I found myself dancing in the streets alongside thousands of other celebrants. The sights and sounds caused my soul to sing. I pranced with people dressed in flamboyant costumes and became intoxicated by the flavorful scents drifting through the air.
The rhythmic drums and blaring trumpets played me like a marionette. “Here, you’ll need these,” said a young woman as she slid a string of beads over my head. I looked into her eyes, and everything around me disappeared.
“I think I know you,” I said, with a puzzled look on my face.
“Don’t you just love Mardi Gras?” the woman continued as though I hadn’t said a word.
“I’ve never been to a Mardi Gras celebration,” I quipped.
The young woman just laughed and looked around as though she was lost. “Did you lose something?” I asked.
“I’m waiting for my baby. She’s supposed to meet me here. I can’t wait to see her again.” I found her words rather confusing.
“Oh, there she is,” the woman squealed, pointing out into the darkness.
As I watched, a form came into view. It was another young woman of about 20 or so. She came up to the first young woman and hugged her. “Hi, Mom. God, how I’ve missed you.” The two embraced, and I could feel the love between them.
The second woman looked at me and smiled. I felt a connection with her. There was something about her that pulled at my heart. She caressed my face as she cooed, “Look at you, ma chérie. I hope you know how beautiful you are.”
As I stared into her eyes, a tear escaped mine. I knew those eyes intimately. “Mom?” Something about this suddenly seemed wrong.
“It’s okay, baby. Don’t cry. Follow your dreams wherever they may take you. I’ll always be by your side. Au revoir, ma chérie.” Her hand left my cheek, and the two walked off into the darkness together.
I bolted straight up in bed, sweat running down the sides of my face. It was a dream, nothing more than a dream. I looked at my phone to see it was a little after 3 AM.
I crawled out of the huge hotel bed and made a pot of coffee. I wanted to call my mother, but she’d never forgive me for calling her in the middle of the night. It was an hour earlier back home, but Mom was always up by four. I could kill a couple of hours.
As I poured my first cup of coffee, I tried to remember the details of my dream. I knew that the second woman was my mother and concluded that the first was my grandmother. I figured that the reason I saw her as a young woman was because of the pictures I’d seen. They were the only real memories I had of her.
I walked to the window and looked out over the city. It was so beautiful, but so busy. I was beginning to get homesick and missed my mother, but didn’t want to go home yet. I felt a connection with New Orleans, yet I was very much alone. The opposing emotions were taking their toll on me.
My phone began to ring as I poured a second cup of coffee. “Who the hell is calling me at this hour?” I muttered to myself.
I looked at the number and knew the area code to be from Wyoming. My blood ran cold, and my hands began to shake. I almost didn’t answer it, but knew I had no choice.
“Hello?” I said in a fake, sleepy tone.
“Yes, I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, but I’m looking for a Cherish McKenzy.” The woman’s voice on the other end of the phone sounded very professional, yet caring at the same time.
“This is Cherish.”
“Miss McKenzy, this is Dr. Lassiter, from the Washakie Medical Center. I’m sorry to have to inform you that your mother passed away about an hour ago.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. “What?” I yelled into the phone. “When was she admitted? Why wasn’t I informed before this?” My head was reeling.
“Miss McKenzy, your mother called 911 around 11 PM last night. She was brought in by ambulance, complaining of chest pains and an extreme headache. Though we tried to stabilize her, she coded shortly before 1 AM. We did all we could for her, but because of her DNR, we legally couldn’t resuscitate her.”
I was speechless. The tears flowed down my face, but I couldn’t make a sound. For a moment, I thought my own heart would stop.
“Miss McKenzy, are you still there?”
“Um, yes. Yes, I’m here. I’m sorry.” I really didn’t know what else to say. My entire world had just crashed down around my ankles, and I was more than a thousand miles away.
“It’s quite alright, ma’am. Your mother did tell us that you were in New Orleans, so we’ll make arrangements for your mother’s body until you can claim her.” Listening to the doctor talk about my mother as though she were a piece of luggage pissed me off to no end. I knew it was all part of her job, but that didn’t make it any easier.
She gave me all the details I’d need once I got back before I hung up the phone. I was numb. The last link to the only life I’d ever known was gone. My mother was gone.
I allowed myself a good cry, then made my next call.
“Blake,” I half-whispered, “I’m sorry to bug you, but I just got a call from back home. My mother passed away.”
“Oh, my god, Cherish. I’m so sorry. Don’t move. I’m on my way.”
“No, Blake, that’s not necessary. I just wanted you to know. I’ll have to cut my trip short and head back. I have a lot of things to get in order.”
“Nonsense. Damn it, Cherish, let me help. We’re family, and that’s what family does.” Though I knew he was right, I felt more alone than I’d ever felt in my life.
It only took him about 20 minutes to get to the hotel. I’m sure I looked awful when I opened the door, but he grabbed me and hugged me, anyway. I didn’t want him to see me cry, but I couldn’t help myself.
I sat back down at the table, pulling my knees up to my chest. Blake poured me another cup of coffee, then sat down across from me. He didn’t speak, but just sat there with me in silence.
“Blake,” I finally uttered, “what am I supposed to do now?”
He looked up at me and smiled. “You grieve your mother, and then you move on. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s what you have to do.”
I wanted to slap him, but I knew what he was trying to say, and he was right. He reached out and placed his hand on mine. “Cherish, you’re not alone. No matter what, you always have a home in New Orleans. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. I’m here for you, Cousin.”
“Well, the first thing I need to do is get back home and make some arrangements. Knowing my mother, she’s already got all her affairs in order. She’s one of the most organized women I know. I mean, I knew.” The finality of the word struck me harder than I thought it would.
Blake jumped on his phone and worked his magic to get me home. He got me a flight out of New Orleans that same day and a private flight from Denver to Worland, Wyoming. In less than 24 hours, I’d begin the process of saying goodbye.