Thursday, October 27, 2011

[Of Love and a Big Red Bird Redact]


Originally written in 2005:

[Of Love and a Big Red Bird]

You only think you’ve got me figured out.  At five feet tall and one hundred and mumble-mumble pounds, on the exterior, I am a calm, shy individual.  Those who do actually know me best realize that I’m also overdramatic, a cut-up, and very passionate about too many things to have any hope of leading a sane, peaceful life.  I am a reader, a writer, a musician, an artist, a disciple, a friend... a lot of things, really.  One thing you will be able to tell is that I am certainly not an athlete.  I’m a short, round ball of curves and can barely lift the laptop I’m writing on now (to my credit, though, it’s an unusually heavy computer).  Therefore, logic will probably lead you to believe that the last thing in the world that would interest me is sports.  But, I’m afraid your sense of logic has failed you this time.  What happens when I put on my favorite sweatshirt, a slightly faded St. Louis Blues sweatshirt?  While I may not be able to run more than a block without utterly collapsing of oxygen deprivation, and while the only thing I seem to be able to catch is a big, fat cold, I possess an unquenchably deep appreciation for home-city professional sports—especially for the St. Louis Cardinals.            

Two years ago, when my preciousssssss (Ahem.  Sorry, I started to channel Gollum for a moment there) team won the pre-World-Series play-offs in the final game, I screamed and danced giddily in spastic circles along with half of the residents of Campbell Apartments. I’m sure I was hearing roars of delight coming from the nearest dorms, about a quarter mile away.  My roommate, who did not exactly share my love for a little white ball with red stitching, came home during the celebration.  While she didn’t put it into words, her facial expression clearly demonstrated her conviction that I had finally snapped.  I didn’t care though.  I was sure my heart would burst with delight at the culmination of that game’s adrenaline!  Throughout the apartment complex, cheers carried on through half the night. Somehow, that game united us St. Louis area baseball fans in a way that the often territorial burgs of the metropolis come nowhere near. 
Much of the love I have for this team clearly stems from home city loyalty.  The first eight years of my life, being the developmental years, fully instilled a deep love for all things Arch-related.  I may not have lived in St. Louis for the past fourteen years, but nevertheless, I steadfastly stand firm in the conviction that St. Louis is my home.  The joy I felt the night my team claimed victory, however, goes beyond mere hometown loyalty or even pure love of the game of baseball.  But the most genuine love I possess for my dear Cardinals is rooted in a woman only seventeen years older than me.  This team links my mother and me together.          

At nineteen years old, with a two-year-old daughter in tow and a husband who was quite frankly not ready to be a husband, my mother was diagnosed with cancer of the spinal cord.  Given six months to live, she slowly lost the use of her limbs, one by one.  To top it all off, as she gradually came to completely rely on a wheelchair to move until she finally became a full-fledged quadriplegic, [Section removed out of respect for repaired relationships], she found herself a single mom.        

I have a dim memory, from around two years of age, helping her put on a pair of shorts.  For many years, I believed it had been a dream, but as I learned more about her decline, I realize that it was a memory.  I had actually stood by her bed, holding her shorts out, as she strained to lift her legs, one-by-one, and slip them into a pair of shorts.  The mere act of getting dressed exhausted her.  Soon, steroids bloated her small frame up to a whopping 220 pounds.  The stunningly beautiful young woman who had gone through life with an energy and stamina to be reckoned with was now blown up 100 pounds heavier and confined to a wheelchair and a hospital bed for the rest of her life, learning to find solace in more inactive interests, such as reading those Danielle Steele books, and watching soap operas and televised sports.       

Anyone who had known her before cancer ravaged her young body could no longer recognize the post-cancer Michelle.
She became a living miracle, a true survivor, as she outlived her six-month prognosis by six and a half years.  One day, my grandfather (who would eventually adopt me and become “Dad”) asked her where something was in her room.  Without thinking, she jerked her thumb toward the dresser behind her, her hand actually supported with her entire arm, and told him, “Over there.”  Father and daughter stared at one another in shock as the realization set in.  For the first time in almost three years, she had moved a limb!  Within weeks, with the aid of specialized silverware, she was feeding herself again.  For a formerly independent woman now in her early twenties, this was a step toward living a full life again.       

Lying in that bed, she never missed a game.  She cheered with all her might for her Cardinals and her hockey Blues team, whether the games were aired via television or KMOX radio waves.  One year, I believe it was for her birthday, Dad, Mom (my grandparents who had adopted my by this point), and I decided to honor her love of sports.  After an extensive search for an authentic memorabilia dealer, we bought her about a hundred dollars' worth of St. Louis Blues memorabilia, including matching mother and daughter headbands with a typically 90s and ridiculously gaudy, bright blue ribbon placed strategically to the side, glittered with musical note gold confetti.       

Because my mother was so young when she became sick, the Make-A-Wish foundation made an exception for her age, and granted her heartfelt wish: they would escort her and her family (Mom, Dad, and I) to Busch Stadium every year and treat us to a home game on or around her July 6th birthday.  For a week before her birthday, the excitement in our house escalated.  Then, for about three years running, two members from this generous organization came rumbling up our street each year in a van custom-made for a wheelchair.  Mom or Dad would wheel her out to the curb where, as her face glowed with an ecstatic smile, the wheelchair lift pulled her into the van.  After a half hour (or longer, depending on St. Louis traffic), Busch Stadium slowly came into view, and we piled out of the van, using the lift to get her out.  Her face always nearly cracked as she beamed with excitement.  Then we would wheel into stadium, inhaling the slightly stale aromas of hotdogs, popcorn, and Anheiser Busch beer.        

One year, we had the honor of meeting one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz movie.  Another year (or perhaps the same one), Redbird posed in a picture with us, and we got autographs from such classic Cardinal players as Vince Coleman.  I don’t honestly remember if the Cards won those years.  I don’t think it mattered, honestly.  She was happy to be there, with her team, with her life, and with us, her family.

We moved away from St. Louis when I was around eight years old, but my heart remained.  Neither of us, my mother nor I, ceased to cheer for our teams.  Barely a year after the move, though she had begun to regain feeling in her legs, she lost the battle for life.  A post-surgery infection rapidly spread into her lungs, and her body, worn out from the effort to survive, gave up.  On April 14, 1993, she held Mom and Dad’s hand and smiled peacefully when her Savior came to take her home, to give her rest.       

Now that she’s gone, I’ve inherited her big Blues sweatshirt; I curl up in that sweater when missing her becomes too intense.  Scarcely a month goes by that I am not overcome with a wave of grief.  She more was than a mother, she was my dearest friend.  Because I was only nine years old when she died, time has faded most of my memories.  There are days I can barely recall the gentle voice that so often said, “Niki-Honey” with incomparable affection.  But somehow, I stroke the arms of that big blue sweatshirt, the stiff fabric texture (that has now grown soft through the years) still vividly reminds me of hugging her again.       

I would give almost anything to go back to one of those days I had with her and relive it.  Even though I have few tangible memories left of those birthday games, I’ll never forget what we shared or the joy on her face.  When the stadium was torn down in 2005, a piece of my heart went with it.  The day the Cards made it to the World Series, I cheered at the top of my lungs.  I think I even cried.  Then, as the chaos subsided, I stepped outside and looked up at the stars.       

The tears streamed down my face as I laughed and cried all at once.        

“They did it, Mom... They won for you.”

1 comment:

Meg. B. said...

This is Beautiful. I cried. Hugs to you, dear friend. You have faced so much in your lifetime.