When I got an e-mail from my sister, Juanita, saying that my stepmothers cancer had gotten to the point where she could no longer walk, I immediately decided I would have to take a trip to Honesdale, Pennsylvania to see for myself how Ruth was doing. I jumped in my truck and started driving north. I thought I could do the drive in one day, but with construction and traffic, it took me two days. The drive itself was an emotional roller coaster. When I first started driving over rolling hills, I felt exhilaration. One song played on the radio again and again, "Against the Wind." This song ran through my head many years ago when I rode a bicycle across the country. Then, I felt like the wind was always literally blowing against me as I struggled to climb rolling mountains. Now, I was older, once again wandering the open roads of a cold indifferent world. Snow started to appear on the roadside.
The first day's drive brought me as far north as Virginia. Exhausted, I spent the night at a Holiday Inn. When I resumed the drive the next morning, I was driving past vast fields blanketed in snow. At times, I felt small. At other times, expansive and elated. The radio played, "I say miracles just happen, silent prayers get answered." I felt hope and peace for once, surrendering and accepting what I was driving to face. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of dark tree trunks rising up out of the pure white snow. The radio blared, "Live like we're dying!" I vowed not to waste a minute of the time I spent in Honesdale Pennsylvania. I would be visiting family I hadn't seen in years. I had been out of touch with my stepmom for years. I planned to change that.
My little sister, Carol, guided me the final miles with a series of text messages. As soon as I arrived, at my step mothers house, we headed down to the hospital to see Ruth. Carol had her two daughters, Kristin and Anna, and hospital rules forbid them to go upstairs. I agreed to watch my nieces while Carol visited and then we traded off. I found Ruth in the physical therapy room. A young tan nurse's aid had Ruth lift a two pound weight over her head for three repetitions of twelve. My stepmom has always been resistant to the idea of being sketched, so I started just drawing all the other patients working out. Some would squeeze medicine balls between their legs, while others would pedal a stationary bike set up for wheelchair patients. My stepmom did good with all her arm exercises, but when she was asked to stand, she collapsed. Chemotherapy had sapped all her energy. She was tired of being treated like a child and when we got back to her room, I joked with her about the experience in the cynical way that she was used to. It was good to see her laugh.