Life Lessons Hard Earned

“Alan wake up. Alan wake up.” Alan rubbed his eyes as he slowly sat up in bed. “Wha?” he moaned. “Get up, we’re going to see Mom,” Percy said. Alan was too sleepy to question why Percy would be there in the middle of the night. Percy was Alan’s oldest brother and he lived two hours away in Des Moines. To say that showing up unannounced was unusual for him and his family was an understatement, but to show up in the middle of the night should have tipped Alan off. This wasn’t a social call, not that Alan had any clue what that meant. Alan was only eight.

“Do you wanna go see Mom?” Percy asked. Alan responded with a slight nod of his head. “Okay, then you’ve gotta get dressed. You can go back to sleep on the way. Jason and Scott are asleep in the car right now,” Percy continued. Alan slowly climbed out of bed and slid on the pants Percy had laid out for him.

As Alan began to climb into the back seat of Percy’s car he saw that the seats had been laid down opening up to the trunk. Jason and Scott, Alan’s nephews who were roughly his same age, were asleep in sleeping bags with their legs stretched out into the trunk and their heads close to the front seats of the car. A third sleeping bag was laid out next to them for Alan to crawl into. He climbed in and slid down into the sleeping bag, aching for the sleep he’d been jarred from a few minutes before. He couldn’t recall if Mark, his next older brother, or Kristin and Tammy, two of his sisters, were even up when he came out to the car. It didn’t really matter. With that thought in his head, he drifted off to sleep. He never even felt the car back out of the drive.

The next thing Alan knew he was being wakened again. They had driven to a building he’d never seen. He recognized right away that it was a hospital, but it wasn’t the same hospital he remembered his mom being at. He was slightly confused, but didn’t ask any questions. He walked with Jason and Scott, now awake also, as they followed Percy and Brenda, Percy’s wife, into the hospital. Aunt Cile, short for Lucile, was sitting in the waiting room as they walked in. She rose and came to greet them with a tired, weary smile. She too, had obviously traveled a great distance to be here. She lived in Illinois, a few hours from his home, though he had no idea what town they were in now. Aunt Cile led the boys into the waiting room where there was a large TV in the corner turned on. Jason and Scott quickly laid down on the floor and watched TV. Alan parked himself next to them and began ignoring the world as had become his custom when he had to spend long hours in a waiting room, waiting to see his mother.

As Alan entered his mother’s room, he knew this was no ordinary visit. The hospital where she had been before would never allow so many people in her room at the same time. All of his brothers and sisters were there. His aunt was there as well. All in all there were at least twelve people in that room including himself and two nurses. He had to practically fight to make his way through the crowd of people to his mother’s side. One by one they parted to make a path for him to get through.

“Mama, Alan’s here,” Percy said. “Who?” his mother asked. There was a slight moment of silence where Alan could feel a foreboding in the air. She didn’t look for him nor look at him. She had a look of confusion in her eyes that scared him. “It’s Alan, mama,” Percy continued. “I know it’s Alan,” his mother snapped, “but who is Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Alan’? Is he a movie star or a reporter? Who is Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½Alan’?” she practically yelled. If the moment of silence they’d encountered moments before had been uncomfortable, the one that settled over the room now was positively oppressing. A complete numbness fell over Alan like a cloak, enshrouding the emotions he couldn’t comprehend. What was all of this about? What was happening to his mother? Why didn’t she know who he was? The questions came faster than his mind could keep up with, so it just shut down. He could feel the weight of every eye in the room on him. He could feel the pity. He didn’t want to feel anything anymore.

Percy gathered himself, though the pain was evident in his voice. “He’s family, mama,” he practically whispered, “Alan’s family.” There was just a moment’s pause as her eyes scanned the faces in front of her and settled on Alan’s, then turned in anguish and shame. “Oh God,” she whimpered. Tears flowed from the corners of her eyes; eyes that had watched over him lovingly his entire life, eyes that had stood strong and defiant two years before when their world was forever changed. “Oh God, what’s happening to me?” she cried out. “Why don’t I know my own family? What are these drugs doing to me?” she wailed. One of the nurses stepped forward and quietly addressed the family gathered in the room. “We’ve had to increase her morphine to the maximum level,” she struggled to explain through tears that were beginning to well up in her eyes as well. “The level is so high now, to ease her pain, that it’s affecting her memory. I’m so sorry,” she said as she turned to Alan.

Nothing really registered in Alan’s mind anymore. Like a drone under the spell of an expert hypnotist, he turned mumbling “I’m going back to watch tv.” He glanced up just once, only to see tear streaked faces looking back at him with sorrow and an understanding that he was yet incapable of. Without even thinking of how to get back, his feet led him aimlessly down the hall and wandered into the waiting room where Jason and Scott remained in front of the television. Alan fixed his eyes on the flickering screen, but paid no attention to what played out on it. His mind was numb, as was his body. He sat, for how long, he’ll never know, just staring at the screen of the television set as colors danced and flickered over his emotionless face.

He was shaken by a motion from his left and he turned to see his brother, Victor walking over toward him, followed by the nurse who had tried to explain his mother’s condition. Victor walked up and knelt next to Alan’s chair. Alan would never recall what Victor had said at first. He would only remember the three words that he said next; “do you understand?” Does he understand? That’s when the world fell apart, the sky collapsed and a black hole enveloped him. Alan burst out in tears as Victor took him in his arms and embraced him as he had never been embraced. Does he understand? Alan could hear the nurse crying behind Victor, but he couldn’t see through the tears to focus on her. He didn’t even try. He just cried through the freshly open wound in his heart. His soul left him through the tears that flowed down his face and the sobs that crept from his mouth.

Does he understand? He had heard those three words before. In fact it was the last time he had heard them put together. “Do you understand?” his mama had asked him. That was the night she woke him, two years before, to let him know that his father had died. Does he understand? He did now. He understood just then that his mother was gone too.

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