Something was definitely wrong.
My parents were acting strangely—hiding out behind closed doors, talking to each other in low tones.
Matthew, convinced that our parents were going to split up again, kept trying to listen in on their conversations. But all he understood was that they seemed to be talking about some kind of test.
“Maybe they’re going to test out whether they want to get divorced,” he suggested.
“They already did that,” I reminded my little brother. “And anyway, they’re whispering, not yelling. So quit worrying and let’s go throw the football
I did my best to act like I wasn’t the least bit concerned over what was going onwith our parents, but that wasn’t at all how I felt. I knew something was up. In fact, I was pretty sure I knew what it was. Only I didn’t want to admit it—not even to myself.
“Chrissy, would you please make a correction to the paragraph on the board?’ Miss Jones asked the next day in school.
I heard the words, but they didn’t really register in my brain.
All of my concentration was being spent on trying not to think about my parents’ secret and my own theory of what that secret might be.
“What!” I snapped, glaring up at my teacher.
Several gasps came from my classmates around the room. My friends stared at me with wide eyes, and I realized too late that I had gone too far.
“Chrissy, I would like you to stay in with me at recess,” said Miss Jones. “We need to talk.”
I nodded and stared down at my desk, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. In all my life I had never been kept in at recess. I could probably count on
one hand all the times I had done anything worthy of punishment at school.
Angry and embarrassed, I now had a new thought to occupy my mind: how much I disliked Miss Jones. If I were being honest with myself I might have admitted that usually I liked my teacher just fine. At the moment, however, Miss Jones was the last person in the world I wanted to talk to.
Of course, I didn’t have a choice.
At recess, Miss Jones sat down at the desk directly facing mine. I had to look her in the eye. I tried to keep my face blank and expressionless.
“Okay, let’s talk about this,” Miss Jones began. “I know I’m not your favorite teacher. I know you miss your old teacher and the way she did things. I know you miss your friends who moved away and you don’t like that so many things have changed. And I know it can’t be easy having a teacher live with you.”
I blinked in surprise. I hadn’t realized that Miss Jones understood any of that.
My teacher went on. “However, none of that excuses having a disrespectful tone or attitude towards me. You understand that, right?”
“Okay…. Now is there anything you would like to say to me, or ask me, or anything you think I should know?”
I didn’t plan to ask the question. The words had barely registered in my brain before they popped out of my mouth. It had nothing to do with what my teacher had just said, yet it suddenly occurred to me that Miss Jones might know the answer.
So I said it.
“Does my mother have cancer?”
My father picked me up from school that day.
My father almost never picked me up from school.
How am I going to do this, now? I wondered as we started the drive home in silence. How am I going to ask him? We can barely talk about normal stuff, anymore. How am I going to ask him if mom is sick?
Miss Jones hadn’t known the answer. In fact, she was quite surprised by the question. I explained to her about my parents’ secret meetings and how certain I was that the “test” they kept talking about was a medical test.
Miss Jones pointed out that I didn’t know anything for certain. “I know my parents,” I said. “I can tell by the way they’re acting that it’s something big, and I can tell it has to do with my mother.”
What else could it be but cancer, or some equally horrible disease? I thought.
Still, Miss Jones had insisted that I needed to talk to my parents about this and get the truth. So that was what I was trying to do.
I watched my father steer the van along the country roads and tried to imagine how I would start this conversation. So, Dad, do you think the Cleveland Browns have a shot at the playoffs this year, and do you think Mom will die?
I felt physically sick.
I had to just say it. There was no other way. “I know about the tests,” I blurted out. “I know mom had medical tests done and I want to know what disease she has. Is it cancer or something else?”
My father glanced at me with a look of shock before turning his face back to the road. His large hands gripped the steering wheel. For one long, awful moment he said nothing.
Please, God, let me be wrong, I prayed. Let me be wrong.
“How did you find out?” my father asked.
“You weren’t very subtle,” I said, trying hard to stay calm. “Is it cancer?”
Maybe? It seemed as if my heart were going to beat right out of me. The world outside appeared to be spinning faster and faster and faster. I felt as if any moment the entire universe might explode!
“It is the Lord who goes before you,” a small voice inside me seemed to whisper. “He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
My dad was still talking. “Tomorrow your mother goes into the hospital for a special test called a biopsy. It’s a minor surgery. After that, the doctors will know if she has cancer. We didn’t want to tell any of you kids until we knew for sure. We didn’t want you to worry.”
I sat motionless in my seat, absolutely stunned. I knew that now, more than ever, I was going to have to rely on the Lord to go before me, to guide me through whatever was about to come. Even so, a million terrifying thoughts were swirling through my mind and I couldn’t seem to push past them.
In an uncharacteristic move, my father reached over and held my hand. That’s when I started to cry.