Driving was way nicer than flying, Elizabeth and I could both agree on that. We hadn’t been able to agree on much lately, though. With her dad dying recently to the rocky relationship they shared, it had been a stressful time to say the least. We were on our way to Oregon to visit her mother, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. We had been told before that it ran in the family, and sure enough, it did. Elizabeth’s grandmother had it, and now her mother did. It worried us both, rightfully, as it meant that she had a high percentage of getting it as well. But we both tried not to think of that as we made our way through a remote stretch of Idaho on our long journey.
“It’s peaceful out here,” I remember her saying. Peace would be something that would be hard to come by a few years from that moment. “I love the open space” she said at some point as we crossed through Wyoming. Spending those final days in a New York City hospital didn’t offer much space. I remember the doctor saying that it was terminal, and that the cancer had spread to her brain. “Stage 4” kept being thrown around, and I remember hearing “Sorry” a lot as well. During those final days, I thought a lot about the Oregon trip. How her mother looked when we arrived, the tears that flowed. But we all hoped that she would beat it, that she would come out on the other side a stronger woman and that she would be able to see grandkids someday. She didn’t know that we had been planning on breaking up at the time, but we knew better than to tell her then. Because of that trip, we decided to work things out.
I can still hear Elizabeth telling me “Mom did it, so can I.” I held her hand while she cried, and watched as the nurses began another IV of the “Experimental Drug” that we hoped would cure her. I remember seeing a deer on the side of the road as we crossed into Oregon. It had been picked at, which meant the predator wasn’t far away. It’s funny how death brings out the wolves in a family. Cousins and nephews we hadn’t heard from in years chimed in and told us they were sorry and that we could reach out to them if we needed anything. Elizabeth’s mother knew better, as Elizabeth and I were the only ones invited out to the hospital that year. As we pulled up to the hospital, Elizabeth grabbed my hand and told me she was scared. She was scared of death and losing her mom. She told me she was sorry for everything she had ever done wrong and told me that she loved me. Her hand was so cold, just like the day I lost her. She had grabbed my hand that one last time, telling me that she loved me and that she was sorry for leaving me. She had a habit of doing that, like when we missed an exit in Indiana and she apologized, even though it wasn’t her fault.
Throughout that whole trip, I had the feeling that we would be doing something similar in the future. I wished with all my heart that it wouldn’t deal with Elizabeth, but as she let go of my hand that day in Oregon, I knew that she was scared of the same thing happening to her. I held onto her hand after she passed, hoping that if I didn’t let go, she would come back. Her mother’s hand fell onto my shoulder as I let out a tear, her voice telling me that she was gone. I don’t much like hospitals anymore, or long car rides. A simple flight gives you all the sights, without the time to think about everything else.