Matt sat at his mother’s bedside watching her fail. he knew she was ill, but the doctors couldn’t seem to diagnose her. she deteriorated far too quickly for a simple case of Hepatitis, such as they had originally diagnosed, but they still insisted. He insisted that they keep testing.
He hated to see her like this. If they could cure her, they needed to figure out how. If not, they needed to be blunt and tell them the truth. No more lies. No more half-truths.
She was thirty-nine and a shadow of what she had once been. Her blond hair was almost straw-like and brittle. Her once vibrant eyes were now sunken, hollow and empty. She had lost much of the beauty that had drawn men to her, though she still had a shadow.
What concerned Matt the most was that she had lost a lot of weight since he’d seen her last. Pneumonia had become a regular illness for her. Just to sit up was becoming a struggle. So was walking and talking. As he watched her sleep, he wanted to cry.
Now, she had asked to see him. Unlike before, this didn’t sound like the typical visit. There was an urgency. A deep need. he was concerned.
She opened her eyes. “Matty? Is that you?” Her voice was weak, almost a whisper.
He swallowed the lump in his throat. He’d forgotten that she was now almost blind. He nodded. “Yes, Mama.”
She held up her hand weakly. “I need you to take Lena. I-I can’t take care of her anymore–and Johnny died, Honey. I have no one to help me.” She struggled for breath, then continued weakly. “You are my last hope. I-I don’t want her to see me die.”
He swallowed again and took her hand. “You’re not going to die, Mama. Don’t say things like that.”
She looked up, searching vainly for his face. “Hon, I have to face the truth. I am dying. I know that I did it to myself. I have no one to blame.”
He objected. “But Mama–”
She shook her head. “No Matty. I know I am dying. This was how it all went down for Johnny. He grew thin and sickly. His hair became like straw. He suffered pneumonia until it finally took him from me.
“Matty, I caught whatever he had. Whatever was running through the porn stars a few years back. So many of my friends have died, Matty, and of this same illness. It was a new thing back in the seventies. Rarely heard of. Then, it exploded among gays, drug users and the porn community.
“All those I knew are dead. I am the last to go. I know I am dying. I don’t care what hope the doctors hold for me.
“Matty, They just haven’t realized what I have. It is too late.” She coughed and gasped. “Don’t shield me. Just promise me that you’ll stay clean and take care of your sisters and brothers for me. Just as you have done these ten years.”
He nodded, a lump growing in his throat. “I will,” He croaked, barely able to talk.
The tears stung his eyes. He was glad she couldn’t see him crying. She would have teased him about not being a man. Lord, how he wished for that old Mama. How he wished she was well again.
“Matty,” her weak voice trailed up to his ears. “I am so sorry I put you through all that I did. I am sorry I never took the time to be a mother.” she gasped again. “If I could go back, I would change it all and be what I should have been.”
He shook his head, though she could not see him. “No, Mama. You made us all strong. We are who we are because of you.”
He knew she didn’t believe that. Still, she had contributed something to their strength. hell. she was the source of their self-reliance. It had been the one thing he had picked up from her before he could do much else.
He forced himself to smile. “You taught me how to be self-reliant. You made sure I had someone who would teach me a trade I could be proud of. I owe you my life and my career.”
She smiled and shook her head. “No, Honey. You owe that to Tom, Ron and a host of other musicians who saw you as someone special.”
He bent down and hugged her. “But you put me in those places at those times so that they could. You had the sense it took to take me where it would give me the best start in life.”
She kissed his cheek, a tear rolling down hers. “Thank you, Matty, for believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. I only wish I could have been more to you than I was.” She gasped again. “Promise me you’ll take care of Lena.”
He raised up. “I promise.”
She let out an audible gasp. “Lena, Honey, come here.”
Little Lena approached. “yes, Mama?”
Natalia sought her little daughter’s hand. “Are you packed and ready to go with your brother Matt?”
Lena began to cry. “Yes, Mama, but I don’t wanna go. I wanna stay here with you. Please don’t make me go. Have I been bad to make you send me away?”
Her mother swallowed hard. “No, baby. I have been bad. I can no longer care for you. I am too sick. Too weak.” She took a shaky breath. “You need to be where you can be well cared for. Away from all this.”
Matt bent down beside Lena. “I promise that you will have some little playmates to keep you company, Sissy.” Matt could tell that his little sister wasn’t buying his promise. Still, he had to gain her trust. “How about I take you to get some ice cream, then show you where you will be staying for a while?”
She nodded. “OK.” She still had her little lips in a pout.
He almost lost his composure to a giggle when he saw that cute little pout looking up at him. He felt for her. She didn’t realize that she was not the only one losing their mother. She had no idea that she would have to get to know the rest of her siblings. She only knew that she was leaving the only world she ever knew. She was leaving her mother’s side.