I Will Carry You.

Labor Day, 1989.

I had been looking forward to the flea market.  I was hoping to find silver jewelry, posters, and incense.  Mom was looking for rocks and geodes for her ever-growing collection. Although she wouldn’t buy any, she also liked to look at the antique dolls. She took pleasure in explaining the origin and possible age of each doll based on markings or distinguishing features.

We walked from one end of the fair to the other and almost all the way back, the whole thing a half mile round-trip. About two blocks from the car, I noticed Mom was dragging one leg, her limp growing worse with each step. She was winded and stopped to rest on a nearby bench while I impatiently waited. She complained of exhaustion, but reluctantly rose to walk the last block to the car.

She placed a hand on my shoulder and soon her arm was around me. I came to bear most of her weight as she struggled to continue.

“I feel like I have an elephant on me. I can’t move,” she said.

“Yeah, me too,” I replied.

“You need to help me,” she insisted.

“What do you think I’m doing here?”

“Well…”

She would always get this whine in her voice when she’d say “well” like that.  It wasn’t the anxious foot-tapping well, it was the well-what-do-you-want-from-me? well.

For the next few yards, I groaned under her weight and she sighed in response.

“I can’t help it,” she whimpered. She would have been yelling at me if she’d had the strength to force out more than a whisper.

“That doesn’t make you any lighter,” I growled. I would have been yelling at her if I wasn’t trying so hard to contain my frustration.

“Don’t be like that,” she said, still sighing.

Don’t be like what? Don’t be embarrassed? Pretend I don’t notice everyone looking at us? Pretend I’m not worried that someone I know might see us? Don’t be annoyed that all I wanted to do was spend a nice afternoon with my mother and she had to go and ruin it with more of her Calamity Jane Helpless bullshit drama?

Don’t let on that I’m scared to death by the fact that all of a sudden my mother no longer has the energy to hold herself upright in the middle of the street and needs her 13 year old daughter to carry her?

When we reached the car, I leaned Mom against it and fished her keys from her purse.  I helped her into the driver’s seat. I should have asked how she intended to drive without any strength in her legs, but I didn’t.  She started the car.

As I got in, she said, “I’m sorry, ‘Chelle.  Thank you.”

No one said another word, we just listened to Paul Simon sing “Slip Slidin’ Away” on the 8-track.

~~~
Blogger’s Note:  It would be another 14 months before we would learn that this incident was symptomatic of my mother’s not-yet diagnosed multiple sclerosis, the disease that took her life 3 years ago on April 22, 2010.

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75 Responses to “I Will Carry You.”

  1. So real and painful and teenaged and true. MS sucks.

  2. this sadly, reminded of a moment i had with my grandmother.. i was 11, and she was sick. i was totally insensitive and clueless and 11. i hope everything was okay.

  3. Christie says:

    Oh, that last line and the image of that song playing. Such a perfect song. A wonderful piece and I always wanted to find some silver jewelry too at those things. I never did.

    • My mom and I used to laugh because that damn song seemed to come on every single time we got in the car. It was the first song on the tape so I guess that’s why we heard it a lot. But yeah, in that moment, it wasn’t such a funny song. And the more I listened to and understood the lyrics as I got older, wow. What a song.

      I found a really cool lizard ring where the tail was the band. So goth-y and cool. Best part of that day :)

  4. christina says:

    ooh tough. so very tough. you were just too young to have to carry all that around. :/

  5. What a strong girl you must have been- and I don’t mean physically. So sorry to hear about your mother.

  6. Linda Roy says:

    So much emotional weight for a kid to bear. I’m sorry about your Mom MIchelle. As always, so beautifully written.

  7. Joe says:

    I like the way you withheld your age for a bit. It changed how I viewed the story.

    • Thanks. I didn’t really think of it that way, I guess I forget that you all don’t live in my memories and see it as clearly as I do sometimes.

      I’m curious, what did you think at first?

    • Jack says:

      I am with Joe. It wasn’t until the end of the story that I realized you weren’t an adult when this happened.

    • I’m curious how it changed the story for both of you and even more interested in your opinion as men. This is a condensed version of a piece of my memoir which would be more clear about my age as it will be chronological. But a big struggle of the overall work is that I don’t want it to be too filled with bitterness or teen melodrama so as to turn the reader off. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  8. It’s funny as parents we try to be strong but every now and then we just can’t. Sometimes things happen and we have to show the chinks in our armor. Okay on a personal note. I love Paul Simon. In my who-knows-anything opinion, he wrote about the human condition better than anyone. We are all slip-sliding away. It just depends on how we use our slide. Great writing as always.

    • I love Paul Simon, too. He’s always been one of my favorites. My mother really liked him (and his time with Garfunkel) so I grew up listening. He is an amazing songwriter.

  9. Vanessa D says:

    I always love the way you fearlessly put the real thoughts of the teenaged you in your writing. I’m sure at 13 I would have been thinking something similar.

    • cynk says:

      I agree. It would have been easy to claim you were full of concern, worry and fear, but we all know that teenagers don’t think that way.

    • Thanks Vanessa.

      What was always a challenge for me (and I was aware of this even at a young age) was that I played the role of parentified child very well very early on. So when I needed to act like the adult I did, but it conflicted with my lack of maturity often. It’s hard to juggle responsibility and immaturity.

  10. So sorry about your mom! I love the honesty of this post. It’s so hard when parents need to lean on their kids. We expect it sometimes, but not at 13, and not in this way. You portrayed this so well.

  11. You write your teenage self so incredibly well. I am so sorry for that young girl who had so much to carry on her own, and am simply in awe of the strength of the woman that young girl grew up to be.

  12. Marcy says:

    I could really identify with your teenage thoughts. Everything was so painful and embarrassing. I’m sorry you had so much to bear.

    • I always felt guilty for my typical teenage thoughts. I wanted to be more mature than that, I just couldn’t always muster it. It was much easier to do that at home where no one knew.

  13. How heart-wrenching. The pain of learning a parent’s helplessness is so frightening. I am so sorry for the loss of your mom.

  14. Mamarific says:

    Well told from the perspective of a younger you. I am sorry for the loss of your mom.

  15. You do this so well. I love reading your voice at this age. I would have reacted exactly as you described and given all you’d already been through, who could blame you for not wanting to take on one more thing. Heartbreaking and honest. Loved it.

  16. Someone once told me that I’m so hard on myself because I judge myself as a child based on who I am and what I know as an adult. This story reminded me of that. If we all judged our reactions at 13 based on the standards we hold ourselves to now, it would be a very harsh world.

    • I’ve been told that about myself too. It’s very hard to not do that, at least I think. I have worked hard to forgive myself for acting age appropriately, even when that might not have been the nicest way to be. That’s not easy either. I hope you can go easy on yourself too.

  17. Ah Michelle, hard story to tell but you did it well. I think I will read this to Brady; the bike ride is this weekend and MS is very much on our minds (thank you again for supporting him). Big hug to you on the anniversary of your mom’s passing.

    • Thanks, Louise. I have been thinking about Brady and his ride. How is his fundraising going? I can’t remember the link to it. I’d be happy to share it again if some possible last minute contributions would help. I’ll be sending good thoughts his way and I can’t wait to hear about it. Please thank him again for doing this, and thank you, as his mom, for helping and encouraging him.

  18. Doina says:

    Well done, Michelle. Your teenage voice is solid, and you really took me right to that flea market. I am sorry you lost your mom to MS, thank you for sharing this.

  19. Larks says:

    Awww… That was scary and lovely and sad all at the same time. MS is really cruel. :(

    • MS is a terrible disease. We didn’t have the first clue what to do for it either and there was so much less access to information at the time. I wonder how it would have been different now vs. then.

  20. Kim S. says:

    Oh wow. I was actually wondering if it was MS when you were describing the incident – which you did beautifully, espeically remembering the conflicted feelings of you at 13. Love how you captured so much of our relationship in this one moment. One of my favorite posts!

    • I feel like that leg drag is such a tell-tale sign. I’ve seen so many people with MS have that same symptom.
      Thanks Kim. That really did sum it all up – arguing, laughing (well not so much here), sarcasm… :) It was a unique relationship.

  21. So vivid as always, Michelle.

  22. 50Peach says:

    Oh man, how intense. MS is such a bastard of a disease and I’m sorry it affected you at such a tender age. Damn fine writing, my dear. xo

  23. Stacie says:

    Great writing, as usual! This is so sad. MS sucks :(

  24. Beautiful post – it made me tear up. I just read the one you wrote about the two-year anniversary of her death as well… I just lost my dad in October. His was caused by ongoing complications from diabetes, but I know well what you mean about the never-ending hospital visits that always seemed like they’d be the last, but never were until we least expected it. There were so many times that I argued with God about why he allowed him to go on and on in his condition, and I always felt so guilty about even feeling that way. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • I’m so sorry about your dad. Not wanting her to suffer felt so selfish, especially when her suffering complicated my life. So many emotions tied up in not wanting to see someone you love hurt but not wanting to let them go either.
      Thanks for your kind words and for telling your story too.

  25. Tomekha says:

    I felt angry at teeneaged you…never mind that I’m CERTAIN that that would be my reaction too. Teens can be so self absorbed and insensitive.

    http://artographja.com

  26. IASoupMama says:

    Oh, Michelle… So sorry for both of you in this. Much love always.

  27. Robbie K says:

    you really captured teen angst here.

  28. Ouch. Hits home in so (too) many ways: my sister was recently diagnosed with MS and my kids (silly example) ask me to carry their schoolbag when it’s obvious (to me, anyway) that my hands and shoulders are full carrying the rest of our stuff.

    I’m concerned for my sister, especially as MS seems to be such an unknown. Thanks for posting this for many reasons.

    Found you via Yeah Write and A to Z. Bradley Charbonneau’s Pass the Sour Cream A-Z Challenge.

    • Hi Bradley! I’m sorry about your sister. I hope she’s doing OK and stays as well as possible for as long as possible. It is such a mysterious disease, but there’s so much more known than there was when my mom was diagnosed 20+ years ago.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’m sending thoughts of good health to your family.

  29. Celeste says:

    I can definitely relate to the embarrassment. I was thirteen when my dad’s illness paralyzed him and for at least two years before that we had to help him. We didn’t get that he was actually *sick* sick. That he was dying.

    Now I feel like an asshole for being embarrassed, but I was just a kid. We’re supposed to be embarrassed by our parents.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that this was a really powerful piece that put me there in the middle. And I am so so very sorry to hear about your mom’s passing.

    • Hi Celeste! I’m sorry to hear about your dad. That must have been so hard on you.

      Someone above commented on judging our younger selves based on what our adult selves know. That’s such a dangerous game. I hope you can forgive yourself for that.

      Thank you for your kind words. :)

  30. Mary Johnson says:

    Oh, love! I actually can relate because my mother was stricken with arthritis and made everything so hard. Being a teen all I saw was my own selfishness. You have quite a talent for bringing to let old memories while sharing yours – well done.

    • Thanks Mary. I’m sorry about your mother. I’m sure that was very difficult for you. I think it’s very age appropriate for teens to be selfish (not that it’s necessarily right, but it’s certainly understandable). And it’s so easy, and dangerous, to look back at ourselves as teens through adult eyes.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  31. Julia says:

    Oh, I’m so very sorry. For your frustration and your loss. How powerful to remember your mom in the realness of that moment.

  32. Mirela S says:

    I am so sorry for your loss Michelle. This story seems to be an unfortunate incident, but I must say you handled it pretty good. It was very nice of you to help your mother get to the car even if it was hard for you to carry her and keep calm at the same time.

    • Thank you, Mirela, For all of my complaining, I still usually did what I needed to do. I wish I had been mature enough to keep my mouth shut, but at least I tried to be responsible.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  33. Zara says:

    Don’t worry Michelle; you did well regarding the given situation, most kids your age wouldn’t have been so brave and patient. I appreciate the fact that you’ve been there for your mother even though it was so hard for you and probably for her as well. Sorry to hear about your loss.

  34. Michelle, you have such a beautiful way with words. You throw in so many details and emotion and the perfect bit of humor. I’m so sorry about your mother. And now I’m singing Slip Slidin’ Away.

    • Thank you! SSA is such a catchy little song, isn’t it? It was always one of “our” songs since we heard it all the time and we joked about it. Now when I hear it, I usually smile and think of her. Sometimes it makes me sad, but mostly it makes me happy. :)

  35. Oh my gosh. “Slip Slidin’ Away”?!?! Really? That is ridiculously poignant, you know.

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