She didn’t have her lipstick on

My mom has breast cancer. What a crap thing to have to write down. I know most people probably think their mothers are magic, but mine really is. You see, just a few years ago, I had a brain tumor and the day we found it she clasped her hands around my head as I sat in a sterile ENT office, and she said, “Mommy loves you,” and held my head to her chest as she cried with me. But a brave cry, a muted cry. A cry stifled by her strength and devotion.

She told me I was strong. When I’d cry, she would tell me to stop, that I was okay. I’d yell at her that I wasn’t, she wouldn’t indulge me. She refused to let me just live in my pain. She taught me to put my best outfit on and get my make up together, and set out into the world. The night I got my tumor, I went and got lipstick from the grocery store. If I had to be sick, I wasn’t going to look it. I would do as she taught me, I’d be stronger than the pain.

Mom came to brain surgery with me. Before we left for the hospital, in the early morning, before light had even thought to wake us, I sat on the edge of her bed in the darkness with her. I was 26 years old but I felt like I was 5, quivering next to my mother, knees.about to give out. I told her my stomach hurt, I told her I didn’t want to go, I started to cry. In the dark, she took my hand and squeezed it, then she held me close to her. “Mommy loves you, you’re going to be okay.” Then she pushed herself away from me, with all her magic, and pulled a zantac out of her purse for my upset stomach, and told me to get ready. She stayed at the hospital that night, and every night after the surgery and every time I would whimper, she would be alert, on her feet, adjusting my ice pack and saying, “Sami jan, Chi mikhai? What do you need?” She was my nurse, constant and committed. After two days Mom got a break and went to the gift shop. The hard headed nurse Tatiana took her absense as a moment to push me. Tatiana and my sister made me stand, and despite the pain, they made me walk. As we walked into the hall, my mom’s sillouette became visible to my bleary eyes. “My baby! My baby is walking!” She ran to me. She hugged me, she cried and cried for the first time since she heard about my tumor she showed me her cards. She saw me there, fully alive, and she got her heart back. But she still never left the hospital, if I was there, she was there.

I had ten brain surgeries. She came to every one. We got better at them, because that’s not a weird skill to develop. Soon we we’re each on our iPads with headphones, watching Netflix. When I’d get discharged she’d sleep in my room, never in the bed, always on the floor. She never let me suffer alone.

And now she has cancer and I’ve moved across the country and even though she is responding to treatment, she is in the crappiest time of her life, and she is my best friend and I’m not there to hold her. But she doesn’t want me to hold her, she wants to hold me she wants to remain the mom, the caretaker, the hero. Because that is who she is.

Now she has cancer and they say it’s almost all gone but it had taken over her body. And the treatment nearly killed her, over and over. And some days, she doesn’t even put her lipstick on.

And I see her, and I see how she hates how I hover over her, how we all do. She was our pillar, and now she needs our strength. But the thing she doesn’t realize is this is all HER strength. She built us, she fortified us, and we are her foundation.

I bought Mom a lipstick, she says it is a waste because it’s not long wearing and she hates to reapply. I tell her to try it. She says, no. “Fine, then where’s your lipstick, put yours on, the one that stays all day.” She tells me she doesn’t feel like it and adjusts her hat over her perfect bald head as she grimaces in pain. She tells me her bones hurt. “Then we will fortify you,” I whisper to myself. And even in all her suffering, she still was full of magic. She still is full of magic. I have to make her see her magic.

My sister told me, after I had to leave, that Mom had her lipstick on again, the long wearing kind, because there is a lot of life to be lived, for a long, long time.