When I said I was going to address Mama’s state, I didn’t mean this soon. Here we were celebrating Ray’s fate and my mom was being rolled away on a stretcher. I knew something wasn’t right with her.
At the hospital Pops, Ray and I were in the waiting room, waiting for answers. Pops had on his infamous poker face, but I could see a hint of sadness in his eyes. Ray was stroking my back as I tapped my leg up and down because I was so nervous. An hour has gone by and no one has updated us on anything. Pops repeatedly went up to the desk, but, still no answers. The receptionist kept saying, “The nurse will be out shortly to speak with you.” Shortly turned into two hours then, a stubby black lady came out to greet us.
“The Michael’s Family?” She asked as we all stood up almost falling over each other.
“I am Mr. Michael’s,” Pops started, “This is my daughter Tanya and her husband, Raymond.”
“Nice to meet you all,” she smiled “I’m Ciera, I’m Mrs. Michaels nurse.”
“So how’s my mom, what’s going on?” I rushed the conversation. I was not trying to get to know her, we were not at a family reunion.
“Relax, sweetie.” Pops pulled me close.
“It’s fine, I understand the eagerness. Mrs. Michaels is stable, but I must let you guys know that the cancer is back and it has metastasized.”
“Metastasized? What the fuck does that mean?” Pops yelled. He rarely blew his cool these days, so I know he was aggravated. His passion for Mama was one of the things that would take him to a place, not too many people could get him out of.
“I’m sorry sir. That means the cancer has spread. It went from the breast tissue to her bones.”
There was more silence amongst the four of us. Tears filled my face as I thought about when my mom first revealed she had breast cancer.
“Well, there’s a great chance of her to recover again. Seeing that we caught it early and she could start treatment early.
“Can we see her?” I asked barely audible.
“Yes, you may. Right this way, please.” We followed Nurse Ciera down the hall, which felt like a maze, all in a single filed line. First, I, Ray behind me, and Pops as the caboose.
“She’s resting now, please try and keep as much peace as possible.”
I looked up at her, some nerve she had, talking ‘bout keeping some damn peace. The way I felt, we needed a peacemaker for me and her. Ray guided me into the room because he knew me all too well. This could get ugly, real quick.
When we stepped into the room, all you could hear was beeping noises from the equipment. Mama had cords coming and going from her body. We knew the sight all too well. It was like déjà vu. Pops went to grab Mama’s hand and she gripped it tight. Although she didn’t open her eyes, she felt our presence. I went to take her other hand and she gripped mine as well.
“I’m sorry.” Mama began to speak.
“Don’t apologize baby.” Pops stepped in.
“It’s not your fault, Mama.” I continued.
She just smiled. It was beautiful. Even in pain, Mama’s beauty shined through. I promise I want to be half the woman she is.
“I love you.”
“We love you too,” I said, “Did you discuss treatment with the docs?”
“So, what’s your thoughts?”
Tears began to roll from Mama’s eyes as she closed them tighter. Pops gently wiped them away.
“I don’t want any treatments.”
“What do you mean, Ma?” I was confused.
“Baby, it’s too much for me. I can’t bear to face it again. And it’s not fair to you all.”
“It’s fair to me, Ma. Please, reconsider this. We need you. I need you.” Ray was beginning to stroke my back again.
“You don’t understand Tanya.”
“But, you’re strong Ma. You’ve overcome so much, don’t give up now.”
“I’m not giving up, willingly. I’m letting God take control. He knows my fate.”
“But, Ma…” I began to cry harder. Is this what Nurse Ciera was implying when she said, “keep the peace.” Had Mama already decided she wasn’t going to go through with treatment. Ray was trying to calm me down but, I felt as if I was losing control.
“Come get some fresh air, Tee.” Ray suggested. I took a quick glance at Pops and you could see the hurt in his eyes. I’m sure my eyes revealed the same thing. I didn’t even put up a fight. I left with my man.
Ray and I walked outside the hospital hand in hand. No words were exchanged, he knew when I was ready to talk, I would. He just let me lead the situation.
“I love you Ray.” I’m sure he was shocked that those were my first words.
“I love you too Tee.”
“Thank you for being here for me. I know it was my day to be here for you, but life is really getting the best out of me.”
“Look Tee, you’ve done enough for me in the past five years. That’s why I’ll always held you down. We balance each other out.”
“Yes, we do. Just like Mama and Pops.”
“I wish to be just as great as them.”
“Me too. I wonder how Pops feel in all of this. I’m so wrapped up in my feelings, I didn’t even consider anyone else’s.
“It’s cool, Tee. We got you. I’m sure Pops will be fine. He supports Mama as a husband should. He has her best interest at heart. He is not selfish so I’m sure he will back her up.”
“You think I’m selfish for wanting her to go through with the treatments?”
“Nah, you’re her daughter. You can’t imagine life without Ma. She’s your best friend. It’s natural for you to want her around as much as possible. I want her to rethink her decision too, but it is about the quality of life not the quantity. What happens when she goes through the treatments and feels awful each day, as she did five years ago. That’s not the way to live Tee.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just cant…” I broke down before I could even finish my statement. Ray held me close to him. I felt so safe in his arms, but it did not diminish the pain I was feeling. Mama means the world to me, without her I don’t know what I would do.
When I was calm enough to enter the hospital Ray and I went back in. We were greeted by Pops in the lobby. I went over to him and sat down. Ray sat across from us.
“Baby, I’m going down to the café, you want something?” Ray asked as I shook my head no.
“No, I’m good son, Thank you.” Pops sounded so normal.
Ray nodded at us as he walked towards the elevator. I knew Ray was just trying to give us some alone time. I still had so many questions regarding Ray’s case; well ex-case and I couldn’t bring it up now.
“Baby girl, I remember the first time I met your mother. It was July 1, 1965. I knew when I saw her, I was going to marry her. You heard of love at first sight, right? She was walking home from school and I couldn’t help but stop her. She had the meanest attitude I’d ever saw in a girl. All the girls knew who I was. Big John. Johnnie Ray. Johnnie Mike,” he let out a little chuckle, “however you put my name out, all the girls wanted Jonathan Ramon Michaels. But, Margaret, she was stubborn. She made me chase after her for three whole blocks before she even turned around. And when she did acknowledge me it was with an eye roll. I guess she figured being mean or having an attitude was going to scare me away. Nope! It only intrigued me more. After a whole lot of begging and pleading she agreed to meet me for dinner that night. I made sure my runners would take care of business because I had personal business to tend to. I went straight home and took almost two hours to get dressed. I wanted to impress your mother. She needed to look at me and melt, well that’s what I was aiming for. So, I got up to the restaurant around 8pm, your mother didn’t show up until 9:30. She made up some story about your grandma not letting her out, so she had to sneak out. I knew it was a lie. She was a senior in high school and it was a Friday. Her curfew had to be 11pm. You don’t know how bad I wanted to give that gal a piece of my mind for having me sit there waiting for her like a puppy. When she arrived, she looked stunning. I mean she had this angelic look to her, every man in the pizza parlor was admiring her and all the women faces were tooted up. Your mama always had confidence she walked as if it was only her in the room. At first, she was very short and sassy. Sooner or later ya boy Johnnie Mike got her to open up. She laughed like no other, smiled like no other and she was perfect. I continued to fall in love with her with every minute that went by. I knew it was going to be hard to win her completely over because fancy, flashy things didn’t excite her. That is what made it easier for me to love her. All she wanted was me and I had to figure out exactly who Johnathan was. Your mama taught me so much about myself, about life all at the tender age of 18. Your grandfather didn’t agree with our relationship. I moved major weight in these streets baby girl. He always thought she deserved better. Shit, somedays I believed him but, Marge always made me feel like a King. I’ll never forget…” He suddenly stopped. I looked up at my Pops searching for a method to his pause, but there was none.
“Go on Pops.” I encouraged him.
He took his time, but he proceeded, “One day she called me crying, hysterical. I couldn’t even hear what she was saying so I rushed home. By this time, she had moved in with me because like I said the old man didn’t approve of us. Your grandfather was so overbearing. As I reached home she went on telling me how some guys had robbed her at gun point. Tanya, you just don’t know what that did to your Pops ego. Seeing my baby like that tore me apart. Everybody knew me, and they definitely knew who my woman was so for a sucka to run up on her, boy, they must’ve been feeling really bold. I stayed as calm as possible caressing your mother, drying her eyes and rocking her to sleep. A woman I knew had so much strength, but at this moment she was so weak. It was the worst feeling in the world and I knew I had to do something about it.”
Pops continued, “So soon as I made sure your mother was sound asleep, I went to take care of business. The streets talk, very loud and clear. It didn’t take long for me to figure out who did it and it didn’t take long for the coroners to gather their families to identify their bodies.”
I shifted in my chair. I was shocked. I knew Pops was a G, but I could never imagine him murdering someone. He was my Pops for God’s sake.
“About three weeks later, RPD came bussing down our front door. They got me into custody, but before I was even booked my main man, George…”
“Yes, the lawyer you guys met today.” So now his comment made sense about it being “a good thing” for my father.
“I was three years old?”
Pops stopped to look at me wondering how I remembered. “Actually, you were two months away from being four.”
“Mr. Steinman, mentioned he hasn’t seen me since that age.”
“And he is correct. I scared your mom half to death with the thought of losing me. She made me vow to never leave her. I did just that with one disclaimer…”
“What was that?” asked curiously.
“If someone was to ever disrespect you or her or threaten your safety, in anyway, all bets were off.” We laughed together. It was nice to have a sense of humor in this state of mind we were in.
This helped to explain further why Mama was so understanding about what Ray did because Pops did it for her.
“Pops, I have a question?”
He looked at me as to say go ahead, “How’d you help Ray out the way you did?”
“My baby girl, the question is not how I did it, but why I did it. He makes you happy, baby. He is genuinely a good dude and any man willing to kill over my princess is a man good enough to be crowned, Prince.” He smiled at me and I smiled back. Pops did a good job avoiding the question, but I was satisfied. If Ray was any more like my father, I knew his word of getting out the game was for sure his bond.