“Here I go again on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever known,
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone,
But I know what it means, to walk along the lonely street of dreams…”
– ‘Here I Go Again’ – Whitesnake
It only seems fitting, as I drive along the VFW highway in Lowell, with the sun shining down on the Merrimack River, that this song comes on the radio. It’s especially fitting to hear the chorus burst in as I pass the Aiken Street Bridge and Top Donut, which figure so prominently in perhaps my favorite movie of all time, The Fighter. Hearing this song on the radio organically, and having watched that film again this week for the umpteenth time (which STILL gives me chills at the end) was a strong indication that A. I needed to start writing again and B. I had the topic to use.
See, today is a special day, a particular anniversary of a very important date in my and numerous others’ lives. For those unable to surmise based on the title of this post, today is the thirteenth anniversary of the day my indescribably wonderful mother, Patty, passed away after a relatively brief bout with melanoma. She had just completed the coursework for her Master’s in Education, after returning to school later in life. She did so while working full time, raising two children, earning both her Bachelor’s and M.Ed while I grew up. And she died before turning 50, just over a year after the biopsy results of the mole on her cheek and on her arm came back positive.
The overriding lesson from that day, thirteen years ago, was that life is inherently unfair. What other lesson was there to take away (other than to wear sunscreen, consistently and applied accurately, between the hours of 10a-5p when outside)? She was the sweetest, kindest, gentlest, friendliest person ever. She worked her ass off her entire life, did everything for my sister and myself our whole lives, pushed herself to her absolute limits to pursue her dream while still taking care of her home life, and what was her reward? Cancer and death.
There are SO MANY THINGS she deserved to be here for, that she deserves to be a part of, that she deserves to be around for rather than just a memory and a never-filled-void in our lives. It is BULLSHIT, absolute bullshit. She deserved better, and I deserved better than to see my mother die from fucking skin cancer a couple months after I turned 19.
But here we are, thirteen fucking years later, and it’s interesting how time actually does change things. It still hurts, and I still miss her everyday, but the raw pain has faded over time, or at least numbed, as we move further and further away from that horrible day. I don’t really cry about this much anymore, even when events or moments stir up vivid memories, and I’m able to function reasonably well on this date every year (which was not possible the first few years after her death). But God damn I miss her, and I wish to heaven and hell that she was still here with us.
It felt like I needed to write about this, about my Mom’s brutally unnecessary, untimely passing, as a cathartic release for this year. August is a tough month, not just for today’s anniversary, but a separate one coming up in a few days (more to come early next week on that). It’s always been hard, and will always be hard, and will always be a trigger time for me to possibly break down and recede into a depressive hole. But I can’t allow that, and can’t allow my mother’s death to be marked by ANOTHER mental breakdown on my part.
So let me return to driving through Lowell, taking in the landmarks of the Mill City, and the stark reminders of The Fighter that took me to one of my favorite memories. I grew up in Lowell, in Pawtucketville, and those roots were never fully pulled when we moved to a small town next door when I was 11. I love this city, and have a ton of pride being from here, a common feeling shared by many, many other residents in Greater Lowell and the Merrimack Valley area.
And, like so many others from this scrappy little city, I have intensely elated feelings and recollections about ‘Irish’ Micky Ward, ‘The Pride of Lowell.’ I remember his unlikely rise to world champion, and just how AWESOME it all was. Maybe the fact that this all happened before the Patriots first title in 2002, and we became spoiled beyond belief as sports fans in Massachusetts, contributed somewhat to just how exciting it was to watch the local guy achieve greatness. But it was truly exhilarating to see Ward win the world championship from Shea Neary way back in 2000.
I remember that night. I was watching in my bedroom, since it was a marquee boxing fight on a Saturday and, therefore, on late, while my parents watched in their bed across the hall. When Micky knocked out his opponent and improbably became world champ, I jumped up and shouted with joy. Across the hall, I heard my mother and father exclaim with glee as well (every who knew him remembers just how loud my Dad could be when he was excited), and ran into the hall…just as my mother did the same. We all high-fived as my father came out too, and hugged and acted as though we just won something ourselves. It was an amazing moment for the city of Lowell and all of us who called the place home. And I’ll NEVER forget celebrating with my parents, the sheer jubilation we each felt and shared in that moment.
I’m choosing, today and as much as I’m able, to remember those great times, to push forth those happy memories and put aside the negative emotions. There’s always going to be an immense pain and longing and hurt when I think about the late Patricia (Biggar) Swierk, and remember those times she’s missed and will miss as we trudge onward. But that’s life. Nothing is guaranteed, and things will change in an instant before you know what happened. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, right?
So happy anniversary, Mom! I can speak for EVERYONE when I say I love you just as much as the day you left, that I miss you every single day, and will never, ever find a way to fill that hole you left in my life. But I’m not letting your loss define me or keep me down, because not only would you hate that, but I can’t live my life that way. Your life was WAY more than just your tragic death, and it’s only fair to ensure those memories outweigh the sad ones.
Thanks for writing Paper Clown. An emotional day…always.
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