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The Second Message

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It's only been 24 hours. And for most of the time, things have sort of seemed the same. I took my dog Bennett on a few walks, read in the park, went to the local cafe, watched a movie, went to the pet store. The same stuff I'd do on just about any day. I did have a bit of a rough sleep, waking up once around 5 a.m. and twisting and turning until well past six. I also spent an hour or so with a friend sharing the news. And another via text. How do you talk about this? How do you process this? How do you react?

For some reason, my body and mind have been running on autopilot. And it's happening on September 11th, the only other time I can recall when such enormous events left me, well, feeling frozen. Nine years later, I can still vividly recall nearly every moment of that day, from the CBS building on the edge of Central Park, to an almost completely barren Lexington Avenue at around 10pm. However, despite the ingrained images from that day, I also recall feeling as though my emotions were suspended. Neither the fire trucks storming downtown nor the endless lines of citizens volunteering to donate blood could be properly absorbed. At least mentally and emotionally, it feels very much like that day. But then it'll hit me. It did while I was downing a coke. And while I struggled to hold my dog down while the groomer clipped his nails. While that V-Roys song "Fade Away" came on my iPod.

At about 2:45 p.m. on Friday, I found myself rushing to my apartment. I had a 3 p.m. call and I needed to get to my roof to take it. Service can be choppy in my apartment. I sat down in a borrowed lawn chair overlooking San Francisco at one minute shy of 3 p.m. The conversation lasted about 45 minutes. As the call ended, I reached down for my book. I went to put the phone down. Seven messages. I can't remember the last time I had that many messages. I knew a number of them could be left until Monday without even listening. Mom called. I'd call her back tomorrow. As I quickly scanned the message list one last time, I noticed that Mom called twice. Within two hours. Similar to the seven messages, this had never happened before. Before even hitting the play button, I knew things were about to change. "Chris, call me when you get this; it's important." I didn't listen to the second message.

On the fourth ring, she picked up. "What's going on?" I asked. "How's Bennett?" she replied. "What's going on?" Then a long pause. "Where are you?" "I'm on my roof. What's going on?" "I may have to put Andy on." "Mom, what is it?" "Annn.." she called. "Mom, please tell me." "Okay..." And it all went black. I remember every word up until that moment, but I don't recall what followed. I know eventually my stepfather got on the phone to provide more detail. My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In both breasts. They'd only found out a few hours prior. "Chances for a full recovery are good," one of them said, I can't remember which. "We'll have a much clearer picture when we meet with the surgeon on Wednesday." This I remembered. We talked for about 20 more minutes. We said "I love you's." I then called my sister. And at about 12:30 a.m., I emailed my brother. Inseparable until my mid-20s, we hadn't spoken in many years. He had to know. She raised us. She gave everything to us. She still does.

My mother is the greatest gift I've ever received, and I'd imagine nearly everyone close to her may echo that sentiment. When we were kids, she wore the same outfit nearly every day, in order to put every single cent towards us. When basketball became my first love and every kid on my team was wearing Air Jordans, she went to K-Mart and bought me the closest thing. When I fell in love with the Norman Greenbaum song "Spirit in the Sky" while sitting shotgun in her green Pinto, a 45 landed on my turntable a day later. When my first love bid farewell, she kept my head high. And whenever I fell ill, whether physically or mentally, she was the first person I turned to. I always assumed that that was how the roles were set. She would be there for me. And she always has been.

Now it's my turn.

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