Lisa Quinones-Fontanez is a secretary by day, blog writer by night and Mami round the clock. In 2010 Lisa founded the blog AutismWonderland. AutismWonderland chronicles her family journey with autism and shares local resources for children/families with special needs.
“Remember the picture of us on the field?” Martha asked. “I love that picture. It’s one of my favorites.”
I remembered. It was taken twenty years earlier, on the last day of senior year. I wore a blue and white floral shirt, she proudly wore our senior class t-shirt, my arm around her shoulder, both of us smiling into the camera, our yearbooks in our laps.
We were just girls then, with bright eyes, big smiles and bigger dreams. We believed we had our whole lives ahead us. It was a time without boundaries or regrets. Before responsibility, motherhood, disability and sickness.
We were girls who didn’t know the years between then and now would go so fast. We didn’t see ourselves, twenty years later, sitting in a hospice room on a Saturday afternoon.
“It’s one of my favorites too,” I said.
She smiled. “I looked healthy.”
I said nothing, not wanting to agree but we both knew Martha was right. I looked away ashamed that I put off seeing her for weeks. But I was scared. I had never visited anyone at a hospice before. I hadn’t seen Martha in a little more than a year. But I knew the breast cancer spread to her brain. And I knew that Martha had little time left.
A friend had prepared me for Martha’s condition. Still it was a shock seeing someone so young, so beautiful look so frail. Her hair was still the same shade of black but it was short and thin. Her hands shook as she held her plastic cup. She moved slowly and couldn’t get up from her bed without support. Her legs were swollen, heavy and hard.
But Martha and I talked as if no time had passed and laughed like when we were girls. I admired her nails; they were filed oval and painted pink.
Martha’s physical therapist came in and he suggested I help. I sat by Martha’s side, held her hand while I kept the other on her back for support. I counted with Martha as she kicked up her leg. Her right leg first, then her left – ten times each. I knew by the way she shut her eyes and squeezed my hand that each kick was unbearably painful. I cheered her on with each kick, telling her to take her time yet encouraging her to keep going. I was in awe of her determination to keep kicking. When we were girls – Martha was always the feisty one, the friend you could depend on to have your back.
The physical therapist asked Martha to close her eyes, take a deep breath and exhale. “Do this ten times. This will help you relax and fall asleep when you’re having trouble,” he said.
After a few breaths, Martha opened her eyes and said, “I feel so much better. People don’t take time to really breathe.”
That’s when I closed my eyes and breathed with her. The two of us side by side, holding hands, eyes closed and breathing together. Even though my heart was heavy, I felt better, lighter, more relaxed. I couldn’t remember the last time I allowed myself to just breathe.
When her physical therapy session was over, Martha thanked him and said, “See you next week.”
Eventually the time came for me to go. We kissed and hugged and held hands, neither of us ready to really let go. And when I told her I’d see her the next day, she smiled the same smile as when we were girls.