“Free at Last” by Brett Bowman

Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty she’s free at last.

20: The color of her skin drained as if someone had unscrewed the cork and ‘pale’ was the only pigment that remained. Gwen’s breathing slowed to a halt–her eyes gently shut as though she had placed the lid over her life–and the binds constricting her had suddenly lifted. I wonder what she was thinking. Was she recollecting the wind blowing through her hair, or maybe the tears of joy at her wedding? Perhaps a reenactment of giving birth to her son and him living up to all she had hoped he would? Maybe it was the last hugs of her friends and family. Did she fulfill her life as much as she wanted to? God bless her, I hope she did. I can’t help it...I cry.

18: I became a man today, and what better way to celebrate than with those I love? A nursing home isn’t the ideal location, I know, but it’s all I’ll ever get nowadays. She’s curled up in her relentless contractions; arms inhumanly folded across her chest, knees grotesquely bent to her neck, mouth forever sealed. I can’t help but think of a child performing a ¨cannonball¨ into the pool the way she is forced to lay. ¨I love you¨ I gently whisper into her ear. She doesn’t respond, but I know she’s listening. I don’t cry.

16: It’s the third time I’ve watched her in treatment. Today she’s receiving her daily massage when I walk in. They’re performing a Tapotement, (a series of quick movements using the hands alternatively to strike or tap the muscles used in Ancient Greek treatment) in hopes of regaining muscle control in her arm. But I know it’s hopeless; the disease has spread quickly, and the use of her arms is something she will never recover. I don’t cry. 

15: The disorder has progressed, again. Please let them be lying! I don’t think I can take this blow so early in my life! My flame of hope as I screech to a halt at her bedside is put out immediately. Lines of deep distress scar the doctor’s face, but it is her face I care about most. She gazes at me with her magnificently sapphire blue eyes and I know all I need to know. She will never speak to me again. She will never speak to anyone again. She will never speak again. Still, I do not cry.  

13: Adolescence comes with difficulties for everyone, yet at the moment I have to believe mine outdo all those of others. She has been diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) today. She will lose her ability to speak. Then she will not be able to control her body–within the next ten years her muscles will contract and enslave her, constricting her into a ball. Yet the torture of it all is she will not lose her thought. She will be as intelligent as any, but her freedom of voice and body stolen. She declares that we are not to cry–she wants us to stay strong. I will stay strong–I do not cry. 

11: I walk through the park with her. Autumn leaves and our laughter light up our afternoon stroll. Suddenly she stops. I slow down as well. She sits down, and I see she is trembling. I don’t know how to respond. Is she okay? What’s happening? “I cannot feel my toes” she whispers. “I cannot feel my feet. And I cannot feel my legs. They simply have gone numb.”

9: I hate eye doctor appointments. Frankly I’d rather eat a porcupine than go through this nonsense. Yet I force myself to report letters, sit in the chair, look at more letters, and not complain once. Wow, I can still see (no surprise there)! Mom’s appointment is at the same time. We’re about to leave when he holds her back. For five minutes I wait like an angel, and when she returns I ask her what’s up. “Apparently I have a peculiar decrease in vision. That’s odd, no one in our family has ever had vision issues.” I’m startled to say the least. 

7: She’s having a migraine again. It seems like almost once a week she locks herself up in the darkness of her room in hopes of diminishing the pain. Mom’s headaches worry me. 

6: She dropped me off for my first day of 1st grade. I love her so much.

4: I vaguely remember running around the backyard where Mom would catch me and throw me into the air because, “Mommy I want to fly! I feel as free a bird!”

3: I’m told Mom and I would walk around the river beside our house every weekend, footloose and fancy-free.

0: I’m born to her. I wail. 

-3 Months: Mom reads to me tonight, as she does whenever the sun goes to sleep and the stars awake. However, tonight exits with the 14 illustrious words of Martin Luther King Jr. ringing in the room, “[f]ree at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.” The silence is soon broken by the soft gasps for breath that encircle me. My mother cries. 

© Brett Bowman, Cresthill Middle School, Highlands Ranch, CO


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