“Princess,” Joyce managed to breathlessly said from her hospital bed. “I don’t want you to give up.” She had to keep stopping for deep breaths from the oxygen mask.
Victoria had been taking care of her mother since she was diagnosed with Lymphoma only a couple of years before.
Both women had always been especially close. Other than her grandparents – on her father’s side – they hardly ever had guests. But they had both died years ago. As had her father, Ryan.
Even though she was barely one when he was killed, thinking of him always made her want to cry. His death had broken his parents heart and broken her mother – Joyce – altogether.
After that, she was never the same – or so she was told by her grandparents.
Not that Victoria minded her mother’s ways. They were best friends, she was her only friend, ever.
But she enjoyed her time with her mother. The weekend movie marathons, the ‘who can eat the most ice cream competitions’ and the years her mother spent home-schooling her.
Victoria had always suffered debilitating anxiety when it came to interacting with other people and sometimes even found it hard to leave the house.
But with her mother’s help, over the last couple of years – more so since the diagnoses – she had forced herself out of her comfort zone. She found it easier to leave the house, for the first time ever she actually looked forward to walking down the road.
With her mother by her side, she had finally learned to drive her mother’s car and got a licence, meaning she could drive her to the many hospital appointments when Joyce was too sick too.
She had even encouraged her to self-publish one of the many books Victoria enjoyed writing. When writing them she often thought of them as a way to live the perfect life without having to take any chances. Most of the topics or scenarios were inspired by books she read or movies she’d seen. Having no real life experience she had little else to base it on.
“I’m not going too, Mama,” She was sat on the chair beside the bed, holding her mother’s clammy hand.
“This is just a bad spell, you’ll get better,” She said almost as if she was trying to convince herself.
Joyce struggled to shake her head. Her skin was no longer the natural tanned olive color it once was. Her skin was a scary grey, her hair dull and lifeless and her eyes beyond tired.
“I’m dying,” Joyce told her what her daughter already knew, but didn’t want to believe.
“No, you’re not. You just have a bad virus. In a week, you’ll be better and you can do more chemo,” Tears brimmed her eyes as she almost sobbed out the words.
Joyce gave her a sympathetic, regretful look. She longed to stay with her daughter, wished she didn’t have to leave her alone. But she had no choice.
“I have been selfish,” The older woman admitted. “I should have let you go to a normal school, make friends, hanging out with other kids…”
“No, I love my life, my childhood. How many children wish their mother was there for them, their best friend no matter. I was lucky,” Victoria argued tears falling from her eyes.
“No, princess. You were a victim.” Joyce wanted to cry, felt like she should be, but over the last few months her body had stopped doing a lot of things it used too. Her eyes made enough water to keep her eyes moist but didn’t create enough to cry.
She couldn’t even go to the toilet anymore that was the reason for two of the many tubes attached to her body. Her body slowly giving up and what she feared most was her daughter would soon follow.
“When Ryan died,” She fought back a sob. “When your father was killed, I should have taken you to your grandparents. They could have taken care of you, helped me take care of you while I saw a psychiatrist. But I didn’t,” She looked even more regretful. “Instead I cut off all our friends and placed you in a plastic bubble.” She tearlessly sobbed. “I ruined your life, but you don’t even realize it.”
Victoria leant over the bed and hugged her mother the best she could with all the wires and tubes around her.
“I love my life, honestly. And you didn’t cut off everyone, Nan and Grandpa-“
Her mother cut her off. “They forced me to let them in. I tried to cut them out, but they kept coming back. They made me realize you needed them too. The worst part… I was a complete cow to them, I screamed at them. They just hugged me and told me everything was going to be alright.”
Her eyes began to flicker closed. “I’m… Tired.”
“Sleep Mama. We can talk later.” Victoria sat up, brushed away her tears and kissed her mother’s forehead. “I love you, Mama.”
“I love you too, princess.”
Relaxing back into her chair Victoria never thought in a million years that would be the last time she spoke to her mother.
Joyce Willingham died aged only forty-four just hours later.