Before my mom died, she rolled her head towards me, gathered all the energy she had left, and bit me as hard as she could.
“Where the Wild Things Are” - that was our book. I was Max, disruptive, wild, strong willed, and fearless. So was Mom. A household of Max’s and no wild things around to scare us straight. We danced and sang and broke things and ate ice cream for breakfast on good days.
A week into my arrival at elementary school for kindergarten, mom shipped herself off to elementary school too, as a hallway monitor. We feared that the long days apart would allow for storybook monsters to creep in and ruin the world we had built for ourselves at home out of Shania Twain songs, pillows and sugary cereals.
“Please don’t go, I’ll eat you up. I love you so” she whispered to me in the mornings at school as we parted for the 2 hours until lunch. As she let go of my hand she nibbled my fingers, to let me know she meant it.
I would kiss her goodnight and nip at her cheek. I’ll gobble you up first- you better watch out, I threatened. Maurice Sendak once said that he drew a picture for a little boy who loved it so much, he swallowed it. He said it was the best compliment he was ever given.
Mom’s nickname in high school was Sunny, it stuck. People who knew her then, as 1st graders or coworkers, still talk about the sunlight that beamed out of her in all directions. You were one of the lucky ones to be cast in her light.
I spent my days seeking out her sunshine in hallways and around lunchroom tables. She would write messages in pen for me on the skin of my bananas in my packed lunch. “I’ll eat you up I love you so” carved in browning, sweet letters.
I was daydreaming when I was called down to the office for early dismissal. I ran there, excited about what Mom had up her sleeve. I rounded the hallway corner and she stood there, cold, dark. My sun had collapsed in on itself. The warmth of her rays were gone, but the color remained.
“I’m yellow, can’t you see I’m yellow?”
I didn’t understand why we needed to worry. Why we couldn’t just go home and dress up in her old bridesmaids dresses and eat pancakes for lunch. There were no wild things here to deter us, just the color yellow.
Pancreatic cancer has no symptoms. There are no lumps to discover, no clues to find on your way to discovering you’re sicker than you feel. Jaundice is the first sign, and by the time you’re yellow- it’s too late.
Mom watched episodes of M*A*S*H and watercolored pictures of yellow daisies for me while sitting in a hospital bed, poison slowly being dripped into her veins in the form of chemo.
The skins of the bananas in my lunchbox didn’t carry secret messages anymore. The hallways at school were dark, but a thousand paintings of daisies lit up the walls of my bedroom.
Her sunlight was no match for the tumor. It ate her up before I had the chance.
Please don't go. I’ll eat you up, I love you so. I became the wild things from the story, begging and pleading and crying and stomping for her to stay.
Towards the end words were lost to her, but before she left, she mustered every bit of strength she had — and bit me, as hard as she could, so I knew she meant it.