This is a first draft. Please judge it as such.
Mom told me that shooting stars were just falling angels wasting wishes from heaven. She said – wish on that falling angel honey, and maybe it’s wish will become yours. I wasn’t sure I believed it but I did as she told me to and have ever since.
As many times as I wished on those falling stars I never had one come true.
Not even something as small as – I hope I get an ice cream cone.
It just never worked.
Not for me.
It was only when mom was fading that I realized that we’re all shooting stars when the end comes. The brightness of us leaving as the fire cools to embers and the light fades from our eyes. Falling, falling, falling from heaven back to earth.
Mom had always been my angel.
Dad died when I was still a baby and so it was just us, her and me against the world.
She died when I was nineteen, the victim of a hit and run when she’d been out for an evening jog. She’d been dressed in bright orange yoga pants and had a safety vest on but someone crossed way over onto the side of the road and hit her and never stopped.
Probably drunk was what the nurse told me when I arrived from college at the end.
Mom’s face was a mess of cuts and bruising and she had half a dozen machines monitoring her and keeping her alive. I held her hand as the machines dreamed for her and I tried not to look at her. Instead I watched the machines as they breathed in and out, in and out and dreamt of a pain free world that might welcome mom. No one would say it but I knew she didn’t have long. Her body was broken, yes, but most of the damage was internal broken ribs, punctured lung, shattered pelvis, broken feet, on and on, and on. I caught the nurses looking in from time to time and they wouldn’t hold my gaze.
That only meant one thing.
So I held her hand and waited for her star to finally fall from the sky.
I lost her at three in the morning on a Tuesday. I had Geometry at nine, Biology lab at eleven, and for lunch I probably would have gotten tacos at the campus bistro. All of that was another life. Another world. I was here. Waiting. I felt mom squeeze my hand and she started breathing heavily, her pulse rose, rose, rose and then fell. She took one more deep breath and was still.
She was gone.
I closed my eyes and made a wish, imagining her life like a dandelion and scattering to the winds.
I sat alone with her for a while and held her hand and at five a nurse came into check on mom and realized in horror that she was gone. She hit a red button and an alarm went off. Things became a chaos of panic and frustration.
One of the machines had malfunctioned.
No one had ever known she was gone.
While they tried to figure out why the machine hadn’t gone off and checked her vitals again and again to make sure she really was gone I excused myself and went home.
I needed the rest.
School was a city university three hours away and I didn’t want to share my grief with anyone so I went to mom’s house, let myself in, and slowly stripped as I walked towards her room. I slept in her bed, surrounded by her scent, naked, cold, and happy to be alone.
When I dreamt I dreamt of a sky full of fire, falling angels lighting the world up with their lost wishes and turning night to day.
I heard my mother’s voice whisper to me – make a wish.
I woke and rolled over to look at my phone and saw that my phone was blinking at me. I dropped it and looked up at the ceiling and thought of mom.
Make a wish.
I blushed as I thought of the wish I had made as her star fell from the sky and landed somewhere I’d never known, her spark finally faded.
No classes for Thursday.
That’s what I wished for.
No classes on Thursday.
I was ashamed that I had trivialized mom’s passing that way.
I hadn’t meant to but I had just the same.
There was no changing that.
I picked up my phone and checked my messages.
Message from a school friend.
I skipped the hospital messages, which began wish apologies about the warning system not triggering when mom’s heart stopped beating and then became missives of – where are you, where are you, where are you?
I was where I needed to be.
Mom wasn’t going anywhere and her plans had been cancelled. There was no rush to get up there to fill out paperwork as far as I saw.
I thought that my friend had somehow heard about mom, or was asking about her but it wasn’t that at all.
He was calling to let me know that classes had been cancelled for Thursday.
There’d been someone with a gun on campus and while no one was hurt they wanted to close for a couple days and take a look at security.
Mom’s face came into view as I closed my eyes and my smile died.
I had to get to the hospital.
I needed to see mom.
When I got into the hospital I paid for parking and told the attendant inside that I was going to room 613. I had no idea who was in that room but I wasn’t ready to deal with the paperwork and the talk, talk, talking. Mom was dead. I knew she was dead. I knew it. But it felt unreal. Like waking from nightmare to nightmare and hoping that the light at the end of the tunnel didn’t come from a hearse. I cried on the way there, unable to control myself and garnering looks from the other drivers as I drove through an early spring downpour. I had to stop at a drug store and park for a few minutes to calm myself down. I was starting to hyperventilate and needed a few minutes to slow myself breathing.
As I wandered the halls of the hospital I noticed how few people there were and checked the time. I must have slept for over a day as it was near to eight now and near to the end of visitation.
I wondered if I was even going to be able to fill out the paperwork for mom and found I didn’t care.
She was gone.
That was what mattered.
Not signing some stupid papers to make it legal.
She was gone.
I was going to have to face it eventually, have to sign the papers that said she was dead then sign more that decided what to do with her and then more to decide the funeral and then she’d have all the Thank You cards to sign.
It was too much.
My head was pounding.
I dipped into a small waiting room and there was a family huddled together whispering. I went to the coffee pot and poured myself a cup and tried hard not to overhear that the family’s daughter was dying of cancer. The thought was that she would pass that evening but the doctors had said it could be a long, hard journey into darkness for her and they needed to brace themselves.
This was their short break.
This was their breath before diving into the ocean and down, down, down.
I sipped my coffee and turned and headed towards room 643.
Little Lisa Lushley.
Sister of twin brother Calvin.
Daughter of Margie and Cal.
Niece of Loretta.
Little Lisa who didn’t have long to live.
I wasn’t sure why I was heading for her room other than the draw of the curious towards any car crash. I wanted to see. I didn’t need to but I wanted to. It was awful and I knew it but still I went. The speakers chimed and a man came over it to announce that visiting hours were over. I looked around and there was no one in the halls. I had seen three nurses and a doctor laughing at a central desk but that was halfway down the hall from where I was and the Lushley family was nowhere to be seen. I looked around once more and ducked into the room.
The room was dark with only a small light behind the bed illuminating it. The sound of machines greeted me and when I stepped around the curtains in the private room my heart broke all over again. The girl was small and wrapped in a cocoon of tubes and being watched over by monitors. There were cards taped to the window and there were so many flowers that the vases had covered a side table and were now standing along the outer wall. She wore a halo of stuffed animals and there was a flower placed in her left hand. Three chairs crowded around the end of the bed full of books, jackets, and an errant purse.
I stepped close and heard the machine breathing for Lisa.
I saw her move slightly.
It felt like I was frozen in place.
I felt the tears come and didn’t try to stop them. I reached forward and took Lisa’s wrist and squeezed it gently.
She opened her eyes a little and smiled at me.
“Mommy, I see…”
Before she could finish she gasped and her heartbeat flatlined and a dozen machines started screaming their alarm.
I squeezed her wrist one last time and made a wish as her star fell into the blackness beyond.
I took my hand from her and kissed the bottoms of my fingers and put them against her forehead.
“Rest, little angel.”
I turned and quickly left the room just as orderlies and nurses were racing towards me. I walked back towards the waiting room and poked my head in.
“You’re the little girl’s family? The little girl in 643?” Knowing the answer without needing to ask.
“Yes, yes, what’s wrong?” Aunt Loretta asked.
“I think she’s ready to see you.” I gave them a sad smile and turned and left.
I headed towards the stairs as the family started making their way out of the waiting room and down the hall. Mother and aunt crying. Father speaking to his son in a low tone.
I felt numb.
Numb but good.
At least I had been there for her.
At least I had been that.
She wasn’t alone at the end.
Neither was mom.
Collecting their wishes so that they weren’t lost mattered.
Seeing their falling stars dip into darkness mattered.
It all mattered.
I got to the stairs and sat down, starting to hyperventilate again.
Head throbbing, the weight of Lisa’s wish heavy on me.
I closed my eyes and wished.
Once I opened my eyes the headache was gone.
The pressure was gone.
I felt good.
Better than I had since mom’s accident.
Lisa couldn’t make her last wish so I made it for her.
One last wish for her family.
A wish I knew would come true because wishes, last wishes always came true.
So long as someone was there to catch it as it fell.
I thought about school for a moment and how I was at what my advisor called the Do Or Die period. I had to choose a career or drop out. Otherwise I was just wasting everyone’s time and a lot of my own money.
I stood and smiled, realizing for the first time what I needed to be.
I had heard the word hospice before but had never paid it any mind because why would I? I didn’t know anyone dying, right?
But someone had to be there at the end so someone wouldn’t die alone, had to be there to catch their last wish, to pay it forward.
That’d be me.
It had to be.
I had no choice and one day, maybe someone could catch my falling star and pay it forward because there’s nothing sadder than wasted wishes except maybe a squandered life.
I was done wasting both.
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