Bittersweet on Arrival

Omar Carrillo, Staff Writer

I woke up this morning with a sun-dried throat and moon-shut eyes. The last few shards of dreams shook away as I plucked my body from a plaid comforter; ears dilated enough to hear a stock ringtone play from across the room. I wondered.

In my drowsy visions, I saw myself stumble into the snow again. Six years old, the tiny flakes stuffed by the million into the sleeves of my clothes I didn’t seal quite well enough at all. I have no idea how I managed to just escape the hypothermic bite of that winter. I have no doubt my mother thought the same way, her theatrical cadence of a yell sloshing back and forth throughout every corner of the house, returning and hitting our ears with a harsh authority that revealed worry much more than it did displeasure. She wrapped me in her arms with a warmth that made the cutting chill still on my ears ravage, and then settle back down with relief. She kissed my practically steaming forehead and took care of the troubling reality of my dampened, freezing clothes, and directed me toward the rising vapor of a hot mug. She told me she loved me. I told her I loved her too.

An uncomfortable car ride.

My mother had promised me transportation from work that day, my first job, a small burger place just a couple miles from our little red home. My uniform still smelled of grease as I plopped into the passenger seat, mom accelerating immediately as the SUV door closed as though she was in the most detrimental hurry of all times. She never let silence remain long enough to allow even the possibility of the awkward.

“Have you been washing your face?”

I didn’t say anything. I let the back of my hand run across my features and felt the all-too familiar disgust with myself I would meet again every time we’d have conversations like these. I could hear her roll her eyes.

“You get it from your dad, you know.”

“Yeah. Just like everything else you don’t like.”

She didn’t like that very much at all.

On arrival, with a slam a little too loud than normal, but too quiet to bring up, my mother shut our porch front door behind us. You could always feel the air tighten right before she would burst; a little hunched over mess of tears and quiet gasps, this time as soon as the seat of her pants hit the dining room chair. I noticed empty, groaning spaces between family photos on the walls. Unusual. It didn’t take me very long to realize that she had promptly taken down any that had featured my father. I sighed and rubbed my eyes in discomfort before proceeding to sit down next to her in silence.

She turned to me with leaking eyes and grabbed me. The full force of her torso hitting mine, and I felt my shoulder grow more and more wet as she convulsed further and further into me. I gladly held her in return. I told her I loved her. She told me she loved me too.

The rain reminded of the countless days like that. It did then. Hitting the window of a hospital room that simultaneously looked too small for its bed and too big for my older sister and I standing over it. I thought of tragic, hour-long episodes in those medical procedural shows my mother enjoyed so much when I was younger. I shook my head in a mild disdain for myself and my thought process. It’s not funny, I insisted to myself.

It was a little funny.

And in a short surrender to my mind, I thought of the drive here. A quiet little trip in a vehicle a little like the one I’d learned to drive in; an experience sprinkled with my sisters panicked yelps and tight clenching of her seat. Seven more years, my first son is born.

Two more years, his younger cousin is born.

One more year, I begin my move to another city. Not so far, I told my mother. Just a couple hours away. Not so far… Then that year, during a Thanksgiving dinner, over a small porcelain dish of cranberry sauce and in a room within a little red house full of relatives that at this point were essentially strangers to me, mom tells us she hadn’t been feeling very well at all lately. My sister and I begged her to go see someone, after a small session of disclosing various symptoms and concerns. I wouldn’t see her sit at that table again.

I felt the air in that hospital room tighten; I was far too old to question what that could mean anymore.

We wrapped our arms around our mother like she had just spent the afternoon frolicking in the snow herself, and she told us she loved us. We told her we loved her, too.

My sister’s voice over the phone had always felt dismissive, but now it sounded more tired than anything. Tired and in pain. It had been earlier that morning, just an hour or two before the daylight fully began to shudder awake. We could feel each other’s hearts sink, and rise again in exhausted relief. A long pause, a heartfelt goodbye, and a wish for each other to have a good rest of our day. We hung up, and I set my cell phone back down onto the counter. I sat on my bed and watched the sun come up. I imagined a child waking up, excited for the very first day of winter break. I told my mother I loved her.