“Hi, Mom. I’m home!” I yelled throughout the house while slamming the door closed. My teacher told me it was mitvah, the Hebrew phrase for a ‘good deed,’ to let your parents know when you arrived home from school. They didn’t tell me how it should be done, so I yelled at the top of my lungs. If it bothered Mom she never showed it, so I took it as a good sign.
“Hi, Ari, how was your day?” She came out of the kitchen holding a spoon in her hand. “Actually, can you do me a favor?”
I slumped my knapsack on the floor with a thud as a nice way to tell her that all I really wanted was to sit down. She didn’t get the hint.
“Can you run to my car and get my green, marble notebook. I brought it to the doctor yesterday, and I forgot to bring it inside with me.”
Since Mom said, “doctor,” I perked up and ran straight back out into the cold. But then I remembered I needed to grab Mom’s car keys and a jacket, so I quickly ran back inside. The universe was always slowing me down!
This was my chance to find out what was wrong with Mom once and for all. She knew she couldn’t keep anything from me. She was dealing with her own genes. She was smart, and Dad was smart, and since I was a combination of the two, then I was just short of being a genius.
I ran down my front lawn, unlocked the car, and opened the door. And there it was. The minute I saw it I could have sworn there were hallelujah bells playing in the background as if I had hit the jackpot. I picked up The Green Notebook and looked at it for a few extra seconds, partly for dramatic effect and partly because I was terrified of what I would see inside.
But I wasn’t a procrastinator. I was one of those kids who “ripped everything off like a Band-Aid.” I didn’t like to prolong the inevitable, and if The Green Notebook was going to give me bad news, well then bring it on.
I turned the first page. I shut my eyes. I opened them. It read:
THE GUIDE TO BREAST CANCER: HOW TO TREAT YOUR DISEASE
OH. MY. GOD. Mom had breast cancer.
How was that possible? How could she call that a boo boo? People died from that disease every day. I knew that because I watched the news all the time with Mom, and they always showed the families of cancer victims. And the fact they used the term “survivor” for those who had cancer meant it was a big deal if you were actually still alive after beating cancer.
I was steaming mad. If I were a cartoon, steam would be blowing from my nose and ears, and fire would be escaping from my skull. But this was real life, and now I had to deal with breast cancer.
I felt like screaming. Mom lied to me and told me she had a boo boo. Cancer was no boo boo. It was a disease. A real life threatening, life sucking, life killing disease!
I ran inside. I slammed the door. I heard a cracking sound that told me I had broken the door. I ignored it and yelled, “I’m back!”
“Did you get the book?” Mom came out of the kitchen acting like nothing was wrong.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I cried.
My mom looked at my face and the notebook in my hand. She didn’t say a word.
“You lied to me, Mom.” She rushed to me and put her hands on my shoulders as I continued to cry. “You are sick. Very sick! You are going to be like all the other people who have cancer. You are going to die, Mom!” I slumped down onto the black and white marbled floor and put my face into my hands. They were still cold from being outside.
“Sweetie,” I felt Mom’s arms around me. She smelled like food. She always did when she was cooking. “I’m not dying. Having cancer doesn’t mean that there is no hope. Sometimes the doctors find it so late that there is nothing left to do but help make the person, um… comfortable. But the doctors found my cancer early. Do you know what that means, Ari?”
I shook my head. My mom continued as she wiped my tears, “It means, that I’m going to have surgery, and we’re hoping they can take it out of me.”
I looked up at her and I saw that her eyes were watery, but tears weren’t rolling down her cheeks. “But I saw it on TV. Katie Couric’s husband died of cancer. We watched it on the news together. Don’t you remember?” I sniffled, and my eyes burned. Katie Couric’s husband was the only person I could name that had cancer.
“Arianna, I believe that I can beat this, and so does your father. Now, I need you to believe in me too. Can you do that for me?” Mom shook my shoulders to help rile me up.
“I can do that.” This was starting to seem like a cheerleading squad, and if this was our first pep rally, I wasn’t going to disappoint. “You can do it, Mom.”
Her entire face lifted into a smile. She tucked my hair behind my ears and said softly, “I just need you to keep this a secret from Sam and Mollie. I don’t want them to worry.” She wiped my tears with her hands and pulled me up from the floor.
I looked at my wonderful and beautiful mom. She had big, dark hair and huge, brown eyes. How could someone so beautiful be sick? I loved her, and because I loved her so much, I told her I would keep it a secret.
“Come, Ari.” She took my hand and led me to the kitchen. “I tried a new chicken recipe for dinner, and I also made broccoli.”
“You know I hate chicken,” I stopped in my tracks. After finding out such bad news, I at least expected my favorite dish for dinner.
“Tomorrow night. I promise. Come.” She motioned me to follow her into the kitchen, but I hesitated. “Sam’s not going to be home for a while, he’s at hockey practice. Mollie’s at a friend doing a project.” Mom looked at the clock to make sure it wasn’t time to pick her up yet. “I have over an hour. I can sit with you while you eat. It’ll be me and you.”
That, I couldn’t resist.
Once I was comfortably sitting at the table picking at the ugly placemats we’d been using since I was six-years-old, Mom asked, “So when’s your next spelling test, Ari?”
Mom always helped my brother and me with our homework. She sometimes typed notes for Sam, and she gave me fake spelling tests so when I took the real one I always did very well.
“You’re worrying about that now?” I was confused.
“Yes. My boo boo will not affect how well you do in school. This is not a get-out-of-school free card.” She always knew exactly what I was thinking.
Mom put a plate of chicken and broccoli in front of me and sat down. I took my first bite of chicken, and it was actually yummy. I tried to hide the fact I liked it, though. I didn’t want her to start making chicken all the time.
“It’s next Thursday. And I don’t need your help this time,” I answered while chewing a big piece of broccoli.
“So then do you want to snuggle and watch TV until I have to get Mollie?” Mom put on the cutest face she was capable of making. I laughed because I was the one who taught her how to make such a cute face.
“Let me finish this, and I’ll race you upstairs.” I swallowed the last piece of chicken so fast I almost choked. “But only if we don’t have to watch one of those lawyer shows.”
When I was little, I was really afraid of the dark, and for some reason I thought monsters lived under my bed, so I insisted on sleeping with my parents. They always thought I was sleeping, but there was no way I was able to fall asleep that quickly, especially when the TV was blasting and I was squished in between them.
The entire time they thought I was sleeping I was really watching TV with them. And what I realized was that grown-up TV shows were really boring. They were either about lawyers, or people looking for some serial killer. And I was not interested in either of those.
“You got it.” Mom smiled and squeezed my hand.