was my mother and although she hurt me and said she would never accept me, she needed me more than I needed my anger.
I stayed in the hospital with her almost everyday after that. I watched her wilt like a flower with the first frost. Her hair would fall out in clumps and she would cry over how ugly she felt. She couldn't talk much, because the pain as she described it, felt like her bones were breaking from the inside out. She said repeatedly, "I can't, everything hurts". Tears had now stained my face and the purple under my eyes was more prominent than any makeup could wish to cover.
Day in, and day out I was by her side. She had apologies and hidden meaning behind her eyes, but they never quite ventured to her lips. I can't say, honestly that I wasn't hoping for some sort of apology, but again that was on the back burner. Her health was the most important thing right now and I was forcing all my love and energy on her. The person who raised me to be strong, courageous, wild, and free. The woman who had run away from her family at 18 to marry her boyfriend and travel the world in a VW bus. This lady who had lived so many lives before me, her fear of death was palpable. I had wished to God- repeatedly that I could take it away.
Not even a month later, when I had finally returned to Tucson to work for just a couple days- I received the call that I knew would come eventually. My mother had a stroke. An infected PICC line gave her a blood clot-in blood that had a platelet level so low it could barely hold itself together-which had made it's way to her brain. She was on life support. I looked through my phone, finding a person to drive me to Phoenix and I saw a message from my Mother that was a voice message sent from her phone the night before. It simply said, "Hi, Jillian, I Love You."
By the time I made it to the hospital- I would never get the chance to tell her I loved her too. She never awoke after her surgery and eventually aspirated in front of me and her family. I think about this day- every day of my life.
A couple days later, at the funeral, my mother's best friend pulled me aside. She told me that her and my mother had been talking a couple nights before she passed away. Her friend was brushing her hair and trying to help her sleep and my mother sat up with something important to say. In the strongest voice she could muster she told her friend - who I'm assuming knew all about the situation happening behind the scenes- "I don't care who Jillian loves- whether it's a boy or girl- I just want her to find someone who loves her the way she deserves."
After hearing this- I broke down. It finally hit me that my mother had been trying to love me this entire time and share her truth with me, we simply ran out of time.
That same year, on my birthday I got the sound waves of this message tattooed on my left forearm. It's the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing before bed. And just because I didn't get to say it back at the end. "Hi, Mom, I Love You Too."