Cut to me. I had been in Indianapolis at a conference for teachers of foreign language hawking the voyages abroad that the company I work for offers. I had missed a bus in Indianapolis the night of her accident and decided to walk out to the hotel. That’s what I was doing when she was in the emergency room. It was perhaps five miles, and I walked full of thought. The next day I flew back to Boston and, on walking into the house I roomed in, was pulled aside by a housemate who had no idea how to contact me.

As I reflect on how this information hit me, I know that I cannot quite express the feeling of that moment to you, nor will you sense enough of it in reading what I have to say. Understand, please, that I felt, that I wanted, that I hoped, that I tried. I took my emotions relative to my mother and used ‘em up. Not all the way—I still think of her. But as they apply to her death, I still feel, but used the bitterest, brightest and deepest feelings right there. Six months was a long time to exist on emotion. I lost friendships, contact with certain people, and some potential romances. I gained others. I lost a sense of life’s value, but gained another. And, despite three years having gone by since my mother died in April of 1996, I feel sure many of my lessons from that time have yet to fully bloom. Some arrived very quickly as the tragedy unfolded.

Since I lived that year, intending to for a year only, in Boston, on leave from teaching middle school in Vermont, getting to my mothers’ side took a few days. My manager at NETC helped me immensely. She helped me get an air booking, and told the two person nascent office to expect me and squeeze me in. I had a reservation to return three weeks later. Despite my having worked under her for all of three months, Kathy told me not to worry about when I returned. And she never mentioned my need to work or work hard, though she helped me get the things I needed to work in San Francisco without a computer terminal or true phone hookup.

Imagine, then, my arrival. I head to my mother’s apartment. The managers are ready for me, and have a key waiting. Then to the hospital. On Wednesday evening, five days after her accident, I finally make it, by bus, to the Stanford ICU. There are rules, times one can visit, amounts of time, and hospital workers who are seeing yet another shocked relative arrive. Some of them are good at connecting, empathizing, answering questions. Some have seen it too often.

Now I should interject that I lived with both my parents to about age four. Then I lived with my mother until the end of second grade. In a selfless act necessitated by her bipolar illness, my mother sent me off to live with my father. On the east coast. I never spent more than three weeks with her after that—until this meeting. Her manic-depression, and my poor ability to relate to it, and finances, gave us little time together. I was about to, for the first time since I was six, spend more than three weeks with my mom. And I was going to have to watch some very painful things and make some very difficult decisions. But first I was going to have to enter a room and let my eyes follow a series of tubes and wires—all this surrounded by a gathering of medical machines involved in or spectating the event--to a little person, puffed up and swollen and discolored, that was my mother. Gulp.

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