The red light stared at me, a steady, unblinking eye. It was the digital eye of reality, mocking me, daring me to answer the call, daring me to face life. I picked it up, gripping the warm metal in my clammy hand, covering the light that announced a phone message.
I knew who it was from, even what she would say. Her voice would be cheery as she told me what I would already know from the number displayed on the phone, even before hearing the familiar voice. “This is Mom. What did the doctor say, honey?” Her voice would lower, gentle with a verbal hug. “You know I’ll be on the next plane if you need me. Praying it’s good news, though. Call me back.”
My throat tightened. How could I call her when I couldn’t even breathe, couldn’t even wrap my own mind around the facts? I would have to tell her what the doctor said, relive the moment when he leaned forward and said that one sentence, that one phrase that changed my life.
“You have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.”
My chest had tightened then; had never really loosened, even now. “I have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” I had wanted my words to end with a question mark. Wanted there to be some doubt. Wanted, oh so badly wanted him to shake his head and tell me I was confusing the terms.
But there hadn’t been a question. I’d known in my gut, even before the doctor had nodded his head and reached to take my hand. I’d listened then, through a fog that only had grown heavier, as he told me what I already knew. “…progressive muscle loss… fatal… wheelchair… feeding tubs… breathing machine…”
“No.” Somehow I’d squeezed the word out. I didn’t want that. Not for me. Not for my family. They didn’t deserve to watch me suffer, slowly dying before their eyes, muscle by muscle. God, please. Please no. I can’t do this.
I sat here now in my little apartment, that red light gleaming between my fingers. Lord, I can’t do this. It was later, maybe even hours later, when the next prayer came. I need You. I need my family. Lord, help me. Help us. The words weren’t much. But they were all I had. And they were enough.
I slipped in a tiny breath and opened my hand. It seemed hard work to pry the phone apart, to flip it open. It only took one button. Return call. I pushed it with a faint click. So simple. So significant.
The phone rang, just as it had hundreds of other times. Normal times. Life-filled times.
“Hi, honey.” She had caller ID, too.
The tears came then, for the first time that day, just as I’d known they would. “Mom.” It was all I could say. All I could manage.
“Sweetheart.” She knew, could tell from one word, one sob. She let me cry, and then prayed for me, the words echoing through the phone, finding their way toward my heart, little by little. When she was done, her voice was only a whisper. “I love you. We’re gonna be here for you, ok? All the way through. I’m here for you, honey.”
It was enough.
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