I sit and listen as you blissfully hum behind the bathroom door. I hear water splashing and I chuckle. I know exactly what you're doing, what you're thinking. I know you like the back of my hand. I carried you in my thoughts as I hiked through the jungles of Bolivia and walked through the markets in Kathmandu. I watched Mount Everest rise above the clouds, my heart swollen with joy, thinking how soon you will be old enough to travel with me. Soon, I thought, we will roam this amazing, beautiful world together.
From the moment your green eyes stared into mine, as you lay on my belly just seconds after you entered this world, I felt something akin to love but much deeper. My response to you was physical, like a chemical reaction occurred within me. I held back my primal urge to lick you clean. You called me "crazy" when I told you this, but the corners of your mouth twitched as you held back a smile.
As a toddler you'd cup my chin with your palms, plopping kisses on my nose, my lips, my forehead and I'd reciprocate as we'd turn into a pile of giggling bliss. We'd wake up intertwined. Your leg on my hip, palm on my cheek, face pressed to my chest, my arms encircling your little waist, our hearts merging. I'd kiss that blond head of yours over and over. You were perfect. I wanted to give you the world.
I close my eyes and see you in a little black tutu and leotard, other girls wearing all pink... you were never afraid to stand out. Your hair pulled back in a bun, the features of your face so delicate, so lovely, as if Degas himself took his brush and painted you on a large canvas. My little ballerina standing among the other girls. Your back straight, chin up, so focused, your slippers worn at the toe, concentrating yet so calm. The prettiest ballerina in the world.
Back then you thought I could reach the moon, the stars, paint the sky the colors of a rainbow. I could kiss all your pain away as my lips touched your skinned knee, your pinched finger, your chin bumped on the side of a pool. You used to tell me we would never part. "Never, never, never" you'd repeat over and over, your eyes full of lightning, your determined spirit spilling, showing me the person you will become.
I used to tell you I would follow you to the end of the earth, stalk you as you grew, hitchhiking if I had to, as long as I remained near you. I would protect you from anyone who dared to hurt you. Little did I know that all the hurting would be done by me and my illness that sucked you into this world of chemo and transplants, radiation and vomit, and falls after falls, eyes full of fear, lips moving in a prayer to please, please give me more time with you.
You were twelve when I uttered those words. "Momma has cancer". I froze at my own sentence. I failed you. I fooled you into believing I was in control, made you think I was invincible. I whispered promises in your ear as you were an infant, a toddler, a toothless eight year old. You trusted me so fully and at this tender age of twelve, I failed. Images of your panicked face would flicker like a mirage through the drugged stupor as I clung to life. Months later as you turned thirteen my hands reached for yours, shaking, eyes full of tears, my throat closing up from holding back sobs as I tried to say good bye. You stood there like a tree. You told me I'm not going anywhere with such assurance that I almost believed you. I tried to tell you all the things I planned on sharing throughout our life. I wanted you to know that even in my death, I would follow you, guide you the best I could, that you will feel my presence from whatever unknown space I was inhabiting.
My heart shattered into million pieces as treatments failed. Shame enveloped the walls of my hospital room, it lingered long after you were gone. My guilt covered every word that hung unspoken between us. Grief, heartbreak and bitterness kicked me in the gut. I wrote you letters as chemo dripped in my veins, as my sister's bone marrow cells refused to make my body their home. Night after night I sat in that hospital bed with pen and paper trying to explain something I could not understand myself, re-reading my words and tossing them in the trash. Not good enough. With every hesitant smile you gave me, I searched your eyes for damage I caused. I wanted to be struck by lightning, be shot, tortured for every second I hurt you.
These years are a blur. You picked my broken body up from the bathtub, the floor, the ground. You called 911 over and over, watched me strapped on a stretcher dozens of times, sirens wailing, not knowing if I'm coming back. In the midst of trying to stay alive I missed moments of your face changing, your body morphing into slim curves. Who sculpted those high cheekbones, those huge green eyes? How did I miss this transformation?
Despite the pain cancer brought into your life, you persevered. My illness could have stripped you of your sanity, your ability to love, but it didn't. You just keep on blooming. I can write our story until the ink runs dry, until this laptop collapses from the weight of my words. I can scream on top of my lungs or stay silent, it makes no difference. Our love transcends cancer. Our memories will never fade. I don't need to be seen or heard for you to feel me. I will always be loving you and you will always know it.