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Poem: The Return Of Spring

I once asked my grandmother 

Why do bad things happen to good people?  

She simply responded God gives the most hardship to the strongest people he knows. 

Years ago  

My parents fled a war zone  

Left the sound of bombs and bullets  

Braved the air land and sea  

In order to come here  

Build their homes from the soil to the sky  

My parents are the strongest people I know  

So when the doctor tells my father he has cancer  

My father doesn’t skip a beat 

Even though his heart has already skipped several beats 

My father still wakes up in the morning  

My father still goes to work  

My father still takes care of us  

Tells us to be strong, not let ourselves fall victim to this 

As soon as you play the victim you have lost this fight 

This fight is not worth losing 

For four years  

This cancer comes back  

I don’t know how to tell my father that God is simply testing your strength  

You are just too strong  

You are being too strong for us  

I’ve never seen my father cry, he did not shed a tear even when cancer came back and back and back and back  

Then we get the news 

He is cancer-free  

So once my father’s strength levels  

His heart counts every beat  

Forgetting the ones it skipped over  

He returns back to himself  

We think of this hardship as over 

Place the memories on the past shelf  

Look forward to the future 

But my mother is just as strong as my father, if not stronger  

So when the doctor tells us our mother has cancer  

You don’t want to be strong anymore  

But this strength runs in your blood  

So you don’t have a choice 

You are simply reliving this moment you experienced exactly 4 years ago  

A record player of your life rewinding and winding and winding itself tighter around your neck 

As you hear the doctor’s words echo in your mind 

you stop breathing  

this diagnosis does not hit you like a train  

crush you under its weight  

or knock the wind out of you 

You don’t need metaphors to describe pain you have lived through  

The realization is in silence  

Then there are questions 

you look down at your lap, wringing your hands, while you cry silently  

the doctor continues to speak  

He tried to be reassuring, tells you “this is curable,” says “you’re lucky we caught it early,” says “I understand how you feel”  

You hear him but you’re not paying attention 

all you are focused on is biting down on your fist so they won’t hear you cry  

All you’re hearing is your mother crying next to you  

Your father answering and asking questions  

we are beyond speaking and hearing at this point 

For months you watch your mother 

become a ghost of herself 

And you are her reflection staring back not knowing what to do 

We don’t know where to go beyond this point 

We play connect the dots with each chemo session 

Roll a die to reveal what side effect we will be bringing home today 

Watching my mother go through chemotherapy is like watching summer turn to fall turn to winter  

Except we never reach spring 

My mother didn’t have anything to bounce back on 

When my mother got sick it was as if everything and everyone knew 

Our houses foundation began to crack 

The windows stopped letting warmth in 

Our lemon tree grew parse and fickle 

Our house knew my sister and I were playing mom 

We’d fix one thing only for it to be  

A little crooked 

Not salty enough 

Or too slow 

We didn’t recognize how many children my mother took care of besides us 

Always taking every gesture for granted 

And now she was only strong enough to gesture with her voice 

all I can hear is people telling me 

Be strong 

You have to be strong for her 

It’s okay to cry 

Sometimes you just have to let everything out 

If you need to help please ask 

I’m right here for you 

When you have been strong for everyone else your entire life 

What’s left for you 

When you have cried night upon night  

What do you do when the grief swells but the tears fail to rise 

No one tells you about the before or the after of cancer 

Because you are stuck in the during the now the present 

Cancer should be redefined from a disease to a state of being 

You can never leave even though you never crossed that border in the first place 

But my parents didn’t cross those borders all those years ago to be held back by this one 

People are mistaken when they think strength gets you through the worst times in your life 

It’s love, it’s humility, and it’s resilience that helped my mother cross that border 

And enter her journey of healing   

healing starts and ends with you  

But it can’t start unless you take the first step 

So she did 

And we did 

So we choose to heal 

And our lemon tree grew 

The cracks in our house became smaller  

On that day I call my grandmother  

I tell her I know who the strongest person is 

I tell her to thank God for me