As I described in Part 1, my mom’s kidneys were failing and the doctors were not sure why. She was moved to a hospital in Topeka, which is about 50 miles from her home and 20 miles from where Brent and I live. For about a week, Brent would drive to Topeka after working his 3rd shift job to hang out with my mom in the hospital during the day, until I got off work at 5:00 pm.
On the fourth or fifth evening, I showed up at the hospital and found the usual scene: Mom was asleep and Brent was reading. Brent said that he wasn ‘t in a hurry to leave, so he and I read our books while Mom slept. Approximately an hour went by in silence. Then, my mom spoke.
“Sarah,” she said. Her voice was faint, no louder than a whisper, hoarse and rough. “Sarah, can you come here.” I jumped up and leaned in close toward her.
“What is it? Are you okay?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I think I’m coughing up blood,” she whispered.
“Oh! I’ll go get the nurse!” I was already moving to the door when she said, “No, don’t.”
I turned around to look at her. She closed her eyes for a long moment and I thought she had gone back to sleep, but then she opened her eyes and said, “Don’t bother the nurse yet. Just check for me.” She wiggled her hand feebly to indicate the bunched-up tissue in her hand.
My stomach turned and my gag reflex howled. My abhorrence of phlegm is well-documented. I believe I have also mentioned how, when I was younger, my mom delighted in approaching me with balled up Kleenexes and telling me to look at what she coughed up, and how she would laugh and laugh and laugh as I stumbled away, gagging. I wanted to run out the door and grab the first nurse I could find, grab this nurse by the lapels and say “Help me! For the love of god help me with the phlegm!” but I also wanted to be able to take care of my mother myself. I wanted that badly enough that I squared my shoulder and gave myself the pep talk of a lifetime. “Sarah, you can do it. You can do this thing that repulses you so much, you want to instantly barf just thinking about it. Just clear your mind, girl (because when I’m giving myself pep talks, I call myself girl). Clear your mind and close your nose. You got this, sister.”
The tissue was in her hand, looking so white and unsoiled. I tried not to imagine the globs of horror that were contained within, but my mind flashed to a childhood memory, the first and last time I willingly looked into her Kleenex and saw her phlegm so green and guacamole-like against the white of the tissue. The memory zoomed in close on the tan-colored cubed chunks floating in the mire, chunks that were gleaming with the luster of clear mucous.
Breathing deeply, I cleared my mind and reached for the tissue in Mom’s hand. I pinched an edge with my forefinger and thumb and pulled on it, expecting to find bloody bile. Instead, something shiny flashed at me, just as Brent said, “Careful!” I grasped the tissue with my full hand and there, peaking out of the folds, was a diamond ring.
When I turned to look at Brent, he was down on his knee, on the hospital linoleum. “Will you marry me?” he asked me.
And that is the story of how we got engaged.
I said yes and we kissed and hugged. Then I told Mom that I couldn’t believe the trick they’d played on me. She just smiled and promptly fell asleep. All the excitement, plus her fine performance, must have exhausted her.
Brent later told me that he had bought my ring months ago, but was waiting for a good time to propose. With the stress of the past week and not knowing what was going to happen with Mom, he thought that happy news would be good for all of us, and that making my mom part of the proposal would bring some much-needed cheer to her hospital room.
The story doesn’t end there, though. The next weekend happened to be my birthday, and Brent threw a surprise party for me. Friends came from out of town and I was showered with thoughtful, wonderful gifts. My good friend Cyndi, who had listened to me cry about mom and stress about money over the past week, gave me with $100.00 – $50.00 from her, and $50.00 from her boyfriend Mark (they ended up getting married because clearly, he was a keeper). My jaw dropped when I opened that card and she just shrugged and told me it should help with the stress. Ryan got me a gift certificate for a massage at a fancy spa, Jason gave me a Best Buy gift certificate, Keri and Melissa gave me Sex and the City Part 1 on DVD, and Toby and Jessica got me the movie Creeps. I was astounded at all the love I was shown that night.
As for my mom – can you believe that she turned out to be completely fine? The kidney specialist was able to confirm that her blood pressure medication was what was causing her kidneys to fail. So scary, but they took her off the medication and gave her one round of dialysis and she was back to her old self. As we were checking her out of the hospital she told me that she had lost 15 pounds on that one round of dialysis. “If only they’d given me a couple more rounds, I’d be really thin right now,” she lamented. I just shook my head and smiled.
So that is my engagement story, which turns out to be a story of many different kinds of love. Friendship-love and Momma-love. And romantic love, too, but more than that: the support and presence that Brent gave me. Is there a word for that kind of love?