“Boy, I tell ya, your mother is a piece of work. She’s something else.”
I looked up from the carrots I was destroying with the grater for a moment. My parents were engaged in one of their pastimes. My father would do or say something crazy, and my mother would call him on it. Then, they would bicker for a few minutes. It was kind of annoying for my teenage brain, but it was part of their relationship.
I nodded and went back to my assigned task.
My mom is something else. Something else entirely.
There is a joke in our family about her father, my grandfather, not being a normal human. No one is exactly sure of what year he was born in or exactly how he managed to get as far as he did in his life despite being illiterate. We aren’t entirely sure that the last name that he gave his wife and children was his actual last name.
Then, there were the illnesses.
My grandfather had leukemia and lymphoma at the same time. When I learned about his diagnosis, I was blown away. How is that even possible? Two separate, yet related forms of cancer were eating him alive. The doctors found them very late in the game and there was little that could be done. He did chemotherapy for a little while but gave it up. He just wanted to be comfortable at home in the end. I believe the leukemia finally did him in. It took just under six months.
My mother also had some weird ailments in her life. When she was four or five years old, she had gangrene in her leg.
Yes, that gangrene. The death of tissue related to lack of blood flow or bacterial infection. She had that as a child. A cut she had got infected, and she nearly lost a chunk of her calf. I can understand how that might have happened. She grew up in rural Mississippi, playing around in the red dirt probably wasn’t the cleanest way to spend your time. However, she believed that gangrene was a once in a lifetime experience.
Until it happened again.
This time, a series of tight bras were the culprit. Bra wearers know that sometimes, when you’ve been wearing that bra in the same place for a while, those things can dig into your skin. Fat girls in particular, understand the agony of removing that underwire at the end of a long day and nursing that small puncture wound on your side. Keep doing the same thing for weeks on end and that wound can open and get infected.
That’s what happened with my mom. The band of her bra rubbed underneath one of her back rolls and opened her skin up enough for the infection to take hold. It was gross and painful. I helped her clean and dress the wound while it was healing, and I swore to stop taking bras so seriously.
Another weird thing is my mother’s adhesive allergy. She is terribly allergic to the tape that they use in hospitals. The tape they would use to secure an IV on your arm or quickly cover an open wound. Doctors also use this tape during surgery to hold tubes and things out of the way.
Guess how I know.
I can’t recall which procedure my mom was having, but she made sure to tell all the medical staff about her allergy. It was in her paperwork, for sure. However, someone must not have been paying attention to that and used the surgical tape on her. She was all taped up underneath her stomach, the c-section area, let’s call it.
This resulted in the surgical tape removing several layers of her skin. It just…came right off. She couldn’t tell at the time because she was all bandaged up from surgery, but we discovered the damaged later. Subsequently, the adhesive trigged a reaction that went deep into her tissue. We could tell because there was a quarter-sized hole that had opened up. She was rotting internally.
Like, old meat left in a hot car in July, rotting. It smelled similar.
As one would imagine, the recovery was rough and there was litigation. She came back from that little setback as strong and resilient as ever. I can’t remember if this was before or after the cancer diagnosis.
Oh yeah, she had cancer as well.
You can tell our family is special because my mom was battling two forms of cancer at the same time just like her dad. Apparently, it is possible to have Hodgkin’s’ and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the same time. Blood cancers are fancy like that.
My mother is something else.
She went through several rounds of chemo, shaved her head, lost weight and muscle, and still came out strong on the other side. Mom has been in remission for over a decade now and I’m grateful she’s still with me. We had our bad days, but she relied heavily on her faith to carry her through these tough times. She always said that she didn’t have time to sit around and be sick. There were things that needed to be done and who was gonna do them if she didn’t?
I carry that message in my heart as well. Things need to get done and who will take care of them if I don’t? Nobody, more than likely. Or worse, someone that doesn’t know what they’re doing. Then, you have to just go behind them and do what you should have done yourself in the first place. Independent doesn’t come close to what my mother is or what she made me to be.
Susceptible to weird aliments, however, does. I definitely have my family’s interesting genetic predisposition for strange illnesses.
One example would be my bout with scarlet fever. Have you ever heard of anyone getting scarlet fever? Have you ever heard of Scarlet fever? It’s one of those rare ones that can happen along with cases of strep throat. Which, in my case, happened all the time when I was little. Scarlet fever also came with a ugly rash that was itchy as I recall. It was highly contagious, and I missed quite a bit of school when I was in second grade.
I missed a month of school in third grade because I had mononucleosis. Good old kissing disease. I know mono is much more common, but not always for an elementary school kid. I didn’t get it from kissing but from sharing food with people. Kissing was a gross idea for an eight-year-old. My mom thought it was strep again until the treatments weren’t working. I wasn’t really contagious, but I had to miss school because my liver and spleen were inflamed and swollen. We didn’t want those bad boys to rupture while I was playing X-men on the playground, so no school for me.
The point is, my mother has been though her fair share of life’s challenges. These are just a few examples of odd things that tie us together as mother and daughter. Medical problems aside, she’s had to deal with family and financial troubles. Couple these with just living as a Black woman in America and people begin to wonder what my mother is made of. Strong, resilient, and independent, my mom is everything.
Something else, indeed.
She doesn’t shy away from a challenge or take anyone’s bullshit. She is regularly held up to be the model of great motherhood but she doesn’t have time or energy for compliments. My mom will just wave you off and ask if you’ve eaten anything.
That’s secret code for, “I love you”, but don’t tell her I told you.