This story is by G. Sanders and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He sat in the meadow and watched butterflies flirt with daisies. He lay in the grass and stretched out, breathing in so deeply his chest expanded and his little belly caved in. The smile on his face was pure contentment.
He was a quiet boy, so much like me. I could roll around and name dandelions with him all day. His sweet laughter was medicine for my heart. The unadulterated peace of these grassy places provided shelter from the harsh darkness of the world.
We could not stay there, in that happy place. We had to go back into that darkness called the “real world.” I would think to myself, “Why can’t this meadow be real?” The pollen from the goldenrods was real enough to make my nose itch. My little one liked to pick bouquets and bury his face among the fluffy flowers, dusting his face with yellow as if he were a chubby bumble bee. How cruel it is to steal such a beautiful creature away from his natural habitat.
I wiped the track of boogers falling from his nose and brushed the pollen from his face. His eyes looked brighter that day, but I could hardly bring myself to meet them. “Time to go, love bug.”
“Five more minutes?” He buzzed and stretched out on the grass as if he was going to sleep.
“Five more minutes.” I couldn’t help but agree.
The car ride was quiet. He is so much like me. I knew he could sense my tension. We kept catching each other in the rearview mirror. He gave me reassuring smiles and watched the clouds in the window.
I fought back the tears with all of my might. “It is not fair!” I wanted to protect him. I wanted to heal him. I wanted to take all his pain away. I wanted to take him and run away. I wanted to run away from everything and hold him against my heart so tightly that my heart absorbs everything. I could take it. I could take all the bad from inside him and all the bad on the outside that wanted to hurt him. I could take it. I knew I could because it would be for him. And my love would be enough for him.
But that’s not how the “real world” works, I was reminded as we pulled up to the hospital. I glanced back at him one more time and saw the fear in his eyes before he noticed me watching. He gave me another smile. He was so strong.
I tried not to, but thoughts of his life would flash before my eyes. Dreams of him as a teenager, going to prom and graduating high school. Visions of him falling in love and being strong for someone else. Prophecies of someone loving him more than me so that he would not be alone when I was gone. That was how it was supposed to be. I should not be the one to see him go.
I parked and went around to his door to get him out of his car seat. His round dark earthy eyes sparkled up at me despite the bags underneath them. His smooth bald head smelled sweet with his sweat and grass, dirt, and wildflowers. His copper cheeks dimpled as he grinned at me, buzzing.
He wrapped his arms and legs around me as he sang, “I am a little baby bumblebee! Mommy is a flower… bee! Bee! Bee!” Not having all the intricacies of the nursery rhyme memorized, he improvised.
“I love my little baby bumblebee.” I sang along and bounced him in my arms. He was so small and light. I carried him all the way through the parking lot and up to the pediatric oncologist’s office.
They took his height and weight. He held my hand while they took his blood. Used to needles, he didn’t cry a single tear. He sat on my lap while we waited in the bleached white box of a room.
When the doctor came in he smiled. He always smiled. He chatted in bumblebee buzzes and doled out stickers like a birthday clown. His usual routine— brightly colored scrubs, stickers, lollipops, and terrible news. I couldn’t smile while my child giggled on my lap. I could only stare at the man that was seconds away from announcing my precious little one’s fate. My jaw was so tight I started to get a headache.
Finally, he sat down. After pulling some papers from a file his smile remained. “Good news for you today.”
I did not believe him. “Good news” could mean anything. “Good news” could mean there is a surgery that is 50% likely to help and a 60% survival rate. That was the “Good news” last time. “Good news” could mean we caught it early. “Good news” could mean a couple of years. My eyes hurt from the pressure of built up tears.
“… completely gone. He’s officially in remission.” The doctor was saying, but I had tuned him out.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“The operation worked. He doesn’t need anymore chemotherapy. The tumor is completely gone. He is officially in remission.”
I asked again and still could not comprehend it. I had him break down all the details so I could understand and then repeat himself all over again.
My angel looked up at me, then over at the doctor, then back at me. Tears streamed down my face. His little brow furrowed. “It’s ok mommy. I’ll keep being strong.” One pudgy hand wiped tears from my cheek and the other balled up into a fist of determination.
“It’s gonna be ok, love bug.” I heard myself saying. It took my own voice to finally convince me. “It’s going to be ok.” I cried and buried my face in his little shoulder. I kissed his neck and ears and forehead and nose. “It’s going to be ok. You’re better now.” I laughed through my tears to show him it was ok.
“I’m not going to heaven?” His earthy eyes still confused.
I shook my head. “Eventually, but not anytime soon. You get to stay with me.” I blew my nose and felt the weight of the world lifting from my shoulders. “Is that ok?”
“Yay!” He jumped and threw his arms around my neck. “I get to stay with you!”
I squeezed my little angel and let myself sob. All of that fear, all of that anger, all of that pain and longing and heartache… I didn’t know how to let it go. All I knew how to do was cry. And cry, and cry, and cry. “Everything is going to be ok.”
The doctor passed me tissues and when he felt I was done handed me two coupons for a nearby ice cream shop.
“Ice cream?” My child squealed.
How could I not smile? “Shall we go celebrate? You can get every topping you want. You have been so strong. You deserve it.”
He danced around and shook his little booty. “Sprinkles and Oreos and fudge and strawberries and peanut butter and whipped cream and a cherry on top!” He listed as many toppings as he could think of.
I nodded along.
“Then can we go back to the park?” He asked.
“Of course.” I loved him so much.
He climbed up into my arms and let out a long sigh. “This is the best day ever. Thank you, mommy.”